Those awful, mean 'Bush haters'
Saturday, August 23, 2003
Newspeak and doublethink, the totalitarian "reality control" devices that Orwell described so thoroughly in 1984, don’t always take the form of the simple messages that are common to it: "War Is Peace," "Ignorance Is Strength."
Its underlying principles, after all, are the interposition of two seemingly contradictory ideas or concepts and asserting that they are identical, thereby nullifying their meanings. This concept can apply to whole reconstructions of reality -- particularly in the rewriting of history that contravenes reality and substantive fact, asserting the opposite of that reality to be true, and offering distorted or utterly false evidence in support and asserting that it is true. The most notorious manifestation of this is Holocaust denial and similar forms of historical revisionism. A fairly clear recent example of this is Ann Coulter's attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of Joe McCarthy.
Rich Lowry of The National Review (which, of course, many of us recall was originally a McCarthyite rag closely associated with the John Birch Society) has been proving very adept at this sort of thing lately, which makes him our Newspokesman of the Week for this recent column:
- Among the Bush haters
In the 1990s, a few lunatics accused President Clinton of murder and other crimes, leading to the coinage of the phrase "Clinton-hating." Thereafter, anyone who said a discouraging word about Clinton's sex-and-lies scandal, his slipperiness with the truth or his poor performance was tarred as a "Clinton-hater" and considered somehow illegitimate. The charge of Clinton-hating, constantly retailed by the media, became one of the most useful tools of the president's defenders.
Lowry is building on the "Bush haters are worse than Clinton haters" meme that is gaining great popularity among conservatives. Bob Somerby of the incomparable Daily Howler has already ripped a hole in the bow of the meme by demonstrating how Byron York's version of this thesis was built on false data. (Lowry gets dinged for repeating the falsehood.)
I also have to note that Lowry cites the "Bush Body Count" as an example of irrational "Bush hatred," which is probably true enough. But he conveniently neglects to mention that the "Bush Body Count" was directly inspired by (and in fact, at first was a parody of) the infamous "Clinton Body Count" that circulated among the Clinton-hating right for years, and indeed was touted by any number of mainstream conservatives over the years. (More about that in a moment.)
But even more significant is the way Lowry's version of events stands reality on its head. For most of the 1990s, Clinton-hating was an extraordinarily popular cottage industry that enjoyed wide circulation in the mainstream media, particularly on cable TV. And that cottage industry blossomed into the gigantic Republican Wurlitzer that continues to this day to devote the bulk of its energy to attacking liberals. The idea that it was ridiculed or suppressed in any fashion is laughable.
In reality, the people who were ridiculed, and whose views were openly dismissed as unworthy, were the people labeled "Clinton apologists" or "Gore backers." This was particularly the case on political talk shows, both on network and cable TV.
This isn't merely a partisan counter-charge on my part, but is an observation based on substantive experience.
I worked in the MSNBC.com Web newsroom on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., from the fall of 1998 though the summer of 2000 as a "writer/producer," which was primarily a production job. I was fairly low on the totem pole -- I was an independent contractor, not an MSNBC employee, and I got shifted around from position to position a great deal, depending on where needs arose. I was a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy who also got stuck on the lovely 10 p.m-6 am shifts quite a bit. Most of my writing work was incidental, or contingent on, my production work -- when there was an earthquake, I'd get, say, the assignment to cobble together a news story on the threat of quakes. The exception came when we'd have some eruption of right-wing violence (e.g., Buford Furrow) and then I was often given a lead role in the reporting. (The stories for which I won the National Press Club Award, "Threat From Within," were purely enterprise work I did mostly on my own time.) In any event, I wasn't one of their prized lead reporters but more of a workaday grunt. It was a great job, to tell the truth.
One of my main jobs as a producer was to watch the cable gabfests and news shows on MSNBC and capture video from snippets that could rerun on the Web site; many of these would appear simply as links within the texts of stories, which clicking upon would bring up a media viewer that would then show the clip. I had a TV on my desk, and it was on at all times, giving me a daylong view of what was being said on cable TV. (I should mention that before this stint, I spent a year in the newsroom of MSN Investor, where a TV tuned mostly to CNBC, which ran its share of political talk shows, and MSNBC was on above my desk at all times too.) I also had to be attuned to what was going on with the other talk and news shows as well, so I was sampling not just MSNBC but CNN and Fox quite a bit too.
I was doing this during the long buildup to the impeachment battle and then the long debate about Clinton that followed, as well as much of the 2000 election campaign. It gave me a pretty close view of what was being said and in what proportions.
What was really remarkable was not merely the proportions of Clinton-bashing compared to his defense, but the venom and volume of it. Across the screen would parade a veritable freak show of people whose entire careers, it seemed, were predicated on destroying the Clintons -- not over policy, mind you, but because they were wretched human beings of low character. (The projection, obviously, wasn't occurring just on the screen.)
It was quite a circus: The late and unlamented Barbara Olson, whose eyes would bulge at every prospect of reminding the audience what awful people the Clintons were. Ann Coulter, who would positively quiver with hatred while ruminating wildly about the Clintons' sex lives. Andrew Sullivan, that esteemed expert in psychiatry, who would render his expert opinion that Clinton was a "sociopath." BobBarr. David Horowitz. John Fund. Kate O'Beirne. A whole parade of lesser lights, all of whom had one thing in common: They could be counted on reliably to attack the Clintons relentlessly and without fear of being accused of being "Clinton haters." And their entire rise to national prominence was built on these attacks.
In the meantime, their liberal counterparts were (with a few notable exceptions, particularly Joe Conason and James Carville) incredibly tepid. The vast majority of so-called liberals were careful to distance themselves from the president and often openly denounced him; it was important, above all, to avoid the label "Clinton defender." Most of the "liberals" who would appear on TV ranged from mushy to downright hostile (e.g., Pat Caddell). The worst of these was probably Margaret Carlson, who mostly could be counted on to eventually agree that the Clinton haters had some merit to their spittle.
And it was interesting to see how producers would select liberal guests for their programs; increasingly, it was those non-"Clinton defenders" who would be invited back; but earning the dreaded label conversely seemed to make it less likely they would reappear.
(I remember particularly one of the liberal co-hosts of the old Bay Buchanan CNBC talk show, Equal Time, a bright young woman named Stephanie Miller. She was funny, fast on her feet and generally good with her facts. She had a real talent for skewering conservatives, including Bay. She didn't last long on the show, and I've never seen her resurface except in limited venues like those she lists on her Web page. She had a show on Oxygen titled "I've Got a Secret," but it appears to be off the air now too.)
This pathological double standard -- a clear abrogation of basic journalistic standards of fairness and at least attempted objectivity -- was common throughout the Beltway press corps, but it was especially transparent on cable-TV gabfests. It continued well after Clinton left office -- and indeed is quite apparent today, except that the equation has reversed into a pathological willingness to parrot the White House party line.
One of the more brazen moments that put this double standard on display for everyone to see came during those months following Clinton's departure from office, when the press corps was all in a frenzy over the phony "scandals" regarding the Clintons' gifts -- which, you may recall, later turned out to be pure ephemera.
On Feb 3, 2001, Howard Kurtz was hosting a panel on his CNN talk show, "Reliable Sources," to talk about the scandals. One of his guests was Josh Marshall, one of my favorite journalists, who'd had the audacity to question whether there was any "there" there to these stories (a line of questioning that later turned out to be exactly on the money).
Here's how Kurtz opened things up (after a long intro touting the scandals):
- Josh Marshall, you don't know the extent of damage or vandalism by departing Clinton White House aides, and neither do I. So, in writing in Slate Magazine that the press wildly overplayed this story, it kind of sounds like you're acting as a knee-jerk Clinton defender.
Marshall, of course, turned out to be exactly right. As he explained:
- Not at all. I think when I looked at that, when I looked at that story for the first few days, the charges escalated and escalated, more and more things, destruction of property, trash everywhere. And at a certain point, journalists started asking for some actual proof, some pictures, someone to go on the record and actually say this happened. And over and over again Ari Fleischer said, "Well, it's, yes it's true, but we're going to rise above it" and so forth. And at some point, you say, when are we going to get some proof that this happened.
And then Kurtz turned to Chris Caldwell of the Weekly Standard to deliver the coup de grace:
- KURTZ: But, Chris Caldwell, do you buy the notion that journalists deliberately pumped-up the story, not just of the pardon, which I think everyone would agree, the Mark Rich pardon, very legitimate news story. But, of the $190,000 in gifts; other presidents took gifts, not at this kind of level, and the story about the prank/destruction of federal property, just because they can't stand Bill and Hillary Clinton and because they wanted to portray them as kind of low-class Arkansas hicks?
CALDWELL: Well, you know, these preconceptions that journalists have are not without a basis in fact. One of my colleagues likes to say ...
KURTZ: So, you're saying they are low-class hicks ...
CALDWELL: Well, yes, one of my colleagues likes to say, "The Golden Rule is that all rumors about the Clintons are true". But I think ...
KURTZ: That's quite a journalistic standard.
CALDWELL: That's why I'm not going to tell you who said it. OK? But, no, I certainly don't think the gift story was pumped-up, because it fits a normal Clinton pattern. People are very interested to know what actually was the China that she got for this? Why don't we know for a fact that she got it from this Borsheims Store (ph) in Nebraska where she is reported to have received it. It'd be nice to know what they're reporting as a $190,000. One would like some assurance that it wasn't bought wholesale.
[Of course, the Borsheims Store story was completely bogus -- and had already been completely debunked the day before by Eric Boehlert in Salon, who a few days later detailed just how widely this simply false story had circulated.]
Was Caldwell a "Clinton hater?" No. Were the people who practiced the "Clinton is always guilty" ethos "Clinton haters?" No. They merely had "quite a standard of journalism." And that was all we heard of that. Meanwhile, Josh Marshall was a "knee-jerk Clinton defender."
[Oh, and in the meantime, did any of these smear artists -- Kurtz, Caldwell, Fox News, the pack journalists who yelped and howled in pursuit of this non-story -- did any of them ever go back on the air later, after it was clear the stories were false and groundless, and correct their errors? Well, no. After all, being Republican means never having to admit you're a liar.]
Of course, as Somerby continues to detail at the incomparable Howler, this is a pathology that remains fully active in the national press -- it has just shifted its emphasis and targets.
Now it is targeting anyone who questions Bush. According to our friends on the right, these aren't people who have real-world policy differences with the president and believe vehemently he needs to be removed from office. No. They're irrational "Bush haters." They're just like the "Clinton haters," only worse.
What do they hate Bush for? As Rich Lowry puts it in his conclusion:
- There is a vocal Bush-hating chorus on the left that resents his narrow victory in Florida, that will never forgive him for invading Iraq and that can't stand his cowboy mannerisms. It spreads anti-Bush poison far and wide -- but don't hold your breath for the Time story about "Bushophobia!" For the media, only the right is capable of "hating."
All right -- let's compare these things to some of the charges that were leveled against President Clinton by various mainstream Clinton-haters during his tenure:
-- Clinton was responsible for the fiasco surrounding the 1992 FBI shootings on Ruby Ridge.
The facts: Clinton was not in office until January 1993. The Ruby Ridge standoff occurred on the watch of his predecessor George H.W. Bush. Clinton was in charge when upper-level FBI officials mishandled the investigation of the matter -- but he was also in charge when those officials were caught and punished.
-- Clinton and his attorney general, Janet Reno, were responsible for the massacre of the Branch Davidians who died at the culmination of the standoff in Waco.
The facts: Though the standoff was planned before Clinton took office, he had been in charge for about a month when the initial assault occurred Feb. 28, 1993 (Reno did not take office as AG until March 11); and were certainly responsible for giving the go-ahead for the assault that produced such horrendous results occurred on April 19. Subsequent investigation of the matter revealed clearly that the fire that swept the Waco compound was indisputably set by the Davidians, almost certainly ordered by leader David Koresh. It was clear that the brute-force-assault plan was a disaster, largely because it had failed to anticipate the intended mass suicide it would spark. However, there was no evidence (despite various doctored videotapes popular among the militia/Patriot right that purported to show otherwise) that federal officials were responsible for setting the fire.
-- Clinton was the nominal leader of the "New World Order," a government conspiracy to subsume American sovereignty under the United Nations and destroy our freedoms.
The facts: This conspiracy theory was the raison d'etre of the Patriot movement, and like most of the material that circulated in that movement, it was entirely fraudulent, drawing in many respects on well-worn anti-Semitic theories about secret cadres of "international bankers" who conspired to rule the world. Nonetheless, it was peddled throughout the mainstream by a broad range of conservative Republicans, including Rep. Bob Barr, Rep. Helen Chenoweth, Sen. Robert Smith and Sen. Jesse Helms. All of these figures, it should be noted, were also prominent Clinton-bashers.
-- Clinton was responsible for a long string of deaths of people who had the misfortune to cross his path.
The facts: Probably everyone with an Internet account in the mid- to late 1990s received, at one time or another, a version of the "Clinton Body Count." And of course, there remain even today a panoply of Web site devoted to circulating this tale. And any number of conservative columnists and TV pundits made passing references to it, lending it further credence. But the "Body Count" has been thoroughly debunked as a fraud many times; the best remains this assessment from Snopes.com: Clinton Body Count.
-- Clinton was a rapist.
The facts: This accusation was raised in 1999, after the impeachment fiasco, by an account of a woman named Juanita Broaddrick who said she had been sexually assaulted by Clinton in 1978. She told her account for a writer on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page (after NBC News, which originally interviewed her, sat on the story -- for good reason). The charges gradually evaporated as it became clear that Broaddrick (who had previously filed an affidavit denying any sexual contact with Clinton) was not a reliable witness, and may have had a profit motive for changing her story. The facts of their encounter have never been definitively established, but there is no sound evidence to suggest that any encounter he may have had with Broaddrick was not entirely consensual.
These, of course, are a mere sampling of the afactual rhetorical turds that were flung by the mainstream Clinton-hating right over the years: Clinton's love child. The airport haircut. The Mena drug ring. The White House travel office. Vince Foster's murder. The 'scandalous' pardons. The vandalization of the White House.
All of these things have two things in common: 1) They are flatly untrue, unsupported by facts and evidence, and mostly the products of hysterical hatred. 2) Their purpose is not the least policy-oriented, but dedicated entirely to denigrating Clinton's character and cast him in the most degraded light.
