Hal's hate schtick
Friday, May 13, 2005
Right-wingers, as I've often remarked, like to push the envelope of outrageousness constantly, just to keep the outrage flowing. Guys like Hal Turner are the distillation of this tendency, its ugly but ultimately logical outcome.
Pushing the envelope? In Turner's case, how about careering through it like a drunken Paris Hilton driving a Mack truck?
At his Web site, Turner is at it again, this time openly advocating not just the murder of illegal aliens, but the use of extreme violence against them or any of their "sympathizers":
- TOP MEXICAN OFFICIAL SAYS "NO WALLS CAN STOP MEXICANS" FROM ILLEGALLY ENTERING U.S.
I say fine! Let's not build a wall. SHOOT AND KILL THEM instead!
I urge the hunting and killing of all illegal aliens as they cross the border into America. I implore Americans to arm themselves with sniper rifles and night vision scopes and kill every Mexican man woman and child who illegally crosses the U.S border. I advocate extreme violence against illegal aliens as shown in the image below:
[Animated gif image]
The image shows a white man stomping a Mexican on the back of his head while the Mexican's mouth is on the curb! Great tactic!!! I think it would be terrific to trap them by their ankles in steel bear traps then beat them to death when you return and fnd them in the trap. After they're dead, they should be decapitated and their heads put on spikes as a warning to other Mexicans. I advocate putting poison in desert drinking water stations they use. They deserve to be doused with gasoline and set on fire. Another great idea is to shoot at them from planes and helicopters. Oh, if any American sides with the illegals, it would be a real public service to kill them too!
Worth noting about that gif: The white man is clearly a skinhead with tats. It's not at all clear that the "victim" of this stomping -- it's called "biting the curb" in white-supremacist talk, a la American History X -- is real. In fact, it's highly likely it's faked.
In any event, it's hard to take Turner seriously, since it seems likely his audience is nearly nonexistent and growing smaller. This is not merely over the top; it's in another dimension in which the top does not exist.
Turner is also unlikely, of course, to inspire anyone to actually act on his suggestions, though his loathsomeness and irresponsibility certainly couldn't be clearer. Still, you can't help but wonder whether Turner represents where conservatism eventually leads you to, one of those slippery slopes like marijuana to hard drugs, or masturbation to hairy palms, or gay marriage to the end of civilization.
Stunts like this are clearly just desperate attempts to draw attention to himself by "pushing the envelope" once again. This time he's descended into self-parody. I don't think even Don Black of Stormfront -- a genuinely nasty organization -- would be this crude. This is like reading one of Tom Metzger's hate-addled White Aryan Resistance newsletters, only without the charming ruboff. (Not surprising, I guess; Turner reportedly has a working relationship with August Kreis of the remnant of the Aryan Nations these days.)
But I do still have one question about this. As I mentioned previously, Turner's radio career got its start thanks to one Sean Hannity, who used to feature him regularly on his New York talk show on WABC. Hannity also endorsed Turner's run for Congress as a Republican back in 2000. According to Daryle at One People's Project, Hannity and Turner were friends off the air too.
Well, I sent Hannity's people a brief query about this, asking what Hannity's position on Turner's remarks might be and whether he still considers Turner a friend and someone worthy of his endorsement.
To my everlasting surprise, I never heard back from them.
I guess I'll just have to write again. Anyone care to join me?
[Hat tip to starwars.]
UPDATE: Well, I guess I know when I've been told off:
- 882,000 Visits in 6 months!
As of Saturday, May 14, This web site has enjoyed 882,000+ visits (5,000 a day) since it went back online last November 12.
According to the ALEXA web site traffic service, this site ranks at #112,545 of all web sites in the world! People come here because I say publicly what many already think privately. By expressing my thoughts bluntly, I embolden people to take action - be it political or even violent - and action means social change. Thanks to all my visitors for making this site popular; far more popular than leftist weasels who complain about it!
Someone should ask Orcinus where they get off saying my audience is "nearly non existent and growing smaller" when my audience is thousands larger than theirs every day!
Turner, actually, is probably right -- he does have a bigger audience than mine. Which, I hope, gives pause to all those folks who think I'm overstating the significance of right-wing extremists like Turner.
Of course, I don't have a radio show to plump my Web site, either. Regular readers may notice other differences, such as the absence of monosyllabic grunts.
UPDATE II: The film clip in the gif, I've confirmed, is in fact from American History X, and the man doing the stomping is actor Edward Norton.
Off to Davis
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
I'm off for a few days for my hate-crimes talk in Davis. Considering my recent less-than-breathtaking pace, I figure most of you won't notice anyway.
Cory Golden of the Davis Enterprise interviewed me, and ran an in-depth preview of the talk. It's a very nice and really very accurate piece, but that doesn't surprise me; I know from experience that small-town papers are often staffed with really gifted reporters.
Hope to be back in the saddle soon, and will attempt a report from the Davis talk.
The undertow of totalism
- Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room. The self-satisfied sheep-like face on the screen, and the terrifying power of the Eurasian army behind it, were too much to be borne: besides, the sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically. He was an object of hatred more constant than either Eurasia or Eastasia, since when Oceania was at war with one of these Powers it was generally at peace with the other. But what was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes waiting to be seduced by him. A day never passed when spies and saboteurs acting under his directions were not unmasked by the Thought Police. He was the commander of a vast shadowy army, an underground network of conspirators dedicated to the overthrow of the State. The Brotherhood, its name was supposed to be. There were also whispered stories of a terrible book, a compendium of all the heresies, of which Goldstein was the author and which circulated clandestinely here and there. It was a book without a title. People referred to it, if at all, simply as the book. But one knew of such things only through vague rumours. Neither the Brotherhood nor the book was a subject that any ordinary Party member would mention if there was a way of avoiding it.
