by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
April 19, 2009
THE FINE LINE BETWEEN OPPOSITION AND INCITEMENT
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It's hard not to laugh at the people who went to the various "tea bag" protests on Tax Day.
As Paul Krugman wrote this week, "President Obama is being called a "socialist" who seeks to destroy capitalism. Why? Because he wants to raise the tax rate on the highest-income Americans back to, um, about 10 percentage points less than it was for most of the Reagan Administration. Bizarre."
Conservatives manipulating the common folk to act against their interests is nothing new. It's how they gain and keep power. What is more worrisome is how so many right-wing talkers are crossing that line between heated rhetoric and pure hate speech, between fantasies of inflicting violence and actually committing violent acts.Our foes around the world must be cheerring them on, knowing that dividing America - and Texas Gov. Rick Perry has even talked publicly of seccession - would fatally weaken its federal compact.
David Neiwert, an award-winning journalist and blogger, has focused for years on that line. In his new book, "The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right," he focuses on hate speech, authoritarianism and violence and how it has warped conservatism and the Republican Party.
Neiwart defines eliminationism as "a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through suppression, exile, and ejection, or extermination."
Day after day, right-wing radio and tv hosts such as Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh are feeding the heads of those who believe that President Obama is a Socialist/Terrorist/Fascist/radical Muslim/Antichrist who wants to take away our guns, enslave Americans and destroy our freedoms.
It sounds awfully familiar to us. Go back to 1993 and the inauguration of a new Democratic president after 12 years of Republican rule. Bill Clinton's election - combined with the Ruby Ridge and Waco debacles and the passage of NAFTA and the Brady Bill - sparked similar outrage on the right. Remember the militia movement? The overheated talk of right-wing media voices against a supposedly evil, un-American and illegitimate president back then culminated in Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, the worst act of domestic terrorism on American soil.
Once George W. Bush became president, the militia movement disappeared from view and the talk about the need for armed revolution in America was no longer heard. Now, there's another Democrat in the White House, and its 1993 all over again.
By co-opting the rhetoric of the farthest reaches of the right, the Limbaughs, Becks and Hannitys are playing a dangerous game. They don't seem to particularly care that their rhetoric might inspire someone to, say, blow up a federal office building filled with innocent people, as McVeigh did, as long as they get attention and higher ratings.
He's almost forgotten now, but Jim D. Adkisson is a good example of the unintended consequences of extremist talk. A 58-year-old unemployed truck driver, he took a sawed-off shotgun and more than 70 shells and walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., on the night of July 28, 2008. He opened fire on parishioners while schoolchildren performed in a musical. He killed two and wounded several others before he was wrestled to the ground by other members of the congregation.
When investigators searched Adkisson's home, they found the following books - Savage's "Liberalism is a Mental Disorder," Hannity's "Let Freedom Ring," and Bill O'Reilly's "The O'Reilly Factor." They also found what was to have been his suicide note - a four-page manifesto denouncing liberals.
"The only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is to kill them in the streets," Adkisson wrote. "Kill them where they gather. I'd like to encourage other like minded people to do what I've done. If your life ain't worth living anymore, don't just kill yourself. Do something for your country before you go. Go kill liberals!"
This is a free country, and anyone can believe what they want to believe. But ignoring the conspiratorial ravings of a thankfully small minority of Americans is not an option. As comedian Bill Maher once pointed out, strong language can poison weak minds.
Debate and honest disagreement is what our political process is supposed to be about. And the best way to counter hate speech is not with censorship, but facts. But I believe that a line has been crossed. The right-wing talkers need to dial back their rhetoric, or be prepared to take responsibility for the next act of violence inspired by their words.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com. For extra added thrills, read his ongoing daily blog on The Harvard Classics.