Now, let's return to Lowry's concluding paragraph, in which he delineates three chief attributes of "Bush haters". One of these, that they cannot stand his "cowboy mannerisms," is so thin as to be nonsensical -- while many people have remarked on his anti-intellectualism paired with his frequent abuse of the English language, these have little to do with his "cowboy" stylings or manner. Being from the West myself, this has never been a part of what Bush has done to rub me wrong, other than that I've been well trained in spotting phony cowboys, and Bush is transparently one. Nor have I seen anyone, on the blogosphere or elsewhere, much discussing Bush's cowboy ways. (I have seen a lot of references to smirking chimps and AWOL fliers, but Lowry seems not to have noticed those.)
Lowry's two other attributes, however, appear commonly in descriptions of "Bush haters":
-- They despise him for having "won" in Florida.
-- They cannot forgive him for invading Iraq.
Both of these, of course, are incomplete descriptions, but let's examine them:
-- What "Bush haters" despise Bush for having done was having stolen the election through hardball tactics and the collusion of a partisan Supreme Court. Most of these Bush haters believe, with perfectly good cause, that Gore actually won the Florida vote. This is because a hand recount of all legally cast ballots in Florida, conducted by a consortium of news organizations, did in fact show him to be the winner; moreover, the Palm Beach butterfly ballots are estimated to have cost Gore at least another 20,000 votes; all in all, it is clear that the will of the majority of voters in Florida on election was to elect Gore. Moreover, it was the will of the majority of the American people that Gore be president; he won the popular vote by over half a million ballots.
Thus Bush's installment in the White House represented, for the first time in over a hundred years and only the second time in history, that a president came to office against the express will of a majority of the nation's voters. Nor is it even clear that he properly won the Electoral College vote; the Florida hand recount clearly suggests otherwise. Many, many people consider this theft of the election one of the most egregious assaults on basic democratic principles in the nation's history -- and again, with reasonable cause.
-- "Bush haters" opposed the war in Iraq because they did not believe the threat presented by Saddam Hussein warranted the all-out invasion of a sovereign nation -- something America had never done on its own before. They did not believe the evidence the president and his minions presented was either substantive or credible. And guess what? They were right.
Now the "Bush haters" are angry because it has become increasingly transparent that the administration misled the public into supporting a war that was both unnecessary and which has now exposed us to greater threats from increased terrorism, not to mention that which faces our sitting-duck soldiers in Iraq.
Lowry's list is rather short, though, so let me add a few other common beliefs among "Bush haters":
-- He is a walking disaster area for environmental policy.
-- He is a menace to our civil liberties.
-- He has harmed, not enhanced, our national security.
-- He has turned a historic surplus into a historic deficit and turned the most vibrant economy in history into one of the worst since the Depression.
-- He has numerous dalliances with unsavory corporate crooks who have managed to wreck whole corporations with irresponsible behavior and emerge scot-free.
-- He has tried to hide behind the events of Sept. 11 to excuse his poor economic performance (see the notorious "trifecta" joke) and has openly exploited the war to boost his chances of re-election (see the USS Lincoln landing).
None of these beliefs, whether on Lowry's list or mine, are founded in half-baked conspiracy theories. They are based in reported facts that are not in dispute. The only contention is in the interpretation of those facts. Moreover, every one of these beliefs revolves around policy and civic institutions -- they are not personal attacks aimed at impugning Bush's character. (There is only one common trait among Bush-haters that meets this description -- namely, their fondness for "Bushisms" and other ways of depicting him as stupid. It is a short-sighted and shallow view, but not particularly hateful, nor in the least delusional.)
Contrast this, then, with the accusations inveighed by Clinton-haters -- all of which were utterly without foundation and predicated on vicious smears and wild accusations, and all of which were about the Clintons' personal characters, not about their policies or their abilities at conducting it.
Like the Clinton-haters, "Bush haters" think his presidency is illegitimate. The difference, however, is that the "Bush haters" have rational grounds for claiming that. Clinton-haters argued that Clinton was "illegitimate" because he only won a plurality of the popular vote; however, after 2000, they stopped arguing that point. Funny, that.
What may surprise these conservatives -- as well as the DLC types like Al From who preach a nice, spineless brand of Democratic activism -- is that "Bush haters" don't really hate Bush. Oh, some do. But most are simply very angry at the fact that he holds the office, and are determined to see him removed.
They don't necessarily think Bush is despicable. They believe he is incompetent.
They don't think Bush is a Nazi or a 'New World Order' conspirator. But they do believe he is manifestly unfit for office.
In 2004, guys like Rich Lowry will learn the meaning of that difference -- and why it matters to millions of middle-of-the-road, perfectly centrist "Bush haters."
Because reality has a nasty habit of biting back at the people who think they can control it.
Bad blood on the border
Friday, August 22, 2003
A disturbing story that shows the problem of border militias in Arizona is getting worse all the time:
- Men With Guns
Churches, human rights groups, border crossers, and civilian militias are mixing it up on the U.S.-Mexico border
"People were already being harassed by the Border Patrol, and now things have gotten even worse," says Jennifer Allen of the Tucson-based Border Action Network. Mexican Americans born and raised in the United States, she says, "used to go out hunting or hiking, but they've been dragged out of their tents and harassed to such a degree that they don't go out of the city anymore. And now these vigilantes are out there with the attitude that if you're brown and out in the desert, you must be an undocumented migrant. So even the residents are in danger because the vigilante groups are bringing people in that are racist and hunting for anyone with brown skin."
Border Action Network asserts that some militia members have openly consorted with out-of-state representatives of racist groups. One public meeting in May 2000 was attended not only by such local militia backers as Roger Barnett and Glenn Spencer, but also by two representatives from David Duke's National Organization for European American Rights and members of an Arkansas Klan group.
In the meantime, the debate rages over whether or not MEChA is racist. As if that were where the problem lay.
I'll weigh in on that issue again next week.
More on the Transmission Belt
I have to admit that at times I've wondered if I've wandered too far out onto a limb with the issues I tried to examine in "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism," especially the extent to which I think proto-fascist memes circulate into the mainstream.
Of course, even bringing this topic up among conservatives provokes the usual distortions and strawman questions: "What you're really saying is that Republicans are secretly fascist, aren't you?" Well, no: I specifically say they are not -- they are corporatists. However, the GOP, by giving wide play to a variety of extremist ideas and talking points, is quickly gaining within its ranks an extremist faction that is growing in power and influence. And that is creating the conditions that can create a genuine fascism.
Part of my problem is that I haven't really seen anyone else saying this much, other than those bloggers who have picked up on "Rush" and expanded on it, much to my delight and gratitude.
Well, this week I found at least one voice of confirmation. I suppose it's unsurprising that it comes from someone whose work influenced my thinking (and someone I quote extensively in the essay, in fact), Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates. Chip has a great piece in this month's edition of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report:
- Into the Mainstream:
An array of right-wing foundations and think tanks support efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respectable
Are black people inherently less intelligent and more prone to criminality than whites? Are Catholics incapable of self-government? Did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 strip Americans of their freedoms? Does a tiny cabal of Jewish families control international banking? Do interracial relationships have the effect of weakening both races? Are there natural ruling elites who should be governing society?
These are the kinds of ideas that are being popularized today.
How do ideas that once were denounced as racist, bigoted, unfair, or just plain mean-spirited get transmitted into mainstream discussions and political debates? Through a wide array of political and social networks. Such networks are a robust part of democracy in action, and include media outlets, think tanks, pressure groups, funders and leaders. In the 1960s, for example, networks based in churches and on college campuses mobilized people to support civil rights legislation. But it is important to remember that backlash movements also formed to oppose equality. In the 1950s and 1960s, segregationists and white supremacists mobilized to block the demands of the civil rights movement.
Today, there are still political and social networks that seek to undermine full equality for all Americans. Their messages are spread using the standard tools: prejudice, fear, disdain, misinformation, trivialization, patronizing stereotypes, demonization and even scare-mongering conspiracy theories. While many of the groups within these networks describe themselves as mainstream -- and many disagree with one another -- they all have helped spread bigoted ideas into American life.
Chip goes on to enumerate just who these transmitters are, particularly in the think-tank industry. It's far more complete than anything I attempted in "Rush," and thus really invaluable.
What's also worth noting is that this entire issue of Intelligence Report is dedicated primarily to this problem. There is a broad array of stories tackling various aspects of it:
- Hate for Sale:
Beneath the radar screen of mainstream society, a commercial subculture of hate is flourishing
Reframing the Enemy:
'Cultural Marxism,' a conspiracy theory with an anti-Semitic twist, is being pushed by much of the American right
In Sheep's Clothing:
Around the country, radical right groups are staging 'European' festivals in a bid to draw ethnic whites into the movement
I was up all night reading this. It's compelling -- and another stack of evidence that the problem is worsening. Kudos to Mark Potok and crew.
What a mess
There's a reason I shouldn't be blogging right now: I'm spreading myself a bit thin, since the deadline for the book I'm writing (Sept. 1) fast approaches. But there are issues hitting the news that I feel compelled to stay on top of, even so. I'm still doing a lot of reading, not all of it well -- and sometimes my posts reflect it.
A good example is my post yesterday about the gigantic flustercuck that the war in Iraq is fast becoming, drawn largely from analysis by my friend Paul de Armond, aka Warbaby at World in Conflict. The thrust was accurate, but some of my conclusions were way off.
Paul weighs in with a useful corrective today:
- Polycentric Iraqi Nationalism
Anyone grasping for a single convenient handle on the Iraqi resistance is going to have a small piece of a big problem. The resistance movement behind the growing turmoil is a welter of competing and conflicting factions. ...
Saddam Hussein's tyranical Baathist regime was more like a giant organized crime family than a government. What we are now seeing is a transnational gang war for the spoils of Iraq.
Saddam may have planned for a resistance before the invasion, but after setting the juggernaut in motion he is now in hiding. As was the case with his sons, Hussein's big problem right now is staying out of sight. The notion that he would expose himself to death or capture by serving as centralized command and control node in a resistance network is the least likely of all possible circumstances.
Paul gives a nice rundown of some of the various factions that are now converging on Iraq and our sitting-duck military. It isn't pretty. Go read.
None of this, by the way, negates my suggestion of historic parallels to the First Anglo-Afghan War -- in some ways, it more closely resembles that scenario.
Incidentally, I'm not sure that I agree with Paul that getting out of Iraq summarily may not be "a bad idea." I think it is a bad idea. It's just that the alternatives may be much, much worse.
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism
[Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, and XI. See my explanatory note.]
XII: Divine Transmissions
The fundamentalist right and the extremist right have always done a certain amount of commingling -- witness, for example, Pat Robertson's "New World Order" skirmish, and the white-hot rhetoric over abortion. And since the early 1980s, conservative Christians have had an explicit alliance with the secular corporatist right; Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush represented this latter bloc, and their alliance with the Christian right was as much tactical as heartfelt.
Not so the presidency of George W. Bush. While secular neoconservatives are in charge of Bush's foreign policy, on domestic policy the Christian right has been almost completely in charge, beginning with Attorney General John Ashcroft's numerous assaults on individual and privacy rights, and running through the Ted Olson-led White House, which has endorsed attacks on everything from affirmative action to the Miranda ruling. Most of all, Bush himself has given his own fundamentalist beliefs an extraordinarily high profile -- to the point that fundamentalists' very beliefs are now identified with the president's agenda.
This is strange, if you think about it. If you look up and down the roster of the Bush administration, what's clear is that it is dominated by corporatists. And when you look at the Bush agenda -- from tax policy to "corporate reform" to media ownership to environmental policy to the war in Iraq -- nearly every aspect of it is controlled by corporate interests. This is disquieting enough; after all, the historical record is clear on one thing: When fascism has succeed at Paxton's "second stage," it has done so through an explicit alliance with the mainstream corporatist right.
A couple of readers wrote in to point out that Mussolini himself described fascism thus:
- "Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism, because it is a merger of State and corporate power."
Of course, this is a typically self-serving (for Il Duce) and incomplete definition of fascism; the alliance between fascism and corporatism was essential to Mussolini's success, and he liked to flatter himself as a kind of captain of industry. Though this alliance was indeed vital, fascism in fact was a complex phenomenon that drew its animating force from its claims to represent a true national identity. Nonetheless, as Matthew Davis wrote in an e-mail:
- Any reasonable definition of 'fascism' should incorporate a corporatist component -- both Mussolini and Franco (and certainly Hitler, who's not really a pure Fascist) were big on running their country for the benefit of corporate elites, at the expense of labor (sound familiar?). They occupied a grey area where industry wasn't the direct property of the state, but maintained a hand-in-glove symbiosis. The U.S. under Bush isn't quite as tight with industry, but it ain't that far off, either.
This argument, however, also demonstrates the limits of identifying corporatism with fascism. While the Bush regime is devotedly corporatist, it is only in the way it circulates and traffics in fascist memes and Newspeak that it resembles anything fascist. There is so far none of the strict and brutal authoritarianism or police-state tactics that also typify fascist regimes. Perhaps most telling at this stage of things is the extent to which it resorts to thuggery and street violence, or any of the other tactics of threatening intimidation that are associated with genuine fascism -- which so far is not to any great or really appreciable degree. That may, however, be changing.
Of course, the identifiable proto-fascist element in America -- the Patriot/militia movement and associated manifestations of right-wing extremism, especially anti-abortion extremists -- often favors such tactics. And unfortunately, the Bush campaign's apparent alliance with some of these thuggish elements in the Florida debacle indicates that, when push comes to shove, they may be precisely the kind of corporatists who wouldn't hesitate a moment to form an alliance with, and unleash the latent violence of, the Patriots and their ilk. When that occurs, real fascism will have arrived.
Much of this proto-fascist element, particularly the disillusioned former militia Patriots, clearly identifies with Bush now and could be considered fully part of the Republican electorate, instead of the maverick Reform Party-type voters they may have been eight years ago. The extent to which this identification deepens in the coming years, and the ends to which it is directed, may well determine whether or not proto-fascism blossoms further inside the mainstream, or is merely further dissipated.
It is clear that it is already deepening in the administration's response to the antiwar protests, and its seeming encouragement of "pro war" responses which simultaneously attacked the antiwar demonstrations. However, there have been no overt signs of an alliance with these elements yet, beyond their sometimes sponsorship by the Bush-connected Clear Channel Communications.
What is most disturbing, however, about the Bush administration, is not merely its devout corporatism, but the way in which it uses religion in the service of the corporatist agenda. It does so in a way that explicitly identifies the Bush agenda with God's, and suggests that Bush's every step is divinely inspired. Bush asks his followers to stick with him as an act of faith -- he's a good man with good advisors and he prays and he's not Clinton, so he must be right.
Consider, if you will, the following item from Harper's July 2003:
- From "A Christian's Duty in Time of War," a pamphlet published by In Touch Ministries. The pamphlet exhorts its readers to pray for President Bush and to "consider fasting as you beseech the Lord" on his behalf. Thousands of the pamphlets were distributed by unknown persons to U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
MONDAY: Pray that the President and his advisers will be strong and courageous and do what is right, regardless of critics.