In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening bleating voice that came from the screen. The little sandy-haired woman had turned bright pink, and her mouth was opening and shutting like that of a landed fish. Even O'Brien's heavy face was flushed. He was sitting very straight in his chair, his powerful chest swelling and quivering as though he were standing up to the assault of a wave. The dark-haired girl behind Winston had begun crying out 'Swine! Swine! Swine!' and suddenly she picked up a heavy Newspeak dictionary and flung it at the screen. It struck Goldstein's nose and bounced off; the voice continued inexorably. In a lucid moment Winston found that he was shouting with the others and kicking his heel violently against the rung of his chair. The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.
-- George Orwell, 1984, (Chapter 1)
Totalitarianism is always a two-part dynamic: there are the totalitarian leaders, and there are their followers.
The success or failure of any kind of totalitarianism always comes down to the symbiotic relationship between them, that is, how skilled the would-be leaders are at gathering and maintaining a flock of True Believers. This depends not only on the leaders' skills, but on how many people are willing to become followers, and the conditions that affect their willingness.
When coming to terms with totalitarian trends like the rise of pseudo-fascism, it's reasonable and necessary to focus on the leaders, political and civic, who promulgate them. But in the process we often overlook the role played by the other half of the dynamic: the members of the public who not only participate in it, but ardently embrace it.
These followers are totalists, and recent events make clear that American society is increasingly awash in them.
The most notorious case that recently made national headlines involved the congregation in North Carolina where Democrats were chased out:
- Nine members of a local church had their membership revoked and 40 others left in protest after tension over political views recently came to a head, church members say.
Some members of East Waynesville Baptist Church voted the nine members out at a recent scheduled deacon meeting, which turned into an impromptu business meeting, according to congregants.
Chan Chandler, pastor of East Waynesville, had been exhorting his congregation since October to support his political views or leave the church, said Selma Morris, a 30-year member of the church.
"He preached a sermon on abortion and homosexuality, then said if anyone there was planning on voting for John Kerry, they should leave," she said. "That's the first time I've ever heard something like that. Ministers are supposed to bring people in."
The case caught a lot of people's attention because it was one of the first really public examples of the embrace of totalitarian exclusionism and eliminationism. But it represents, I think, the tip of the iceberg.
I've been hearing from a broad range of readers, mostly through e-mail, about similar incidents in which bosses, pastors, school officials, and other low-level but everyday figures of authority used tactics of intimidation and pressure to not only promote but enforce the conservative movement's agenda in general, and support for George W. Bush in particular.
One of those readers described an interesting case of Big Brotherism:
- I had another experience last night that I felt was worth sharing. On a liberal chatboard I was suprised to find a conservative taking information from chatter's profiles. He claimed that whenever someone spoke against the United States occupation of Iraq, or President Bush in general he'd contact his local Homeland Security and FBI offices to report terrorist activities on the part of the democrats. Though I wasnt there with him, he told me this in a private chatroom. I had been posing as a conservative when he contacted me. It reminded me a great deal of the children in 1984 who reported their families for thoughtcrimes. It would likely be funny, if part of me didn't have the suspicion that his reports may one day be acted upon. Luckily my fears were removed after he mentioned 1,244 (i have no clue how he got that number) American "Liberal Traitors" have been tried for sedition in 2004. He felt proud to take credit for one of the "sedition arrests," a chatter whom I had interviewed personally only days before.
This shouldn't be surprising, considering how widely the notion that Democrats by nature are traitors has been repeated by movement conservatives, most notably Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter. Of course, mainstream conservatives like to dismiss figures like Coulter as being unrepresentative of their movement, someone "no one takes seriously" -- an easy way of eluding the reality of the depth and breadth of her actual influence among the ordinary footsoldiers who comprise their ranks.
Similarly, another reader from a "red state" describes her local milieu:
- My child goes to an excellent private school and I am very pleased with the education they offer. However, the majority of parents are very wealthy, powerful (at least in our small "fishpond") and conservative. Anyone, even children, who dare to voice a dissenting opinion about our "glorious leader, George Bush" are immediately labeled as trouble makers and the kids are subtly ostracized by not being invited to birthday parties etc. Most of the teachers aren't right-wing radicals but the administration is and they dare not disagree with anything that the headmaster says for fear of losing their jobs. I know this because I taught in the preschool there for 2 years and finally quit because I couldn't stand the "zip your lip" culture that the teachers have to follow. The principal even set up a celebration rally for the kids when Bush "won." They were allowed to skip wearing their school uniforms for a day as long as they wore red, white and blue street clothes. They had cake and ice cream for lunch to celebrate his election. My daughter, who was 7 at the time, knows that we don't like Bush but she was afraid to say anything to her little friends because she knew that she would be an outcast.
Our local public school system is very, very bad and there aren't many choices in private education in our area. Our area is home to a massive military base and it's rare to see a car without a "W" sticker on the bumper. I don't dare to put any Democratic stickers on my car because I've heard of other cars that have been vandalized for having pro-Kerry stickers. I've been tolerating this Republican-glorification for the sake of my daughter's education and at home we teach her about what our family sees as the trampling of civil rights in both her school and the country in general. I am so, so sad to see how Bush is dismantling our great land from top to bottom.
The reader's anger at Bush is not misdirected. There's little doubt that the Republicans both in the White House and in Congress have done their level best to encourage and inflame this kind of ground-level totalitarianism -- most often leading by example. All you have to do, really, is look at their public appearances.
Though it showed up throughout his first term, especially in the form of "First Amendment Zones," it really manifested itself during the 2004 campaign, when it became routine for the Bush campaign to exclude, often with a real viciousness, anyone deemed a non-supporter. The nadir of this behavior came when some schoolteachers in Oregon wearing T-shirts proclaiming "Protect Our Civil Liberties" were unceremoniously removed and threatened with arrest. For that matter, even soldiers returned from Iraq were prevented from entering if they were deemed insufficiently supportive. Towards the end, there was the bizarre phenomenon of the "Bush Pledge", which Billmon acutely described as "truly sinister."
