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Monday, June 15, 2009

The Complicity of Right Wing Vitrol: the Escalation of White Nationalist Violence

More on the "Lone Wolves" and the complicity of America's right wing. This take is by Judith Warner. RGN

June 11, 2009, 8:05 pm

The Wages of Hate
It is all too familiar.

A lone gunman takes a life in a hate crime. Law enforcement officials describe him as acting alone.

But he’s not alone — not in spirit, at least.

Like Scott Roeder, the man charged in the shooting of the Wichita, Kan., doctor George Tiller nearly two weeks ago, James von Brunn, the white supremacist charged with killing a guard in an attempted shooting rampage at the Holocaust museum in Washington on Wednesday, doesn’t have any current, overt links to extremist groups. Yet his violent hatred — of Jews, blacks, the government — echoes throughout the universe of right-wing extremists, who just a few years ago hailed and revered him as a “White Racialist Treasure.”

And though he’s an outlier — disturbed, deranged, disavowed now by many who share his core views — his actions really can’t be viewed in isolation. As was the case with Tiller’s murder, which followed months of escalating harassment and intimidation at abortion clinics, von Brunn’s attack on the Holocaust museum has to be viewed as an extreme manifestation of a moment when racist, anti-Semitic agitation is rapidly percolating. White supremacist groups are vastly expanding. And right-wing TV rhetoric, thoughtless in its cruelty and ratings-hungry demagoguery, is helping feed the paranoia and rage that for some Americans now bubbles just beneath the surface.

Hate group membership had been expanding steadily over the course of the past decade — fueled largely by anti-immigrant sentiment. But after Barack Obama’s election, it spiked. The day after the election, the computer servers of two major white supremacist groups crashed, because their traffic went through the roof, Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks right-wing extremists and hate groups, told me this week.

As the former Klansman and Louisiana state representative David Duke predicted last June, the face of the first black man in the White House was a “visual aid” for white supremacists, spurring a rapid rise in recruitment and radicalization.

“Rightwing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported this past April.

I wrote last week about the rising threats to and vandalism at abortion clinics that followed the election of our first pro-choice president in eight years. A similar increase in intimidating activism has been observed over the past seven months among hate groups — and simply hateful individuals. In November, a predominantly black church under construction in Springfield, Mass. was burned to the ground by three men who bragged of doing so in protest of the election. A cross was burned outside the home of a family of Obama supporters in Hardwick, N.J.

As was the case with increasing clinic vandalism and verbally violent protest, it was only a matter of time before this racially motivated destruction and intimidation turned to physical violence. And there’s one additional, highly disturbing parallel between von Brunn’s intended white supremacist shooting rampage and Scott Roeder’s “pro-life” killing of George Tiller: In both cases, at least some of the core beliefs of extremists were echoed, albeit in more socially acceptable language, by right wing news commentators.

Bill O’Reilly had routinely talked in recent years about “Tiller the baby killer.” Other right-wing talk show hosts like Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh have similarly tapped into — in somewhat coded form — some of the key concerns of extremist hate groups: that the economy has been destroyed by government-proffered “bad” loans to illegal immigrants, for example, or that FEMA may or may not — Beck equivocated for an awfully long time — be running “concentration camps” for U.S. citizens, or that the Obama administration is declaring war on decent Americans by labeling them as “extremists.”

(“So you have a report from Janet Napolitano and Barack Obama, Department of Homeland Security, portraying standard, ordinary, everyday conservatives as posing a bigger threat to this country than Al-Qaeda terrorists or genuine enemies of this country like Kim Jong Il,” is what Limbaugh had to say about Homeland Security’s April report.)

The result of this wink-wink anti-immigrant and anti-government rhetoric has been “a kind of mainstreaming of hate propaganda,” Potok said. “The white supremacist propaganda agenda is being expressed by pundits, politicians, and preachers. Criminal violence by members of this movement is a tiny danger to most Americans. The larger danger is the mainstreaming of these very vile and provably false ideas that do lead to violence.”

You can’t accuse Beck or Limbaugh of inciting violence. But they almost certainly do stoke the flames. They may give people who are just about to go over the edge — the sort of “guy that could not take it anymore” as one poster on the white supremacist forum, described von Brunn — some sort of validation for their rage.

“The pot in America is boiling,” Beck said this week, in the wake of the Holocaust museum killing. “And this is just yet another warning to all Americans of things to come.”

That creepy schadenfreude just about says it all.

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