Bustamante and the bigots
Saturday, August 16, 2003
Is Cruz Bustamante, the Latino Democrat who recently moved into the lead in the race to replace Gray Davis as California's governor, a secret racist?
Republicans -- stung, perhaps, by the steady drip drip drip of news about the unsavory associations of their favorite candidate, Arnold Schwarzenegger -- have begun trotting out this meme. Is there any truth to it?
In a word, no -- though Bustamante himself would probably do everyone a favor by clearing it up definitively.
The chief accusation revolves around Bustamante's supposed connections to La Voz de Aztlan, a publication produced in Los Angeles that is openly racist (that is, it favors Latino racial supremacy) and is viciously anti-Semitic. A quick perusal of its site contents may leave you reeling. (Among the links it provides is the complete text of the notorious "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.")
Bustamante is not a known supporter of the publication, nor does he have any known political ties to its publisher.
What conservatives point out -- particularly Lowell Ponte in David Horowitz's considerably-less-than-reliable Frontpage magazine -- is that when he was in college at Fresno State University, Bustamante became involved in "Moviemiento Estudiantil Chicano de AZTLAN," or the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan, known by its acronym MEChA.
Among MEChA's idealistic positions was the belief that California and the southwestern United States -- lands that were taken from Mexico at the end of the Mexican-American War -- constituted "Aztlan," which the "Mechistas" hoped to someday reclaim for Chicanos, or "la Raza."
Since that time, the Aztlan beliefs mutated in some cases into the virulent racism of La Voz de Aztlan, whose publisher is an ex-Mechista like Bustamante. However, the entire La Voz organization, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is constituted of about a dozen people. Bustamante has never been involved, nor does he have any continuing connections to anyone who is.
Moreover, there is simply no evidence that at the time Bustamante participated in MEChA that it espoused the kind of naked racism and virulent anti-Semitism as can be found in La Voz. Nor is there a smidgen of evidence that Bustamante ever held such views or endorsed them. The best that Ponte can do is to demand that Bustamante publicly disavow such groups.
This is, incidentally, precisely the kind of "guilt by association" of which right-wing characters like Horowitz and others regularly accuse the left and civil-rights organizations like the SPLC. But unlike the associations that the SPLC finds, say, between mainstream Republicans like Trent Lott and neo-Confederate organizations, the evidence to support such linkage is not only extremely thin in Bustamante's case, it is nearly non-existent.
It probably would help clear the air if Bustamante were to make his position regarding La Voz de Aztlan unmistakable.
However, even without such a statement, the "connections" to La Voz evaporate when one consults the publication's own positions regarding Bustamante:
He is described, variously, as "totally useless to our community and has done nothing to improve the lives of La Raza" and "a known lackey of the Jewish dominated Democratic Party in Alta California." In its most recent commentary, it had this to say:
- Cruz "El Gordito" Bustamante of the corrupt Democratic Party is not a viable alternative. He is a lackey and a mere hispanic "replica" of the incompetent and crooked Gray Davis who is called "Our Jewish Governor" by the Jews of California. Bustamante is a college dropout who just last year bought a degree in chicano studies. In 1997, when then-Governor Peter "Pito" Wilson said he would support legislation that would permit executing 14 year olds, then-California Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante said he would support executions for "children" as young as 13. Bustamante was given marching orders to run for governor by the Jewess and US Senator Barbara Boxer. The Jewish dominated Democratic Party of California wants a fallback position in case their "Jewish Governor" Gray Davis is ousted.
Is this Ponte's idea of a "close association"?
By the logic with which Cruz Bustamante is "connected" to these haters, George W. Bush could be similarly "connected" to the Ku Klux Klan.
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism
Friday, August 15, 2003
[Parts I, II, III, IV, V and VI. See my explanatory note.]
VII: The Transmission Belt
"Hitler was more moral than Clinton," intoned the nice-looking, dark-haired man in the three-piece suit. "He had fewer girlfriends."
The audience laughed and applauded, loudly.
A remark like that might hardly have raised an eyebrow in post-Monica America, particularly in the meeting-halls of mainstream conservatism, where it often seemed, by the end of Bill Clinton's tenure in the White House, that no hyperbole is too overblown in the campaign to depose him -- mostly, it seems, by convincing the rest of us that he was too grossly immoral to continue to hold the presidency.
As the scandal wore on, the volume, intensity and downright nastiness of his critics reached impressive levels. It wasn't unusual to hear of congressmen calling him a "scumbag" and a "cancer on the presidency," or for mainstream conservative commentary to refer to him, as Orlando Sentinel columnist Charley Reese did at one point, as "a sociopath, a liar, a sexual predator, a man with recklessly bad judgment and a scofflaw." Even right-wing scribe Andrew Sullivan played the armchair psychologist on national television, describing Clinton as "sociopathic."
But the scene above took place four years before Monica, in 1994, long before Clinton handed his enemies a scandal on a platter that seemingly made such references acceptable. It was not at a Republican caucus or Christian Coalition meeting, but at a gathering of right-wing "Patriots" who had come to hear about forming militias and common-law courts and defending their gun rights -- indeed, their families -- from the New World Order. They numbered only a hundred or so and only half-filled the little convention hall in Bellevue, Washington, but their fervor saturated the room with its own paranoid energy.
And the speaker, who could have passed even then for a local Republican public official -- actually, he was nominally a Democrat -- in fact was one of the nation's leading Patriot figures: Richard Mack, then sheriff of Arizona's mostly rural Graham County. As a leader in the fight against gun control (his lawsuit eventually led to the Supreme Court overturning a section of the so-called Brady Law), Mack was in high demand on the right-wing lecture circuit as he promoted the militia concept to his eager acolytes. He usually sprinkles his "constitutional" gun-rights thesis with his theories on church-state separation -- itís a "myth," he claims -- and "the New World Order conspiracy."
The similarities between Mackís 1994 sentiments and the hyperbole directed at Clinton in 1998 are not accidental. Rather, they offer a stark example of the way the far right's ideas, rhetoric and issues feed into the mainstream -- and in the process, exert a gravitational pull that draws the nation's agenda increasingly rightward. For that matter, much of the conservative anti-Clinton paroxysm could be traced directly to some of the smears that circulated first in militia and white-supremacist circles.
It's also important to understand how the migration of these ideas occurs. Richard Mack, for instance, doesn't compare Bill Clinton's morality to Adolph Hitler's at every speaking opportunity. His remark didnít show up, for instance, when he had his moment in the sun with the National Rifle Association.
It just pops out when he's in front of an audience of Patriot believers. That's when he knows it will gain the most appreciation. It mixes well with the fear of the New World Order he foments, in his quiet, almost sedate speaking tone.
Mack is a transmitter -- someone who treads the boundaries of the various sectors of Americaís right wing and appears to belong to each of them at various times. Mack's gun-control message still sells well with mainstream, secular NRA audiences. His claims that church-state separation is a myth resonate nicely with the theocratic right crowd as well. And he cultivates a quasi-legitimate image by taking leadership positions in groups like Larry Pratt's Gun Owners of America. But he is most at home in his native base: the populist right, the world of militias, constitutionalists and pseudo-libertarians. Mack even occasionally consorts with the hard right, as when he granted front-page interviews to the Christian Identity newspaper The Jubilee.
At the same time he tours the countryside preaching the Patriot message, Mack cuts a seemingly mainstream conservative figure. As one of the key players in the effort to overturn the Brady Bill gun-control law -- which Mack claims infringes on his rights as sheriff -- he gained his highest public notice in 1995 when the National Rifle Association honored him as their Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. The image boost let him tour nationwide, speaking at numerous Patriot gatherings and hawking his books (From My Cold Dead Fingers and Government, God and Freedom).
Mack's Clinton-bashing was mostly a gratuitous nod to one of the Patriot movement's favorite themes: an almost pathological hatred of the former occupants of the Oval Office, manifested as a willingness to believe almost any slander directed at "Billary," as they like to refer to the Clintons. Had you gone to any militia gathering -- held usually in small town halls or county fairgrounds, sometimes under the guise of "preparedness expos," "patriotic meetings" or even gun shows -- you could always find a wealth of material aimed at proving Clinton the worst kind of treasonous villain imaginable. Bill and Hillary Clinton, after all, occupy a central position in Patriotsí "New World Order" paranoiac fantasy.
"For those in this right-wing conspiracist subculture, Clinton as President represents a constitutional crisis because he is seen as a traitor betraying the country to secret elites plotting a collectivist totalitarian rule through a global New World Order," observes Chip Berlet of the Cambridge, Mass., think tank Political Research Associates. "Stories of Clinton's alleged sexual misconduct buttress this notion because they demonstrate symptoms of his liberal secular humanist outlook, which ties him to what is seen as a longstanding conspiracy against God, individual responsibility, and national sovereignty." The Clintonsí conspiracy is believed to have its roots in global Communism and, ultimately, the "international bankers" (read: Jews) who pull all the worldís political strings.
Go to the Militia of Montanaís table at any Patriot gathering and you can find, alongside Army manuals on "Booby Traps" and guerrilla-warfare manuals like The Road Back, a healthy selection of books and tapes devoted to Clintonís many perfidies:
- -- Black Helicopters Over America: Strikeforce for the New World Order, Jim Keithís militia classic that, besides postulating global preparations for the enslavement of mankind, identified Bill Clinton as an "obvious socialist and possible Soviet agent" whose administration has "ushered in the New World Order."
-- "Executive Orders for the New World Order," MOMís popular pamphlet with a list of presidential orders -- mostly related to national emergencies under the aegis of that X-Files bugaboo, the Federal Emergency Management Administration -- which ostensibly show how Clinton has prepared for the NWO takeover.
-- Big Sister is Watching You, a supposed expose of Hillaryís secretive claque of "Feminazis" (with several suggestions that a witchís coven might be lurking in the White House). The MOM catalog describes it thus: "These are the woman who tell Bill Clinton what to do: Lesbians, sex perverts, child-molester advocates, Christian haters and the most doctrinaire of Communists, whose goal is to end American sovereignty and bring about a global Marxist paradise."
-- Martial Law Rule, an "exposť" by Oregon white supremacist Robert Wangrud, of Clintonís continuing imposition of "martial law" in the U.S. (which he claims began under Lincoln and has remained in place since). Elsewhere, Wangrud has been known to argue that civil-rights legislation constitutes the treasonous act of "race betrayal."
-- The Death of Vince Foster and The Clinton Chronicles, the now-infamous creations of Citizens for Honest Government which supposedly laid bare Clintonís involvement in the murder of his aide as well as a web of drug-running and murders in rural Mena, Arkansas.
Indeed, the militia movement provided most of the early audience for The Clinton Chronicles; large stacks of the books and videos sold well at Patriot gatherings, and the Mena tales continue to be regarded as articles of faith. The wild and bizarre accusations -- easily refuted both in mainstream media and by a congressional investigation -- gained an extended half-life in a milieu where counter-evidence is only considered further proof of a conspiracy. This echo effect resonated long enough that the claims were certain to regain currency in the mainstream -- and eventually, they did.
This is how the Patriot movement pulls the national debate towards its own agenda. Regardless of how far-fetched or provably false their claims or ideas might be, they stay alive in the everything-fits conspiracist mindset of the far right. The ideas that have a long-term resonance are transmitted to the mainstream, stripped of their racial or religious origins -- which often is the swamps of supremacist Christian Identity belief -- by being presented as purely "political" claims or conjecture. As the ideas gain more traction in the mainstream, the far rightís agenda becomes realized incrementally.
David Duke knows all about this technique -- it is one he has mastered over the years as one of the nationís leading white-supremacist figures. For years -- especially during his Populist Party presidential bid in 1988 and his nearly successful U.S. Senate campaign in 1990 -- Duke denied being a white racist, despite his background as a KKK leader.
Finally, in his 1996 Senate race (which he lost), Duke abandoned his pretense and began campaigning almost exclusively on the issue of "saving white heritage" and other "racial realities"; his campaign literature listed his former Klan leadership, and his Web site contained Dukeís favorite theories on racial separation. Noting wryly the similarities between the 1996 GOP platform and his own 1988 presidential platform -- anti-immigration, anti-affirmative action, anti-welfare, anti-abortion -- Duke made it clear he saw no reason not to revert to his true self, since he was driving the debate: "The nation has come to me," he observed.
The Patriot movement (which has deep roots in white supremacy, but is a separate phenomenon) effects its agenda in much the same way. A network of transmitters -- those people who maintain mainstream positions and public images but who have a foot firmly planted in the Byzantine gardens of the far right -- carry into mainstream settings the Patriotsí uniquely reactionary positions in the national debate, whether the topic is gun control, environmental policy, education or abortion, and the ripples draw the debate in their direction. And deposing the epitome of evil itself -- Bill Clinton -- has, naturally, always been near the top of the list.
Consider, if you will, the "Clinton Body Count."
Everybody whoís on e-mail, probably, has received a version of this urban legend at some time or another. Friends, or friends of friends, pass it along like one of those dreaded chain e-mails, or the latest Monica Lewinsky joke.
Itís gruesome -- all those dead people associated somehow with Bill Clinton. (Youíd think he was someone famous who came into contact with a lot of people or something.) In some cases, the count is as high as 80. Some of them you know about, like Vincent Foster. But what about that former intern, gunned down in a mysterious Georgetown coffee-shop killing? Or those two little boys found dead on the railroad tracks in Arkansas? Obviously, one is meant to conclude that that Bill Clinton is nothing less than a murderous, blood-stained monster.