Rather than ending with the election, this behavior has seemingly only escalated since. The most noteworthy example was the incident in Denver in which two people attending a Bush "town hall" forum were ejected and threatened with arrest because they had arrived with Kerry bumper stickers on their car. Unsurprisingly, it later turned out it that it was, in fact, a Republican operative posing as official security who had engaged in this faux-official thuggery.
But then, we've known all along that Bush's roadshows are not real exercises in town-hall democracy, but are completely phonied-up propaganda events, Potemkin gatherings for Potemkin audiences.
At the same time, anyone who dares dissent, especially in any kind of noticeable way, is likely to invite a visit from the Secret Service, as Matthew Rothschild at The Progessive (via Jillian at Slyblog) recently reported.
The most striking feature of this cauldron of totalism is its distinctly religious cast, which makes it innately alloyed with likeminded followers inclined to join in line. This has become especially evident in recent manifestations of the trend, especially the Terri Schiavo dustup and the campaign against the judiciary, embodied by the recent "Justice Sunday" event (or, as Nancy Goldstein called it, "the Passion of the Frist").
Mainstream conservatives pooh-pooh such talk, but I think the Rev. Carlton W. Veazy had it exactly right, after "Justice Sunday," in describing the nation as being on the "brink of theocracy":
- There is a right way and a wrong way to engage religious voices in the public square. I believe "Justice Sunday" reflects the latter and highlights several disturbing trends. I agree with the Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, president of the Chicago Theological Seminary, who called "Justice Sunday" sacrilegious and said, "The radical religious right turned a sanctuary into a political platform." As a Baptist minister for more than 40 years with a profound respect for religious freedom and pluralism, I fear it will get worse. In fact, I think we are teetering on the brink of theocracy and the Christian Right could conceivably use the battle over the judiciary and weakening support for reproductive rights to push us over the edge. Unfortunately, although Frist has been vigorously, and appropriately, criticized for his poor judgment and political opportunism in taking part in the telethon, the greater problem of sectarian religious manipulation of public policy debates has been minimized. President George W. Bush brushed off a question about the role of faith in politics at his April 28th press conference with the innocuous response that "people in political office should not say to somebody you're not equally American if you don't agree with my view of religion." Rather than give a high school civics lesson, he should have had the courage to disavow the religious arrogance and extremism of "Justice Sunday."
There is also a media component to this right-wing evangelical takeover. As Mariah Blake recently reported for Columbia Journalism Review, the religious right is clearly succeeding in its long-term plan to construct its own media counter-universe of "Christian" media. The heavyweight in this is the National Religious Broadcasters organization, where in recent years politics has become the name of the game, and anyone dissenting from that direction, unsurprisingly, gets the usual treatment:
- In the sixty-one years since its founding, the NRB has grown to represent 1,600 broadcasters with billions of dollars in media holdings and staggering political clout. Its aggressive political maneuverings have helped shape federal policy, further easing the evangelical networks’ rapid growth. In 2000, for instance, the Federal Communications Commission issued guidelines that would have barred religious broadcasters from taking over frequencies designated for educational programming. The NRB lobbied Congress to intervene, at one point delivering a petition signed by nearly half a million people. Legislators, in turn, bore down on the FCC, and the agency relented.
At least one mainstream media mogul has taken note of religious broadcasters’ political might. In 2002, Rupert Murdoch met with NRB leaders and urged them to oppose a proposed Echostar-DirecTV merger, which they did. After the FCC nixed the deal, Murdoch’s News Corporation bought DirecTV and gave the NRB a channel on it.
The NRB has taken a number of steps to ensure it remains a political player. The most dramatic came in 2002, after Wayne Pederson was tapped to replace the network’s longtime president, Brandt Gustavson. He quickly ignited internal controversy by telling a Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter that he intended to shift the organization's focus away from politics. "We get associated with the far Christian right and marginalized," Pederson lamented. "To me the important thing is to keep the focus on what’s important to us spiritually." That didn’t sit well. Soon members of the executive committee were clamoring for his ouster. Within weeks, he was forced to step down.
Frank Wright was eventually chosen to replace Pederson. He had spent the previous eight years serving as the executive director of the Center for Christian Statesmanship, a Capitol Hill ministry that conducts training for politicians on how to "think biblically about their role in government." Wright acknowledges that he was chosen for his deep political connections. "I came here to re-engage the political culture on issues relating to broadcasting," he says. "The rest is up to individual broadcasters."
Amy Goodman recently had a fascinating interview with Chris Hedges, author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, who discussed the potency and significance of the religious right as a political force:
- CHRIS HEDGES: Well, this is the annual gathering of the most powerful religious broadcasters in the country. Over the last few decades these radical religious broadcasters, who have essentially taken control of the airwaves, have built a parallel information and entertainment service that is piped into tens of millions of American homes as a way of essentially indoctrinating listeners and viewers with this very frightening ideology. I would second most of what your previous guest said, except that I don't believe, and -- I just, you know, for your listeners and viewers, will reiterate that I grew up in the Church. My father was a Presbyterian minister. I have a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, which is what you get if you are going to be a minister, although I was not ordained. For me, this is not a religious movement. It's a political movement.