TUESDAY: Pray that the President and his advisers will have the unified support of the American people as well as that of other countries around the world.
WEDNESDAY: Pray that the President, his advisers, and their families will be safe, healthy, well rested, and free from fear.
THURSDAY: Pray that the President and his advisers will be successful in their mission and that world peace will be realized.
FRIDAY: Pray that the President and his advisers will recognize their divine appointment and will govern accordingly in compassion, mercy, and truth.
SATURDAY: Pray that the President his advisers will remember to keep their eyes on Almighty God and be mindful that He is in control.
SUNDAY: Pray that the President and his advisers will seek God and His wisdom daily and not rely on their own understanding.
Then there were the reports that came leaking out of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Crystal City, Va., in late January 2003, like the Salon article that offered the following description:
- It was like a right-wing version of a Workers World rally, with one crucial difference. Workers World is a fringe group with no political power. CPAC is explicitly endorsed by people running the country. Its attendees are Bush's shock troops, the ones who staged the white-collar riot during the Florida vote count and harassed Al Gore in the vice presidential mansion. Bush may not want to embrace them in public, but they are crucial to his political success and he has let them know, in hundreds of ways, that their mission is his.
Rev. Lou Sheldon, the founder of the Traditional Values Coalition and sworn enemy of homosexuality, put it best. Asked if Bush was in sync with his agenda, he replied, "George Bush is our agenda!"
It's important to note what the atmosphere was like at the CPAC gathering, especially as a barometer of the conservative agenda. The Clinton-hate remains palpable and is an important trigger topic, but the focus has shifted to two topics: first, the utter demonization of all things liberal, with a rising quota of eliminationist rhetoric:
- At a Thursday seminar titled "2002 and Beyond: Are Liberals an Endangered Species?" Paul Rodriguez, managing editor of the conservative magazine Insight, warned that the liberal beast wouldn't be vanquished until conservatives learn to be merciless. "One thing Democrats have long known how to do is play hardball," he intoned, urging Republicans to adopt more "bare-knuckle" tactics.
(Evidently, they've only been playing tiddly-winks up to this point.)
But the other dominating theme, of course, was an exaltation of all things Bush, with a heavy emphasis on the Christian aspect of his "character" and the clear implication of divine Providence in his presidency.
CPAC is an important conjunction of the mainstream and extremist right, so it's very instructive to see the commingling of ideologies at its gathering under a fundamentalist umbrella. Back when I was posting on the conference earlier, a skeptical reader wrote to pose a pertinent question:
- My secretary took a couple of days off last week to go to the CPAC convention and she's not particularly religious, not a theocrat by any means or Patriot-type, just a mainstream conservative, so I am more than a little confused by your claims about CPAC.
This is, of course, the entire point: Gatherings like CPAC give a broad range of extremists, posing as ordinary Joes or Limbaughite loudmouths, the opportunity to spread their radical ideas among the whole sector of mainstream conservatism. Unassuming conservatives go to these gatherings and come away at least exposed to, if not outright converted to, some of these extremist beliefs. That's how these ideas eventually gain circulation among the broader population, often dressed up in a nice Republican cloth coat.
Next came Bush's relatively mundane appearance before the National Religious Broadcasters in which he touted his "faith-based initiatives." What was noteworthy was that at the same conference, the NRB's president, Glenn Plummer, delivered a scathing attack on Islam, denouncing it as a "pagan religion" -- which is the kind of talk the Bush team has, up till now, done an admirable job of countering. (Recall that Bush chastised both Falwell and Robertson for similar loose talk in early December.) After all, much of the president's war coalition depends upon Islamic allies, and moreover, an Islam-vs.-West cultural conflict is precisely the trap Osama bin Laden has laid for us. But Plummer's remarks received neither rebuke nor demurral from the White House.
Then there have been a spate of stories describing Bush's religiosity, notably one from the Baltimore Sun, "Christ-centered course of faith-based president worries some":
- At the same time, Bush's stepped-up efforts to express his faith coincide with a White House drive to court religious conservatives in advance of the president's 2004 re-election campaign.
The president's top political adviser, Karl Rove, has concluded up to 4 million Christian conservatives who probably would have voted for Bush instead stayed home in the 2000 election. Rove said a year ago that "we have to spend a lot of time and energy" drawing them back into politics.
Of course, this is not the first sign of Bush's predilection for seeing himself in a messianic light. A February 2003 piece in The Progressive, "Bush's Messiah Complex," tackles the subject directly.
- That Bush believes he was assigned the Presidency from on high comes through in another passage of [former speechwriter David] Frum's book. After Bush's September 20, 2001, speech to Congress, Gerson called up the President to compliment him: "Mr. President, when I saw you on television, I thought--God wanted you there," Gerson said, according to Frum.
"He wants us all here, Gerson," the President responded, according to Frum.
It's clear that not only does Bush see himself as a man on a divine mission, but he actively cultivates this view of his importance among his staff. Moreover, the White House similarly promotes this image to the public, particularly among conservative Christians.
It's important to note that the White House has been very secretive about the nature of Bush's relationship with the religious right. Indeed, his pre-election overtures to the fundamentalists were specifically kept under wraps. It was something that should have been noticed and uncovered at the time, but everyone was too busy unearthing Al Gore "lies."
I'm thinking specifically of Skipp Porteous' work at the (apparently now-defunct) Institute for First Amendment Studies. Skipp attempted to find out just what Bush was saying at one of the meetings where many of us suspect he was promising to carry out their agenda once elected -- specifically, a meeting of the Council for National Policy in 1999:
- To find out what the Republican candidate for president had to say to such a group, the Institute for First Amendment Studies (IFAS) ordered a set of audiotapes of the sessions. Using an approach that had worked several times in the past – tapes are available to members only – the tapes finally arrived, sans the Bush speech.
IFAS contacted Skynet Media, the recording company hired to record CNP meetings. IFAS then learned that it wasn't the fanatically secretive CNP that decided to delete the Bush tape from the package – the deletion was done on direct order from the Bush campaign. When asked if they actually have the Bush tape, Skynet spokesperson Curt Morse said, "We do," and also noted it wasn't available at any price.
When asked about Bush's speech at CNP, Scott Sforca, a press officer for the George W. Bush for President campaign office, claimed that the meeting "doesn't ring a bell" with him.
When contacted by The New York Times, CNP executive director Blackwell put it as follows: "[T]he Bush entourage said they preferred that the tape[s] not go out, though I could not see any reason why they shouldn't." Blackwell claims that it was a standard speech that he had heard before and since.
Ari Fleischer, a Bush campaign spokesman, told The Times that if anyone was "hoping to hear something that the governor would say that he hasn't said publicly, then they're on a wild goose chase." Fleischer declined to characterize the speech, but said, "When we go to meetings that are private, they remain private." He added, "As far as we know, there is no tape."
Of course, any reporter worth their salt would recognize that Fleischer is baldly lying. If it's only a mundane speech, then what's the secrecy? Why not just let journalists listen to it?
[Sure. I know the answer. The same one you get to the question: Why doesn't he just release his military records?]
The sum of all this identification of Bush with a Divine Agenda -- which has reached such heights that now conservative Christians are even organizing fasts for Bush -- is especially troubling in light of the presence of a proto-fascist element within the ranks of those who openly and avidly support him. While Bush himself may not be charismatic in any kind of classic sense, his adoption of this image may be an effective substitute for rallying a fanatical following -- one which is all too willing to discard of such niceties as free speech and constitutional rights in the name of homeland security -- in a time of war.
This was driven home during the run-up to the Iraq war, especially as the rhetoric identifying antiwar dissent as "treason" has reached new levels, as has the open use of thuggery to silence dissent.
The essence of this mindset was described for me by reader John Burns of Raleigh, N.C., in an excellent letter in which he outlined the concept of "a law beyond the law":
- As an attorney, precision in language is, of course, of paramount importance, and accusations of fascism which all too easily fly back and forth do very little to advance reasoned debate.
Nevertheless, there are ominous signs of, if not fascism, then something very closely approximating it. I came across the quotation below in an article in the Fall 2002 issue of Litigation magazine, written by Robert Aiken, called 'Hans Frank: Hitler's Lawyer.'
"The article concerns the gradual perversion of German Law during the 30s, driven by Hitler and Frank, from a Civil Code based system to one based on the Will of the Fuhrer above all else. What is interesting are the parallels in this statement of the nature of Reich law and the principles put forth by the Christian Reconstructionists who populate the right wing, the Federalist Society and now, more and more, our courts. I think the key element is the idea of a law beyond the law. Here's the passage, which Aiken takes from Noakes & Pridham, Documents on Nazism (1975).
- National Socialism substitutes for the conception of formal wrong the idea of factual wrong: it considers every attack on the welfare of the national community, every violation of the requirement of the life of a nation as wrong. In [the] future, therefore, wrong may be committed in Germany even in cases where there is nothing (no written law) against what is being done. Even without the threat of punishment, every violation of the goals towards which the community is striving is wrong per se. As a result, the law gives up all claim to be the sole source for determining right and wrong. What is right may be learned not only from the law but also from the concept of justice which lies behind the law and may not have found perfect expression in the law.
Compare this with the remarks of John Ashcroft at Bob Jones University on January 12, 2001:
- "There's a difference between a culture that has no king but Caesar, no standard but the civil authority, and a culture that has no king but Jesus, no standard but the eternal authority. When you have no king but Caesar, you release Barabbas -- criminality, destruction, thievery, the lowest and least. When you have no king but Jesus, you release the eternal, you release the highest and best, you release virtue, you release potential.
"It is not accidental that America has been the home of the brave and the land of the free, the place where mankind has had the greatest of all opportunities, to approach the potential that God has placed within us. It has been because we knew that we were endowed not by the king, but by the Creator, with certain unalienable rights. If America is to be great in the future, it will be if we understand that our source is not civic and temporal, but our source is godly and eternal. Endowed by the Creator with rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I thank God for this institution and for you, who recognize and commit yourselves to the proposition that we were so created, and that to live with respect to the Creator promises us the greatest potential as a nation and as individuals. And for such we must reacquaint ourselves daily with His call upon our lives."
Of course, the ideal behind the law in Germany was found only in the pronouncements of the Fuhrer, who, Frank came to believe, was divinely chosen for his role. Perhaps in that paragraph can be found a definition of fascism -- the equation of the will of the leader (or the party) with law and the organizing of society around that central principle. This of course leads one to wonder from where Ashcroft and the Christian Reconstructionists would divine the "higher law." From all appearances, I would say it is from their own interpretation of the Bible. God must have divinely chosen them to pronounce the true law. A scarier prospect one can hardly imagine.
Frank, incidentally, was executed at Nuremburg, but not before salvaging some honor by admitting to his crimes and to the crimes of the Nazis. He is quoted in the trial transcripts as stating that "a thousand years shall pass and still Germany's guilt will not have been erased."
This very concept -- that the law must accede to a higher authority -- is now being circulated by none other than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The upshot is that the Supreme Court itself is in danger of aligning itself explicitly with the open use of such thuggery as may be necessary to maintain power.
The main evidence lies within a May 2002 piece by Scalia, "God's Justice and Ours," that appeared in First Things. Particularly startling was this:
- These passages from Romans represent the consensus of Western thought until very recent times. Not just of Christian or religious thought, but of secular thought regarding the powers of the state. That consensus has been upset, I think, by the emergence of democracy. It is easy to see the hand of the Almighty behind rulers whose forebears, in the dim mists of history, were supposedly anointed by God, or who at least obtained their thrones in awful and unpredictable battles whose outcome was determined by the Lord of Hosts, that is, the Lord of Armies. It is much more difficult to see the hand of God—or any higher moral authority—behind the fools and rogues (as the losers would have it) whom we ourselves elect to do our own will. How can their power to avenge—to vindicate the "public order"—be any greater than our own?"
- The mistaken tendency to believe that a democratic government, being nothing more than the composite will of its individual citizens, has no more moral power or authority than they do as individuals has adverse effects in other areas as well. It fosters civil disobedience, for example, which proceeds on the assumption that what the individual citizen considers an unjust law—even if it does not compel him to act unjustly—need not be obeyed. St. Paul would not agree. "Ye must needs be subject," he said, "not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake." For conscience sake. The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it, but the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible. [Emphasis mine]
As Dave Johnson of the Commonweal Institute correctly suggests, "Scalia appears to think that the way to identify legitimate God-chosen leaders is when they seize power in conflict, demonstrating that God chose them over others." Scalia's formula invites all kinds of mischief, including particularly the overthrow of democracy itself. Notably, Scalia reveals an open hostility to democracy anyway when he contends that it tends "to obscure the divine authority behind government." One indeed wonders if Scalia has read the Declaration of Independence, which enumerated one of the basic principles of American democracy, namely, that "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
Under the legal theory Scalia now seems to advocate, a Bush administration that saw itself on a divine mission might find some justification for refusing to relinquish the reins of power to a Democratic election winner in 2004. With the backing of Patriot thugs who shout down political dissenters, and a devotedly pro-Bush military, it would not be hard to imagine who would be most likely to lay claim to being the "hand of God" and thereby winning Scalia's proclamation as the nation's true ruler, mere democracy notwithstanding.
This is not to suggest that such an unthinkable scenario is being plotted by the administration. But when the rhetoric starts inviting thuggery, the equation changes dramatically. And events have a way of piling upon themselves inevitably. After all, who could have foreseen the sequence that brought us Bush v. Gore?
That ruling was, in many ways, a harbinger, in that it represented a similar capitulation to thuggish, proto-fascist elements. Recall, if you will, that it is a unique ruling in that it has virtually no defenders or supporters outside of a tiny clique centered around the arguments offered by Richard Posner. And the essence of Posner's defense of Bush v. Gore is that, yes, legally it may have been a thoroughly unsound ruling, but the court was acting in a practical sense by settling the election decisively, because otherwise incipient social chaos threatened. It was, you see, justice, not the law.
As it happened, the only sector of the country that was likely at the time to enact any widespread social chaos was the extremist right -- the same Freepers and Patriots who are now threatening to string up anyone who questions the Divinely Inspired President's war plans. In contrast, the left proved thoroughly subdued enough to settle back and live with a Bush administration.
Of course, that's the way it works when you're busy achieving justice above the law. That's because it's divine justice.
Next: Fascism and fundamentalism
The Brownshirt Barbie strikes again
Thursday, August 21, 2003
While I've been re-running the "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism" series,, it's become clear that I already need to update the chapter dealing with Ann Coulter and her prominent role as a "transmitter" of extremist memes into the mainstream -- something I've been tracking the past couple of months but haven't had the time to blog about.