The "body count" is one of the Internetís versions of an urban legend, built around the creepy supposition that Clinton is somehow responsible for the deaths of any people whoíve had dealings with him -- and many more who havenít, but whoíve been connected to him through the conspiracy grapevine. These include not only Commerce Secretary Ron Brown (offed for knowing too much, the body-counters suggest) but some obscure figures vaguely related to the Mena, Arkansas, operations detailed in The Clinton Chronicles.
The Clinton Body Count also happens to be one of the Patriot movementís hoariest traditions. It appears to have originated with (now-discredited) militia leader Linda Thompsonís 1993 essay, which detailed 29 deaths linked to the then-new president. The concept flourished among the movement, showing up at a lot of homemade Web sites, like the 1994 version at a Web site called The Patriot, with 28 bodies and three "ongoing" cases, some different from Thompsonís. Soon the list was growing exponentially, especially as the non-militia types who shared a hatred of Clinton joined in the fun, and more Clinton-haters linked more conspiracies to the president over the years.
By 1998, there were at least 30 sites keeping track of the Clinton Body Count; though their numbers have declined since Clinton left office, many remain active today. One current site, operated by a believer in a wide range of Clinton conspiracies, lists 52 bodies. Another racks up a total of 79. And by 1999, you could read about it at mainstream conservative Web sites like radio commentator Ken Hamblinís -- not to mention "conservative" Web sites like Free Republic, which for a time featured entire sections of its forum devoted to "Suspicious Deaths" and the "Clinton Death Squad." And, lest we forget, Clintonís supposed onetime paramour, Gennifer Flowers, keeps a version of the Clinton Body Count on her Web site, linked alongside copies of her taped conversations with Clinton, a CD of her singing debut, and glamour pix.
Of course, to believe any of these lists, you also have to believe in virtually all of the conspiracies, assassinations and misdeeds in which the Clintons are alleged to have taken part: Mena, Vince Foster, Ron Brown, and the Georgetown Starbucks murders (not to mention the larger New World Order plot, which links him retroactively to JFKís assassination). You also have to believe that all those dead military personnel were once his "bodyguards." In short, you have to believe that he is probably the anti-Christ.
This happens to be a view not in short supply these past eight years, judging by the flow of rhetoric, first from the Patriots, and then from more mainstream sources, of the past eight years. It has, of course, been debunked roundly on several occasions, but then, so have most of the Patriotsí other conspiracy theories. That doesnít stop them from purveying them anyway.
The White House tried to draw attention to the flow of what it called "fringe stories" into the mainstream in a 331-page report obliquely titled The Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce, which posited that the scandals the Clintons faced were manufactured by his political enemies out of groundless rumors that bubble up from the extreme right.
However, the report suffered from several fatal flaws. On the all-important public-relations front, it cast all this anti-Clinton activity in a conspiratorial light -- while the campaign in fact has been fairly open and public in its desire to end Clintonís presidency, and was often spontaneous in nature and uncoordinated.
Conservative commentators had a field day, accusing the White House of finding conspiracies under rocks, comparing the report to Nixonís "enemies" list and offering the Clintons rides in black helicopters. Some even accused the White House of embarking on a conspiracy of its own -- attempting to intimidate its enemies by linking them to wackos: conspiracies within conspiracies within conspiracies within conspiracies.
More important, the report missed its own target. While it accurately detailed the way groundless stories like the Vince Foster suicide/murder circulated outside of the normal media venues with helpful nudges from well-moneyed enemies like Richard Mellon Scaife, it cast its net only as wide as conservative think tanks and largely mainstream circles, treating the venues for the false stories as merely "fringe" elements and failing to recognize the interaction of larger segments of conservatism in the storiesí spread. It reflected in essence a kind of Beltway bias that neglected to assess the central role played by the far-right echo chamber as a way of spreading extreme ideas into the mainstream.
In any event, the very trend it described had come to full flower by 1998. The rhetoric once common among the militia had become indistinguishable from that bandied about on Rush Limbaugh's radio program or, for that matter, on Fox News cable gabfests or MSNBC's Hardball. The migration of the accusations against Clinton from the far right to the mainstream was instructive, because it indicated how more deeply enmeshed conservatives became during the 1990s with genuine extremists.
And in subsequent years, this commingling of ideologies has begun to play a role in the presidency of George W. Bush, as well. As we've already discussed, many of these same far-right factions are now involved in demonizing liberals who dissent from Bush's Iraq war plans.
Chip Berlet's model of the American right is accurate and helpful in understanding this transformation. He divides the right into three sectors:
- The secular conservative right. This comprises mainstream Republicans and white-collar professionals, glad to play government critic but strong defenders of the social status quo.
The theocratic right. So-called 'conservative Christians' and their like-minded counterparts among Jews, Mormons and Unification Church followers, as well as Christian nationalists. Some of the more powerful elements of this faction argue that the United States is a "Christian nation," and still others -- called "Reconstructionists" -- argue for remaking the nation as a theocratic state.
The xenophobic right. These include the ultra-conservatives and reactionaries who make broad appeals to working-class and blue-collar constituencies, particularly in rural areas, with a notable predilection for wrapping themselves in the flag. [See Pat Buchanan.] This faction ranges from the relatively mild-mannered Libertarians -- who also have made big inroads into the computer-geek universe -- to the more virulent and paranoid militia/Patriot movement, and finally to the hard right: the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, Posse Comitatus and various white supremacists -- including some of the nastier elements of the Patriot movement -- all of whom wish nothing more than to tear down modern democratic America and start over. This is the faction where some of the more insidious ideas (like bizarre tax-protest theories) and conspiracies (from black helicopters to the Protocols) originate, making their appearance in mainstream settings somewhat disturbing.
Transitional figures like Richard Mack and Rush Limbaugh play a central role in the way the rightís competing sectors interact. By transmitting ideas across the various sectors, they gain wider currency until they finally become part of the larger national debate. Secondarily, shape-shifters like Mack are increasingly important for the xenophobic right, because they lend an aura of mainstream legitimacy to ideas, agendas and organizations that are widely perceived otherwise as radical.
Transmitters operate in an array of related venues, often coordinating messages with their allies and timing the release of information for maximum emotional effect. There is a broad array of arenas in which they primarily operate: politics and public officialdom, including the military and law enforcement; the mainstream press; radio and the Internet; and religion.
Indeed, what fascinates Berlet about the interaction of the sectors is watching "the transmission belt -- how stuff gets essentially a trial run in the Christian right or even the far right, and the messages will get refined, and then theyíll be picked up by these intermediary groups and individuals, and refined some more, and then thereíll be a buzz thatís created, and then that gets media attention in the mainstream press.
"That isnít some conspiracy theory out of the White House. Thatís how this stuff works, and itís always worked this way. The joke is that itís not a conspiracy -- itís the way people organize each other."
Next: Official Transmitters
Fair and Balanced Fascist Memes
In honor of Fair and Balanced Friday, I thought it appropriate to rerun this excerpt from "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism":
Among transmitters of memes [into the mainstream] that originated in the far right, one entity stands in a class all its own: Fox News.
The cable-news behemoth touts itself as "fair and balanced," but no one has ever really figured out just who they think they're kidding. Probably the dittoheads who buy up Ann Coulter books.
Well, an open bias is one thing. But broadcasting far-right conspiracy theories is another. And that's what Fox has done on numerous occasions.
The most noteworthy of these -- though it received almost no attention at the time -- occurred Feb. 21, 2001, when Brit Hume interviewed a fellow named Bob Schulz of We the People Foundation. Schulz was propounding on television a tax scheme that is built upon a hash of groundless conspiracy theories which have their origins in the far-right Posse Comitatus and other extremist "tax protest" schemes. It was, in fact, remarkably similar to the Montana Freemen's theories as well.
Here's the transcript of Hume's interview [from the videotape excerpt provided at the time by Fox News]:
- Brit Hume: ... Coming to the conclusion that there is no law on the books that actually requires them -- or most others for that matter -- to pay income taxes. Most astonishing, noted the Times, those companies were not only not being pursued by the IRS, but some of them have actually collected refunds on taxes previously paid but now they claim were never owed. So is there something to their argument? Bob Schulz thinks so. He's the leader of a small but vigorous movement that is seeking to convince Americans that the income tax is a massive fraud on the public. He joins me now from Albany, N.Y.
Well, this will come as quite astonishing news to a great many Americans, Mr. Schulz -- what's the basis of the claim?
Bob Schulz: There is a very substantial, credible body of evidence by as many as 87 researchers that has concluded that the 16th Amendment was fraudulently certified in 1913, and that in fact three-fourths of the states had not approved or ratified, properly ratified the 16th Amendment, the income-tax amendment.
Hume: And what have the courts ruled on that matter?
Schulz: The courts have not ruled on the fraudulent ratification of the 16th Amendment. Bill Benson, the individual, the professional who went around to the archives of all 48 states that were in existence in 1913, obtained 17,000 notarized and certified documents relating to the ratification process in that state, he put his report together and went to court with it, and the courts ruled it's a political question for Congress. He then took the issue to Congress, and Congress said it's an issue for the courts.
Hume: And so basically it stands because the folks who could have upset it have let it stand.
Hume: Right. Now let me ask you about the tax code itself. Now, I know that you contend that within the tax code there is a definition of what is called taxable income, and that somehow, although it appears to apply to all income from all sources, it does not, because of what is called Section 861. Can you explain what Section 861 is?
Schulz: Yeah. There is no law, no statute, or regulation that requires most citizens to file a tax return -- most U.S. citizens to file a tax return or to pay the income tax. As an example, under Section 861 of the federal code of regulations, it says clearly that there's a list of income items, and unless the item of income comes from one of the sources which the code lists, then the code doesn't apply to the, um ...
Hume: -- To the taxpayer in question.
Schulz: Right. And so all of those sources are foreign sources. Unless you are a foreigner working here, or a U.S. citizen working or earning your money abroad, then the tax code does not apply to you. That's clear in the code.
Hume: Now, I work for Fox News Channel, which was -- is a division of a company that has its headquarters overseas. It is a domestic enterprise. And it is from that that I realize my income. Now if I were to take the position this year that I was owed a refund because the taxes that the company does withhold -- and I don't think I can convince them not to -- that I was owed a refund, and applied for that, would I get it?
Schulz: Um, heh, it might be difficult, because of the size of your corporation. Clearly, the federal government is nervous, Brit. A growing number of employers -- so far they're small employers -- have taken this position and have received refunds back for the money they're withheld from the paychecks of their employers. So far, no large company has taken this position.
This wasn't the only occasion when Fox interviewed Schulz. When he staged a "hunger strike" (there's no evidence he actually went without food) later that year, Fox's Hannity and Colmes interviewed him, and were only a little less credulous than Hume.
[Schulz, for those interested, gave up his "hunger strike" after the intervention of Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, who at first promised to give Schulz's group a briefing on tax laws with IRS officials, but even called that off when Schulz announced the meeting would be "putting the IRS on trial." Last anyone heard of Schulz, last November, he was threatening the federal government with a "final warning" to all branches of government to "obey the Constitution, or else." Um, OK, Bob.]
Then there's Bill O'Reilly, the former tabloid-TV-show host who now poses as a "journalist" as the chief talking head at Fox. O'Reilly in particular has a penchant for conspiracy theories.
O'Reilly, who especially prides himself at "no spin" broadcasts, bristles at such suggestions. So let's roll the tape, courtesy of the fine folks at WorldNetDaily, the Web site where O'Reilly's online column originally appeared, and with whom O'Reilly has had a long association. (Its own significant role as a transmitter is discussed below. WND has long been a clearinghouse for a number of other "New World Order" style conspiracy theories.)
This is from a piece dated March 21, 2001, titled "Oklahoma City blast linked to bin Laden":
- A former investigative reporter for the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City last night told Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly she has gathered massive evidence of a foreign conspiracy involving Saudi terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in the 1995 bombing of the federal building that killed 168 people.
This wasn't the only time O'Reilly touted this theory. From a story by NewsMax (another conspiracism-rich Web publication) later that year, titled "McVeigh's Trial Attorney Alleges FBI Blocked Conspiracy Probe":
- During an interview Monday night on Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor," host Bill O'Reilly asked Jones whether he believed McVeigh had acted alone.
It is worth noting, however, that this time O'Reilly at least interviews the source of all these theories -- McVeigh's attorney, Stephen Jones.
It has remained an O'Reilly favorite. From a Fox transcript of May 8, 2002, "Are the OKC Bombing & 9/11 Linked?":
- Last year, we interviewed investigative reporter [Jayna] Davis from Oklahoma, who believes there was a tie-in between the bombing in Oklahoma City and 9/11.
Joining us now from Washington is Larry Johnson, the former deputy director of the State Department's Office on Counter-terrorism under Presidents Bush and Clinton.
So you think there's some validity to this?
LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT COUNTER-TERRORISM OFFICE DEPUTY DIRECTOR: I was skeptical at first, Bill. I took the evidence, I looked at it, and I started talking to some of the witnesses. Where there's smoke, there's fire. You've got several things going on here that have not been thoroughly looked at and need to be checked out.
O'Reilly's record extends well beyond his propensity for right-wing conspiracy theories. There have been such slips, for instance, as when he recently referred to Mexicans as "wetbacks."