If you look at the ideology that pervades this movement, and the term we use for it is dominionism, it comes from Genesis, where the sort of founders of this movement, Rousas Rushdoony and others, talk about how God gave man -- this is a very patriarchal movement -- dominion over the land. And dominionists believe that they have been tasked by God to create the Christian society through violence, I would add. Violence, the aesthetic of violence is a very powerful component within this movement. The ideology, when you parse it down and look what it's made up of, is essentially an ideology of exclusion and of hatred. It is a totalitarian ideology. It is not religious in any way. These people quote, as they did at this convention, selectively and with gross distortions from the Gospels. You cannot read the four Gospels and walk away and tell me that Jesus was not a pacifist. I'm not a pacifist, but Jesus clearly was. They draw from the Book of Revelations the only time in the Bible, and that's a very questionable book, as Biblical scholars have pointed out for centuries, the only time when you can argue that Jesus endorsed violence and the apocalyptic visions of Paul. And they do this to create an avenging Christ.
They have built a vision of America that is radically -- and a vision of this -- and latched onto a religious movement or awakening that is radically different from previous awakenings, and there have been several throughout American history. In all religious revivals, Christian religious revivals in American history, the pull was to get believers to remove themselves from the contaminants of secular society. This one is very, very different. It is about taking control of secular society. And, of course, I think, as you and others have done such a good job of pointing out, they have built this dangerous alliance with the neoconservatives to essentially create across denominational lines. And we saw this at the convention with the, you know, radical Catholics with -- even there were even people from the Salvation Army; they have recently begun reaching out to the Mormons -- a kind of united front. Those doctrinal differences are still there and still stock, but a front to create what they term a "Christian America."
And this is an America where people like you and me have no place. And you don't have to take my word for it, turn on Christian broadcasting, listen to Christian radio. Listen to what they say about people like us. It's not a matter that we have an opinion they disagree with. It's not a matter of them de-legitimizing us, which they are. It's a matter of them demonizing us, of talking us -- describing us as militant secular humanists, moral relativists, both of which terms I would not use to describe myself, as a kind of counter-militant ideology that is anti-Christian and that essentially propelled by Satan that they must destroy. Listen to their own language. You know, when in "Justice Sunday," listen -- you know, I urge everyone to go back and look closely at what James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, said. He talked about Roe v. Wade causing the biggest holocaust in the 20th century. There is a frightening kind of revisionism and a kind of moral equation of a magnitude that, you know, having lived through disintegrating states in Yugoslavia and other places, essentially divides -- destroys the center, divides the American public, and creates a very dangerous and frightening culture war. And that's what these people are about.
The popular conception of totalitarianism, however, has often tended to view it as something almost extrinsic to the society on which it is imposed, usually through brainwashing or propaganda. But in reality, totalitarian systems are almost invariably empowered by people who ardently seek and support authoritarian social rule, for a variety of reasons, many of them directly related to psychological needs: that is, totalists.
The most significant work on totalism was pioneered by Erik Erikson, whose work I've discussed previously in a similar context. One of Erikson's chief disciples and descendants is Robert Jay Lifton, who has done some of the most thorough work examing the totalist mindset. Lifton describes it as consisting of eight key themes, notably:
- Milieu control
The most basic feature of the thought reform environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human communication. Through this milieu control the totalist environment seeks to establish domain over not only the individual's communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads or writes, experiences, and expresses), but also -- in its penetration of his inner life -- over what we may speak of as his communication with himself. It creates an atmosphere uncomfortably reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984.
Such milieu control never succeeds in becoming absolute, and its own human apparatus can -- when permeated by outside information -- become subject to discordant "noise" beyond that of any mechanical apparatus. To totalist administrators, however, such occurrences are no more than evidences of "incorrect" use of the apparatus. For they look upon milieu control as a just and necessary policy, one which need not be kept secret: thought reform participants may be in doubt as to who is telling what to whom, but the fact that extensive information about everyone is being conveyed to the authorities is always known. At the center of this self-justification is their assumption of omniscience, their conviction that reality is their exclusive possession. Having experienced the impact of what they consider to be an ultimate truth (and having the need to dispel any possible inner doubts of their own), they consider it their duty to create an environment containing no more and no less than this "truth." In order to be the engineers of the human soul, they must first bring it under full observational control.
Perhaps the trait that progressives seem to be observing on the ground a great deal is the Demand for Purity:
- In the thought reform milieu, as in all situations of ideological totalism, the experiential world is sharply divided into the pure and the impure, into the absolutely good and the absolutely evil. The good and the pure are of course those ideas, feelings, and actions which are consistent with the totalist ideology and policy; anything else is apt to be relegated to the bad and the impure. Nothing human is immune from the flood of stern moral judgments. All "taints" and "poisons" which contribute to the existing state of impurity must be searched out and eliminated.
The philosophical assumption underlying this demand is that absolute purity is attainable, and that anything done to anyone in the name of this purity is ultimately moral. In actual practice, however, no one is really expected to achieve such perfection. Nor can this paradox be dismissed as merely a means of establishing a high standard to which all can aspire. Thought reform bears witness to its more malignant consequences: for by defining and manipulating the criteria of purity, and then by conducting an all-out war upon impurity, the ideological totalists create a narrow world of guilt and shame. This is perpetuated by an ethos of continuous reform, a demand that one strive permanently and painfully for something which not only does not exist but is in fact alien to the human condition.
At the level of the relationship between individual and environment, the demand for purity creates what we may term a guilty milieu and a shaming milieu. Since each man's impurities are deemed sinful and potentially harmful to himself and to others, he is, so to speak, expected to expect punishment -- which results in a relationship of guilt and his environment. Similarly, when he fails to meet the prevailing standards in casting out such impurities, he is expected to expect humiliation and ostracism -- thus establishing a relationship of shame with his milieu. Moreover, the sense of guilt and the sense of shame become highly-valued: they are preferred forms of communication, objects of public competition, and the basis for eventual bonds between the individual and his totalist accusers. One may attempt to simulate them for a while, but the subterfuge is likely to be detected, and it is safer to experience them genuinely.