During that time -- particularly with the release of her new book, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism -- she has shifted into a completely new realm, one in which the ideas and agenda she represents are unabashedly drawn from the extremist American right. (As usual, the book is also replete with crass falsehoods, bizarre distortions, documentation that contradicts the text, and sweeping generalizations. See Brendan Nyhan's thorough debunking at Spinsanity for more details.)
Of course, this extremism is present in the very title -- as well as the overriding theme of the book -- in that Coulter paints a portrait that presents well over half the population of the country, including many who have sacrificed their lives and well-being in the defense of the nation, as outright traitors. This is the kind of rhetorical thuggery that has raised itself in America on a few select occasions -- all of them associated with fascist and proto-fascist politics -- and its broad acceptance is a disturbing indication of the direction the national political dialogue is taking.
Her outright celebration of extremist memes is particularly pronounced in one well-remarked facet of Coulter's thesis: Her attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of Joseph McCarthy. She paints the Tailgunner as a true-blue red-blooded American who fought the dirty Commies tooth and nail and was crucified for doing so.
To say that this flies in the face of history's judgment -- that McCarthy was a far-right demagogue who exploited a false patriotism to smear political opponents and ride a wave of hysteria to power -- is putting it kindly. Indeed, Coulter is attempting to revise history with an overt abuse of facts and logic that is derived, stylistically and thematically, from the Holocaust revisionism of the Institute for Historical Review.
Moreover, the attempt to rehabilitate McCarthy's reputation has long been a favored theme of the extremist right. John Welch founded the John Birch Society specifically as an attempt to carry on McCarthy's torch. The JBS' McCarthy rehabilitation efforts have continued to this day. McCarthy has continued to be a hero to these even farther right than the Birchers. I used to see a book titled, I think, The Taming of Tailgunner Joe for sale on tables at militia meetings and through the Identity-based Christian Patriot Association; it was an attempt to tie in the "smearing" of McCarthy with the rise of the so-called "Holocaust hoax."
Now Ann has underscored that extremism, in another interview with her favorite extremist-meme co-transmitter, the New York Observer's George Gurley:
- My Dinner With Ann
"... They’re squealing like mad, but it’s too late—I’ve redeemed Joe McCarthy, it’s done. People give me Joe McCarthy T-shirts, there’s going to be a Joe McCarthy doll, there’s another Joe McCarthy book coming out. It’s over."
If Coulter is right -- and I doubt it, given that any number of conservatives have denounced her ahistorical and afactual "rehabilitation" job -- then the nation is in serious trouble. A return of the McCarthyist ethos would mean the very real empowerment of the extremist right in America.
Even if she is wrong, there is little doubt that her tirades -- and her continued high profile in the broadcast and print media as a spokesman for the conservative movement -- have pushed mainstream conservatism even farther to the right.
I observed previously, at the outset of the "Rush" essay," that one of the best ways to discern the underlying agenda of conservatives is to examine what they accuse liberals of planning. And Ann, of course, provides us with a startlingly clear example:
- "Oh, they will never be able to say that," she said. "If we lose, and the liberals are running gulags, concentration camps and madrassas, and the re-education counselors are teaching the history -- that is the only circumstance in which a liberal will ever be able to say, ‘We were right and you were wrong.’ No, they are wrong about everything …. They are working ferociously to undermine America."
Projection: It's not just for movie theaters anymore.
[A tip o' the Hatlo Hat to Maia Cowan for the last line.]
The War in Iraq has only just begun
The truck bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Iraq this week underscored a fact that has been becoming increasingly clear:
The war in Iraq, as both Saddam Hussein and the White House have said, is not over. Indeed, the prospect of a long, drawn-out and bloody conflict costing hundreds if not thousands of American, Iraqi and peacekeepers' lives looms darker on the horizon every day.
World In Conflict had an incisive post on this last week:
- Thinking about the Iraqi resistance
We now have sufficient information start drawing some conclusions about the Iraqi resistance to U.S. occupation. It's a mess. It's been a mess ever since the Iraqi National Congress became a front for U.S. policy interests. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. The sad thing is the facts were all out in plain sight -- but U.S. intelligence and military establishments were too busy playing up to domestic political interests to do their job in an honest and workmanlike manner. Shrewd.
Paul de Armond, aka Warbaby, goes on to explore the chronology of the resistance so far. What his analysis reveals is that the Iraqi resistance may well not be the amorphous, uncoordinated product of remaining pockets of Ba'athists -- but rather, it may be only the beginning of protracted guerrilla conflict being coordinated by Saddam himself. This casts Saddam's videotaped warning of July [see link above] in entirely different, and decidedly ominous, light.
One of the key points to remember is the ease with which American forces took Baghdad and conquered the fleeing remnants of Saddam's army -- even at the time, many in the military thought this was "surprising." What has become self-evident since then is that it will be impossible to guard both the power lines and the pipelines that are essential to getting Iraq back up and running.
The picture of conflict that is beginning to emerge now suggests that this may have been Hussein's strategy all along: Draw the invaders in and let them believe they have conquered easily. Spread out and hide your forces. Then begin a steady trickle of guerrilla warfare. Attack the infrastructure, which will force the invaders to spread out their forces and thin them. When they become vulnerable, distracted and complacent, strike back and drive them out.
This is not a fantasy scenario: It has occurred before in the Arab world:
- The Retreat from Kabul
Almost 17,000 people left the cantonment that dark day. About 700 were Europeans, both soldiers and civilians, another 3,800 were Indian soldiers and more than 12,000 camp followers.
Exactly one man survived.
Oh, and has anyone noticed that things aren't exactly going so well in Afhanistan, either?
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
[Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, and X. See my explanatory note.]
XI: Dualist Receivers
So far, when talking about the "receivers" who compose the audience of the various "transmitters" of extremist memes into the mainstream, I've mainly focused on the mainstream Republicans who make up the mass of the conservative movement in America.
But as I've explained, these "transmissions" are two-way affairs, sending messages to both the mainstream and the extremists from whose worldview the memes are drawn: namely, that their formerly unacceptable beliefs are gaining acceptance. It essentially invites them to move into the mainstream without having to change their views.
And so for the past decade and more -- and particularly in the past three years -- mainstream conservatism has increasingly become home to a variety of right-wing extremists. Conservatives uniformly reject this reality, arguing that their party is not home to a bunch of wild-eyed lunatics; it's the home of tax-paying, churchgoing, job-holding, productive members of society.
One of the real problems with coming to grips with the right-wing extremists, in fact, is the public image that has grown up around them for the past half-century, but driven home in the militiaman stereotype of the 1990s: A half-educated, beer-swilling, Bible-thumping, child-beating, dentistry-challenged, gun-loving lunatic with both eyes rattling around in his head and a steady stream of hate foaming out of his mouth. Not to mention all those visions of black helicopters dancing in his head.
I have attended a lot of militia and Patriot meetings over the years, and this wasn't what I found at all. In my experience, the average militia member is a person who very much keeps all the appearances of being a mainstream player in society (as contrasted with, say, the skinheads and neo-Nazis, who more closely fit the description). Most of them are reasonably well educated. A large number of them are veterans. Most of the rest are agrarian or blue-collar workers with families. They all pay their taxes (unless they've been drawn in deeply by one of the tax-protest schemes) and vote and attend church.
The false stereotype is built on a sociological approach to these groups, called "centrist/extremist theory," developed in the 1950s that actually is now largely discredited among sociologists. This theory basically held that these "fringe" groups represented a constituency of largely uneducated classes who were grossly disenfranchised due to this fact, thus leading to their radicalism; their status also ensured that they would remain outside the realm of the mainstream. Well, subsequent data collected through the 1970s and 1980s began to demonstrate the weakness of this model; contrary to its prediction, surveys of "Christian Patriots" found that on average they were better educated than the population at large, and many of these groups' members actually prove to be highly educated and some of better-than-average means. Take, for instance, the saga of Carl Story and Vince Bertollini, who made millions in the Silicon Valley, moved to Sandpoint and promptly began underwriting the Aryan Nations and other Identity churches in the area. Of course, right now, Bertollini is on the lam and Story has moved away.
Sociology in the meantime has moved on to a broader consideration of the problem, often summarily described as "post-classical theory" and including such models as the "new social movements theory," all of which recognize that there can be considerable interaction between these groups and the mainstream, and that many of their followers are in fact as mainstream-based as can be. And this is borne out largely by what we've seen in terms of the Patriot movement's spread via mainstream channels.
It is important to note that it is erroneous to conclude that since there are often shared themes on the right that all right-wing groups work together. It is not fair to presume that all conservatives are on a slippery slope toward reaction, nor that all reactionaries are inevitably borne on a transmission belt toward fascism. Migrations do occur, but they occur in both directions, just as on the left.
At the same time, however, it is equally undeniable that these kinds of associations forever alter the nature of the political body in question. The Republicans' Southern Strategy, by aiming to draw white segregationists into the GOP fold, ineluctably transformed the party to the point that calling it the "party of Lincoln" now, particularly in the South, is liable to draw hoots. The associations work both ways, of course; extremists are just as likely to have their anger defused and their extremism tempered by their exposure to mainstream influences. But the overall gravitational pull rightward by the extremist elements has become increasingly disproportionate in recent years.
The problem is that Americans -- and the media particularly -- have a view of these so-called "fringe" elements as being on the outskirts of society, when in reality they have become wholly interwoven with the rest of this. Much of the blame belongs to "centrist/extremist theory," which gained such prominence in the media in the 1960s that it has never been displaced from the popular understanding of political extremism. C/E theory was an offshoot of the chief sociological model of the '40s and '50s, "Collective Behavior Theory," which stressed irrational dimensions of movements and often saw them as potentially dangerous, temporary aberrations in the otherwise smooth-flowing social system.
Let me recommend a resource for more on this point: Public Research Associates' page on "Studying the Right: A Scholarly Approach," which has a large amount of material on C/E Theory. Chip Berlet, the author, sums it up thus:
- Under centrist/extremist theory, dissident movements of the left and right were portrayed as composed of outsiders -- politically marginal people who have no connection to the mainstream electoral system or nodes of government or corporate power. Their anxiety is heightened by fears that their economic or social status is slipping. Under great stress, these psychologically fragile people snap into a mode of irrational political hysteria, and as they embrace an increasingly paranoid style they make militant and unreasonable demands. Because they are unstable they can become dangerous and violent. Their extremism places them far outside the legitimate political process, which is located in the center where "pluralists" conduct democratic debates.
The solution prescribed by centrist/extremist theory is to marginalize the dissidents as radicals and dangerous extremists. Their demands need not be taken seriously. Law enforcement can then be relied upon to break up any criminal conspiracies by subversive radicals that threaten the social order.
You can read through the rest of the above piece to see why and how centrist/extremist theory has become discredited. But the coup de grace may have been delivered by a study that was important to my own work, James Aho's 1991 text, The Politics of Righteousness: Idaho Christian Patriotism. ("Christian Patriots" is what the movement called itself in the 1980s and then morphed into the more secular and simple "Patriot movement" by the early 1990s.) Aho, who conducted a complete study with a full statistical sample, found that while a number of Patriots indeed fit the profile predicted by centrist/extremist theory, the majority did not. He found that they were often well educated (their average education was above the average American's), held regular jobs (though they did experience a higher degree of occupational isolation), and appeared "normal" by most measures:
- Idaho's patriots in general do not seem more socially alienated from their communities than cross-sections of Americans or Idahoans. ... Out of the seven alienation variables on which information was gathered, statistical support for the theory of mass politics [another term for C/E theory] is found for only one.
The false stereotypes -- beloved among folks on the left for their value in lampooning right-wingers, and equally cherished on the right by conservatives loath to admit the extremists' influence -- have obscured the extent to which right-wing extremists have woven themselves into the fabric of mainstream conservatism. It's an illusion that has especially manifested itself in rural America, where the extremists' actual numbers are hardly overwhelming, but the number of people who sympathize with them is. I would hate to have counted how many times I (and others who work the field) have heard neighbors, friends and relatives of Patriots say: "Well, I don't buy everything they say, but I think some of it might be true, and I certainly can understand why they'd feel that way" (or some variant thereon). In fact, it's rare when you can find a rural dweller out here who doesn't say something like that.
A deeper examination of the individual psychology of the kind of people who are drawn to extremist movements helps explain further how extremist believers intermingle with those in the larger mainstream. There have been many studies along these lines, but the one that seemed to most accurately describe the people I met in the Patriot movement could be found in the essay "Religious Totalism, Violence and Exemplary Dualism: Beyond the Extrinsic Model," by Dick Anthony and Thomas Robbins (both sociologists; Anthony is from Berkeley and Robbins from Yale).
In this analysis, the Patriot movement and its millennialist relatives are described as "exemplary dualist movements," a direct product of the current larger social malaise:
- It has been a staple of recent American cultural analysis and criticism that the contemporary United States increasingly lacks a consensual and compelling social ethic and that in consequence, the 'covenant' uniting the American people has become, in Robert Bellah's words, an 'empty and broken shell.' One consequence of the lack of an integrative ethic, we have intimated above, is a diminished capacity of parents -- who are themselves wrestling with the fragmented selves that result from the lack of an integrated ethic -- to serve as persuasive role-models or identification figures for their children, and thereby to transmit a coherent set of values. In this context parents may tend to treat their children as 'self-objects' in the sense of evaluating them in terms of tangible, purely external criteria such as their apparent social-academic-vocational 'success' or competence. This pattern enhances the anxiety over the themes of success, competence and power on the part of children, who are more likely to develop a fragmented or polarized self composed of a grandiose, all-powerful or omnipotent self which is split off from a devalued, pathetic, failed self.
Social movements with distinctly dualistic worldviews provide psycho-ideological contexts which facilitate attempts to heal the split self by projecting negativity and devalued self-elements onto ideologically devalued contrast symbols. But there is another possible linkage between these kinds of movements and individuals with split selves in the throes of identity confusion. People with the whole range of personality disorders, which utilize splitting and projective identification, tend to have difficulties in establishing stable, intimate relationships. Splitting tends to produce volatile and unstable relationships as candidates for intimacy are alternately idealized and degraded. Thus, narcissists tend to have vocational, and more particularly, interpersonal difficulties as they obsessively focus upon status-reinforcing rewards in interpersonal relations. They have difficulty developing social bonds grounded in empathy and mutuality, and their structure of interpersonal relations tends to be unstable. Thus, individuals may be tempted to enter communal and quasi-communal social movements which combine a more structured setting for interpersonal relations with a dualistic interpersonal theme of 'triangulation' which embodies the motif of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend.' Such movements create a sense of mutuality by focusing attention on specific contrast groups and their values, goals and lifestyles so that this shared repudiation seems to unite the participants and provide a meaningful 'boundary' to operationalize the identity of the group. Solidarity within the group and the convert's sense of dedication and sacrifice on behalf of group goals may enable him or her to repudiate the dissociated negative (bad, weak or failed) self and the related selfish and exploitative self which they may be aware that others might have perceived. These devalued selves can then be projected on to either scapegoats designated by the group or, more generally, non-believers whose values and behavior allegedly do not attain the exemplary purity and authenticity of that of devotees.