O'Reilly also has been sounding an ominous theme that likewise is becoming popular on the Patriot right: That liberals who criticize Bush's war efforts are "traitors." His recent remarks were especially noteworthy:
- Americans, and indeed our foreign allies who actively work against our military once the war is underway, will be considered enemies of the state by me.
Just fair warning to you, Barbra Streisand and others who see the world as you do. I don't want to demonize anyone, but anyone who hurts this country in a time like this, well, let's just say you will be spotlighted.
This, from the same fellow who accused Clinton of malfeasance during the Bosnian campaign, and who undermined our position abroad by openly suggesting that Clinton's missile attacks on Al Qaeda were an attempt to 'wag the dog.'
These, of course, are mere samplings. If you happen to watch Fox News with any regularity, these far-right themes come popping out from all kinds of corners, usually uttered by spokesmen from transmitter political organizations such as those I identified in the last installment. (The popular Hannity and Colmes program is also rife with this kind of rhetoric.) The result is a steady drip of extremist memes blending into the day's Republican talking points.
[This excerpt will reappear in a few days, when I republish Part IX, from which it is taken.]
Fair and Balanced Anti-Semitism
It is beginning to appear that the concerns about Mel Gibson's film The Passion were far from groundless:
- Jews Horrified By Gibsonís Jesus Film
After watching the subtitled drama last week, Rabbi Eugene Korn, director of interfaith affairs for the Anti-Defamation League, warned that the anti-Jewish concepts he believes are in the film will feed anti-Semitism by promoting the 2,000-year-old charge of "Christ killers" against Jews.
"The tragic dimension to this movie is the way it portrays Jews in the worst way as the sinister enemies of God," Rabbi Korn told The Jewish Week.
He viewed the violent, nearly two-hour film, which Gibson scripted and directed, with about 30 other Jewish community members, as well as another 50 Evangelical and traditional Catholic leaders. The morning screening on Aug. 8 was hosted by Gibson at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.
ADL national director Abraham Foxman, who was not at the screening, said: "The film unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as the ones responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus," a charge that led to the persecution and murder of Jews throughout the world over two millennia.
"If released in its present form," Foxman said, the film will fuel hatred by reinforcing the notion of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus "that many responsible churches have worked so hard to repudiate."
Outlining the worst offenses, Rabbi Korn said Gibsonís film:
-- Reinforces the ancient Christ-killer charge by portraying "Jewish authorities and the Jewish 'mob' as forcing the decision to torture and execute Jesus, thus assuming responsibility for the execution."
-- "Relies on sinister medieval stereotypes, portraying Jews as blood-thirsty, sadistic and money-hungry enemies of God who lack compassion and humanity."
-- "Relies on historical errors, chief among them its depiction of the Jewish high priest controlling Pontius Pilate."
-- "Portrays Jews who adhere to their Jewish faith as enemies of God and the locus of evil."
Rabbi Korn and Gibson had an acrimonious exchange during a question-and-answer period after the screening.
"I appealed to him as a man of faith and on the basis of moral responsibility," Rabbi Korn said. "He said, 'this is the truth as he knows it,' " referring to the film. "He said he understands Jesus because he is being persecuted. He seems to be callous to the fear and concerns of the critics."
"I came away with the feeling heís playing off the conservative Christians against the liberal Christians, and the Jews against the Christian community in general," Rabbi Korn charged. "He said in so many words, he considers the teachings of the Catholic Church to be illegitimate revisionism."
Given the level of anti-Semitism that apparently pervades the film, the time has come for a reporter to ask Gibson whether he agrees with his father's views on the Holocaust as well.
And it is time for all those pundits who have endorsed the film to explain themselves.
Some Fair and Balanced Questions
I'm certain this has been pointed out elsewhere (I'm sure I've seen it discussed on various threads and forums, notably Salon's Table Talk, and Media Whores Online has raised it on numerous fronts as well), but it is a question that bears repeating -- and for that matter deserves wide discussion:
Has the Republican Party become hostile, or at best indifferent, to the democratic process?
This is a serious question, and it is raised by the GOP's own high-profile behavior of the past five years:
-- Attempting to unseat a twice-elected president through an impeachment proceeding that had neither any rational basis nor popular support, and in the process undermining the office of the presidency.
-- Forcing upon the electorate a president who lost the popular vote by more than half a million ballots, and who would have lost the Electoral College had all legally cast ballots been properly counted in Florida.
-- Moreover, this theft of the election occurred under the auspices of a nakedly partisan Supreme Court whose tortured rulings en route to installing their candidate violated such basic principles of democracy as the constitutional separation of powers -- that is, the court in essence chose their own successors (who will assuredly be movement conservatives like themselves), something the Constitution does not empower them to do.
-- What was particularly disturbing about this ruling and subsequent installation of a Republican president was that it was so inimical to the fundamental democratic principle that every person's legally cast vote should count (and certainly an aspect of this is that half-million more votes for his opponent should have counted for something as well). Indeed, Justice Antonin Scalia, during the process of bending the law whichever way was necessary to obtain the outcome desired by the Bush team, went even so far as to declare: "There is no right of suffrage under Article II". This means, in simple terms, that citizens have no constitutional right to vote for President. (The thinking that could produce such an argument, by the way, is identical to the "strict construction" that is able to argue that the Constitution does not contain a right to privacy.)
-- Evidently not satisfied with holding the presidency, the Supreme Court, and both houses of Congress, Republicans have stepped up their efforts to consolidate their political power in every corner of the nation -- and have again demonstrated a willingness to overthrow basic democratic institutions to do so. This was especially on display this spring and summer in Texas, where Tom DeLay's plan to redistrict the state politically -- ignoring long-established traditions of reserving such work for Census years -- induced patriotic Democrats in the Texas Senate, who refused to participate in the trashing of basic principles of governance, to flee the state (twice) rather than allow DeLay's scam to succeed. (Indeed, as Lambert Strether points out today over at Eschaton, Texas Republicans are now threatening to postpone the primary election next March if the extralegal redistricting plan is not in place!)
-- This refusal to accept the outcome of elections and traditional democratic processes has recently surfaced with a vengeance in California, where far-right Republicans exploited the state's devastated economy -- the chief havoc having been wreaked by a cadre of GOP business allies, particularly Enron, through outrageous manipulations of the energy markets on the Pacific Coast -- by forcing a recall of a governor who just won re-election last year. Having created first a power vacuum and then a circus atmosphere in the effort to fill that void, Republicans clearly hope to capture the governorship in a state where they clearly are incapable of taking power through ordinary means.
Democratic institutions are the heart of our stable society; and by consistently disrupting and overthrowing these institutions in the blind pursuit of power, Republicans betray their own basic untrustworthiness when it comes to holding the reins of American governance. And when they consistently demonstrate that they are not willing to abide by the rules, nor respect traditions and institutions, we also have to ask: Just how conservative is this movement anyway?
Where does it stop? Will Republicans ever accept democratic outcomes of elections? Will they ever respect the right of individuals to vote and for their vote to be counted?
What happens when a Democrat wins the presidency in 2004? Do we have any reason to believe that the right will ever accept that outcome? And to what lengths will they next go to refuse or overeturn it?
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism
Thursday, August 14, 2003
[Parts I, II, III, IV and V. See my explanatory note.]
VI: Crossing the Lines
The line between right-wing extremists and "the conservative movement" has been increasingly blurred in the past 10 years. The distance between them now has grown so short in some cases as to render them nearly indistinguishable.
Certainly it is hard to distinguish between George Bush's contempt for the United Nations and the kind that a John Bircher might harbor. Moreover, Bush panders to these sentiments; he reportedly waxed nostalgic before a group of visiting Southerners about the old "Get us Out of the U.N.!" billboards that were common in Bircher country.
This, in addition to sloppy thinking, is why some on the left will offhandedly label Rush Limbaugh or George W. Bush "fascists." Iím here to explain why, despite all appearances, they arenít. Yet. And how weíll know when they are.
I first covered neo-Nazis in Idaho beginning in the late Ď70s and early Ď80s. Back then, even in a reactionary Republican state full of John Birchers, it was relatively easy (though not always so) to distinguish between the mainstream conservatives and the far right.
But that all changed during the 1990s. Responding to the serious law-enforcement crackdown on their activities, the white supremacists in the Christian Identity movement -- which was the driving ideology at Hayden Lake -- began morphing in the early part of the decade into the Patriot, or militia, movement. This was essentially an effort by Identity leaders to mainstream their belief system, primarily by locking away or disguising the racial components of their belief systems and instead emphasizing their political and legal agendas, all of which are bound up in the movementís mťtier, conspiracy theories.
And the Patriot movement has thrived during that period on its mutability, its ability to confront a broad range of issues with its populist appeal, all wrapped in the bright colors of American nationalism. In the Patriot movement, just about any national malady -- unemployment, crime, welfare abuse, drugs, abortion, even natural disasters -- can be blamed on the "un-American" federal government or the New World Order. If you donít like gun control, or the way your kids are being taught in school, or even the way the weather has affected your crops this year, the Patriot movement can tell you whoís to blame.
Of course, no discussion of the Patriot movement would be complete without mentioning the important role played in this crossover by its Southern component, the neo-Confederate movement. (Indeed, there are a number of figures prominent among neo-Confederates, particularly Kirk Lyons, who are closely associated with the Identity movement.) Its resurgence in the South was closely associated with the rise of the Patriot movement nationally. The rhetoric and agenda were likewise virtually identical.
At roughly the same time, mainstream movement conservatives -- driven to apparent distraction by the election and then sustained success of Bill Clinton -- became more ideologically rigid and fanatical. And it was in this meeting ground of Clinton-hatred that mainstream conservatism and right-wing extremism became much closer.
To the far right, Clinton embodied the totalitarian threat of the New World Order, a slimy leader in the conspiracy to enslave all mankind. To conservatives, he was simply an unanswerable political threat for whom no level of invective could be too vicious. Moreover, he was the last barrier to their complete control of every branch of the federal government. These interests coalesced as the far right became an echo chamber for attacks on Clinton that would then migrate into the mainstream, ultimately reaching their apex in Clinton's impeachment.
Ideas and agendas began floating from one sector to the other in increasing volume around 1994. I noticed it first in the amazing amount of crossover between militia types and the anti-Clinton vitriol out of D.C. that eventually built into the impeachment fiasco. In fact, it was clear that what I was seeing was that the far right was being used as an echo chamber to test out various right-wing issues and find out which ones resonated (this was especially the case with Clinton conspiracies). Then if it got traction, the issue would find its way out into the mainstream.
This crossover is facilitated by figures I call "transmitters" -- ostensibly mainstream conservatives who seem to cull ideas that often have their origins on the far right, strip them of any obviously pernicious content, and present them as "conservative" arguments. These transmitters work across a variety of fields. In religion, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are the best-known examples, though many others belong in the same category. In politics, the classic example is Patrick Buchanan, while his counterpart in the field of conservative activism is Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation.
In the media, Rush Limbaugh is the most prominent instance, and Michael Savage is a close second, but there are others who have joined the parade noticeably in the past few years: Andrew Sullivan, for instance, and of course Ann Coulter. On the Internet, the largest single transmitter of right-wing extremism is FreeRepublic.com, whose followers -- known as "Freepers" -- have engaged in some of the more outrageous acts of thuggery against their liberal targets.
And finally, thereís Fox News, which bills itself as "fair and balanced," but which in fact is a virtual data center for transmitting extremist material into the mainstream. One of the most egregious examples of this was Foxís broadcasts, on several occasions in 2000-2001, of an anti-tax protester named Bob Schulz. Schulz operated a snake-oil outfit called We The People Congress which operated on the old Posse Comitatus theory that the 16th Amendment -- the one approving the income tax -- was never properly approved. The same theory was also the main serving of a number of Patriot outfits.
However, the really interesting -- and equally enigmatic -- meeting-ground between the far right and the apparent mainstream comes in the field of money. Namely, the funding of the far right tends to be relatively mysterious, since many of them work under the aegis of a religious organization and are thus exempt from reporting the identities of contributors. But it was interesting to see the money flowing from allegedly mainstream rightist organizations into several neo-Patriot outfits who specialized in spreading numerous conspiracy theories that were clearly Patriot in origin. Most noteworthy of these was the Western Journalism Center and WorldNetDaily, originally financed by Scaife. Moreover, there was a lot of Scaife money underwriting publication of the anti-Clinton material I saw distributed at militia meetings.
Scaife was probably the most visible case. Many observers, myself included, suspect strongly that outfits like Militia of Montana and Bo Gritz's operations in Idaho and Nevada are being funded by right-wing sugar daddies who make their livings in real estate or development, perhaps manufacturing. Vincent Bertollini, the right-wing Silicon Valley millionaire who underwrote Richard Butler at the Aryan Nations for a number of years, is another such case -- though as it happens, he is currently on the lam from a drunk-driving charge that is likely to land him in the slammer.
A classic example of the way the far right gets quietly funded by wealthy corporatists from the mainstream cropped up a couple of years ago, when a wealthy Massachusetts lawyer named Richard J. Cotter bequeathed some $650,000 of his estate to various white-supremacist causes. Itís more than likely he quietly slipped them money while he was alive, too. There are other similar cases -- and these are only the ones that happen to become public.
