Sunday, August 22, 2010

Max Blumenthal: Days of Rage

Days of Rage -- The Noxious Transformation of the Conservative Movement into a Rabid Fringe
By Max Blumenthal


The experiments in "Terror Management Theory" of Sheldon Solomon, professor of psychology at Skidmore College, Jeff Greenberg, professor of psychologist at the Unviersity of Arizona, and Tom Pyszczynski, professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, have demonstrated the connection between fear of death and intensification of conservative attitudes. The findings help explain the effectiveness of the death panel rumor and insinuations by conservative figures that Obama was not truly American and somehow sympathetic to Islamic terrorists. Indeed, these seemingly irrational smears were guided by tactical reasoning, calculated to agitate voters with constant reminders of their own mortality. Whether or not Independents responded, the rhetoric of death kept the Tea Party crowd in a persistent state of panic and rage, ensuring a standing army ready to fan out to rallies and town halls at the first sign of liberal malfeasance.

Obama's first year in office was marked by more than raucous protests; there were several disturbing murders committed by far-right extremists. In April 2009, a 22-year-old neo-Nazi wannabe named Richard Poplawsi mowed down a SWAT team of Pittsburgh cops, killing three. Poplawski's best friend told reporters the young killer "grew angry recently over fears Obama would outlaw guns." Later it was discovered that Poplawski had posted a video clip to a neo-Nazi Web site portraying Fox's Glenn Beck contemplating the existence of concentration camps. (After a characteristically thorough investigation, Beck conceded they were not real.) On another occasion, the killer posted a video promoting Tea Party rallies. A month after the Pittsburgh bloodbath, Scott Roeder, a supporter of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, shot Dr. George Tiller to death while he prayed at his church in Wichita, Kansas. Tiller was declared fair game by the anti-abortion movement because of his role as Kansas's only late-term abortion provider. During at least 28 episodes of Bill O'Reilly's "O'Reilly Factor," O'Reilly had referred to Tiller as "Tiller the baby killer," a criminal guilty of "Nazi stuff." "I wouldn't want to be [Tiller] if there is a Judgment Day," O'Reilly proclaimed.

In August 2009, a middle-aged professional named George Sodini walked into a health club in suburban Pittsburgh and gunned down three women. The mainstream press explained Sodini's motives away by homing in on passages in his online diaries describing his loneliness, inability to convince women to have sex with him, and descent into chronic masturbation. Nearly every major media outlet omitted or ignored a long deranged entry in which Sodini projected his sexual frustration onto Obama, whom he seemed to view as a symbol of black male virility and predation.

The day after Obama's election victory, Sodini wrote: "Good luck to Obama! He will be successful. The liberal media LOVES him. Amerika has chosen The Black Man. Good! In light of this I got ideas outside of Obama's plans for the economy and such. Here it is: Every black man should get a young white girl … Kinda a reverse indentured servitude thing. Every daddy know when he sends his little girl to college, she be … real good. I saw it. 'Not my little girl', daddy says! (Yeah right!!) Black dudes have thier [sic] choice of best white?? [ellipses in original]."

In another posting to an anti-Clinton forum in 1994, during the height of the Republicans' Whitewater investigation, Sodini revealed that he had purchased a bumper sticker reading, "Stop Socialism, Impeach Clinton," from a National Review ad. A year later, Sodini ranted on an anti-government militia site, "I am convinced that more drastic action is required to bring the country back to the Constitutional order that it was 200 years ago. I don't think any group of political leaders will achieve this for us." Whether or not Sodini's murder spree was motivated by his political passions, he was pathologically death-driven and fixated on the phantasmagoria of right-wing imagery. In his final diary entry, Sodini proclaimed, "Death lives!"