In my experience, this quite accurately describes the dynamic of how and why people are attracted to such hateful beliefs as those held by right-wing extremists, as well as their pale reflections -- filtered, as it were, through transmitters -- advocated by such receiver types as the Freepers. It also clearly describes the meeting-ground for extremist and mainstream in the black-and-white, Manichean dualism common to all kinds of worldviews; it has always been pronounced both among right-wing extremists and the theocratic right, but of late it has become a staple of mainstream conservatives as well.
Most of all, the suggestion that the movement’s primary converts will be essentially dysfunctional people is not much cause for optimism, either, for as they note at the end, this kind of susceptibility to authoritarianism obviously increases during such periods of social chaos as we have had since Sept. 11:
- We do not necessarily view the members of exemplary dualist groups as mentally ill or deeply disturbed relative to average levels of developmental maturity in the general population. We do believe that such groups appeal to individuals with certain identity constructions and difficulties. Nevertheless some degree of splitting, projective identification and polarized identity may be 'normal' for most people in mainstream culture.
People with completely holistic selves with an integrated ethical orientation rather than split-off negative external conscience may be relatively unusual, particularly in periods when general meaning orientations in the culture as a whole have declined in coherence and plausibility. ... When mainstream cultural coherence declines, and anomie and identity confusion become more common, active seeking for exemplary dualist involvements is one possible solution to immediate psychic pain.
Indeed, as we will see, this could very well explain why the right is becoming increasingly intolerant of liberalism: It is the one remaining component of society that has so far failed to join up with the dualist worldview being promoted not merely by transmitters like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, but by the Bush administration itself.
More importantly, it makes clear that the chief driving force against liberalism in America is precisely in the chief meeting-ground of right-wing dualism: fundamentalist Christianity.
Next: Divine Transmissions
I'm way behind on this, but Kynn Bartlett at Shock & Awe had a long and thoughtful essay the other day:
More Stuff About Christians and Christianism
[Full disclosure: Kynn says some nice things about the "Rush" essay. But he carries the thinking to another level.]
- Christianism is a theocratic form of Christianity which is anti-pluralistic, designed to impose conservative Christian beliefs on American society (and eventually the world) through the use of the political system (or sometimes outright force). Christianism is a domestic crusade designed to change the country from the inside into one in which (nominally) Christian beliefs are the guiding societal force.
This is the "culture wars" which we are engaged in. It is often presented as "secular vs. Christian," but that's patently false. The fundamentalists have managed to distort the public debate to the point that fundamentalist beliefs are identified in the media as "Christian" -- ignoring entirely the fact that there are large numbers of Christians who don't believe the same way as the conservatives.
I'm glad Kynn explores this issue, in depth, because it's one that animates me as well. I don't discuss the matter much in my analysis because it's clear, of course, that not everyone opposed to the fundamentalists is a Christian.
But the reality is that many of us are. And we are not only disgusted by what they do in the name of our faith, we are dedicated to stopping it.
Of course, as Kynn points out, we are not "real" Christians to these people. I for one am glad to let God decide that one, not some wattle-faced preacher.
You get what you ask for
Public Nuisance has a terrific post about the "Presidential Prayer Team," which is encouraging us Christians to pray that Bush will come up with a "biblical" solution to the heteros-only marriage conundrum:
- Here at the Nuisance, we believe prayer should be balanced by action. And, perhaps unlike certain others, we actually do read the Bible. So here, in support of the Prayer Team's admirable goals, is a proposed Constitutional Amendment codifying marriage entirely on biblical principles:
- 1 Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives.
That's just the beginning. Funny and dead-on -- my kind of humor.
Dishonoring the memory
Margaret Kimberley over at The Black Commentator has a terrific takedown of Condoleeza Rice's bizarre comparison of the invasion of Iraq to 1960s civil-rights marches:
- Condoleeza Rice and the Birmingham Bombing Victims
I don’t know anyone who protested against this war because they believed that Iraqis were not interested in democracy and freedom. I am certain that the Iraqi people wanted freedom in 1983 when the Reagan administration Middle East envoy, Donald Rumsfeld, met with our then friend Saddam Hussein. At that moment in history Iran was the bogeyman in the region and the United States government was all too pleased when Hussein invaded that nation. Rumsfeld was in Baghdad again in 1984 when the United Nations concluded that Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iranian military targets. No condemnation or protest was forthcoming from Mr. Rumsfeld or anyone else in the Reagan administration. In fact, American arms sales to the Iraqi regime increased. Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant then, but because he was “our” evil tyrant we turned a blind eye when he started a war that resulted in the deaths of over one million Iraqis and Iranians.
Go read the rest.
A great American?
[Henry Ford receives the Grand Cross of the German Eagle in 1938 from two Nazi diplomats.]
John Hawkins over at Right Wing News has been polling bloggers for the best and worst figures of American history. I participated in the first poll of "Worst Figures in American History," but unfortunately couldn't find the time to send in a list for the "Best." John posted the results of that poll recently:
Left-Wing Bloggers Select The Greatest Figures Of The 20th Century
Most of the names selected seemed fairly reasonable, to tell the truth. (Indeed, there were several I wished I'd thought of when I was briefly trying to put a list together.)
But this one stopped me cold:
- 18) Henry Ford (3)
All right, I could easily see Ford appearing on a right-wing list. But why would anyone who calls himself a liberal name him?
Maybe they have simply bought the timeworn image of Ford as the clever industrialist who brought the automobile to the masses.
Maybe they simply have forgotten -- or were never aware of -- the rest of the Henry Ford story.
That would be the Henry Ford who in 1920 began publishing The International Jew -- one of the most infamous anti-Semitic screeds in history. This text first raised to national prominence the notorious Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion hoax -- and indeed may have been responsible for its subsequent wide distribution in Hitler's Germany as well.
Speaking of Hitler, here's what he had to say about the speculation in 1923 that Ford might run for president:
- I wish I could send some of my shock troops to Chicago and other big American cities to help in the elections ... We look to Heinrich Ford as the leader of the growing fascist movement in America ... We have just had his anti-Jewish articles translated and published. The book is being circulated in millions throughout Germany."
As the ADL notes:
- Though Ford apologized for The International Jew and closed the Dearborn Independent, he later accepted the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Hitler's Nazi government in July, 1938.
This award, incidentally, is the highest honor Germany can offer to a non-German.
Ford also probably did more than any American to help build the Nazi war machine in the 1930s.
Whatever good Ford may have engendered through his clever industrialism was forever poisoned by his contributions to one of the worst nightmares in history.
Why would a liberal, exactly, put Henry Ford on any list of "great" Americans? For that matter, why would anyone?
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
[Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX. See my explanatory note.]
X: Reaching the Receivers
I was driving around Billings, Montana, in the middle of a nasty blizzard in a cheap little rented car and trying to figure out what in the hell was going on when the Voice On Loan From God hit me.
There are, I suppose, things that you have to admire about Rush Limbaugh, and one of them is his voice. It is absolutely distinctive. I can hear it through a rolled-up car and know who the driver is listening to. But that afternoon in early March 1996 I heard him talk and it came as something of a revelation.
I actually have made a habit over the years of listening to Limbaugh because I want to know what he's saying. More to the point, I spend a lot of time driving around rural backcountry, and you have to know that Limbaugh is just about the only constant thing you can find on the radio out there. There's country music, but in the open range even it can be spotty reception-wise. Rush, however, is everywhere.
He is inescapable. He seems to be on at nearly all times of the day too. And sometimes the country music (especially the gawdawful crap they call 'new country') gets bad, and the tape collection gets old, and listening to Rush rumble away in that nice baritone is not all that bad to listen to, especially if I'm in the mood for the artistry of his awfulness. He makes me laugh, though not in ways he intends, I'm sure.
There wasn't anything new or remarkable about that day's broadcast. It just answered a question I had been trying to understand.
I was in Billings because a few days before, the FBI had arrested two leaders of the Montana Freemen at their compound near Jordan, Montana. I attended their initial hearings at the federal courthouse, drove up to Jordan for a day, then drove back to Billings for more courtroom action at the arraignments.
This was quite a bit of driving, especially with the ice and snow storm that had come through about a week before and was continuing to pile up. However, these had become familiar roads to me. I had been out this way only two months before, talking to people in Roundup and Jordan about the eruption of the Freemen on the local scene and trying to get a sense of what was happening to these rural societies.
Mostly I was trying to get a handle on the seething, venomous hatred of the government that was seeping out in the bile of movements like the Freemen, but was much, much more widespread. Almost literally anyone you talked to in rural America was bitter with their hatred of the "gummint" in nearly all of its forms, particularly the federal one. Certainly it had been on full display in the federal courtroom in Billings, where LeRoy Schweitzer and Dan Petersen had done their best to disrupt the hearings with their insistence that the entire proceedings against them were illegitimate.
I was no stranger to feelings of hatred of the government, for reasons I explained in In God's Country [short version: federal bureaucrats were responsible for the death of a great-aunt with whom I was close]. But this went beyond even that. It was blind, irrational, utterly visceral hatred that went beyond even the worst things I had heard from the mouths of Birchers when I was growing up. In fact, it reminded me of talk I had heard in only one other place previously: the Aryan Nations compound in Hayden Lake. The conspiracy theories, the pseudo-legal 'constitutionalism', as well as the barely concealed race-baiting and anti-Semitism were all present. The only thing missing was the usual accompaniment of Nazi worship and cross-burning.
The thing about government-bashing out West is that nearly anyone who has lived here for any length of time, particularly if they have deep family roots, has directly benefited from government programs that are in fact responsible for their very presence on this land. It's a decidedly mixed bag that has always created a love/hate relationship between the government and the ranchers and farmers who have been its main beneficiaries, and sometimes its victims.
In eastern Montana, for instance, this goes back to the homesteading programs of the post-1910 period sponsored by the federal government, in close cooperation (as it were) with the railroads. These were essentially scams which helped fill out millions of acres of empty space in the West but which more often than not proved financially disastrous for the homesteaders. [For a terrific account of this, read Jonathan Raban's Bad Land: An American Romance.]
The federal government builds our roads, pays for our schools, constructs our water-supply and irrigation systems and the dams that make them go. We're actually terribly dependent on the gummint, which chafes rather nastily against Westerners' own deeply mythologized self-reliance and independence.
The sheer venom that was emerging from the Patriot movement, however, was in another universe. Built around cockamamie theories and wild-eyed fire-breathing rhetoric, and unmoored from any real semblance of reality, it was so wildly out of left field that it was an incongruous thing to be taking root in a place like Montana where common sense was most often the real coin of the realm. It was a disturbing thing to see how many people with ordinary working-class, agricultural backgrounds -- people who before had always been normal contributors to society, sometimes, as in the case of a couple of at least one elderly Freeman, Emmett Clark, with a rock-solid reputation in the community -- were being drawn into the Patriot movement and embracing at least its rhetoric, if not its agenda.
How had this happened? What was encouraging people to make this leap? I was puzzling over this that day in Billings, tootling around in a front-wheel drive Chevy that actually handled the snow just fine, and listening to Rush on the radio.
On that day, I had decided to try listening to Rush as though I were someone like Dan Petersen or some other working-class stiff from Jordan -- not particularly educated, prone to a visceral kind of patriotism and similar politics, and insistent on my identity as an independent Westerner. Doing that, I got an answer, or at least part of one.
Limbaugh was holding forth that day on the subject of federal bureaucrats who he claimed were attempting to ignore the will of the people on matters relating to control of federal lands as well as the tax bureaucracy. At the apex of the rant, Limbaugh began speculating about the motives of these bureaucrats: they didn't care about "democracy"; they would probably just as soon dispose of it, and any kind of responsiveness to the public, altogether if given the opportunity; they would be happier in a dictatorship, which was what they were establishing anyway, Rush informed us.
Suddenly I had a very clear picture about how hatred of the government had reached such illogical and hysterical heights. Americans were being told, relentlessly and repeatedly, that not only was government a bad thing, it was inherently evil, indeed conspiring to take away their freedom and enslave them. The person telling them this was a mainstream conservative. He was giving them essentially the same message being spread by the Freemen and militias, but this time with the mantle of mainstream legitimacy. Rush was taking people up to the edge of Patriot beliefs and more or less introducing his listeners to them. And if they were people like those in Montana (or anywhere else the Patriot movement set up shop, which was largely every corner of the country), who already Patriots for neighbors, they would take the next step themselves.
Limbaugh's defenders, like Ann Coulter's, will no doubt defend this kind of talk as simple hyperbole intended to emphasize his point and inject some humor. That of is utterly disingenuous; why say something if at some level you don't mean it? Moreover, it overlooks the effect that it has on their audiences, who may not be as sophisticated or as inclined to distinguish the hyperbole from the supposedly reasonable discourse. Indeed, the bulk of Limbaughites I have met tend to take his every utterance as virtual Gospel.
Thus, Limbaugh might claim that he's merely being critical of government, but this rhetoric treads beyond such perfectly acceptable (in fact desirable) robust political speech, to the kind that argues for the overthrow and utter dismantling of the system. And that is, if anything, the dividing line between being a politically active citizen and being an extremist, right or left. Limbaugh blurs that line constantly.
It was this kind of irresponsible demagoguery to which President Clinton referred in his remarkable address in Minneapolis a few days after the Oklahoma City bombing:
- In this country we cherish and guard the right of free speech. We know we love it when we put up with people saying things we absolutely deplore. And we must always be willing to defend their right to say things we deplore to the ultimate degree. But we hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable. You ought to see -- I'm sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today.
Well, people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences and that freedom has endured in this country for more than two centuries because it was coupled with an enormous sense of responsibility on the part of the American people.
If we are to have freedom to speak, freedom to assemble, and, yes, the freedom to bear arms, we must have responsibility as well. And to those of us who do not agree with the purveyors of hatred and division, with the promoters of paranoia, I remind you that we have freedom of speech, too, and we have responsibilities, too. And some of us have not discharged our responsibilities. It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior.