People vary greatly in their susceptibilities to guilt and shame, depending upon patterns developed early in life. But since guilt and shame are basic to human existence, this variation can be no more than a matter of degree. Each person is made vulnerable through his profound inner sensitivities to his own limitations and to his unfulfilled potential; in other words, each is made vulnerable through his existential guilt. Since ideological totalists become the ultimate judges of good and evil within their world, they are able to use these universal tendencies toward guilt and shame as emotional levers for their controlling and manipulative influences. They become the arbiters of existential guilt, authorities without limit in dealing with others' limitations. And their power is nowhere more evident than in their capacity to "forgive."
The individual thus comes to apply the same totalist polarization of good and evil to his judgments of his own character: he tends to imbue certain aspects of himself with excessive virtue, and condemn even more excessively other personal qualities - all according to their ideological standing. He must also look upon his impurities as originating from outside influences -- that is, from the ever-threatening world beyond the closed, totalist ken. Therefore, one of his best way to relieve himself of some of his burden of guilt is to denounce, continuously and hostilely, these same outside influences. The more guilty he feels, the greater his hatred, and the more threatening they seem. In this manner, the universal psychological tendency toward "projection" is nourished and institutionalized, leading to mass hatreds, purges of heretics, and to political and religious holy wars. Moreover, once an individual person has experienced the totalist polarization of good and evil, he has great difficulty in regaining a more balanced inner sensitivity to the complexities of human morality. For these is no emotional bondage greater than that of the man whose entire guilt potential -- neurotic and existential -- has become the property of ideological totalists.
Lifton, notably, emphasizes that totalists are only too ordinary, and in many regards reflect long-honored human traits:
- Behind ideological totalism lies the ever-present human quest for the omnipotent guide -- for the supernatural force, political party, philosophical ideas, great leader, or precise science -- that will bring ultimate solidarity to all men and eliminate the terror of death and nothingness. This quest is evident in the mythologies, religions, and histories of all nations, as well as in every individual life. The degree of individual totalism involved depends greatly upon factors in one's personal history: early lack of trust, extreme environmental chaos, total domination by a parent or parent-representative, intolerable burdens of guilt, and severe crises of identity. Thus an early sense of confusion and dislocation, or an early experience of unusually intense family milieu control, can produce later a complete intolerance for confusion and dislocation, and a longing for the reinstatement of milieu control. But these things are in some measure part of every childhood experience; and therefore the potential for totalism is a continuum from which no one entirely escapes, and in relationship to which no two people are exactly the same.
It does not take much reflection, however, to recognize that totalism is not a healthy phenomenon -- especially not in a democracy. Combating it requires understanding it, but understanding does not mean succumbing.
Going down to Davis
Monday, May 09, 2005
I'm scheduled to give a talk on hate crimes this Thursday in Davis, California, that's being sponsored by the city's Human Rights Commission and Blacks for Effective Community Action, a local civil-rights group that has a long history in Davis, as well a couple of local congregations.
Titled "So What's a Hate Crime Anyway? The ABCs of Hate Crimes," it will be at 7 p.m. at the University Covenant Church, 315 Mace Blvd. I'll talk for about half an hour or 45 minutes, take questions for another 45 or so, and then sign books. Copies of Death on the Fourth of July will be available.
I'll also be talking to young people earlier in the day at one of the local high schools.
I've posted previously on the situation in Davis. Since then, there have been other assessments, including a scathing account in the San Francisco Chronicle.
More recently, a couple of young black men from Davis have caught people's attention with a film they produced:
- "We had this idea of making a film to reach people across the board, not just a certain group of people," said Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck, who with students Tanvir Kapoor and Paul Donahue recently completed a film described in fliers as showing the "face of hate in Davis."
The three Davis Senior High School students joined forces last summer to piece together a portrait of what they called their "Leave It to Beaver" town.
The film, which remains untitled, juxtaposes images of happy suburbia with dark portrayals of racism.
"In a lot of ways Davis is viewed as a "Leave It to Beaver" town ... like the town is perfect," Ojeda-Beck said.
"Davis is a great town, but even in a great town you still have those dark secrets you don't want to see."
To assemble the film, the youths spent hours poring over footage of Davis community meetings where racism was discussed. They collected articles on racism and masterfully wove the headlines into the film's text.
They shot film of students in classrooms. They cut and re-edited and scoured online archives for footage of civil rights marches and footage of stories on Davis from the Comedy Central cable channel.
At the end of February, they completed a version of the film they felt was ready to air. About a day later, another act of racist vandalism occurred in Davis that captured headlines.
An accompanying story describes how the film came about, and how it has apparently sparked a healthy and long-overdue discussion. I'm hoping my appearances can help advance the same spirit of discourse.
Also, be sure to check out Davis HateWatch, a blog by Berkeley professor Neil Henry, who lives in Davis and was involved as a victim in one of the vandalism hate crimes.
The new vigilantes
Vigilantism has a bit of a mixed history in America. In some places and contexts, it is thought of fondly as a kind of citizen-imposed form of law and order. In others, though, it is nothing less than the murderous face of mob rule.
Which face, do you think, the Minutemen will reveal over time?
Now, if you go to Montana, you may be surprised to learn that, in many regards, the state's notorious vigilantes of 1864-1885 are viewed rather benignly, as icons of Old West-style law and order. There's an annual Vigilante Parade in Helena, and my wife's Helena High yearbooks are named The Vigilante. The state's highway patrolmen have the number "3-7-77" -- which was the still-mysterious calling card of the old vigilantes -- embroidered into their shoulder patches.
No doubt, that was the kind of image the Minutemen, with their claim to be a "neighborhood watch," was hoping to conjure. And sure enough, the nation's media largely obliged.