These likely are people who are not public about their beliefs but are sympathetic to Patriot causes, and more importantly, see right-wing extremists as a useful lever, a threat that helps keep "leftists" in line. As Matthew Lyons of Political Research Associates has often argued (especially in the book he co-wrote with Chip Berlet, the excellent Right Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort), the extremist right has long been a very useful tool of the corporatist right deployed purposely for precisely this function, as well as to drive wedge issues such as race between labor unions and working-class people.
It seems clear to me that by any reasonable definition, George W. Bush is a corporatist, not a fascist. It seems unlikely, of course, that he or his family are the kinds of corporatists who would financially underwrite far-right organizations today, given that the discovery of such would doom any political legitimacy for the Bushes. (And besides, theyíve already done their part underwriting -- and making millions off -- the Nazi war machine earlier this century. )
What is also clear, however, is that Bush and his cohorts have not the least compunction about allying themselves with the thuggish and potentially violent component of the extremist elements that have now been subsumed by the Republican Party. This became abundantly clear in the 2000 election, and particularly in the post-election fight in Florida. Don Blackís Stormfront people were there providing bodies for the pro-Bush protests, and his Web site proudly announced their participation. And as the Village Voice reported at the time:
- On November 13, Black helped an angry crowd drive Reverend Jesse Jackson off a West Palm Beach stage with taunts and jeers. "He wasn't being physically threatened," Black says, in a later interview.
No one from the Bush camp ever denounced the participation of Black and his crew or even distanced themselves from this bunch, or for that matter any of the thuggery that arose during the post-election drama. Indeed, Bush himself later feted a crew of "Freeper" thugs who had shut down one of the recounts in Florida, while others terrorized his opponent, Al Gore, and his family by staging loud protests outside the Vice President's residence during the Florida struggle.
These failures were symptomatic of a campaign that made multiple gestures of conciliation to a variety of extreme right-wing groups. These ranged from the neo-Confederates to whom Bushís campaign made its most obvious appeals in the South Carolina primary to his speaking appearance at Bob Jones University. Bush and his GOP cohorts continued to make a whole host of other gestures to other extremist components: attacking affirmative action, kneecapping the United Nations, and gutting hate-crimes laws.
The result was that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists came to identify politically with George W. Bush more than any other mainstream Republican politician in memory. This was embodied by the endorsement of Bushís candidacy by a range of white supremacists, including David Duke, Don Black and Matthew Hale of the World Church of the Creator. This identification even cropped up in odd places like the neo-Nazi flyers that passed around in Elma, Washington, in November 2000 that proclaimed Bush their groupís "supreme commander."
However, the signal event of 2000 that went under everyoneís radar was Patrick Buchananís bid for the presidency on the Reform Party ticket. It was this move which drove everyone from the Patriot movement firmly into the arms of George W. Bush and the Republican Party.
Right-wing extremists, for the most part, are only a tiny portion of the electorate; they usually represent at best about 3 or maybe 4 percent of the vote. During the 1990s, these voters gave Ross Perotís Reform Party nearly half its total base. This was critical in the 1992 election, when George H.W. Bush saw much of his conservative base go to Perot. It didnít matter quite so much in 1996 -- Clinton defeated the GOPís Bob Dole quite handily, with or without Perotís help -- but the lesson was clear. That 3-4 percent was killing the GOP.
So in 2000 came the Buchanan takeover of the Reform Party. He managed to do this with a maximum of acrimony, so that the party became split into its Buchananite wing -- which largely was the white-nationalist faction -- and its Perotite wing. Buchananís side won the war and got to carry the partyís banner in the national election.
And then Buchanan selected a black woman as his running mate.
The white nationalists who had been Buchananís footsoldiers abandoned him immediately. And where did they flee? The GOP, of course. As David Dukeís manager explained it to a reporter: "[A]fter Buchanan chose a black woman as his veep he now thinks that ĎPat is a moroní and Ďthere is no way we can support him at this point.í" The Democrats -- with a Jew as the running mate -- were threatening at the time to win the race outright. The combination of all these factors herded the far right handily into voting Republican.
If someone had intended to sabotage the Reform Party and drive its voters back to the GOP, they couldnít have done a more perfect job of this than Buchanan did. While no one can say whether Buchananís moves were made with this end in mind -- it certainly is feasible he believed his own bullshit -- neither does it seem beyond the pale for an old Nixon hand to take a political bullet for the home team.
In any case, what weíve been seeing in the field since 2000 is that much of the dissipation of the energy in the Patriot movement is directly related to the identification by right-wing extremists with George W. Bush. The announced reason (according to the New York Times) for the disbanding of Norm Olson's Michigan Militia, for instance, was the belief among members that Bush had the country headed back in the right direction, as it were:
- Mr. Olson attributed the dwindling membership to the election of President Bush. ''Across the nation, there is a satisfaction among patriots with the way things are going,'' he said.
It was in this election that large numbers of former Patriots -- many of them disillusioned with the movement after the failure of the "Y2K scare" to materialize, but still maintaining their attitudes about government, liberalism and conspiracies, and disenfranchised by Buchanan's campaign -- turned to the politics of the Bush team, which made all the right gestures to make them feel welcome.
Thus, even though the Patriot movement never even came close to achieving any kind of actual power -- outside of a handful of legislators in a smattering of Western states -- the absorption of its followers into mainstream conservatism successfully brought a wide range of extremists together under the banner of Republican politics, embodied in the defense of the agenda of President Bush and in the hatred of all forms of liberalism.
Then, after Sept. 11, the attacks on liberalism became enmeshed with a virulent strain of jingoism that at first blamed liberals for the attacks, then accused them of treasonous behavior for questioning Bush's war plans. Now we're seeing a broad-based campaign of hatred against liberals -- particularly antiwar dissenters -- that serves two purposes: it commingles mainstream pro-Bush forces in direct contact, and open alliance with, a number of people with extremist beliefs; and it gives the extremist element of Patriot footsoldiers who turned Republican in 2000 an increasingly important role in the mainstream party.
Namely, they are increasingly starting to look like the "enforcers" of the Bush agenda, intimidating and silencing any opposition. In the process, this element gains power and influence far beyond what it could have had as a separate proto-fascist element.
By first subsuming the Patriot element under the Republican banner, the Bush regime has effected an apparent alliance -- not explicitly, but systemically. And it is clear that while Bushís charisma may not appeal to everyone, he has the power to electrify this base.
It's difficult to say whether this absorption has mitigated the extremist impulses of the former Patriot footsoldiers, though it probably has. Certainly it has had the predictable effect of making a travesty of the Patriots' original ideology: those who once were rabid anti-government activists have become equally rabid defenders of the government of the Bush regime. Their presence at the large "pro-war" rallies which existed primarily as an invasion of preplanned antiwar protests was noteworthy.
More important is the effect that the absorption has had on the larger Republican Party. Just as the Southern Strategy changed the very nature of the GOP from within, so has this more recent absorption of an extremist element transformed its basic nature. Now, positions that at one time would have been considered unthinkable for Republicans -- unilateralist foreign policy, contempt for the United Nations and international law, a willingness to use war as a first resort, a visceral hatred of even the hint of liberalism -- are positions it touts prominently.
Now its agenda aligns with the base impulses Robert O. Paxton identifies as fascist, and which drove the Patriot movement: national identity Łber alles; a claim of victimization; hatred of liberalism; reigniting a sense of national destiny and a closely bonded community; an appreciation of the value of violence; and of course, all of this uniting under the divinely inspired banner of George W. Bush, the Frat Boy of Destiny.
In a sense, this turns the scheme of Paxton's second stage of fascism on its head. That is, the proto-fascists of the Patriot movement, rather than obtaining power by the ascension of their own political faction in an alliance with conservatives, obtain power through absorption, from within conservatism. Forming alliances first in hatred of Clinton and Gore, and then in defense of Bush's war, the conservative movement has, perhaps unthinkingly, allowed itself to be transformed from within.
Possibly all this commingling has had a moderating effect on the extremists. But it is mainstream conservatism that demonstrably has undergone the most dramatic change in this cauldron: It seems to increasingly view the Left as an unacceptable governing partner. And in doing so, it has effectively ended a longtime power-sharing contract between liberals and conservatives in America. It has become common for conservatives to openly reject any hint of liberalism, and to demonize liberals as a caustic and ultimately unacceptable force in society.
The impetus for these attacks comes from the hectoring likes of Rush Limbaugh and the truly noxious Ann Coulter, Fox News and the Free Republic. They are all people who take extremist ideas and dress them in mainstream clothing, straddling both sectors, and transmitting information between them. I call them "transmitters."
Next: The Transmission Belt
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
[Parts I, II, III and IV. See my explanatory note.]
V: Proto-Fascism in America
It's clear by now, I hope, that fascism isnít something peculiar to Europe, but in fact grew out of an impulse that appears throughout history in many different cultures. This impulse is, as Roger Griffin puts it, "ultra-nationalism that aspires to bring about the renewal of a nation's entire political culture."
We needn't look far to find this impulse at play in the American landscape -- social, religious and political renewal all appear as constant (though perhaps not yet dominant) themes of Republican propaganda now. But it is especially prevalent on the extremist right; indeed, it's probably a definitive trait.
Griffin argues that current-day fascism is "groupuscular" in nature -- that is, it forms out of smallish but virulent, potentially lethal and certainly problematic "organisms":
- After the war the dank conditions for revolutionary nationalism "dried out" to a point where it could no longer form into a single-minded slime mould. Since party-political space was largely closed to it, even in its diminutive versions, it moved increasingly into disparate niches within civic and uncivic space, often assuming a "metapolitical" mode in which it focussed on changing the "cultural hegemony" of the dominant liberal capitalist system. Ö Where revolutionary nationalism pursued violent tactics they were no longer institutionalised and movement-based, but of a sporadic, anarchic, and terroristic nature. To the uninitiated observer it seemed that where once planets great and small of ultra-nationalist energies had dominated the skies, there now circled an asteroid belt of fragments, mostly invisible to the naked eye.
When we consider some of the other historical traits of fascism, including those it shares with other forms of totalitarianism, then it becomes much easier to identify the political factions that are most clearly proto-fascist -- that is, potentially fascist, if not explicitly so. (As Paxton argues, its latent expression will not necessarily represent its mature form.) Surveying the American scene, it is clear that just such a movement already exists. And in fact, it had already inspired, before 9/11, the most horrendous terrorist attack ever on American soil. It calls itself the "Patriot" movement.
You may have heard that this movement is dead. It isnít, quite yet. And its potential danger to the American way of life is still very much with us.
Those who have read In Godís Country know that I conclude, in the Afterword, that the Patriot movement represents a genuine proto-fascist element: "a uniquely American kind of fascism." Let's explore this point in a little more detail.
As Griffin suggests, the "groupuscular" form that postwar fascism has taken seems to pose little threat, but it remains latent in the woodwork:
- But the danger of the groupuscular right is not only at the level of the challenge to "cultural hegemony". Its existence as a permanent, practically unsuppressible ingredient of civil and uncivil society also ensures the continued "production" of racists and fanatics. On occasion these are able to subvert democratic, pacifist opposition to globalisation, as has been seen when they have infiltrated the "No Logo" movement with a revolutionary, violent dynamic all too easily exploited by governments to tar all protesters with the same brush. Others choose instead to pursue the path of entryism by joining mainstream reformist parties, thus ensuring that both mainstream conservative parties and neo-populist parties contain a fringe of ideologically "prepared" hard-core extremists. Moreover, while the semi-clandestine groupuscular form now adopted by hard-core activist and metapolitical fascism cannot spawn the uniformed paramilitary cadres of the 1930s, it is ideally suited to breeding lone wolf terrorists and self-styled "political soldiers" in trainers and bomber-jackets dedicated to a tactic of subversion known in Italian as "spontaneism". [Emphasis mine] By reading the rationalised hate that they find on their screens as a revelation they transform their brooding malaise into a sense of mission and turn the servers of their book-marked web groupuscules into their masters.
Griffin identifies this manifestation of fascism not only in Europe but in the United States:
- One of the earliest such acts of terrorism on record harks back to halcyon pre-PC days. When Kohler Gundolf committed the Oktoberfest bombing in 1980 it was initially attributed to a "nutter" working independently of the organised right. Yet it later transpired that he had been a member of the West German groupuscule, Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann. It also emerged at the trial of the "Oklahoma bomber", Timothy McVeigh, that he had been deeply influenced by the USA's thriving groupuscular right subculture. His disaffection with the contemporary state of the nation had been politicised by his exposure to the shadowy revolutionary subculture created by the patriotic militias, rifle clubs and survivalists. In particular, his belief that he had been personally called to do something to break ZOGís (the so-called Zionist Occupation Government) stranglehold on America had crystallised into a plan on reading The Turner Diaries by William Pierce, head of the National Alliance.
Conservatives have successfully re-airbrushed the Oklahoma City bombing as the act of a single maniac (or two) rather than the piece of right-wing terrorism it was, derived wholly from an ideological stew of venomous hate that has simultaneously been seeping into mainstream conservatism throughout the 1990s and since.
The Patriot movement that inspired Tim McVeigh and his cohorts -- as well as a string of other would-be right-wing terrorists who were involved in some 40-odd other cases in the five years following April 15, 1995 -- indeed is descended almost directly from overtly fascist elements in American politics. Much of its political and "legal" philosophy is derived from the "Posse Comitatus" movement of the 1970s and Ď80s, which itself originated (in the 1960s) from the teachings of renowned anti-Semite William Potter Gale, and further propagated by Mike Beach, a former "Silver Shirt" follower of neo-Nazi ideologue William Dudley Pelley.