If they insist on being irresponsible with our common liberties, then we must be all the more responsible with our liberties. When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them. When they talk of violence, we must stand against them. When they say things that are irresponsible, that may have egregious consequences, we must call them on it. The exercise of their freedom of speech makes our silence all the more unforgivable. So exercise yours, my fellow Americans. Our country, our future, our way of life is at stake.
Though Clinton certainly never identified Limbaugh as one of those "angry voices," almost immediately Limbaugh responded with cries of censorship and claims that Clinton was attempting to silence him. The protests have continued so steadily that the claim that Clinton blamed Limbaugh has become a stock theme about the supposed perfidy of liberals.
Indeed, Ann Coulter herself continued this meme in her book, nder: Liberal Lies About The American Right,92-93: "When impeached former president Bill Clinton identified Rush Limbaugh as the cause of the Oklahoma City bombing, he unleashed all the typical liberal curse words for conservatives. He blamed 'loud and angry voices' heard 'over the airwaves in America' that were making people 'paranoid' and spreading hate."
The, er, lady doth protest too much, methinks.
Of course, Clinton did not name anyone, even though the voices he probably had more in mind were those belong to the likes G. Gordon "Head Shots" Liddy and some of the more vicious Patriot types like Chuck Harder, who constantly hawked Patriot conspiracy theories outright, alongside a full dose of rhetoric about the violent resistance of federal agents. But in fact Clinton used very general terms probably because he recognized the reality as well, which was that characters like Limbaugh and his fellow movement arch-conservatives have been irresponsible as well -- perhaps not to the same degree, except for the fact that the reach of transmitters like Limbaugh is so massive.
And the bitter truth, for people like Limbaugh, is that Clinton was right: Words have consequences. When you carefully tailor memes and ideas that promote an essentially extremist worldview to fit a mainstream audience, you're spreading poison into the community that can have extremely violent consequences. Anyone who's read American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing has a pretty clear picture of how closely McVeigh's hatred of the government was fanned by both extremist and mainstream voices. And it was to all these voices which Clinton alluded.
Limbaugh's protests notwithstanding, it is not hard to see that while, of course, Limbaugh cannot be blamed directly for Oklahoma City, neither can he be wholly absolved. Whining does not relieve him from the responsibility for his words. Timothy McVeigh, and the wave of Patriot domestic terrorists who followed him, did not occur in a vacuum. They were creatures in a milieu in which Limbaugh and other ostensibly "mainstream" media, political and religious figures helped transmit and reinforce extremist ideas that, when nursed with a violent predisposition, became extremely volatile in real life.
These transmissions have a twofold effect, as I've mentioned earlier: They not only inject extremist ideas into the mainstream, but they brings the two sectors closer together.
Take two neighbors, Joe and Bill. Joe is a good taxpaying family man and a Republican precinct committeeman. Bill is a Patriot who attends Preparedness Expos and "common law court" meetings and has declared his "sovereign citizenship." Now, contrary to popular myths, most Patriots in fact are indistinguishable from any other average American -- they hold jobs, raise kids, carpool, attend church. And so in most respects, Joe and Bill get along fine, as most neighbors might, though Joe thinks Bill's ideas are kooky. Then he starts listening to Limbaugh, and after awhile, he begins to think that maybe his government-hating neighbor isn't so kooky after all.
Meanwhile, Bill listens to the same broadcasts and begins to believe that maybe mainstream Republicans are finally starting to "get it." The next time he and Bill talk over the fence, they find they have more to talk about. Pretty soon Joe is heading off with Bill to a Preparedness Expo, while Bill starts volunteering to work as a "poll watcher" for the Republicans in the next elections.
The result is that right-wing extremists wind up exerting a gravitational pull on mainstream conservatism -- and by extension, the whole political continuum -- that far exceeds their actual size or, for that matter, political viability. That the entire spectrum has shifted steadily rightward in the past 10 years and more could not be more self-evident. And at times, it has come with devastating results, as at Oklahoma City.
If nothing else, Oklahoma City should at least have been a signal to Limbaugh that it was time to tone down the rhetoric, to stop demonizing government employees and federal officials. That, as we have seen, has never occurred. Anti-government bile is still a constant of his radio rants, as anyone reading the transcripts at Web sites like Rush Transcript [http://rushtranscript.blogspot.com] can see for themselves. Certainly it was that day in Billings, which was nearly a year after Oklahoma City.
However, since the election of George W. Bush, Limbaugh's anti-government venom is largely reserved for liberal officials. In general, Limbaugh has now shifted his focus from demonizing the government to demonizing anything liberal. Of course, this sentiment has always been part of his schtick, but in recent months he has been stepping it up another notch. Not only are liberals to be opposed politically, they are in fact treasonous. This was explicit in his attacks on Sen. Tom Daschle, the leader of the Senate Democrats, and was a continuing theme as antiwar protests grew in volume and intensity, referring to dissenters as, among other things, "anti-American, anti-capitalist Marxists and Communists."
This is extremely dangerous talk, and not merely because it is divisive. It actually threatens to simultaneously harden the growing alliance between extremist and mainstream conservatives, and create a milieu in which violence against dissenters becomes acceptable. It is when we see this kind of coalescence that we are in real danger of seeing fascism blossom in America.
Of course, Clinton in fact made abundantly clear that day that the proper response is not to shut down those irresponsible voices, to try to silence them. That would be adopting their tactics, and put us on their moral plane.
Let Limbaugh and his cohorts have their say. And let the rest of us be there to counter his disinformation with facts, his false memes with a clear dose of reality.
But pretending that he's only an "entertainer" -- or for that matter that he really is wholly mainstream -- is no longer an option.
Next: Dualist Receivers
Bill O'Reilly: Put up or shut up
Joe Conason precisely characterizes the latest Bill O'Reilly column as a "self-pitying" whine-fest [that would gag a maggot, I must add; read only with a strong stomach].
I especially had to take note of a couple of lines:
- Attempting to smear and destroy the reputations of those with whom you politically disagree is not satire.
No, it's not.
It's called the Arkansas Project.
Or it's called "Al Gore invented the Internet".
And it's called labeling your political opponents "traitors."
No, that's not satire. That's using your medium to carelessly malign people with whom you disagree politically.
That's selling falsehoods that benefit your own political agenda.
That's selling your journalistic soul in the service of spewing partisan propaganda.
And no matter how you cut it, Fox and Bill O'Reilly do it. In spades.
Of course, I also noticed this passage:
- It makes me sick to see intellectually dishonest individuals hide behind the First Amendment to spread propaganda, libel and slander.
I trust that he keeps a barfbag handy while he's on the air, then.
The truth is this: If Al Franken committed libel, then make your case in court on that basis, Mr. O'Reilly -- not on risibly baseless harassment suits like the one you filed.
You see, Franken's book is not protected from a libel suit by the First Amendment. You can file such a suit at any time, Mr. O'Reilly.
But if you can't prove he libeled you, then you have no basis for claiming in public that he did.
Let's put it this way, Mr. O'Reilly: Your claim that Al Franken libeled you is false; in fact, every word he printed about you was perfectly accurate and factual in every respect. You know this -- indeed, you have yet to publish or broadcast any kind of factual refutation of Franken's account -- rather, you have only blustered and blithely claimed that Franken "libeled" you and that he "got it wrong," but you offer no facts in evidence of these claims. You know you'd lose any libel suit you brought on the matter of truthfulness alone (let alone the malicious-intent clause).
Bill O'Reilly is clearly a liar. He can feel free to sue me for saying that -- but the truth is, he would lose.
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism
Monday, August 18, 2003
[Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII and VIII. See my explanatory note.]
IX: Media Transmitters
As seemingly psychotic cranks go, Ann Coulter has carved out a nice little career for herself as an obsessive hater of all things liberal, flavoring her television appearances with a frothing, twitchy dyspepsia that seems to infect everyone on the sound stage.
Along the way Coulter, like many of her media compatriots on the right, first developed a significant role in transmitting memes from the extremist Clinton-hating right into the mainstream of conservatism, and since then has expanded into other fields. During that process, she's been important in bringing the two sectors even closer together.
Of course, Coulter has built much of her reputation on being outrageous, as on the recent occasion when she penned a column about Muslims that concluded: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Unsurprisingly, she has indulged in a litany of Clinton-hating memes that originated in the extremist right, ranging from equating him with Hitler, to hinting before Y2K that he intended to declare martial law, to indulging in later-disproven rumors that he had fathered an illegitimate black child.
The quintessential Coulter "transmission" remark, though, came after Sept. 11, in an interview with the New York Observer:
- "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building."
Most of the commentary about this remark focused on its seeming endorsement of terrorist violence, which her defenders, such as the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, dismissed airily as merely lacking in humor: "Why would anybody even pretend to believe that Ms. Coulter wishes any real harm to the New York Times or wishes to convert all Muslims forcibly to Christianity?" (Peculiarly, this piece ran on the same day as Coulter's Observer interview.)
This line of defense is nearly identical to that deployed by Rush Limbaugh when he tries to claim that he's merely an "entertainer" -- something along the lines of, "Why would you take them seriously in the first place?" Well, I don't know, you tell me: Why would anyone take them seriously? Just because they have audiences of millions who hang on their every word as Received Wisdom? Just because every major broadcast and cable-news network has presented them, and people like them, as serious thinkers whose words are worthy of the public's consideration?
More to the point, exactly which parts of Ann Coulter are we not supposed to take seriously? Just those parts when she writes like a banshee from hell? And how, exactly, are we supposed to discern those parts from the rest? Where does the 'fierce raillery' about which 'everybody laughs afterwards' end? And does that mean talking about blowing up hundreds of New Yorkers is supposed to be humorous?
In any event, there should have been no question that this remark was beyond the pale of acceptable public discourse, much more so than anything Trent Lott has ever said. Coulter should have become a pariah, at least on the public airwaves. Indeed, I should have expected not merely journalists to denounce her for this remark, but fellow conservatives as well. That this hasn't happened -- that in fact that conservatives have defended her avidly, and indeed she seems to be back on the air more than ever -- is significant in its own.
However, there are even more consequential subtexts here.
First, Coulter is clearly suggesting here that the only thing wrong with McVeigh's attack was his choice of targets. Coulter would have preferred the NYT Building; but she otherwise appears to be suggesting that bombing government employees (including a day care full of toddlers) was acceptable as well. I would argue that this aspect of her remark is even more egregious, and should earn her the permanent scorn of every decent American.
The important point that all of the postmortems about Coulter's remark missed, however, was the very context that was its foundation: Namely, a recognition that the extremist right of Timothy McVeigh was allied with, and indirectly doing the bidding of, ostensibly mainstream conservatives like herself.
In many ways, Coulter's remark is just an acknowledgement of the relationship. I'm certain it will gain her even more fans among the Patriot crowd. And that's how the ties grow stronger.
A number of analysts have noted over the years that violent right-wing extremists have often been viewed by mainstream conservatives as useful tools for enacting their own agenda. The history of this dates back as far as monarchists' attacks on liberal thinkers in the 16th and 17th centuries, and includes the American lynching phenomenon of 1870-1930, as well the McCarthyite/Bircher exploitation of the Communist threat and the opposition to desegregation and the civil-rights movement.
As I've been documenting, for the past six years or so this uneasy alliance is re-emerging, as ideological and political traffic between movement conservatives and right-wing extremists becomes increasingly common. Sometimes this happens almost accidentally, often in the meeting-ground of personal ambition and lurking agendas, as when David Horowitz published the views of white supremacist Jared Taylor at his Frontpage Webzine. Sometimes, as with Coulter, it is done with apparently full intent.
Her McVeigh remark really makes the relationship quite clear, depending of course on the extent to which mainstream conservatives view Coulter as one of them. Judging by their continuing silence about her obvious extremism, I'd have to assume that most of them are happy to claim her.
This kind of meshing of mainstream corporate interests with right-wing thuggery is in fact a hallmark of incipient fascism. A compliant media that portrays this kind of phenomenon as unremarkable is also important in its development.
And that is the role that media transmitters like Coulter play: Not only do they inject the extremist meme into mainstream conservatism, they also condition the mainstream to think of extremists in a generous and even collegial light. Simultaneously, they persuade extremists who might otherwise align themselves with marginal and powerless fringe groups to instead perceive that mainstream conservatives are capable of addressing their issues, thereby drawing them into the political ranks of mainstream conservatism.
For all her notoriety, Coulter is in some ways a minor player as a media transmitter. Let's look a little further at the various sectors of the media where transmitters operate:
While many of his critics would like to lump conservative radio-talk megastar Rush Limbaugh in with some of his contemporaries on the hard right, the Big Fat Idiot appears mostly to be a secular conservative who only occasionally treads into xenophobic or theocratic dogma. However, Limbaugh artfully presents ideas from the hard right for legitimate consideration by the mainstream, and thus plays a major role as a transmitter of ideas from other sectors -- especially in light of his considerable reach.
Limbaugh’s transmissions are clearest when he’s at his most shrill, decrying bureaucrats in Washington who "would just as soon do away with democracy" and similar hyperbole. "The second violent American revolution is just about--I got my fingers about a quarter of an inch apart -- is just about that far away," he told a Washington Post reporter, describing the sentiments behind the Patriot movement. "Because these people are sick and tired of a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington driving in to town and telling them what they can and can't do with their land." It’s a line that would have played well at a militia meeting.
At other times, Limbaugh has dabbled in wink-and-nudge racism: On his thankfully short-lived TV program, for instance, Limbaugh one night promised to show his audience footage of everyday life among welfare recipients. He then ran video of the antics of a variety of great apes -- mostly orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees -- hanging about zoos. The audience, of course, applauded and laughed.
Limbaugh also sounds themes that often are taken whole from stories circulated first among the Patriot right: Clinton body counts, education conspiracies, phony medical and environmental tales. Perhaps this is most important role: As a font of outright misinformation. (Limbaugh has never, to my knowledge, issued a correction for any of his voluminous factual errors.)
Limbaugh likes to dress himself up in public as an "entertainer," but what he really is above all, as I've observed, is a propagandist. This is apparent from many aspects of his programs, ranging from his refusal to engage in any kind of open or honest debate to the endless spew of disinformation that flows into his microphone. The latter is perhaps the most telling, because this is the essence of Newspeak: to render the meanings of words empty by assaulting them with falsification.
Just as significant on the airwaves are the horde of Limbaugh imitators who appear willing to say anything outrageous in the hope of garnering higher ratings. Foremost among these is Michael Savage, the obnoxiously xenophobic hatemonger who recently was awarded a slot on MSNBC's Saturday lineup.