More than any other media figure of the Obama era, Glenn Beck encouraged the campaign of racial demonization and conspiracy that consumed the Tea Party "Patriots." During a broadcast of "Fox and Friends," Beck opined that Obama "has exposed himself over and over and over again as a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture." As evidence, Beck pointed to White House green-jobs czar Van Jones, an African American former community organizer who was eventually forced to resign as a direct result of Beck's crusade. From there, Beck targeted another black Obama adviser, Valerie Jarrett, highlighting her ties to ACORN while upholding her and Jones as evidence of Obama's "socialist" agenda. In another broadcast, Beck played an audio clip of unidentified African Americans referring to "Obama money" as they collected welfare checks in Detroit. Then he showed footage of members of a Kansas City-based youth group practicing a step show, a traditional African-American group dance apparently unfamiliar enough to Beck and his transfixed audience that he felt at liberty to claim the footage as evidence that "Obama's SS" was being trained across inner-city America.

In September 2009, Beck relentlessly targeted ACORN, the Right's new favorite hobgoblin, admitting that he intended to use the poor people's advocacy group to distract his viewers from the health care debate. "Trust me," Beck said, "Everybody now says they're going to be talking about health care. I don't think so." (His statement was reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh's scandal-mongering remark during the early Clinton administration: "Whitewater is about health care.") Beck promptly cued up a series of hidden camera videos shot by conservative youth activists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles inside ACORN field offices. In the videos, O'Keefe baited African-American staffers into making statements explaining that Giles, who claimed she was a prostitute, could obtain low-income housing. O'Keefe edited in images of himself clad in an outlandish pimp costume to create the impression that he was dressed that way during the meetings with ACORN; however, Giles later admitted her partner had lied about wearing his costume to further incriminate ACORN. In the end, ACORN was exonerated of all criminal wrongdoing while in a separate incident O'Keefe was arrested and charged with a federal crime after he and several conservative pals disguised themselves as telephone repairmen and attempted to wiretap phone lines in the office of Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Like Ryan Sorba, O'Keefe and his posse were movement cadres paid and directed by well-funded conservative outfits; O'Keefe had been trained by the Leadership Institute, the right-wing youth group that nurtured leading lights like Jack Abramoff, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, and Jeff Gannon.

While O'Keefe and his buddies plea-bargained with prosecutors, Beck basked in his formula for success. His show earned the highest ratings at Fox News, topping network franchises like O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. In the process, Beck's opinions became firmly implanted in the nervous systems of Tea Party activists. "Glenn Beck has taught us everything we know," a demonstrator at the 9-12 rally told me. "He's opened our eyes to so much."

But unlike the right-wing radio warhorses who helped usher in Newt Gingrich's Republican counter-revolution of 1994, Beck was not an authentic product of the movement. When Rush Limbaugh first began dominating the AM airwaves, Beck was mired in the world of mid-level commercial radio, delivering corny yarns about lesbians and celebrity trash in hopes of becoming the next Howard Stern. By night, as he has tirelessly recounted, he medicated his anxiety with cocaine and alcohol, destroying his first marriage in the process. "We remember Glenn from the womanizing, the drinking, the drugs. Everybody who knew him at the time saw what a complete mess he was," a shock jock from Tampa, Florida, who called himself Bubba the Love Sponge remarked to me during a broadcast of his nationally syndicated show.

Like Dusty Rhodes, the pseudo-populist demagogue of Elia Kazan's 1957 film, A Face in the Crowd, Beck was a self-destructive drifter who might have been crumpled up with a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 in an alleyway or been locked away in a prison cell had fame not found him first. Beck was only able to stabilize his life when he made his escape from freedom, marrying a conservative Mormon, converting to her religion, and transmuting his urge to abuse drugs into conservative radio diatribes. When Beck first broke into television on CNN's Headline News Channel, he struggled to articulate a coherent political worldview. If he distinguished himself from other big-time conservative hosts in any way, he did so through strained and often snide attempts at humor, remnants of his failed radio career. Nevertheless, with help from his liberal agent, Matthew Hiltzik, Beck snagged a primetime slot at Fox News in early 2009. Around this same time, Beck began promoting the work of an arcane Mormon conspiracy-peddler named W. Cleon Skousen, whom he described as his political lodestar. Suddenly, Beck had something more to offer than irritable mental gestures.

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