Though the Patriot movement is fairly multifaceted, most Americans have a view of it mostly through the media images related to a single facet -- the often pathetic collection of bunglers and fantasists known as the militia movement. Moreover, theyíve been told that the militia movement is dead.
It is, more or less. (And the whys of that, as we will see, are crucial here.) But the Patriot movement -- oh, itís alive and reasonably well. Let's put it this way: It isn't going away anytime soon.
The militia "movement" was only one strategy in the broad coalition of right-wing extremists who call themselves the "Patriot" movement. What this movement really represents is the attempt of old nationalist, white-supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies to mainstream themselves by stripping away the arguments about race and ethnicity, and focusing almost single-mindedly on their underlying political and legal philosophies -- which all come wrapped up, of course, in the neat little Manichean package of conspiracy theories. In the process, most of their spokesmen carefully eschew race talk or Jew-baiting, but refer instead to "welfare queens" and "international bankers" and the "New World Order".
Forming militias was a strategy mainly aimed at recruiting from the mainstream, particularly among gun owners. It eventually fell prey to disrepute and entropy, for reasons weíll explore in a bit. However, there are other Patriot strategies that have proved to have greater endurance, particularly "common law courts" and their various permutations, all of which revolve around the idea of "sovereign citizenship," which makes every white Christian male American, essentially, a king unto himself. The movement is, as always, mutable. It includes a number of "constitutionalist" tax-protest movements, as well as certain "home schooling" factions and anti-abortion extremists.
As I explained it in the Afterword of In Godís Country:
- Ö [T]he Patriots are not Nazis, nor even neo-Nazis. Rather, they are at least the seedbed, if not the realization, of a uniquely American kind of fascism. This is an overused term, its potency diluted by overuse and overstatement. However, there can be little mistaking the nature of the Patriot movement as essentially fascist in the purest sense of the word. The beliefs it embodies fit, with startling clarity, the definition of fascism as it has come to be understood by historians and sociologists: a political movement based in populist ultranationalism and focused on an a core mythic ideal of phoenix-like societal rebirth, attained through a return to "traditional values."
As with previous forms of fascism, its affective power is based on irrational drives and mythical assumptions; its followers find in it an outlet for idealism and self-sacrifice; yet on close inspection, much of its support actually derives from an array of personal material and psychological motivations. It is not merely an accident, either, that the movement and its belief systems are directly descended from earlier manifestations of overt fascism in the Northwest -- notably the Ku Klux Klan, Silver Shirts, the Posse Comitatus and the Aryan Nations. Like all these uniquely American fascist groups, the Patriots share a commingling of fundamentalist Christianity with their ethnic and political agenda, driven by a desire to shape America into a "Christian nation."
Griffin, in The Nature of Fascism, appears almost to be describing the Patriot movement two years before it arose, particularly in his description (pp. 36-37) of populist ultra-nationalism, which he says "repudiates both 'traditional' and 'legal/rational' forms of politics in favour of prevalently 'charismatic' ones in which the cohesion and dynamics of movements depends almost exclusively on the capacity of their leaders to inspire loyalty and action ... It tends to be associated with a concept of the nation as a 'higher' racial, historical, spiritual or organic reality which embraces all the members of its ethical community who belong to it."
But by remaining in this "groupuscular" state, the Patriot movement cannot be properly described as full-fledged fascism. Certainly it does not resemble mature fascism in the least. My friend Mark Pitcavage explains:
- Ö "[T]hough it definitely has nationalistic and volkische elements," the Patriot movement does not meet "the key standard: a corporatist-statist authoritarianism. Indeed, it often seems antithetically opposed to such arrangements (and often believes that this is the arrangement the U.S. government has)."
What this view, while accurate, misses is Paxton's point: Fascism, by nature, is essentially mutative. Italian, German and Spanish fascism all lacked any corporatist-statist leanings in their developmental stages as well -- and indeed could have been described as antithetically opposed to authoritarianism. The wheat bundle which is the central image underlying the word fascismo, after all, suggested a national unity in which all parts had a voice and a role. In the end, this image was a travesty.
A second missing characteristic might be more telling: leadership under a central, authoritarian figure. The lack of such a personage is what leads Chip Berlet to define the Patriot movement as "proto-fascist." Berlet, an analyst at the Cambridge, Mass., think tank Political Research Associates, says: "This is a kind of right-wing populism, which historically has been the seedbed for fascist movements. In other words, if you see fascism as a particularly virulent form of right-wing populism, it makes a lot more sense. Itís missing a couple of things that are necessary for a fascist movement. One is a strong leader. It doesnít mean they couldnít get one. But until they get one it isnít fascism."
Berlet takes little comfort in the difference in terms: "This is one trigger event away from being a fascist movement," he says. "Thereís no guarantee itíll go that way. You would need a very charismatic leader to step forward. But it could happen at any time."
The Patriot movement certainly is in a down cycle, and has been since the end of the 1990s. Its recruitment numbers are way down. Its visibility and level of activity are in stasis, if not decline. But right-wing extremism has always gone in cycles. It never goes away -- it only becomes latent, and resurrects itself when the conditions are right.
And during these down periods, the remaining True Believers tend to become even more radicalized. There is already a spiral of violent behavior associated with Patriot beliefs, particularly among the younger and more paranoid adherents. As Griffin suggests, we can probably expect to see an increase in these "lone wolf" kind of attacks in coming years.
But there is a more significant aspect to the apparent decline of the Patriot movement: Its believers, its thousands of footsoldiers, and its agenda, never went away. These folks didnít stop believing that Clinton was the anti-Christ or that he intended to enslave us all under the New World Order. They didnít stop believing it was appropriate to pre-emptively murder "baby killers" or that Jews secretly conspire to control the world.
No, theyíre still with us, but theyíre not active much in militias anymore. Theyíve been absorbed by the Republican Party.
They havenít changed. But they are changing the party.
Next: Crossing the Lines
I'll be on Rob Douglas' radio show on WBAL-AM (1090) in Baltimore tonight. He's interviewing me about a case involving National Alliance members that's making the news out there.
His show starts at 8 pm EDT; I should be on sometime within the first hour. Click the "Listen Live" button on Rob's page to hear it on the Web.
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
[Parts I, II, and III. See my explanatory note.]
IV: Tracking Fascism
Although Roger Griffin's definitive work brought the scholarly debate over a generic definition of fascism to a new level, the debate did not end there. It gained fresh life, in fact, and has produced some perhaps even more helpful insights.
One of these came from Robert O. Paxton, who is Mellon Professor of Social Sciences Emeritus at Columbia University. His essay "The Five Stages of Fascism," which appeared in the March 1998 edition of The Journal of Modern History, proposed an even more helpful model for understanding the phenomenon.
This was brought to my attention by Orcinus reader Christopher Skinner, who noted:
- Paxton's approach allows a certain degree of reconciliation among thinkers, particularly between those who see fascism as an ideology and those who see it as a mťlange of uneasy alliances. Paxton admits that he was, until very recently, a firm believer in the notion that fascism was not an ideology. But by suggesting a dynamic model that "begins at the beginning," Paxton reminds us that fascism is not unlike an elementary particle to which we must apply Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. The more thoroughly we study a particular fascist movement at a given moment, the less likely we are to be able to judge the arc of its overall progress, and the more we study the ultimate impact of a movement, the less likely we are to examine its particulars. Many historians, for example, who study the "arc" of movements, have treated Nazi Germany as the touchstone for a "true" fascism. All other movements are seen as not fully "worked out," and therefore, not fully fascist.
Griffin's insistence that fascism is an ideology -- "palingenetic ultranationalist populism" -- lets us zero in on the core of fascism through its various permutations, from nascent rural fascism to raging, mature fascism in full military regalia. Paxton's model essentially complements this, providing a framework for understanding that process of change (something Griffin himself has explored in recent works). History demonstrates that fascism itself, as Mr. Skinner suggests, has behaved more like a mutagen, shifting shapes constantly while maintaining certain core animating impulses. Paxton's essay is an important contribution to the literature, since it offers a very useful model for moving beyond the swamp of simply defining and identifying fascism toward a practical understanding of how it happens.
Paxton, as Mr. Skinner noted, offers a sort of middle pathway, identifying a central organizing principle -- "each national variant of fascism draws its legitimacy Ö not from some universal scripture but from what it considers the most authentic elements of its own community identity" -- that is closely akin to Griffin's "palingenetic ultranationalist populism," while at the same time constructing a five-step arc of motion for fascism that recognizes its essentially mutative nature.
Significantly, Paxton agrees with both Griffin and Pierre-Andrť Taguieff in their suggestion that fascism is unlikely to return in an easily recognizable form:
- Ö [O]ne can not identify a fascist regime by its plumage. George Orwell understood at once that fascism is not defined by its clothing. If, some day, an authentic fascism were to succeed in England, Orwell wrote as early as 1936, it would be more soberly clad than in Germany. The exotic black shirts of Sir Oswald Mosley are one explanation for the failure of the principal fascist movement in England, the British Union of Fascists. What if they had worn bowler hats and carried well-furled umbrellas. The adolescent skinheads who flaunt the swastika today in parts of Europe seem so alien and marginal that they constitute a law-and-order problem (serious though that may be) rather than a recurrence of authentic mass-based fascism, astutely decked out in the patriotic emblems of their own countries. Focusing on external symbols, which are subject to superficial imitation, adds to confusion about what may legitimately be considered fascist.
Ö[E]ach national variant of fascism draws its legitimacy, as we shall see, not from some universal scripture but from what it considers the most authentic elements of its own community identity. Religion, for example, would certainly play a much larger role in an authentic fascism in the United States than in the first European fascisms, which were pagan for contingent historical reasons.
Ö The great "isms" of nineteenth-century Europe -- conservatism, liberalism, socialism -- were associated with notable rule, characterized by deference to educated leaders, learned debates, and (even in some forms of socialism) limited popular authority. Fascism is a political practice appropriate to the mass politics of the twentieth century. Moreover, it bears a different relationship to thought than do the nineteenth-century "isms." Unlike them, fascism does not rest on formal philosophical positions with claims to universal validity. There was no "Fascist Manifesto," no founding fascist thinker. Although one can deduce from fascist language implicit Social Darwinist assumptions about human nature, the need for community and authority in human society, and the destiny of nations in history, fascism does not base its claims to validity on their truth. Fascists despise thought and reason, abandon intellectual positions casually, and cast aside many intellectual fellow-travelers. They subordinate thought and reason not to faith, as did the traditional Right, but to the promptings of the blood and the historic destiny of the group. Their only moral yardstick is the prowess of the race, of the nation, of the community. They claim legitimacy by no universal standard except a Darwinian triumph of the strongest community. [Emphasis mine]
We've already seen that a whole panoply of fascist memes are at play in the current political environment, appearing throughout mainstream conservative rhetoric (Rush Limbaugh's particularly) and manifested in the Bush administration's agenda. The last two sentences of Paxton's description ring a particular bell in the current environment.
Nothing could better describe the Bush administration's approach to governance, particularly to waging war, than as one in which "thought and reason are subordinated to the promptings of the historic destiny of the group." And the Bush Doctrine, boiled down, ultimately bases its morality on a belief in the superiority of American values, and argues for waging war essentially as a "triumph of the strongest community."
This is not to argue that the Bush Doctrine is fascist per se -- but rather, that it has enough elements in it to appeal strongly to the right-wing extremists who are increasingly becoming part of the mainstream GOP fold. It plays out in such manifestations as its utter disregard -- indeed, clear contempt -- for the United Nations and multilateralism generally, a stance that resonates deeply with the John Bircher crowd. And an environment in which extremist memes are encouraged by mainstream conservatives suggests that an alliance is taking shape between the sectors.
Likewise, the Bush administration and its supporters, particularly those in the "transmitter" crowd -- Rush Limbaugh and talk radio, Fox News, the Free Republic -- have begun deploying the very same "mobilizing passions" in recent weeks in countering antiwar protesters that Paxton identifies as comprising the animating forces behind fascism. Again, these kinds of appeal clearly resonate with the proto-fascist Patriot element that have been increasingly finding common cause with the Bush regime. As Paxton describes it:
- Ö Feelings propel fascism more than thought does. We might call them mobilizing passions, since they function in fascist movements to recruit followers in fascist movements to recruit followers and in fascist regimes to "weld" the fascist "tribe" to its leader. The following mobilizing passions are present in fascisms, though they may sometimes be articulated only implicitly:
1. The primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether universal or individual.
2. The belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action against the group's enemies, internal as well as external.
3. Dread of the group's decadence under the corrosive effect of individualistic and cosmopolitan liberalism.
4. Closer integration of the community within a brotherhood (fascio) whose unity and purity are forged by common conviction, if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary.
5. An enhanced sense of identity and belonging, in which the grandeur of the group reinforces individual self-esteem.
6. Authority of natural leaders (always male) throughout society, culminating in a national chieftain who alone is capable of incarnating the group's destiny.
7. The beauty of violence and of will, when they are devoted to the group's success in a Darwinian struggle.
Going down Paxton's list, it is fairly easy to identify these "passions" at play today, particularly in the debate over the Iraq war and the attacks on dissenters that occurred during it.
- 1. [Group primacy]: See, again, the Bush Doctrine. An extension of this sentiment is at play among those jingoes who argue that Americans may need to sacrifice some of their civil rights -- say, free speech -- during wartime.