However, as Mike Davis argues in Mother Jones (in a penetrating look at the Minutemen), there is a darker side to all this:
- The Minuteman Project -- picturesquely headquartered at Tombstone's Miracle Valley Bible College -- is both theater of the absurd and a canny attempt to move vigilantism into the mainstream of conservative politics. Its principal organizers -- a retired accountant and a former kindergarten teacher, both from Southern California -- mesmerized the press with their promise of a thousand heavily-armed super-patriots confronting the Mexican hordes, eyeball-to-eyeball, along the international border in Cochise County.
In the event, they turned out perhaps 150 sorry-ass gun freaks and sociopaths who spent a few days in lawn chairs cleaning their rifles, jabbering to the press, and peering through binoculars at the cactus-covered mountains where several hundred immigrants perish each year from heatstroke and thirst. From one perspective, it was a silly ending to an obvious publicity stunt. Armageddon on the border was never very likely, if only because undocumented immigrants read or hear the news like everyone else. Confronted with the Minutemen and the hundreds of extra Border Patrol sent to keep them out of trouble, campesinos simply waited patiently on the Sonora side for the vigilantes to get sunburned and go home. Then the normal, deadly business of the border resumed.
Yet it would be a mistake to underestimate the impact of this incident on Republican politics. For the first time, the Bush administration is feeling seriously embattled -- not by Democrats (they would never be so impolite), but by incipient rebellions on its own flanks.
As Davis points out, the Minutemen have positioned George W. Bush -- whose proposal, nonetheless, is radical in that it for the first time separates immigration from citizenship -- as the seeming moderate in all this. Democrats, typically, have remained silent on the sidelines. Sensible and realistic discussion of immigration issues, as a result, is nowhere to be found.
Into this vacuum are leaping opportunistic politicians like Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose predilection for countenancing the ugly side of the American psyche surfaced during the election, largely disappeared, but has now resurfaced:
- In an interview on one of his favorite rightwing radio shows on April 28, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the vigilantes as heroes. "I think they've done a terrific job," he said. "They've cut down the crossing of illegal immigrants a huge percentage. So it just shows that it works when you go and make and effort and when you work hard. It's a doable thing."
Later, after furious Latinos leaders accused him of "scapegoating and immigrant bashing," Schwarzenegger defiantly reiterated that he would welcome the help of the Minutemen on the California border. (As he so often does, the governor followed this with a convenient non sequitur -- reassurance that he was a "champion of immigrants.") If the governor sounds like he is channeling his "inner Nazi," it is because he is desperate. Schwarzenegger's hulking celebrity is no longer a novelty, and he is dogged everywhere he goes these days by angry nurses, schoolteachers, and firefighters whose budgets he has slashed. In recent months, his rating in opinion polls has fallen by 20 points and the ghost of Gray Davis now shadows his future.
Not surprising, then, that Arnie has returned to the same dismal swamp of hate radio and angry white guys in pickup trucks where he won the governorship in 1993. The issue then was drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants. (Otherwise, how would we know that Bin Laden himself wasn't tooling down the Hollywood Freeway?) Now, it's the right of citizens to "help the Border Patrol" or, if need be, to render Western justice themselves to the alien invaders.
Interestingly, Schwarzenegger had remained largely mum on the subject of immigration previously. But his support for the militiamen is also curiously timed.
According to a Los Angeles Times report, the California contingent of the Minutemen is poised to run an initiative that would give their efforts official sanction:
- California would create its own border patrol of more than 1,000 officers and volunteers under a possible 2006 ballot initiative introduced Wednesday by conservative activists and a state assemblyman.
The California Border Police Act was submitted to Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer for legal review Wednesday, the first step in getting it qualified for next year's June ballot.
Its main sponsor is Assemblyman Ray Haynes, a Republican from Murrieta, who must collect 600,000 valid signatures for the initiative to qualify.
"The federal government has proven itself incapable of securing our borders, so it is time for Californians to step up and take matters into our own hands," Haynes said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is not connected with the initiative effort and is not commenting on it, his office said.
Political consultant Dave Gilliard, who is organizing the signature-gathering effort, said the new immigration police force would report to the governor and hire 1,000 to 2,000 new officers at an estimated cost of $300 million. It also would allow the state to train volunteers to patrol the border.
The interesting aspect of this initiative is that, if it makes it on the ballot, it very well may appear alongside a group of Schwarzenegger-backed initiatives arising from the governor's power struggle with the state's public-employee unions. It will be well worth watching to see if "Arnie's Army" crosses over to support for the Minutemen in the process.
Of course, what's most disturbing about all this is that it provides cover and sanction to the most noxious kinds of white supremacists and other right-wing extremists. As the SPLC just reported:
- On April 2, as the month-long effort got under way, the Minuteman Project held a protest across the street from the U.S. Border Patrol headquarters in Naco, Ariz. Prominent among the demonstrators were two men who confided that they were members of the Phoenix chapter of the National Alliance — the largest neo-Nazi group in America. One of the two, who sat in lawn chairs throughout, held a sign with arrows depicting invading armies of people from Mexico — a sign identical to National Alliance billboards and pamphlets, except without the Alliance logo.
The presence of Alliance members was not much of a surprise, and there were likely more than that pair. "We're not going to show up as a group and say, 'Hi, we're the National Alliance," Alliance official Shaun Walker told a reporter in the run-up to the protest. "But we have members ... that will participate."
In fact, National Alliance pamphlets were distributed in Tombstone and this predominantly Hispanic community just two days before the Minuteman Project got going. "Non-Whites are turning America into a Third World slum," they read. "They come for welfare or to take our jobs. Let's send them home now."
Many other white supremacists had promised to attend, including members of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, but it was difficult to know if they showed up.
One well-known extremist did appear. Armored in a flak jacket and packing a .38-caliber snub-nosed revolver, Joe McCutchen joined other volunteers patrolling the barbed wire fence separating the United States and Mexico near Bisbee, Ariz.
