Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Angry, Right & White America



It was just eleven days ago that an anti-abortion militant with white supremacist ties gunned down reproductive rights doctor George Tiller in a Kansas church. Just this past April, three Pittsburgh police officers were killed by a teen who believed the government was going to take his guns away, and had frequented white nationalists sites like Stormfront. In the heat of the presidential campaign last June, a gunman walked into a Unitarian Church and opened fire, killing two parisoners during a children's play; the shooter would claim the church's liberal values drove him to violence. And since the election of the first African-American president, gun-sales have risen alongside the daily dosage of rhetoric from conservative right-wing media. So today, after a right-wing white supremacist walked into the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC and opened fire, killing an African-American security guard, why is anyone even remotely surprised?

More after the fold...



It feels like de ja vu, after just covering these themes in the Tiller death. But I find it necessary to again point out that it was just this past April that the Obama administration's Department of Homeland Security released a memo warning of homegrown right-wing radical groups and their propensity for violence. Conservatives--both pundits and politicians--had a meltdown, claiming the government was outlawing opposing opinions and claiming they were being lumped in with racist hate groups. The American Legion soon jumped in, taking issue with the report's warnings of violent right-wing extremists recruiting disaffected one-time members of the armed forced. It was all utter nonsense of course, as the brief on domestic terrorism made no links to conservatism--the conservatives made that link themselves. And the concern of ex-military joining white supremacist groups is based on very recent facts, and in no way tarnishes all veterans. What should have been seen as a tempest in a teapot gained steam however as the media played in, allowing conservatives and right-wing ideologues--backed up by conservative leaning veterans groups--to cast themselves as victims of a liberal witch hunt. In days Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was making an apology for the "language" in the report.

But in the conservative and right-wing cries of foul over this memo, perhaps the lady doth protest too much.

While conservative pundits applaud and sensationalize FBI stings on terrorist fantasies of would-be "jihadists" (often suspiciously funded and aided by government informants), real-life acts of mayhem and murder by domestic right-wing terrorists go on right under our noses. Worse still, many of the most rabid conspiracy theories spouted by the likes of Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and Glenn Beck, serve as "intellectual" fodder for these gunmen. Yet no one in conservative television and radio noise machine is willing to take any responsibility or at the least tone down their rhetoric. In fact, they tend to lash out verbally at any insinuation places even a bit of blame on them. In the wake of George Tiller's death FOX host Bill O'Reilly, who had repeatedly called the doctor a "baby killer," claimed he himself in fact was a victim of the far-left.

Eric Boehlert at Media Matters is having none of it however:

If Fox News is going to continue to traffic in hateful, vigilante-style rhetoric, then folks at Fox News, as well as their apologists in the GOP Noise Machine, are going to have to come up with better talking points to spin away the consequences of the right-wing madness they're so eager to incite....The Fox News crew is going to need better talking points because I fear the violence - the bouts of right-wing domestic terrorism - is likely to continue. As long as Fox News and the Noise Machine refuse to back off the incendiary language that they're actively mainstreaming, the political violence, visible just months into Obama's historic first term, may have only begun.

The reality is however that FOX News, while certainly wallowing in the cesspit of xenophobia, racism and intolerance to whip up the more fanatical of its base, did not invent any of this. They've certainly tapped into this angry sentiment and see it as a ratings bonanza, backing up faux-populist hate-rallies like the April "Tea Parties." Looks like Janane Garafalo was RIGHT.

But this type of racism and violence is unfortunately as American as apple pie and baseball, and follows a predictable pattern. When the economy falters and whites, usually disaffected angry males, feel under assault they find easy scapegoats they believe is behind their oppression. Fed along by media demagogues, a militarist gun-obsessed society, heroic vigilantism and an over-inflated patriarchal racial imaginings of their self-worth, they last out---often violently.

Back in 2006 during the emerging twilight of the Bush regime, retired veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces Stan Goff wrote of this as a hypernormal state of Americana, which he asserts is normally racist, right-leaning and patriarchal if only on an institutional level:
These explicitly white supremacist groups, contrasted with the implicitly white supremacist Republican Party, for example, openly embrace a vision of fascism, and openly admire fascist leaders....We need to first see for how long white supremacy has been considered ab-normal in the United States; then we can see how ab-normal it is right now....What is seldom examined in public discourse outside the universities and a handful of anti-racist political formations, is the question of what it means to be “white.” Thinkers from Toni Morrison to Noel Ignatiev to bell hooks to Theodore Allen to Mab Segrest to David Roediger have studied whiteness extensively, in its economic, cultural and political dimensions, and conclude unanimously that there is no “objective” measure for what it means; but that it is a social construction linked absolutely to social power. The insistence on existence of a white race, by racists and non-racists alike, is symptomatic of a form of mystification that conceals the concrete relations of power behind a set of widely accepted abstractions. White supremacy as a beliefhas evolved out of the practice of people in power, who defined themselves as white as a way of differentiating themselves from those over whom they wielded that power. Some very well-known American presidents who made openly white supremacist pronouncements were Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Richard Nixon. Of course, until the dismantling of Jim Crow in the South, white supremacy was a norm, and before the Civil War, slavery was a norm. White supremacy was so normal in 1964 that after the defeat of Goldwater, the Republican Party adopted thinly veiled racist appeals to attract white voters who felt betrayed by the reluctant Democratic Party support for civil rights legislation. Openly racist public officials like Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond and Trent Lott, even after their affiliations with white supremacist organizations were publicized, continued to be elected. The Republican appeals to white supremacy were cloaked as opposition to welfare, as “states rights,” and as concern about “crime.” As late as 1999 the Republican-controlled House of Representatives blocked a vote to condemn the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist organization with whom then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott had close ties. How normed does something have to be before we can say it is normal?

And this brings us to a problem with the media, and in part even this blog. The coverage of these specific acts of violence, or even the focus on the hate spewed by FOX News acolytes and others, perhaps obscures a larger more unsettling truth that speaks to the pervasive nature of racism and whiteness in this country. We usually paint these individuals as lone bizarre gunmen driven by senseless hate---bad apples in our otherwise rational and tolerant "post-racial" society. The larger problem however is that there are throngs of these disaffected Americans--mostly white males--prone to believe conspiracy theories that blame Jews, immigrants, blacks and others for their plight. They don't fall out of the sky or come from some strange and mysterious place. They are borne and raised right here, in a society that seems to easily create such individuals and provide them the proper atmosphere for their hatred, xenophobia and violent tendencies to flourish. Tackling that "hard truth" may provide us some greater insight, that is if we dare.

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