2. [Victim mentality]: This meme is clearly present in all the appeals to the victims of Sept. 11 as justifications for the war. It is present at nearly all levels of the debate: from the White House, from the media, even from the jingoist entertainment industry (see, e.g., the lyric of Darryl Worley's extraordinarily popular country-western hit, "Have You Forgotten?": "Some say this country's just out looking for a fight / Well after 9/11 man I'd have to say that's right.").
3. [Dread of liberal decadence]: This meme has been stock in trade of the talk-radio crowd since at least 1994 -- at one time it focused primarily on the person of Bill Clinton -- and has reached ferocious levels during the runup to the war and after it, during which antiwar leftists have regularly and remorselessly been accused of treason.
4. [Group integration] and 5. [Group identity as personal validation] are, of course, among the primary purposes of the campaign to demonize liberals -- to simultaneously build a cohesive brotherhood of like-minded "conservatives" who might not agree on the details but are united in their loathing of all things liberal. It plays out in such localized manifestations as the KVI Radio 570th On-Air Cavalry, which has made a habit of deliberately invading antiwar protests with the express purpose of disrupting them and breaking them up. Sometimes, as they did recently in Bellingham, this is done with caravans of big trucks blaring their horns; and they are also accompanied by threatening rhetoric and acts of physical intimidation. They haven't yet bonded in violence -- someone did phone in a threat to sniper-shoot protesters -- but they are rapidly headed in that direction.
6. [Authority of leaders]: This needs hardly any further explanation, except to note that George W. Bush is actually surprisingly uncharismatic for someone who inspires as much rabid loyalty as he does. But then, that is part of the purpose of Bush's PR campaign stressing that he receives "divine guidance" -- it assures in his supporters' mind the notion that he is carrying out God's destiny for the nation, and for the conservative movement in particular.
7. [An aesthetic of violence]: One again needs only turn to the voluminous jingoes of Fox News or the jubilant warbloggers to find abundant examples of celebrations of the virtues -- many of them evidently aesthetic -- of the evidently just-completed war.
Again, the purpose of the above exercise is not to demonstrate that mainstream conservatism is necessarily becoming fascist (though that is a possibility), but rather to demonstrate how it is becoming hospitable to fascist motifs, especially as it resorts to strong-arm tactics from its footsoldiers to intimidate the political opposition. This underscores the real danger, which is the increasing empowerment of the extremist bloc, particularly as it has been blending, as we shall see, into the mainstream GOP. The increasing nastiness of the debate over Bush's war-making program seems to be fertile territory for this trend.
More than anything, the exercise underscores just to what extent fascism itself is made of things that are very familiar to us, and in themselves seem relatively innocuous, perhaps even benign. More to the point, this very familiarity is what makes it possible. When they coalesce in such a crucible as wartime or a civil crisis, they become something beyond that simple reckoning.
Can fascism still happen in America? Paxton leaves little doubt that the answer to this must be affirmative:
- Ö Fascism can appear wherever democracy is sufficiently implanted to have aroused disillusion. That suggests its spatial and temporal limits: no authentic fascism before the emergence of a massively enfranchised and politically active citizenry. In order to give birth to fascism, a society must have known political liberty -- for better or for worse.
Indeed, Paxton identifies perhaps the origins of fascism as having arisen first in America itself:
- Ö [I]t is further back in American history that one comes upon the earliest phenomenon that seems functionally related to fascism: the Ku Klux Klan. Just after the Civil War, some Confederate officers, fearing the vote given to African Americans by the Radical Reconstructionists in 1867, set up a militia to restore an overturned social order. The Klan constituted an alternate civic authority, parallel to the legal state, which, in its founders' eyes, no longer defended their community's legitimate interests. In its adoption of a uniform (white robe and hood), as well as its techniques of intimidation and its conviction that violence was justified in the cause of the group's destiny, the first version of the Klan in the defeated American South was a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in interwar Europe.
There is strong historical corroboration for Paxton's thesis here. Adolph Hitler reportedly was a great admirer of the Ku Klux Klan, particularly its post-1915 edition, which was obviously modeled on the original as well, in its treatment of the races and glorification of the white race. Indeed, Hitler would mock American critics of his program against the Jews by pointing to this nation's own history of lynching and Klan activities.
The latter Klan was even more pronouncedly fascist in its character than the original, particularly in its claim to represent the true national character: "100 percent Americanism" was the organization's chief catchphrase. Its origins -- its first members were the mob that lynched Leo Frank -- were openly violent. Though this manifestation of the Klan -- which spread to every state, counted membership of up to 4 million, and elected seven governors, three U.S. senators, half the 1924 Indiana state legislature, and at one point controlled the political levers in Oregon as well -- petered out by the early 1930s, its spirit remained alive in such clearly proto-fascist organizations of the 1930s as the Silver Shirts of William Dudley Pelley.
It is this lineage, in fact, that helps us identify the Patriot/militia movement as proto-fascist in nature. Much of the political agenda, as well as the legal/political theories, espoused by the Patriots actually originated with the far-right Posse Comitatus, whose own originators themselves were former participants in both the 1920s Klan and Pelley's Silver Shirts. (The definitive text on this is Daniel Levitas' excellent The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right.)
It is worth remembering that before World War II, there were in fact active fascists openly at work in America, and they were not all German-American Bund members. Indeed, what's striking about groups like the Silver Shirts is just how ordinary-American their character seemed. (The similarities to the Patriot movement of the 1990s is also striking.) Pelley himself was a bit of an eccentric and slightly loopy, but the rank and file of his followers were often the same "100 percent Americanists" who had filled the ranks of the Klan a decade previously. Of course, Rush Limbaugh's predecessor, Father Coughlin, was also a major figure in fascist America as well.
But fascism has always previously failed in America, and Paxton's analysis points with some precision to exactly why. Much of this has to do with the fact that fascism is an essentially mutative impulse for the acquisition of power -- it abandons positions as fresh opportunities for power present themselves. This is particularly true as it moves from its ideological roots into the halls of government. In the end, the resulting political power is often, as Griffin puts it, a "travesty" of its original ideology. Paxton describes it thus:
- In power, what seems to count is less the faithful application of the party's initial ideology than the integrating function that espousing one official ideology performs, to the exclusion of any ideas deemed alien or divisive.
Paxton identifies five stages in fascism's arc of flight:
- -- The initial creation of fascist movements
-- Their rooting as parties in a political system
-- The acquisition of power
-- The exercise of power
-- Radicalization or entropy
In the United States, as in France and elsewhere, fascism typically failed in the second stage, because it failed to become a cohesive political entity, one capable of acquiring power (though as I just noted, there was even some danger of this in the 1920s as the Klan in fact obtained some short-lived political power):
- The second stage -- rooting, in which a fascist movement becomes a party capable of acting decisively on the political scene -- happens relatively rarely. At this stage, comparison becomes rewarding: one can contrast successes with failures. Success depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of the liberal state, whose inadequacies seem to 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. Some fascist leaders, in their turn, are willing to reposition their movements in alliances with these frightened conservatives, a step that pays handsomely in political power, at the cost of disaffection among some of the early antibourgeois militants.
In the 1930s, the ascendant liberalism of FDR effectively squeezed the life out of the nascent fascist elements in the U.S. This was particularly true because FDR openly shared power with the Right, appointing noted Republicans to his Cabinet and maintaining a firm coalition with arch-conservative Southern Democrats. The mainstream right thus had no incentive to form a power-sharing coalition with fascism. At the same time, liberalism gained a significant power base in rural America through the many programs of the New Deal aimed at bolstering the agricultural sector. This too may have been a critical factor in fascism's failure.
Significantly, Paxton points out that fascism in Europe took root in a neglected agricultural sector -- something that did not happen in the United States in the 1930s. Indeed, it gained its second-stage power in the crucible of organized thuggery against liberals:
- Ö[I]t was in the countryside that German Nazism and Italian Fascism first succeeded in becoming the representatives of an important social and economic interest. The comparison between the success of rural fascism in German and Italy and its relative failure in France seems to me a fruitful one.
Ö All three of these countries experience massive strikes of agricultural workers: east-Elbian Germany during the postwar crisis in 1919-23; the Po Valley and Apulia in Italy in 1920-21; and the big farms of northern France and the Paris Basin during the two summers of the Popular Front; in 1936 and 1937. The German strikes were broken by vigilantes, armed and abetted by the local army authorities, in cases in which the regular authorities were too conciliatory to suit the landowners. The Italian ones were broken by Mussolini's famous blackshirted squadristi, whose vigilantism filled the void left by the apparent inability of the liberal Italian state to enforce order. It was precisely in this direct action against farm-worker unions that second-stage fascism was born in Italy, and even launched on the path to power, to the dismay of the first Fascists, intellectual dissidents from national syndicalism.
Paxton compares this to France, where fascism likewise failed:
- Ö It was the gendarmerie, even with Leon Blum in power, who put down the agricultural strikes in France. The French landowners did not need the chemises vertes. The authority of the state and the power of the conservative farmers' organizations left hardly any space in the French countryside for the rooting of fascist power.
Fascism as a political force suffered from the same sort of bad timing in the United States when it arose in the 1920s -- conservatives were in power and had no need of an alliance with fascism, and there was no great social crisis. When it re-arose in the 1930s, the ascendance of power-sharing liberalism that was as popular in rural areas as in urban, again left fascism little breathing room.
And in the 1990s, when proto-fascism re-emerged as popular movement in the form of the Patriots, conservatives once again enjoyed a considerable power base, having control of the Congress, and little incentive to share power. Moreover, the economy was booming -- except in rural America.
Unsurprisingly, that is where the Patriots built their popular base. Importantly, much of that base-building revolved around a motif that created a significant area of common interest with mainstream conservatives: hatred of Bill Clinton. And it was there that the alliance between right-wing extremists and mainstream conservatives first took root and flowered.
Next: Proto-Fascism in America
Al Franken is taking Fox's howlingly frivolous lawsuit in stride:
- "I normally prefer not to be out of the country on vacation when I'm sued. However, from everything I know about law regarding satire, I'm not worried," Franken, who has not filed a response in court, said in a statement released Tuesday. He is vacationing in Italy.
In its court papers, Fox described the author and liberal commentator as "neither a journalist nor a television news personality. He is not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight."
Fox alleged that Franken was "either intoxicated or deranged" when he attacked the network and conservative host Bill O'Reilly at an April press correspondents dinner. The lawsuit also says that Franken has been described as "increasingly unfunny."
"As far as the personal attacks go," Franken responded, "when I read 'intoxicated or deranged' and 'shrill and unstable' in their complaint, I thought for a moment I was a Fox commentator.
"And by the way, a few months ago, I trademarked the word 'funny.' So when Fox calls me 'unfunny,' they're violating my trademark. I am seriously considering a countersuit."
Oh, I'm sure Al Franken is increasingly unfunny to the liars, half-wits and propagandists at Fox. I think half the world saw that look on Bill O'Reilly's face after Franken was done humiliating him at the press luncheon. Nor will we soon forget his witty rejoinder: "Shut up!!!!"
Bob Somerby at the incomparable Daily Howler points up this bizarre tidbit from Chris Mathews on MSNBC's Hardball:
- MATTHEWS: Talk to me, both of you, about the psychology of the Democratic Party which I find very depressing. If George W. Bushóletís be honest about this. Everybody watching, conservative, middle-of-the-road, or liberalóif the George W. Bush had won the popular vote by 600,000 votes in the last election, and somehow didnít manage to become president because he didnít win the electoral college, fair or not, he would have walked around the country in Texas as some sort of stud. He would have been the stud duck of the country. Everybody would have looked up to him and applauded wherever he went. He would have been the guy who got the most votes. Al Gore looks and acts like a guy who really, really did lose. He really did lose. And why is that? Because you know that Bush would have loved it. Bush would have had the most votes. He would have said, sure the guy gets the job, but I am the most popular guy in the country. Why is that?
Well, gosh, Chris -- maybe it's because some people were saying this just before the election:
- Al Gore, knowing him as we do, may have no problem taking the presidential oath after losing the popular vote to George W. Bush. He's lost popularity contests before. But how will the country take it?
How will a populace already turned off to politics react to the news that the guy who's gotten the most votes isn't getting the job?
Of course, it was being widely speculated then that Bush might win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College. This had the conservative press corps in a tizzy, as in this story in the Washington Times :
- Vice President Al Gore's strategy to go after states rich with electoral votes raises a remote possibility that has not occurred in presidential politics since 1888.
There is a chance he could capture 270 electoral votes and win the presidency even if he loses the popular vote to Texas Gov. George W. Bush....
Mrs. Jeffe, the analyst from California...says a split decision between the popular vote and the electoral vote would make it hard for the next president to lead.
A presidential election "is about credibility ó it's about legitimacy," she said. "It's not about words on paper."
Do you suppose the Times raised that concern after the actual outcome? Of course not.
That was just the start of it. Some of you may recall that in fact Team Bush had a plan in hand for the eventuality of a Gore Electoral College win. From Michael Kramer's column in the New York Daily News, Nov. 1, 2000:
- Bush Set to Fight An Electoral College Loss [sample page only]
They're not only thinking the unthinkable, they're planning for it.
Quietly, some of George W. Bush's advisers are preparing for the ultimate "what if" scenario: What happens if Bush wins the popular vote for President, but loses the White House because Al Gore's won the majority of electoral votes?...
"The one thing we don't do is roll over," says a Bush aide. "We fight."