The NA members interviewed in the story offered a fairly revealing insight into their participation:
- The day after the Minuteman rally in Naco, the two Alliance members there -- one of whom identified himself as "Sam Adams" -- were assigned to an observation post about a mile from McCutchen's location. They arrived there after a 10-minute "training session," driving to the post as they blasted white power music.
"We understand why Gilchrist and [project co-organizer Chris] Simcox have to talk all this P.C., crap," said one. "It's all about playing to the media. That's fine. While we're here, it's their game and we'll play by their rules. Once Minuteman's over, though, we might just have to come back and do our own thing."
Most disturbing of all, perhaps, was the way the mainstream media simply played along, and thus were played for fools. Mark Potok, who co-authored the SPLC report, was interviewed by Bill Berkowitz at Working For Change, and had this to say about the reportage of the Minutemen:
- As a general matter, the media did an exceedingly poor job of covering the Minuteman Project. The organizers said they were bringing in excess of 1,300 volunteers to Arizona, but brought significantly fewer than 300. They claimed the volunteers were being vetted for possible white supremacists by the FBI -- only to have the FBI completely deny that this was the case. They said the only people who would carry guns would be those with conceal-carry permits. In fact, almost no one was checked for permits. Almost none of this was noted in most mainstream press accounts -- accounts that in many cases were completely uncritical, even adulatory, in their treatment of the Minutemen.
Most important of all, the organizers of the Minuteman Project claimed that they would be keeping out white supremacists and other racists through their vetting process. In fact, there were at least six men participating who were members of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group whose members have been involved in crimes including assassination, shootouts with police, the machine-gun murder of a Jewish talk show host, bank robberies, plots to bomb Disney World and more. At least two of these men actually discussed setting up sniper positions along the border sometime in the near future. In addition, there was at least one member of the Aryan Nations, another major neo-Nazi group, participating in the Minuteman Project. No mainstream press account mentioned any of this.
Most press accounts ignored the bigoted past statements of organizer Chris Simcox, and almost all uncritically accepted self-congratulatory and inaccurate assessments from Simcox and co-organizer Jim Gilchrist. They also suggested, in many cases, that the Project had "shut down" some 20 miles of the border to illegal immigration; in fact, they only operated along a stretch of some two miles. One press account also described Project volunteer Jim McCutchen in flattering terms in a lengthy profile; completely ignored were McCutchen's anti-Semitism and his contacts with the white supremacist hate group Council of Conservative Citizens, which has described blacks as a "retrograde species of humanity."
Overall, I think the blandly positive tone of the press coverage has contributed to similar efforts that are springing up elsewhere -- not to mention California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's description of the Project as a great thing that should be emulated.
However, it's worth observing that the right-wing dynamic for self-destructive infighting is also rearing its head. bordering on chaos, according to a report from the San Antonio Express:
- It remains to be seen if future projects will be as effective as the first. Insiders say the group's two attention-grabbing leaders have parted ways.
Jim Gilchrist, a retired accountant and former Marine from California, originated the idea and handled recruiting through his Web site. He then tapped Chris Simcox, who already had been leading small civilian border patrol groups in Arizona for two years.
But differences between them grew throughout the month. It's not clear whether future Minuteman efforts will be led by Gilchrist or Simcox or if they will organize or support simultaneous but separate efforts.
"There are no ties," Gilchrist said this week. "If we did anything else together, it would be as allies, not partners. I support his goals, but I'm weary of his management capabilities."
Numerous Arizona participants, including organizers, said Simcox's dictatorial ways — he became known as "The Little Prince" and "The Little Hitler" — angered countless volunteers, prompting many to quit.
"He just pissed everybody off," said Jim Chase, who held several leadership positions during the mission, including security director. "It was ridiculous, going behind everyone's back. I'm never working with him again."
Simcox said he was unaware of any criticism and dismissed the notion that the group was falling apart. He and Gilchrist still maintain frequent contact and consult with each other on decisions, he said.
They decided to let Simcox handle all future border-watch efforts while Gilchrist would start a side project investigating U.S. employers who willingly hire undocumented workers, Simcox said.
Confusion over who's in charge has left nascent Minuteman offshoots in other border states tapping both for help.
The head-scratching already is visible in South Texas.
Wanda Schultz, a volunteer with Houston-based Americans For Zero Immigration, was told by Simcox's office to gear up for a monthlong mission in Brownsville starting Oct. 1. Simcox said he'll be dispatching an organizer to Houston next week.
But others who also volunteered in Arizona have started planning "Minutemen Texas." Its steering committee hasn't yet picked specific dates and places, but is aiming for October between Brownsville and Laredo, said Sandra Beene of Dallas.
The reality-based picture of the Minutemen that's emerging is not of a friendly "neighborhood watch" for the border, but of a chaotic collection of hatemongers who seem intent on a kind of populist mob rule fueled by angry paranoia. It becomes a cover not for law and order, but for the ugliest kind of brutal authoritarianism.
That, in fact, is the face that vigilantism has always revealed eventually, even in Montana. As the history of the vigilantes revealed later, their early "victories" over predators like Henry Plummer soon gave way to a vicious lawlessness in which people were summarily hanged not just for horse theft but for drunken misbehavior or breaking out of a jail. Its legacy continued into the 20th century and the long fights over labor unions:
- In 1917 radical labor leader Frank Little, a member of the far-left Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies, arrived in Butte and began attacking America's recent entry into World War I. Speaking before large crowds of copper miners, Little called President Woodrow Wilson a "lying tyrant" and denounced United States soldiers as "scabs in uniform." This proved to be free speech at its most dangerous. Tensions between labor and management in Butte’s copper industry already were high, and the state of Montana as a whole was gripped by a fever of hyperpatriotism and intolerance for dissent. In the early morning hours of August 1, 1917, six masked men seized Little in his boarding house, dragged him through the streets, and hanged him from a bridge. A sign was placed on his back with the numbers 3-7-77 and the initials of six other men threatened with the same fate. Though Burton K. Wheeler, then a federal attorney, condemned the affair as "a damnable outrage," no arrests were made.
