Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Words of a feather

I haven’t said anything about Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik, mostly because there wasn’t really anything to say that everyone else wasn’t saying. And yet, there has been much said that I certainly would not say.

The reaction of the rightwing has been predictable: They vehemently deny that their violent rhetoric about fighting for the very existence of Western Civilisation leads inevitably to some unhinged person launching acts of violence. When this happens, rightwing spin is that these are “lone wolves”—people like: Jim David Adkisson, who shot up a Unitarian Church in Knoxville Tennessee because he hated liberals; or, Scott Roeder, a rabid anti-abortionist who assassinated Dr. George Tiller at his church; or, James von Brunn, the white supremacist who shot up the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC; and of course there was Jared Lee Loughner, who tried to assassinate US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, against whom he had a grudge, because of his demented anti-government beliefs.

Those people are just ones whose crimes I’ve blogged about. Crooks and Liars keeps a running list of rightwing terrorist plots and actions in the US.

There’s no such thing as “lone wolves”, just rabid animals eating up the far right’s rhetoric and acting on it. As I’ve said repeatedly on this blog (such as here), words have consequences and it is beyond absurd for the rightwing to claim their rhetoric doesn’t influence violent extremists. This is why I say they had moral culpability for the shooting of Represenative Giffords, along with the other violent acts I listed above.

What can we do to stop the hate-filled, paranoid rhetoric of the far right? It’s not an easy question to answer. Today in his “Hard News” column on Public Address, Russell Brown wrote:
“Our response is generally a high-minded one. Hateful speech should not be suppressed, but countered with yet more speech. But some days, it is hard not to wonder how much speech it will take.”
Suppression wouldn’t work, even if it was possible, but more speech alone cannot win this battle, either. I think that Lew over at Kiwipolitico is on to something when he wrote about calling the wingnuts’ bluff on this imaginary “war” on Western Civilisation”:
“…by their own logic the wingnuts would not only be justified in taking up arms in defence of their civilisation, they would be practically required to do so, as Breivik did. If the existential threat is real, they must hail Breivik as a hero. If they don’t, we can assume there is no existential threat, and that they’ve merely been spouting melodramatic masturbatory fantasy this whole time.”
I think that suggests part of the solution. Since the mainstream of conservatism has steadfastly refused to end or denounce the violent rhetoric that so clearly leads to actual violence, maybe it’s time for the mainstream media to hold politicians’ feet to the fire: Make them put up or shut up, prove the threat they constantly talk of is real—and how, specifically—or they should be labelled as the frauds and liars that they are.

I have a personal stake in this battle. Over the past three years, we’ve seen the anti-gay rhetoric of the extreme right become increasingly shrill and violent. What started out as mere lies, smears and distortions now inevitably includes lies about gay people as “disease spreaders”, or as people who molest children (and normal people thought we’d left that lie behind with Anita Bryant’s divorce). They’ve also begun referring to us as “violent extremists” (ironically) who are out to destroy America or Western Civilisation. Yep: The anti-gay extremists are now using the same violent rhetoric against gay people that their brethren use against Muslims. Many now speak openly, even if sometimes obliquely, about gay people being executed.

The evidence is clear and unequivocal that every increase in extreme anti-gay rhetoric leads inevitably to an increase in anti-gay violence. We saw that even in supposedly liberal New York City, in supposedly “safe” and “gay friendly” neighbourhoods when, amid hate-filled anti-gay rhetoric spurred by the debate over marriage equality, gay people were physically attacked.

The rightwing violent rhetoric must stop. They can’t keep pushing this bile without someone taking it as their duty, as Breivik did, to kill people.

The only possible response to the hate speech of America’s far—and not so far—right is more speech. But when they control so much of the mainstream media, and frame public debate, is there any realistic hope of ending this insanity? And if not, what do we do then?

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