How? The core of the emerging Bush strategy assumes a popular uprising, stoked by the Bushies themselves, of course.
In league with the campaign ó which is preparing talking points about the Electoral College's essential unfairness ó a massive talk-radio operation would be encouraged. "We'd have ads, too," says a Bush aide, "and I think you can count on the media to fuel the thing big-time. Even papers that supported Gore might turn against him because the will of the people will have been thwarted."
Local business leaders will be urged to lobby their customers, the clergy will be asked to speak up for the popular will and Team Bush will enlist as many Democrats as possible to scream as loud as they can. "You think 'Democrats for Democracy' would be a catchy term for them?" asks a Bush adviser....
And what would happen if the "what if" scenario came out the other way? "Then we'd be doing the same thing Bush is apparently getting ready for," says a Gore campaign official. "They're just further along in their contingency thinking than we are. But we wouldn't lie down without a fight, either."
In retrospect, obviously, the Gore campaign did not conduct a campaign of subversion against Bush's legitimacy, as Bush planned to wage against Gore were the tables reversed. Oddly enough, no one in the press was bright enough to observe that. Nor did anyone at the time wonder what such plans suggested about the nature of Bush's character -- particularly his utter ruthlessness even at the cost of basic democratic principles. However, one certainly can easily imagine the sustained howls of outrage about his base character that would have arisen had Gore even breathed word he was considering such a strategy.
By the time we made it through the subsequent Florida Debacle, in which the scenario posed by the pundits was turned on its head, the public no longer had to speculate about the character of the respective candidates. It became clear then (as it has remained ever afterward) that Gail Sheehy already had nailed down George W. Bush's character in her incisive Vanity Fair piece, "The Accidental Candidate":
- Even if he loses, his friends say, he doesn't lose. He'll just change the score, or change the rules, or make his opponent play until he can beat him. "If you were playing basketball and you were playing to 11 and he was down, you went to 15," says [Doug] Hannah, now a Dallas insurance executive. "If he wasn't winning, he would quit. He would just walk off.... It's what we called Bush Effort: If I don't like the game, I take my ball and go home. Very few people can get away with that."
Indeed, one wonders where Chris Mathews was during the Florida Debacle, and the week after, when it became painfully apparent that George W. Bush was more than happy to steal away the presidency by eking out just enough Electoral College votes (through, of course, highly questionable means) in spite of Al Gore's wide-margin victory in the popular vote.
Oh, that's right -- he was still busy questioning Al Gore's character.
It continues even to this day, including this latest diatribe. What has become painfully clear is that for no one in the Washington press corps do George W. Bush's absolute ruthlessness and his unwillingness to win or lose by the rules of the game raise a character question. Instead, they look at the guy, Al Gore, who has made abundantly clear his willingness to abide by the rules, to play fairly and squarely at every turn, and deride him for his wimpiness in comparison.
This is a serious pathology in journalism.
Via Atrios I see that Jack Van Impe's office is referring to Condoleeza Rice as a "faith-based leader."
Gosh, that would explain why Rice didn't bother to read the entire 90-page National Intelligence Estimate that laid out the assessment of intelligence about Iraq (and included information that undermined the president's public case for war). She just had faith that they were right!
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism
Monday, August 11, 2003
[Parts I and II. See explanatory note.]
III: The Core of Fascism
One of the problems with the easy bandying of the term "fascist" nowadays is that, by being loosely attached to figures who are only conservative -- including people like Rush Limbaugh and George W. Bush -- it obscures the actual mechanism by which genuine fascism manifests itself. It also lends itself to a hysterical assessment when clarity and focus are what's really needed.
Letís take a hard look today at the actual nature of fascism, by way of understanding not just who really fits the description in today's world, but how much danger to the nation in the post-9/11 environment they actually represent.
As I mentioned, a definition is much easier in the case of communism than it is for fascism. My friend and fellow blogger John McKay points out that the work of defining fascism has spun its own cottage industry of competing models:
- Defining Fascism is a very slippery business. I spent most of a graduate seminar a decade ago studying and dissecting this question. There is no agreed upon and authoritative one-sentence definition for Fascism. In fact, fighting over one is a still-healthy cottage industry that provides employment for plenty of historians and political scientists. My own take on it is to emphasize two points that lead to this slipperiness.
The first is a point you already made: Fascism is mostly reactive in nature. It is more defined by what it is against than by what it is. First and foremost, it is anti-liberal. This is not necessarily the same thing as being conservative. We too often define political positions as a scale between two polar opposites, when reality is broader and sloppier than that. So, while Fascism is a thing of the right, it is not just extremism beyond normal conservatism. Next, it is anti-pluralist, which usually means nationalist, racist, and/or unilateralist. Fascists don't like to share.
Second, it is not just one thing. There have been many forms of Fascism. The popular image of Fascism is simply Nazism. Some scholars debate whether Nazism is one variety of Fascism or a separate (though related) phenomenon. I lean toward the variety school. During its heyday in the thirties, there were scores of Fascist parties in over a dozen countries. These evolved from earlier political movements and some survive in successor movements. The use of pronouns like proto-, post-, and neo- helps a little in sorting them out, but only a little. One reason for its persistence is its mutability. Most political societies can produce a fascism.
The first attempts to study fascism were largely conducted from a Marxist point of view, which predictably explained it primarily as a reaction against the "communist revolution." In many ways, thatís what it was -- though of course, it was also a great deal more. Many of these early studies, not surprisingly, reduced fascism to an aggressive form of capitalism. In the years after World War II, when fascism had largely been eradicated as a form of governance, studies of it expanded the definition considerably and created a far more realistic, nuanced and accurate understanding of it.
The bulk of these studies essentially defined it descriptively -- that is, as a series of various traits that were found to be pervasive among fascist systems. (This was the approach Umberto Eco attempted in his "Ur-Fascism" essay.) The best-known and -regarded example of this approach is Stanley Payneís work, which offers a "typological definition" of fascism:
- A. The Fascist Negations:
-- Anticonservatism (though with the understanding that fascist groups were willing to undertake temporary alliances with groups from any other sector, most commonly with the right)
B. Ideology and Goals:
-- Creation of a new nationalist authoritarian state based not merely on traditional principles or models
-- Organization of some new kind of regulated, multiclass, integrated national economic structure, whether called national corporatist, national socialist, or national syndicalist
-- The goal of empire or a radical change in the nationís relationship with other powers
-- Specific espousal of an idealist, voluntarist creed, normally involving the attempt to realize a new form of modern, self-determined, secular culture
C. Style and Organization:
-- Emphasis on esthetic structure of meetings, symbols, and political choreography, stressing romantic and mystical aspects
-- Attempted mass mobilization with militarization of political relationships and style and with the goal of a mass party militia
-- Positive evaluation and use of, or willingness to use, violence
-- Extreme stress on the masculine principle and male dominance, while espousing the organic view of society
-- Exaltation of youth above other phases of life, emphasizing the conflict of generations, at least in effecting the initial political transformation
-- Specific tendency toward an authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of command, whether or not the command is to some degree initially elective
Payneís approach is useful, in the same way that Ecoís is -- it contains important descriptive information that helps us get a sense of the multifaceted phenomenon that fascism in fact is. (Payneís typology is also a good deal more systematic and logically coherent than Ecoís.) But these approaches share a similar flaw -- that is, a number of the traits described in these systems also can clearly describe not only communism, which is by its nature the ideological opposite to fascism, as well as other political ideologies. In that sense, itís clear these traits tend to be endemic to totalitarianism broadly -- theyíre going to be woven into what is fascist, but they wonít be unique to it.
Much wrangling has ensued (Payneís Fascism: Comparison and Definition was published in 1980). The long and short of it is that the consensus (and debate) since the early 1990s has tended to revolve around the work of Oxford professor Roger Griffin, who lectures on the History of Ideas at the school. His 1991 text, The Nature of Fascism, is considered by many to be the definitive work on the subject.
Griffin has essentially managed to boil fascism down to a basic core he calls palingenetic ultranationalist populism. (Palingenesis is the concept of mythic rebirth from the ashes, embodied by the Phoenix.) One of Griffinís signature essays on fascism opens with this useful definition:
- Fascism: modern political ideology that seeks to regenerate the social, economic, and cultural life of a country by basing it on a heightened sense of national belonging or ethnic identity. Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and often presses for the destruction of elections, legislatures, and other elements of democracy. Despite the idealistic goals of fascism, attempts to build fascist societies have led to wars and persecutions that caused millions of deaths. As a result, fascism is strongly associated with right-wing fanaticism, racism, totalitarianism, and violence.
Griffin, of course, is an academic, but once you wade through the definitions and link it all together, it makes a great deal of sense, and actually provides some sharp definition to an otherwise murky phenomenon. In general, Iíve found all these studies, while often competing in nature, to be useful each unto themselves. (Another text Iíve obtained, an English translation of Harald Ofstadís Our Contempt for Weakness: Nazi Norms and Values -- and Our Own, which is not generally available, has also proved very insightful and helpful, but itís hard to recommend since few readers can get it.)
Itís clear that Griffinís work gives the most concrete handle on fascism as a phenomenon, especially since he manages to drill down to its animating core. For the most part, other approaches to fascism mostly offer useful descriptive traits that clearly complement Griffinís central concept. What makes Griffinís argument so compelling is that the tripartite components of Griffinís core -- palingenesis, ultranationalism and populism -- are nearly unique to fascism and appear mostly secondarily if at all among the other kinds of totalitarianism.
What is particularly useful about Griffinís model is that it does not, like Payneís and Ecoís, necessarily draw on the manifestation of a fully matured fascism for its examples. Thus, using these older analyses, weíre inclined to see fascism only as it replicates these older and mature forms. As Pierre-Andrť Taguieff suggests, fascism will not return in a form we can readily recognize.
Griffin recently assessed the potential for a resurgence of fascism in an article in the British antifascist magazine Searchlight titled "Paper tiger or Cheshire cat? A spotterís guide to fascism in the post-fascist era." He points out that if we look for fascism using the Payne or Marxist models, weíll mostly be looking for it as a mature phenomenon:
- Certainly any definition that stresses the style, policies or organisation of interwar fascist regimes -- the charismatic leader, the uniformed choreography of "aesthetic politics", the territorial expansionism or Kafkaesque agencies of ministerial propaganda and state terror -- makes contemporary fascism dwindle to practically microscopic insignificance.
- If fascism is defined in terms of a core ideology of ultra-nationalism that aspires to bring about the renewal of a nation's entire political culture, then the picture changes. The features so firmly associated with it in the popular historical imagination cease to be definitional. Instead they can be seen as external and time-bound manifestations of the central ideological driving force that is its only permanent feature: the war against the decadence of society and the struggle for national rebirth.
If we think of fascism in these terms, a much clearer picture of it emerges. For one thing, we can recognize its antecedents throughout history, while also perceiving how the forces of industrialization and modernization reshape these ancient impulses into the thoroughly modern creature that fascism is. More to the point, we get a much clearer picture of the actual presence of latent fascist forces at work around the world.
Griffinís definition tends to confirm the characterization of Islamic fundamentalists as "Islamofascists," but makes clear that there is one important difference: while fascism has typically sought to achieve "national rebirth" by fusing a mythologized notion of "traditional values" with modernist idealism, Islamists are irrevocably antimodern in their worldview. (Of course, this could be, as it is among far-right Christian Identity extremists, more a pose to recruit and discipline the faithful than a core principle, and thus it may be discarded when no longer convenient.)
It also confirms that such forces are at work in the United States -- though not, importantly enough, in the form of such mainstream GOP figures as Rush Limbaugh and George W. Bush. We may hear Republican luminaries from time to time refer to the theme of national rebirth, but not frequently enough that itís become a major theme (yet); and their nationalistic and populist tendencies are well-known, but both are mitigated to a great extent by their steadfast refusal to partake of the conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism and other forms of extremist thinking common to populists.
However, as the little Eco exercise demonstrated, there are enough similarities between these figures and the behavior of historical fascists to throw up a warning sign. And as weíll see, they do indeed play an important role in the potential for a resurgence of genuine fascism in America.
Next: Tracking fascism
Oh, blogger me
Sunday, August 10, 2003
My links are still bloggered. The post just below originated a couple of days ago with the post titled "Those compassionate conservatives". You'll have to scroll down to it till I can get these friggin things fixed.
UPDATE: Whew! They are finally fixed. Back to normal functionality. Thanks for your patience.
"What, me, compassion?"
John Cole at Balloon Juice seems to have a problem understanding moral vacuousness. So let's help him a little through this latest post on the ads attacking Bush's position on hate-crimes laws:
- In other words, if you do not believe in the policy positions as they outlined by your political opponents, you are morally vacuous.
No, moral vacuousness, as we shall see in Bush's case, is comprised of many things, but above all, of this: pandering to hateful elements within your own party, while pretending, for national consumption, to be "compassionate."
Quickly, to review: Texas' 1993 hate-crime law was notorious within the legal community as an utterly unusable, unconstitutionally vague law that would never withstand court scrutiny, and thus was never used. (In this way, Republicans had in effect ensured that hate crimes in Texas would go unprosecuted, at least as bias crimes.) The chief purpose of the 1999 version was to resolve this problem, giving the state an effective law that actually enhanced sentences for hate crimes.
