Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The state of domestic terrorism, white nationalist version

This Arizona shooting story is a grim and sad one. The fact that the discussions of it drift quickly off into the mist is one more sign of how dysfunctional so much of our national media is right now.

For an academic take, see Robin Lakoff's Keep it complicated, stupid Berkeley Blog 01/10/2011. Any explanation of a particular event of violence has to look at a variety of factors if it's trying to approach being complete: psychological, family dynamics, ideological, situational, religious.

But that doesn't mean that the event doesn't fit into a larger pattern. Or rather patterns, because the patterns it fits depend on the questions being asked. If the question is, why do people shoot strangers in public?, the patterns that emerge will be different than if you ask, how many people expressing some form of political justification for their acts gun down people who they perceive as political enemies?

Successful demagogues are masters of simplication. Ironically, that talent also can make them good at using complexity to deflect criticisms of their own simplications. Rush Limbaugh, the junkie bigot who has been the lead ideologist of the Republican Party for the last couple of decades, discovered complexity in the many reasons other than crackpot rightwing politics that likely motivate the (accused) shooter in the Tucson assassination attack. Howard Fineman reports on Rush's list in Rush Bails Water In Wake Of Arizona Shooting Huffington Post 01/10/2011. Ole Rush cranked out more factors to look for than Berkeley professor Robin Lakoff did in the article I linked above!

But then, Rush knows how to make his own simplication out of it, too: Rush Limbaugh: Jared Loughner Has 'Full Support' Of Democratic Party Huffington Post 01/11/2011. The headline writer cleaned up his partisan grammer: Rush actually said "Democrat Party".

But what Democratic elected officials in particular had better recognize is that there has been a definite upsurge in attacks by rightwing extremists in the last three years, including attacks directed at Democratic elected officials.

Dave Neiwert in Terror in Arizona: Just another 'isolated incident'? Funny how that list keeps mounting C&L 01/10/2011 lists 18 other instances since 2008. He doesn't include the presumed Islamist-minded accused shooter in the Ft. Hood massacre of November, 2009. Islamists understand themselves as conservatives or radical right, but pretty much all the white-nationalist, Patriot Militia type groups regard Muslims as their enemies. Given the kind of coverage on FOX News, I assume that large numbers of Republicans think of Islam as being "leftwing" in general. But that's not the case in the real world.

Regardless of how condemning one wants to be (or not!) of the hate talk from Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, these terrorist attacks are a real problem. They are a problem for law-enforcement, they are a problem for their potential targets, and as we saw in Tucson, they are a problem even for nine-year-old girls who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when one of these terrorists strikes.

Some liberals are looking wistfully back to Bill Clinton's speech after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and hoping Obama will take some similar stand. But Clinton was willing to put defenders of the radical right on the defensive and anger Republican officials in the process of doing so. Obama has at times been incredibly deferential to Republican criticism, and Republicans have been almost (though not quite) unanimous in the established position that paranoid conspiracy theories and fear-mongering and suggestions of violence from Republicans like Sarah Palin and by Republican media like FOX News have anything to do with the present trend of far-right terrorist attacks against perceived liberals.

The least Obama can do is avoid the now phony and dishonest pious scolding of "both sides" for violence-inciting rhetoric. As Paul Krugman puts it in Climate of HateNew York Times 01/09/2011:

It’s important to be clear here about the nature of our sickness. It’s not a general lack of “civility,” the favorite term of pundits who want to wish away fundamental policy disagreements. Politeness may be a virtue, but there’s a big difference between bad manners and calls, explicit or implicit, for violence; insults aren’t the same as incitement.

The point is that there’s room in a democracy for people who ridicule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn’t any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary.

And it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.

Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.

And there’s a huge contrast in the media. Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.
Obama shouldn't pretend otherwise.

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