Savage is particularly gifted at presenting overtly racial appeals in soft wrapping, so that his listeners know what he means, even if he can't be pinned down for it later. But at times his appeal to racism is nearly naked. When he calls for the deportation of all immigrants, and the internment of Muslim-Americans, it isn't hard to discern a racial purpose to it all.
Perhaps just as disturbing about Savage is the eliminationist tone of much of his rhetoric, much of it aimed not at a racial or ethnic group but at liberals generally: "I say round them up and hang 'em high!" and "When I hear someone's in the civil rights business, I oil up my AR-15!" Here was a recent rant aimed at liberal critics:
- "I'm more powerful than you are you little hateful nothings. You call yourself this for that and that for this. You say you represent groups, you represent nobody but the perverts that you hang around with and I'm warning you if you try to damage me any further with lies, be aware of something: that which you stoke shall come to burn you, the ashes of the fireplace will come and burn your own house down. Be very careful, you are living in incendiary times. You can't just throw things at people and walk away thinking that you had a little fun. I warn you; I'm gonna warn you again, if you harm me and I pray that no harm comes to you, but I can't guarantee that it won't."
The level of intolerance and the implied threat in remarks like these -- and they are common in his diatribes -- raise reminders of similar eliminationism that ran rampant in Germany in the 1930s.
Another Limbaugh-wannabee with a more modest reach is Chuck Harder, a Florida-based talk-show host whose topics range from United Nations takeovers to the coming Y2K Apocalypse -- as well as the full complement of Clinton scandals. In the past, Harder has broadcast daily updates from the Freemen standoff in Montana, and once featured renowned anti-Semite Eustace Mullins -- one of the radical right’s revered figures -- as an "expert" on the Federal Reserve.
B. Cable TV
Among transmitters of memes 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 a rife with this kind of rhetoric.) The result is a steady drip of extremist memes blending into the day's Republican talking points.
C. The Internet
Anyone who's followed the conservative movement's growth in the past five years is well familiar with the Free Republic, the ultra-conservative Web site that is in a class all its own in transmitting the extremist agenda into mainstream conservatism.
Free Republic (like the Patriot movement) avoids wading into racial or religious discussions, and presents itself as purely a "conservative" political forum, but it has become one of the chief breeding grounds for conspiracy theories on the right. During Bill Clinton's presidential tenure, many of these involved his alleged plans for overthrowing democracy and installing a "New World Order" dictatorship. Any number of extremist memes have over the years received extensive play at the site, including several post-9/11 threads blaming the entirety of that disaster on Clinton. In recent months, the site has gradually shifted its focus to a bellicose defense of President Bush's Iraq war plans, with an emphasis on intimidating liberal antiwar protesters.
The most significant part of the Web site's reach, though, is the kind of following it has created. Self-labeled "Freepers" have in recent years become increasingly organized manifestations of some of the extreme sentiments that circulate at the site, to the point of having serious real-world effects: Freepers played significant roles in several incidents involving thuggery and intimidation during the post-election Florida debacle, including disrupting an appearance by Jesse Jackson (in concert, as it happens, with white supremacists) and engaging in noisy, intimidating protests outside of Al Gore's vice-presidential residence.
Not quite as potent but certainly as vivid of transmitters of far-right memes are a couple of well-read Webzines: NewsMax and WorldNetDaily. Both have at various times been funded by right-wing guru Richard Mellon Scaife, who has on several occasions displayed his own predilection for extremist beliefs. Certainly these two Webzines reflect that. (Both magazines, incidentally, also carried breathless coverage of Bob Schulz's anti-tax campaign.)
WorldNetDaily in particular has been extremely conspiracy-prone over the years. In the run-up to Y2K, for example, its major theme was the Patriot belief that Clinton intended to use the social chaos certain to proceed from the looming technological disaster as a pretext for declaring martial law and thereby establishing his dictatorship. Of course, one of the chief promoters of this theory was the zine's editor, Joseph Farah, who penned numerous columns on the subject.
NewsMax has similarly been a major conduit of extremist anti-Clinton propaganda, especially since its reins were taken over by Christopher Ruddy, the Scaife-funded 'investigative reporter' who devoted years to proving Clinton had Vince Foster murdered (though of course he also pursued dozens of other Clinton conspiracy theories, all equally groundless). In recent months NewsMax has shifted its focus to attacks on Muslims and liberals as "traitors," while loudly defending President Bush's war plans.
D. The Press
The Wall Street Journal remains a well-respected paper within journalistic circles for its reporting staff, but the paper's editorial page has for the better part of a decade become one of the real scandals of newspapering, particularly its rampant unethical behavior in publishing material that is provably false and often little more than thinly disguised smears of various liberals, particularly Clinton during his tenure, and refusing at time to correct even gross errors of fact. Not surprisingly, many of these false memes were generated by right-wing extremists of various stripes and then given the mantle of respectability by the WSJ.
This propensity had manifested itself well before Clinton -- as when, for example, it championed the work of Charles Murray, co-author of the now-infamous The Bell Curve. As Lucy Williams explained it in her analysis of the way conservatives treated Murray:
- By articulating a definition of poverty that associated it explicitly with illegitimacy, then associating illegitimacy with race, the Right made it acceptable to express blatantly racist concepts without shame. For example, when Charles Murray wrote The Bell Curve ten years after Losing Ground, he argued that welfare should be abolished, not simply because of the economic incentives it creates, but because it encourages "dysgenesis," the outbreeding of intelligent whites by genetically inferior African Americans, Hispanics, and poor whites.
Likewise, the WSJ indulged all kinds of extremist propaganda in its pursuit of Clinton. One of its chief sources was Floyd Brown, a longtime enemy of Bill from Arkansas days. Brown was responsible for the circulation of much of the early Whitewater dirt on Bill Clinton, mostly through Citizens United's top investigator, David Bossie (who later gained notoriety as the erstwhile chief investigator for Rep. Dan Burton's campaign-finance probe, and has in recent months been turning up as a pundit on Fox News).
Brown's credibility was already of questionable value; by 1998, this had become unmistakable. For instance, at Brown's Citizens United Web site -- in addition, naturally, to a bevy of Monica-related impeachment screeds -- you could find screaming exposes of the Clintons’ alleged involvement in the United Nations one-world-government plot. A streaming banner on the site shouted: "Secret United Nations Agenda Exposed In Explosive New Video!" (The video in question prominently featured an appearance by then-Sen. John Ashcroft.) A little further down, the site explains: "This timely new video reveals how the liberal regime of Bill Clinton is actively conspiring to aid and abet the United Nations in its drive for global supremacy." For those who follow the militia movement, these tales have more than a familiar ring.
Yet in 1994, members of the WSJ's editorial board sat down with Brown and examined his anti-Clinton information -- which in nature was not appreciably different from what he was flogging four years later -- and shortly thereafter, nearly half of the Journal's editorial page was devoted one day to reprinting materials obtained from Brown. Moreover, the WSJ continued to recycle the allegations from that material for much of the following six years.
The other major organ that transmits right-wing memes is the Moonie-owned newspaper The Washington Times, which suffers from a variety of ethical maladies. Most of these are related to spreading extremist memes about Bill Clinton, as well as championing various white-nationalist causes exuding from the neo-Confederate movement (two senior editors have long associations with the movement). But the conspiracy-mongering has continued well since Clinton left office, with a stream of recent pieces suggesting that Al Qaeda and not white supremacists were really behind the Oklahoma City bombing.
These are the rich orphans of the media business -- some of them are former reporters, some are former political operatives, and some are just propagandists in the Limbaugh mold. Their ranks are filled with all kinds and shapes of transmitters, many of whom gladly resort to extremist memes because of their outrageousness quotient -- and if there's any way to make your reputation as a pundit, it's to say something that makes headlines. No publicity is bad publicity, as they say.
These range from ex-liberals like Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens, who gladly traded in several extremist memes about Clinton in the course of excreting their voluminous bile toward him, to barely concealed extremists like David Horowitz and Michael Savage. In between, it was never unusual to hear the late Barbara Olson repeat a Patriot legend, or even now for Peggy Noonan to indulge in plainly irresponsible speculation about Muslims.
The most notorious of them, though, is Ann Coulter, whose behavior continues to provide us with nearly perfect models of how transmitters work, and why they are so effective. Indeed, there seems to be no end in sight.
Next: Reaching the Receivers
Is MEChA racist?
Tacitus has a long post up questioning Cruz Bustamante's associations with Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, or MEChA, a Latino-rights organization that Tacitus contends is racist.
But the evidence that MEChA is racist, including that presented by Tacitus, is rather thin and problematic at best. In reality, it most resembles a typical college-campus ethnic-pride organization, with all the accompanying baggage of fiery rhetoric from its more radical contingents but largely a record of advocating for its rights entirely within the system and with an emphasis on multiculturalism, which is the antithesis of the racism practiced by most so-called "hate" groups.
First, let's try to make our terms clear: What, exactly, makes an organization racist? The Southern Poverty Law Center's definition of a "hate" group is probably the most clear and useful:
- All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.
It goes without saying, of course, that there are many, many racial/ethnic/identity-pride organizations, ranging from the Irish-American Cultural Institute to the Japanese American Citizens League, none of which are racist in any shape.
Many of these are devoted to not merely advocating for equal rights for their constituencies but (particularly with certain black-pride and gay-pride organizations) with arguing for a kind of nationalism, promoting the greater virtues of their particular identities and often fiercely denouncing the oppression they believe they continue to suffer. Again, there is nothing inherently racist in this.
These groups definitively become racist, however, when they tread over that line and begin attacking other ethnicities or identity groups. In the case of groups like neo-Nazis and the Klan, of course, this means serially denigrating non-whites and Jews in the lowest terms; it can also take such purportedly high-minded forms as the white-nationalist American Renaissance organization or the nakedly anti-Semitic and racist Nation of Islam. As mentioned previously, La Voz de Aztlan is clearly a racist hate group as well, and the SPLC identifies them as such.
But the connections between La Voz and MEChA, however, are tenuous at best. There are no MEChA links on the La Voz Web site, and the latter's use of the "Aztlan" concept is the same kind of cultural hijacking of legitimate ethnic-heritage symbolism that is common among white supremacists. It no more colors MEChA than does the neo-Nazi Stormfront's adoption of the Celtic Cross as a symbol impugn Celtic organizations (which is to say, not at all). The publishers of La Voz are ex-Mechistas, but again, that kind of "connection" is actually a very thin thread, particularly if they have no current associations with either national MEChA or any of its chapters.
Now let's look at the evidence Tacitus presents that MEChA is racist. Most of this is in the form of text he extracts from various Mechista writings, including the group's founding documents. Chief among the latter of these is El Plan de Santa Barbara:
- The widespread use of the term Chicano today signals a rebirth of pride and confidence. Chicanismo simply embodies and ancient truth: that a person is never closer to his/her true self as when he/she is close to his/her community. Chicanismo draws its faith and strength from two main sources: from the just struggle of our people and from an objective analysis of our community's strategic needs....
Commitment to the struggle for Chicano liberation is the operative definition of the ideology used here. Chicanismo involves a crucial distinction in political consciousness between a Mexican American (or Hispanic) and a Chicano mentality. The Mexican American or Hispanic is a person who lacks self-respect and pride in one's ethnic and cultural background. Thus, the Chicano acts with confidence and with a range of alternatives in the political world. He is capable of developing and effective ideology through action.
Mexican Americans (or Hispanics) must be viewed as potential Chicanos. Chicanismo is flexible enough to relate to the varying levels of consciousness within La Raza. Regional variations must always be kept in mind as well as the different levels of development, composition, maturity, achievement, and experience in political action. Cultural nationalism is a means of total Chicano liberation.
There are definite advantages to cultural nationalism, but no inherent limitations. A Chicano ideology, especially as it involves cultural nationalism, should be positively phrased in the form of propositions to the Movement. Chicanismo is a concept that integrates self-awareness with cultural identity, a necessary step in developing political consciousness. As such, it serves as a basis for political action, flexible enough to include the possibility of coalitions. The related concept of La Raza provides an internationalist scope of Chicanismo, and La Raza Cosmica furnishes a philosophical precedent.
Discomfiting and short-sighted as this may seem, there is in fact nothing inherently racist in this -- ethnic nationalism is not racism. It only becomes so when it attacks or maligns other races, and there is nothing in this text (or anywhere else in El Plan) that does so. Tacitus goes on to cite text from El Plan Spiritual de Aztlan that continues largely in this vein, though with more strident language decrying their "oppressors." There is, however, one disturbing sentence:
- Brotherhood unites us, and love for our brothers makes us a people whose time has come and who struggles against the foreigner "gabacho" who exploits our riches and destroys our culture.
This is borderline racist, since "gabacho" has a clearly derogatory meaning, and it paints a picture of all white people as intending the destruction of Latino culture.
However, the bulk of these screeds are simply demanding a place at the table for Chicanos, albeit a powerful one -- like most such ethnic-nationalist worldviews, it sees itself in the leading role. Indeed, a careful reading of the rest of El Plan Spiritual reveals that it goes on to discuss its political role both as a majority and a minority, which indicates it sees itself working in a context of others, with no hint of eliminationism.
Tacitus' next excerpt is far more damning in that it is unequivocally racist:
- According to Miguel Perez, mechista of Cal State Northridge, "The ultimate ideology is the liberation of Aztlan. [Communism would be closest]....Non-Chicanos would have to be expelled....opposition groups would have to be quashed because you have to keep the power."
It is one thing to advocate ethnic nationalism, even in strident terms; it is another thing altogether to advocate the removal of differing ethnicities and their political oppression. This is only a step removed from the viciousness of La Voz de Aztlan, frankly. Eliminationist rhetoric should be condemned in whatever form it appears.
However, the rantings of one person from a single chapter does not make an entire organization racist. The question is whether MEChA as a whole reflects these kinds of eliminationist views, or whether they are common among the ranks of Mechistas. And so far, I have uncovered no evidence that this is the case.
It is clear, in fact, that MEChA in fact is mostly a decentralized organization that encompasses fairly diverse worldviews and politics -- and moreover, the vast bulk of its activism stresses Chicano rights, but advocates them through cooperative action and working within the system (though obviously much of this is tinged with 1960s-style "revolutionary" fervor). It manifests itself mostly on college campuses, where chapters largely reflect the politics of the constituent students, and these range from the relatively moderate to the relatively radical. You can find MEChA chapters everywhere from Oregon to Yale, and a quick perusal of their Web sites reveals that these are largely benign groups that stress multiculturalism, not racism.
So far, it appears there is scant evidence throughout the rest of MEChA (including National MEChA) of much of Miguel Perez's racism, and it requires mostly a tendentious reading of the founding documents to find traces of racism there. It is important to remember that most true "hate" groups are positively obsessed not merely with the superiority of their identity but with attacking and maligning the Others.
