Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Rhetoric of Violence Makes a Resurgence
So it’s come to this.
It seemed things couldn’t get more disturbing. Over the last few months, we’ve been treated to equations of Obama to Hitler, gun-totin’ teabaggers, and visions of an anti-healthcare reform mob taunting a man with Parkinson’s Disease.
But after Sunday’s vote, you couldn’t be faulted for thinking things might get back to being a bit more civil. After all, there was some evidence of it. Polls suggested that there was a growing consensus that, despite the enmity of the debate and the often egregious falsehoods flung into the public sphere, Americans were coming to feel that this bill was probably a good thing. Not perfect, but a step in the right direction.
But starting on the day of the vote itself, and then following, there’s been some ominous signs—things that remind me a lot of the craziest stuff being said and done during the Clinton presidency which culminated in Oklahoma City.
On the day of the vote, protestors yelled “nigger”at African American members of Congress. Another black congressman was spat on. An openly gay congressman was called “faggot.”
In the days that followed, vandals threw bricks at the offices of representatives who didn’t vote the way they wanted them to. Politicians received threats of physical violence. The brother of another congressman had a propane gas pipe broken by thugs who thought it was the congressman’s house.
As I type this, I’m hearing reports of congressional representatives having pictures of nooses faxed to their offices.
Sarah Palin now talks about “targeting” key Democratic congressional representatives in upcoming elections, complete with a U.S. map with crosshairs to mark the districts in question.
And one of the guys who has taken credit for advocating brick throwing at Democrats talks openly about guns being taken out and cleaned, as well as the necessity of preparing for combat. And oh yeah—he’ll be a featured guest at a gun rally held a high-power rifle shot from Washington D.C. to be held next month, April 19th—the day Timothy McVeigh chose to kill innocent men, women, and children at the federal building in Oklahoma City because it was the two-year anniversary of the conflagration at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas (an event seen by the radical Right as evidence of the malevolence of the federal government).
I did quite a bit of reading of radical right rhetoric doing work on my dissertation on conspiracy theories, and while the teabag stuff prior to Sunday seemed to have vague echoes of the sort of extremism of the 90s, what’s happened in the days since is much more reminiscent of what was being said and done in the country leading up to Oklahoma City. While the vast majority of the country moves forward, I find it depressingly easy to imagine a resurgence in the militia movement sort of thinking, rhetoric, and (most disturbingly) action, fueled in part by their very awareness of their marginal status on the political fringes of the country. I suspect “The Turner Diaries” will be experiencing a spike in sales.
As in the 90s, mainstream conservatives and Republicans could do a lot to head off the problem by uniformly condemning racism, bigotry, violence. But in another unfortunate repeat of the 1990s, it seems likely that while we’ll get the occasional half-hearted distancing from such extremes, mainstream politicians and pundits on the right will refuse to flat-out condemn it without qualification. Not that this is surprising—the hysteria and malevolence of teabagger rhetoric is simply a variation on a theme first introduced by mainstream conservative voices.
It’s odd that many of those who equated merely criticizing the previous president with treason and likened not supporting an unnecessary war with supporting terrorists would participate in acts that fit the dictionary definition of treason and terrorism, but such is the world we live in.
At least for now.