Along the way, of course, it also expanded the categories of bias crime to include sexual orientation, which means that gay-bashers would face enhanced sentences -- anathema, as it happens, to the moral paragons of the religious right. For George W. Bush -- who only a few months before had knelt at the feet of Council for National Policy (a "cultural conservative" power organization that pushes the religious right's agenda), and who needed that faction's full support in the coming presidential campaign -- this meant one thing: the bill could not survive. He could not afford to allow a law that "promoted the gay agenda" (as the right liked to put it) to pass in Texas on his watch.
But this required a trick, since it had become clear his campaign for the presidency would be predicated on a fuzzy concept called "compassionate conservatism." So instead of taking on the issue directly or forthrightly, Bush played both sides against the middle in public, mostly as a diversionary tactic while he and his staff, behind the scenes, ensured that the legislation died.
John characterizes Bush's behavior this way:
- He was against the legislation- he has a legitimate position, and he stood for what he believed in- why should he be badgered into signing or promoting what he believes is bad legislation?
But that isn't at all what Bush did. First, when the legislation was introduced, he restated his traditional position: "All crimes are hate crimes." (More on this in a bit.)
But when it passed out of the Texas House, he was confronted with the possibility of having to either sign the law -- or veto it. Either way, it would be a national moment for him, and if he vetoed it (as the religious right would have demanded) it would have permanently stained his image as "compassionate," especially with the James Byrd killing so fresh in everyone's minds.
Officially, his stance suddenly changed. His spokesperson told reporters that Bush had not taken a position on the bill, and that he would consider it when it crossed his desk. Bush himself reiterated this a few days later -- though, somewhat cynically (as it turned out, given the extent his staff worked the Senate behind the scenes), he emphasized that first it would have to pass out of the Senate. It was widely reported in both the national and Texas press that Bush was considering signing the bill.
To this day, the Bush people stick to this story: Bush never made up his mind on the bill. He might have signed it. He might not have. Consider, for instance, this exchange with then-press spokesman John Sullivan after Bush's gaffe raised the issue in the 2000 debates, as reported by Salon's Jake Tapper:
- Bush spokesman Sullivan says the governor never took a position one way or another on the bill: "Ultimately, the 1999 bill failed in the Legislature and never made it to Governor Bush's desk. It never made it out of the Legislature."
Would Bush have voted for the House version?
"The bill never made it out of the Legislature," Sullivan says.
What about reports that he would have supported the bill had sexual orientation been removed from the list of prejudices included in the law?
"The bill never made it out of the Legislature," Sullivan says.
What Sullivan's version of events elides, of course, was that the Bush team (with Karl Rove in charge) worked overtime behind the scenes in the Senate to kill the bill, including a half-hour briefing just before the decisive vote was held. It has become clear in retrospect that Bush was vehemently opposed to the legislation, but knew that public knowledge of this would severely damage his nascent national image.
After all, it didn't take much thinking to understand that Texas needed an effective hate-crime law. Laws do send signals -- and the notorious ineffectiveness of Texas' bias-crime law sent a signal, too, to men like Bill King and Shawn Berry. White supremacists, especially those with prison backgrounds, loathe hate-crimes laws, and are likewise perfectly aware when they are toothless or absent. A hate-crimes law may not have stopped James Byrd from being killed; but the state had put out a green light for his killers, and it was time it turned to red. The Byrd case brought this fact before the national consciousness.
Many people besides just gays needed a good hate-crimes law in Texas. Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Jews would have benefited from it as well. Moreover, as anywhere else, a hate-crimes law benefits everyone -- especially because they are an important sign of a community or state's willingness to stand up for basic principles of egalitarianism, equality and racial harmony, not to mention basic decency.
George W. Bush couldn't have cared less. His campaign for the presidency was at stake. It was more important to serve the interest of the national religious right than the actual needs of average citizens in Texas. So he found a way to smother the law in its crib while no one was looking.
And that is a picture of moral vacuousness.
John adds this:
- Dave does note that Bush simply did not believe there was any need for Hate Crimes legislation (although he refers to Bush's position as a "mantra" -- remember, Bush is an idiot) Ö
You'll never find a post on this blog suggesting that Bush is an idiot. A crass, conniving and utterly narcissistic manipulator as well as a gross incompetent, yes, but not an idiot.
Bush's position, for anyone needing a refresher, is this:
- "I've always said all crime is hate crime. People, when they commit a crime, have hate in their heart. And it's hard to distinguish between one degree of hate and another."
This meme -- favored by everyone on the right from Bush to Dick Armey to Jerry Falwell -- is partially a product of the confusion that arises from calling these crimes "hate crimes" (they are in reality "bias-motivated" crimes; "hate" quite literally has nothing to do with them, in the eyes of the law). But even without that misunderstanding, this notion is transparently baseless.
Only a little reflection, after all, can produce a long list of crimes that lack anything resembling a hateful element -- embezzlement or securities fraud, say, or drunken driving, or insider trading. I'm willing to wager that abandoning your Texas Air National Guard unit is a crime, and the only hateful elements I can see in that are an abiding contempt for your fellow servicemen and their willingness to live up to their commitments.
More to the point, the recognition that not all crimes are alike is a basic tenet of law. Bias-crimes statutes recognize, like a myriad criminal laws, that motive and intent can and should affect the kind of sentence needed to protect society adequately -- that is, after all, the difference between first-degree murder and manslaughter. Intent and motive can be the difference between a five-year sentence and the electric chair.
Attempting a sort of zero-sum analysis that makes the outcome (in the case of homicide, a dead person) the only significant issue in what kind of sentence a perpetrator should face (the death sentence vs. a prison term) would overthrow longstanding legal traditions of proportionality in setting punishment, effectively eliminating the role of culpability -- or mens rea, the mental state of the actor -- as a major factor. Or, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously put it: "Even a dog distinguishes between being stumbled over and being kicked."
The "all crime is a hate crime" meme is one of the most transparent falsehoods trotted out by Republicans as they feverishly try to rationalize their desire to leave the doors open for gay-bashers. And it is evidence of the degraded state of our national discourse that they are not laughed off the stage for repeating it.
That is perhaps, because they have become experts at posing these kinds of transparent falsehoods as legitimate, constructed realities. (Remember hearing during the Florida Debacle how mechanical counts were "more accurate" than hand counts? I loved that one.)
John mentions this too, though from the other side of the funhouse mirror:
- It is all about perceptions- not reality. In reality, Bush was right the men were all convicted, two sentenced to death. Justice was served.
This is a model of how it works: Focus on an irrelevancy and present as the sum of reality. Bush was right, indeed (well, at least, once he had corrected himself) -- the men were convicted. But justice was only served in that case. Justice in the large sense -- in which Texas had a hate-crimes law on the books that prosecutors were actually able to use -- was badly harmed when Bush killed the bill.
The important thing to remember about the Byrd killing is that it was not really representative of a hate crime -- typically, in fact, there are on average only about eight to ten hate-crimes murders per year, compared to an average of about 9,000 hate crimes in America annually. Moreover, murders are at the extreme end of the criminal scale, and hate-crimes laws frankly have little effect, since it is impossible to enhance a sentence beyond the death penalty (though in fact the hate-crimes elements can help a prosecutor push the penalty to the death-sentence level). But they are only a tiny fragment of the hate crimes committed in this country.
A look at the FBI's most recent hate-crime statistics for 2001 [PDF file] gives a picture of a fairly average year (hate crimes in fact have proven remarkably steady since statistics have been gathered). Most hate crimes are intimidation and assaults; out of 9,730 total hate crimes in 2001, 3,563 were cases of intimidation, and 2,736 were assaults. Only 10 were murders.
When conservatives like Bush point to the Byrd case and say, "See? Justice was done," they are ignoring the many cases (in a state like Texas, they may well annually number in the hundreds, and over the years, the thousands) that went unpunished, or in which the perps got off with a slap on the wrist, because there was no effective hate-crimes law in Texas -- all thanks to George Bush and his fellow Republicans and their deep-soaked animus toward anything that might benefit gays or lesbians.
It was in pursuit of just such a law for Texas that James Byrd's family sought to support the 1999 version of the bill, which was named in his honor. No one, either in the family or otherwise, was deluded into thinking the law could affect their case in any way.
What was important to the Byrd family, as it is to many families of crime victims, was that his gruesome death did not happen in vain. Their hope was that by advocating for the new law, Texas might have a hate-crimes law with some teeth. Future Bill Kings and Shawn Berrys might not see that green light.
Obviously, Renee Mullins, Byrd's daughter, could be faulted for some naÔvete -- hate-crimes laws, on their own and without support from law enforcement, may only be marginally effective in combating bias crimes. Certainly she was naÔve about putting any kind of faith in George W. Bush's fair-mindedness, notions of which she was quickly disabused on the day she met him.
Her pain, her family's pain, represented the pain of hundreds of families of hate-crimes victims in Texas. And Bush couldn't have cared less. He was callous and cold. Some politicians, even conservative ones, have genuine compassion and can find ways to tell someone that, even though they understand their pain, they won't support the cause they're after, for reasons they can explain. Bush was incapable of this.
That, too, is moral vacuity.
But even Bush was topped by the spinning, frothing, falsifying font of right-wing pundits who hopped all over the ad Renee Mullins subsequently made for the NAACP. There were two versions. The first, longer one, went like this:
- Iím Renee Mullins. My father was James Byrd, Jr.
I still have nightmares thinking about him, the day three men chained him behind their pickup truck and dragged him three miles over pavement.
I can see skin being torn away from his body.
I can hear him gasping for air.
I can feel the tears in his eyes, the struggle of his brain as images of his life painfully bang through his head as the links of a heavy chain clinched around his ankles dragging him bump by bump until he was decapitated. [pause]
On June 7, 1998 this happened to my father, all because he was black. I went to Governor George W. Bush and begged him to help pass a hate crimes bill.
He just told me no.
I'm doing this commercial to ask you to call Governor Bush at 512-X and tell him to introduce a hate crimes bill in Texas.
Let him know that our community won't be dragged down by hate crimes.
The second, shorter, read this way:
- Iím Renee Mullins, James Byrdís daughter.
On June 7, 1998 in Texas my father was killed. He was beaten, chained, and then dragged 3 miles to his death, all because he was black.
So when Governor George W. Bush refused to support hate-crime legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again.
Call Governor George W. Bush and tell him to support hate-crime legislation.
We wonít be dragged away from our future.
The longer ad is quite clearer, but even in the second ad (whose meaning, frankly, is muddied by its shortness; the internal juxtaposition of Bush in close proximity to the words about Byrd's murder was fertile ground for all kinds of distortions) Mullins' meaning is fairly plain: Bush's callousness about the hate-crimes law hit her emotionally in the same place as the murder itself. (It should be noted that this kind of reaction is not uncommon among families of crime victims, especially those who dedicate themselves to causes related to the death of a loved one, notably when those causes fail or hit obstacles.)
But the larger message couldn't be clearer, either: Mullins was calling Bush, in essence, a phony. The whole "compassionate conservative" front a fraud. Because she knew, from personal experience, the man hadn't a compassionate bone in his entire body.
This was like a grenade being lobbed into the belly of the ship -- and Team Rove, to their credit (they are good, as Machiavellian bastards go), quickly lobbed it right back. It wasn't sufficient to merely refute the arguments in the ads -- that would have been difficult, since they were factually accurate -- they had to destroy the persons who created the ads as "reprehensible" for running them.
In short order, we began hearing the chief talking point -- that the ads had somehow "linked Bush to the murder of James Byrd." Soon we heard that that the ads implied "that George W. Bush killed James Byrd" or, in Kathleen Parker's formulation: "Bush, because he has opposed certain types of hate-crime legislation, is implicitly responsible for killing James Byrd."
Of course, these are classic "straw man" arguments: the ads say nothing of the kind. (Is that your guilty conscience talking, Ms. Parker?) What the ads say, clearly, is that when it came to the victims of hate crimes, George Bush lacked compassion. What they implied was that Bush was a phony who, contrary to his campaign image ("a uniter, not a divider") actually undermined efforts to effect social justice. But that is not a message that Bush's supporters could register or acknowledge. So they had to concoct alternatives.
John provides us with an interesting new version:
- Dave may be capable of creating multiple meanings for Miss Mullins, but I think the message of the commercial is pretty clear -- a vote for Bush is similar to letting Byrd's killers off -- Ö
Read that anywhere in those ads, folks? Nope. But you have to admit that it is creative.
It has been during this phase -- which, clearly, continues to this day -- that the moral vacuousness of not merely Bush but the entirety of his ideological conservative-movement supporters has been on prominent display. It is now a token of conventional wisdom on the right that the NAACP "tried to blame Bush for James Byrd's death." But one can characterize the ads themselves in this way only by the grossest distortion (if nothing else, the most tendentious reading) of their actual content. The lines of blame that conservatives find in between Renee Mullins' actual words are their creations, not hers.
- Ö [N]o one is twisting "the words of a suffering family into an attack on liberals." Instead, someone used the suffering of a family and twisted the outcome of an awful, vile, senseless murder into a subsequent attack on George Bush. That someone was the NAACP.
No one "twisted the outcome" of the Byrd murder. That was settled in the courts, and had nothing to do with the Byrd family's advocacy for the laws. They understood the need for a hate-crimes law from firsthand experience, and argued from that position only. Their words were not twisted by NAACP -- rather, they were active and interested participants in the ads and their content.
Renee Mullins said what she really thought. No one twisted her words, except, unsurprisingly, those who could not abide them.