Consider, for instance, the example of David Duke's National Organization for the Advancement of White People. As suggested by its name, its chief pose was not as a "hate" group but simply as an organization devoted to defending the rights of white people. But the NAAWP was unmistakably racist because it in fact devoted large portions, if not nearly the entirety, of its advocacy to attacking maligning blacks, Jews, homosexuals, "foreigners" and anyone else who was not white.
MEChA does not fit this kind of profile, even remotely. The tinges of racism it has acquired are not central to its philosophy, but are more a product of its ethnic nationalism, which by its nature can be problematic (just because it can be a breeding ground for racism) but is not in itself racist.
It is important to stress, however, that all of us are working from a limited set of data. I myself have only a handful of Mechista writings and position papers to work from, as does, I suspect, Tacitus. It may well be that a more thorough examination of Mechista writings and positions reveals widespread racism and eliminationism.
I contacted Mark Potok at the SPLC's Intelligence Report to inquire about their assessment of MEChA yesterday, and he replied that for the most part, MEChA has been viewed as a typical progressive multiculturalist campus organization. He indicates, however, that the recent concerns that have been raised about MEChA have sparked their interest, and that the SPLC is now in the process of doing a serious assessment of the matter. If they do so, it is probable that SPLC researchers will be working from a much broader database, which will likely include queries for clarification from national MEChA leadership.
Until we get a more thorough assessment, it is clear that it is best to reserve judgment about MEChA's racism, since the evidence for the charge is very thin and relies largely on "associations" that, so far at least, are tenuous at best and interpretations of rhetoric that lean tendentious.
Of course, one of the charges regularly leveled at "the left" generally (and the SPLC particularly) is that it applies the "racist" label too easily and readily -- after all, such charges can be personally and professionally damaging, and ultimately constitute a smear when they are not well-grounded. While I agree that this occurs with ridiculous regularity among the less thoughtful partisans of the left, particularly among various ethnic advocates, in reality such groups as the SPLC, like most mainstream liberals, are very circumspect and rely upon the weight of substantial evidence before naming an organization racist.
Such judiciousness would be fitting from the left's accusers as well.
[A note: It appears that the FrontPage Magazine article I cited in the previous post on Bustamante has now been edited to remove the reference to La Voz de Aztlan. In the original version, one of the paragraphs described La Voz's wretched anti-Semitism and concluded by asking why Bustamante did not denounce them. You can still find references to this at Alan Henderson's blog (which clearly connects Bustamante to La Voz) as well.]
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism
[Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI and VII. See my explanatory note.]
VIII: Official Transmtters
The strange thing about watching Trent Lott's slow-motion toppling late last year was that the whole uproar was about something that was not particularly new or unknown about Lott.
Lott's lack of judgment, like that of many Republicans, is embodied in his dalliances with right-wing extremists, which had been well observed previously. In Lott's case, he had an open alliance with the Southern variant of extremism, embodied in the neo-Confederate movement, a band of Southern revivalists who unabashedly argue for modern-day secession by the former Confederate States: "The central idea that drives our organisation is the redemption of our independence as a nation," says the mission statement for the League of the South.
Of course, like most right-wing extremists, they also pathologically hated Bill Clinton: "Impeach Clintigula Now!" shouted a typical banner from a Neo-Confed site. As with their militia brethren elsewhere in the country, the hatred of the former president proved a potent recruiting tool, particularly for making inroads into mainstream conservatism.
Lott contributed a regular column to the neo-Confederate Citizen Informer magazine, usually pontificating on mainstream issues -- while being joined by other columnists who would rant about "Aracial Whites" and discuss the logistics of secession. The CofCC and other Neo-Confeds have a fondness for Mississippi's senior senator dating back to his efforts to rehabilitate the name and reputation of Jefferson Davis, and the senator in return has lent them both his ear and the air of legitimacy that his name as a columnist gives their magazine. He also told CofCC gatherings that they "stand for the right principles and the right philosophy."
When finally called out on this behavior, amid the counteraccusations that flew during the Clinton impeachment, Lott offered a startlingly misleading denial: "This group harbors views which Senator Lott firmly rejects. He has absolutely no involvement with them either now or in the future." Of course, the questions were about his past.
This all finally caught up with Lott after his now-infamous bout of nostalgia at Strom Thurmond's farewell banquet. But in addition to the collective amnesia that had let Lott slide through beforehand, the really curious thing about the way the Lott matter eventually played out was the compartmentalization of its resolution: All neat and tidy, with no ramifications for anyone else -- including, say, Attorney General John Ashcroft, who has had his own dalliances with neo-Confederates. It had the distinct flavor of a political hit by Team Rove, rather than signifying any sea change on the part of the GOP.
This no doubt serves the purposes of Republican strategists, who are hoping to remake the party's image so that it can finally shake the shadow of the Southern Strategy. But they have to do so carefully without upsetting their Southern base too deeply, and the Bush administration's later attacks on affirmative action, as well as its resurrection of such nominations as Charles Pickering's, may have gone a long way to mollify those voters.
In any case, these strategists are probably not really aiming to make significant inroads into the minority communities, particularly not with blacks. Instead, their obvious target in remaking their image is moderate white suburban voters, whose reluctance to vote Republican is often associated with the GOP's lily-white racial image. But the affirmative-action and other recent moves have made clear that the Bush team is primarily interested in empty symbolic gestures -- like Lott's fall -- to appeal to these voters.
The larger reality is that the Republican Party, and mainstream conservatism generally, has for some time now engaged in such dalliances with extremists across a broad range of issues, and in a number of different sectors and political blocs. Lott was merely the tip of the iceberg.
Lott, and politicians like him, play an important role for right-wing extremists. They are transmitters, figures who straddle both the mainstream and extremist sectors of the right. They help lend such segments as the neo-Confederates a veneer of legitimacy that they otherwise would utterly lack. And they help get their ideas, and ultimately their agendas, into the mainstream.
Let's examine the different kinds of transmitters:
Politicians and public officials
Lott was far from alone among Republicans in maintaining ties to neo-Confederates and other Southern racists. Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, chief sponsor of a 1997 bill to impeach Clinton, also made appearances before the CofCC, and over the years has had open associations with the populist-right John Birch Society, as well as a striking penchant for placing the militias’ issues -- gun control, tearing down the United Nations, fighting "globalism" -- atop his list. Ex-Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice maintained open ties with the CofCC and other neo-Confederate factions. And Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster -- who was President Bush's campaign chair in that state -- maintained an interesting relationship with white supremacist David Duke: He liked to buy Duke's mailing lists. (He also tried to conceal his purchase of the lists and was caught and fined for it.)
The South, however, was only one of many staging grounds for ostensibly mainstream conservative politicians to commingle with right-wing extremists. In fact, it happened in every corner of the country. In New Hampshire, Republican Sen. Bob Smith made open alliances with the Patriot/militia-oriented Constitution Party (indeed, he nearly ran for president on the party's ticket). Former Rep. Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, who chaired a natural-resources subcommittee and was one of the first to join Barr as an impeachment co-sponsor, had long associations with her home district’s militiamen -- and you can still buy her anti-environmental video, "America in Crisis," from the Militia of Montana. Former Republican Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas likewise made open alliances with several Texas Patriot groups, and defended their agenda in Congress. Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas continues to peddle pseudo-Patriot "New World Order" conspiracy theories to his constituents.
Probably not surprisingly, nearly every single noteworthy transmitter in politics is a conservative Republican. The only exception was ex-Rep. James Traficant, an Ohio Democrat who was recently drummed out of Congress in the wake of his corruption convictions. Traficant trotted out a broad range of Patriot theories and agenda items during his career, but he was a near-total pariah in his own party. (Indeed, before his convictions, Republicans attempted to persuade him to change aisles.)
The spectrum of transmitters also includes a bevy of local and state officials who tread comfortably in multiple universes. Several state legislatures, notably Montana's, have had significant Patriot presences among their ranks, all of them ultraconservative Republicans. And then there was the GOP's 1996 nominee for governor in Washington state: Ellen Craswell, a religious conservative who argued for remaking America as a "Christian nation" and blamed a horrendous January 1993 storm in Seattle on God's wrath for the Clintons' inauguration, which had taken place that day. Craswell later left the GOP to play a prominent role in the pro-militia U.S. Taxpayers Party and its Washington offshoot, the American Heritage Party (both of which later morphed into the Constitution Party), but reportedly has since returned to the fold.
There are also political organizations that often transmit far-right memes in mainstream settings. The most notable of these is the Free Congress Foundation, run by right-wing guru Paul Weyrich, who was one of the architects of the Reagan Revolution, a founder of the Heritage Foundation, and reputedly someone who still enjoys considerable influence even in the current White House. Weyrich's far-right dalliances have been mounting lately, as the Southern Poverty Law Center recently detailed in a scathing report.
Other groups that transmit far-right memes into mainstream include Larry Pratt's Gun Owners of America, whose connections to the extremist right have been thoroughly documented; Gary Bauer's co-production with James Dobson, the Family Research Council, which spread numerous anti-homosexual memes that originated on the far right; the anti-affirmative action group Center for Individual Rights, which has its origins with the white-supremacist Pioneer Institute, but also has been the "driving force" in the campaign against the University of Michigan's AA program; so-called "Wise Use" groups, which spread anti-environmentalist conspiracy theories into the mainstream; and Operation Rescue (now called Rescue America), which openly consorted with a number of violent anti-abortion extremist groups, and sympathized with their calls for the murder of abortion providers. A complete list of such transmitter organizations, which would include advocacy groups across a broad range of issues, would make even more clear how these groups pick up ideas and themes from extremist organizations and repackage them as mainstream conservative talking points.
Among the leaders of America's religious right, Pat Robertson enjoys a uniquely powerful position, both as overseer of a large broadcasting and evangelical empire, but also as the first fundamentalist Christian leader in recent times to make a significant run for the presidency. He also has a pronounced history of transmitting far-right themes into the mainstream, most especially his frequent claims that America is a "Christian nation," and similar advocacy of installing a theocratic government.
His most notorious instance of trafficking extremist material came with the publication of his 1992 tome, The New World Order, which of course enjoyed a considerable audience on the extremist right. The book is literally riven with conspiracist allegations and references, including his invocation of the well-known Patriot belief that the Freemason conspiracy is "revealed in the great seal adopted at the founding of the United States."
Two articles -- one by Michael Lind and another by Jacob Heilbrunn -- in the New York Review of Books demonstrated conclusively that the bulk of the concepts in the book were clearly drawn directly from such notorious anti-Semitic works as Nesta Webster's Secret Societies and Subversive Movements and Eustace Mullins' Secrets of the Federal Reserve. What's truly remarkable about Robertson's tactic is that he soft-pedals these well-worn tropes in the cloak of references to "international bankers" and the like, much the same way the Patriot movement cloaks its own conspiracy theories.
Robertson's cohort in right-wing evangelizing, Jerry Falwell, likewise has a history of trotting out far-right themes, including the time he attempted to demonstrate that the Antichrist was a Jewish man currently alive. Falwell likewise was closely involved in promoting The Clinton Chronicles, which spread far-right conspiracy theories about the former president. Recently, of course, Falwell has again been in the news, first creating a national uproar by suggesting that gays, and lesbians and liberals in general were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, then creating an international uproar by proclaiming that Mohammad, Islam's chief prophet, was a "terrorist."
Robertson and Falwell, however, are merely to the religious right what Limbaugh is to the army of imitators who fill the ranks of the rest of talk-radio land. The nation's fundamentalist pastors often play similar roles, repeating themes and ideas that originally circulated among extremists, but presenting them in mainstream contexts which lend them a sudden facade of legitimacy.
Perhaps the most significant sector of these fundamentalists are the Christian Reconstructionists, whose agenda is openly theocratic. Their stated purpose is to install a "Christian" government that draws its legal foundations from Scripture, not the Constitution. Their radical agenda, however, is endorsed by a broad array of conservative politicians, notably by the powerful Council for National Policy, which boasts a membership from across a range of mainstream conservatism, but which in fact was co-founded by R.J. Rushdoony, one of the leading lights of Reconstructionism.
This sector is gaining increasing significance as a meeting-ground for mainstream conservatism and right-wing extremism precisely because of the emphasis being placed on his own fundamentalist beliefs by President Bush. As I'll discuss later, the commingling of the two sectors is occurring at an increasing rate because of this, and it may wind up playing an important role in how the Bush camp responds to criticism of its policies -- particularly its war plans -- and potential threats to its hold on power.
Finally, there are the media transmitters. But they have earned a chapter unto themselves.
Next: Media Transmitters
The hate begins
Sunday, August 17, 2003
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the debate over Mel Gibson's The Passion is bringing the haters out of the woodwork.
The Anti-Defamation League, which has been at the forefront in raising red flags about the anti-Semitic content of the film, reports that it is being flooded with hate mail and phone calls.
- "You should be more concerned about the conduct of Jews in our government and financial markets … and stock scams promoted by Jews…" "The hypocracy [sic] going on by Jews in this nation such as your radical Marxist liberal people in government … and the entire diatribe [sic] that opposes our Christian faith and daily tries to undermine our Constitution. … "If a backlash comes it will be a result of that kind of conduct we see out of Jews … not a result of some historically based film …. Many people are just not going to be pushed around much longer."
"I find it sad that you would attempt to censor Gibson. Whether you like it or not, the Jews of the time were instrumental in Jesus' death. We don't need anymore revisionist history. Didn't the Holocaust teach you anything?"
"Shame on the ADL and its attempt at censorship! Where is the ADL when Holocaust films come out that cause feelings of hate toward Germans? … Stop trying to control world opinion and get over yourselves!"
[Note: I particularly enjoy the inherent irony of this argument, which I've been hearing increasingly on the right. It doesn't seem to occur to the writer that what Holocaust films inspire is hatred not of Germans (I happen to be of German descent) but of Nazis. Or is the writer unaware of the difference?]
- "All anti-Semitism is the fault of Jews. If you would direct your people to quit being so dishonest, immoral, atheistic, and Marxist, this stigma would go away…. If you want people to quit their prejudice, then quit giving them reasons to be prejudiced. As long as you act like immoral heathens people will treat you the same way."
"Why are you so upset about Gibson's movie? What he portrays is the truth! Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus! … Maybe when Jesus returns as the Messiah, you won't try to do it again."
So much for all the skepticism that The Passion might inflame latent anti-Semitism.
Of course, if any of these same skeptics bothered to read La Voz de Aztlan (to which certain critics are attempting to link Cruz Bustamanate), they'd know that the debate over the movie is already serving as a significant pretext for spreading anti-Semitism.