At the same time the Montana vigilantes were enjoying their career, another brand of night-riding, terror-inducing vigilantism, calling itself the Ku Klux Klan, was weaving itself into the cultural fabric of the South as well. As I've described previously, this was the real face of vigilantism:
- In 1866, the violence became discernibly more organized with the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, which originated with a claque of Confederate veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee, and spread like wildfire throughout the South. Initially much of the Klan night riders' activities were relegated to whippings, a punishment intended to remind the ex-slaves of their former status. But as the assaults on blacks increased, so did the intensity of the violence visited on them, culminating in a steady stream of Klan lynchings between 1868 and 1871 (when the Klan was officially outlawed by the Grant Administration); at least one study puts the number at 20,000 blacks killed by the Klan in that period. In the ensuing years, the violence did little to decline, and in fact worsened, despite the Klan’s official banishment.
Moreover, in addition to the night-riding type of terrorist attacks, mass spectacle lynchings soon appeared. These were ritualistic mob scenes in which prisoners or even men merely suspected of crimes were often torn from the hands of authorities (if not captured beforehand) by large crowds and treated to beatings and torture before being put to death, frequently in the most horrifying fashion possible: people were flayed alive, had their eyes gouged out with corkscrews, and had their bodies mutilated before being doused in oil and burned at the stake. Black men were sometimes forced to eat their own hacked-off genitals. No atrocity was considered too horrible to visit on a black person, and no pain too unimaginable to inflict in the killing. (When whites, by contrast, were lynched, the act almost always was restricted to simple hanging.)
The violence reached a fever pitch in the years 1890-1902, when 1,322 lynchings of blacks (out of 1,785 total lynchings) were recorded at Tuskegee, which translates into an average of over 110 lynchings a year. The trend began to decline afterward, but continued well into the 1930s, leading some historians to refer to the years 1880-1930 as the "lynching period" of American culture.
There are many postcards that recorded these lynchings, because the participants were rather proud of their involvement. This is clear from the postcards themselves, which frequently showed not merely the corpse of the victim but many of the mob members, whose visages ranged from grim to grinning. Sometimes, as in the Lige Daniels case, children were intentionally given front-row views. A lynching postcard from Florida in 1935, of a migrant worker named Rubin Stacy who had allegedly "threatened and frightened a white woman," shows a cluster of young girls gathered round the tree trunk, the oldest of them about 12, with a beatific expression as she gazes on his distorted features and limp body, a few feet away.
Indeed, lynchings seemed to be cause for outright celebration in the community. Residents would dress up to come watch the proceedings, and the crowds of spectators frequently grew into the thousands. Afterwards, memento-seekers would take home parts of the corpse or the rope with which the victim was hung. Sometimes body parts -- knuckles, or genitals, or the like -- would be preserved and put on public display as a warning to would-be black criminals.
That was the purported moral purpose of these demonstrations: Not only to utterly wipe out any black person merely accused of a crimes against whites, but to do it in a fashion intended to warn off future perpetrators. This was reflected in contemporary press accounts, which described the lynchings in almost uniformly laudatory terms, with the victim's guilt unquestioned, and the mob identified only as "determined men." Not surprisingly, local officials (especially local police forces) not only were complicit in many cases, but they acted in concert to keep the mob leaders anonymous; thousands of coroners' reports from lynchings merely described the victims' deaths occurring "at the hands of persons unknown." Lynchings were broadly viewed as simply a crude, but understandable and even necessary, expression of community will. This was particularly true in the South, where blacks were viewed as symbolic of the region's continuing economic and cultural oppression by the North. As an 1899 editorial in the Newnan, Georgia, Herald and Advertiser explained it: "It would be as easy to check the rise and fall of the ocean’s tide as to stem the wrath of Southern men when the sacredness of our firesides and the virtue of our women are ruthlessly trodden under foot."
You see, vigilantism always claims to be about law and order and preserving "traditional values." It is always, in the end, about the brutal imposition of mob rule without regard to the humanity of its targets. The proof, in the end, lies in the strange fruit it inevitably produces.
Sunday, May 08, 2005
Joe Conason, via Mark Crispin Miller's e-mail list, asks:
- Remind me again why the Times needs two of these...
Brooks today: "Democrats have been hectoring the president in the manner of an overripe Fourth of July orator ... Over the past few weeks, the president has called their bluff."
Tierney, April 30: "Democrats have good reason to be aghast at President Bush's new proposal for Social Security. Someone has finally called their bluff."
Brooks, April 24: "People who work out, eat responsibly and deserve to live are more likely to be culled by the Thin Reaper. I can't tell you how happy this makes me."
Tierney, April 23: "For those of us lacking six-pack abs, this week's report that the overweight live longer is the greatest medical news in history."
Brooks, Nov. 6, 2004: "If you want to understand why Democrats keep losing elections, just listen to some coastal and university town liberals talk about how conformist and intolerant people in Red America are. It makes you wonder: why is it that people who are completely closed-minded talk endlessly about how open-minded they are?"
Tierney, May 3, 2005: "If you live in a blue-state stronghold, a coastal city where you can go 24 hours without meeting any Republicans, it's consoling to think of the red staters as an alien bunch of strait-laced Bible thumpers. The favorite Democratic explanation is that the red staters are hicks who have been blinded by righteousness."
Bad enough that both these columnists are prone to regurgitating GOP talking points almost verbatim. Now we get them upchucking the same ones repeatedly like a tag-team technicolor chorus.
Ah well. It is "even the liberal" New York Times, isn't it?