Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stephen Salisbury: Extremist Killing Is as American as Apple Pie -- Murders Grow on the Far Right Four Decades After Martin Luther King

Extremist Killing Is as American as Apple Pie: Murders Grow on the Far Right Four Decades After Martin Luther King
By Stephan Salisbury


White Men Are Never Labeled Terrorists

That leads to a common thread among these murderous incidents. None has been labeled the work of terrorists by authorities or the media. All involved white men, most of whom -- like Jared Loughner in Tucson -- have been deemed troubled or disturbed by authorities and various media outlets. Even Jim David Adkisson, the unemployed truck driver who attacked the Knoxville church because he believed it was “a cult” and a haven for Democrats and secular liberals, has not been characterized as a political terrorist. Adkisson was a fan of the writings and shows of right-wing media personalities Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, and Sean Hannity, according to authorities who searched his residence after the 2008 shootings. However, his primary motivation, according to those same authorities, was the imminent loss of food stamps and inability to find a job.

Joseph Stack, who flew his plane into the Austin IRS building in an eerie echo of the 9/11 attacks, is also not a terrorist -- just a plain old suicide. The Maine dirty-bomb maker, who amassed quantities of hydrogen peroxide, uranium, thorium, lithium metal, thermite, aluminum powder, beryllium, boron, black iron oxide, and magnesium ribbon, a terrorist? No, just a “disturbed individual.”

Arizona, of course, has seen a lot of extremist political activity in recent years. In fact, even as Jared Loughner was gunning down 20 people inside the Safeway on North Oracle Road on January 8th, the murder trial of Shawna Forde, head of the anti-immigrant Minutemen American Defense group, was getting underway in nearby Pima County Superior Court. Forde and two associates have been charged with the shooting death of a man, the wounding of his wife, and the killing of the couple’s nine-year-old daughter during a June 2009 robbery aimed at funding her extremist political activities.

These are America’s killing fields, coast to coast, yet the commentary and debate in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting revolves around political rhetoric in Washington. Both sides need to tone it down, we’re told. There have been endless discussions on television and radio, newspaper commentary and Internet postings all focused on the issue of overheated political talk -- as if Jared Loughner somehow leaped full-grown from the forehead of Glenn Beck.

Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck did not send Jared Loughner out to kill, even if their extreme lock-and-load rhetoric -- Beck, brandishing a baseball bat, has warned his viewers to watch out during the next “killing spree” -- has helped legitimate such talk. What they have certainly done is help create an inspirational environment where it is perfectly normal for Tea Party extremists to attend political rallies while packing pistols. Indeed, packing pistols is the point, isn’t it?

That said, conservative columnist David Brooks, in an astonishingly superficial argument, wrote in the New York Times that those who drag politics into public debate over the killing of political figures and government officials are leveling “vicious charges” and lack empathy for the mentally ill. Brooks gravely wagged his finger at those -- he singled out MSNBC commentator Keith Olberman, former Senator Gary Hart, and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas -- who have argued that violent rhetoric from the Tea Party and Sarah Palin set the table for the Tucson shootings. (Of course Congresswoman Giffords herself chastised Palin for putting her district in the now-infamous gun-sight crosshairs. Does Brooks include her, too, in excoriating “vicious charges made by people who claimed to be criticizing viciousness”?)

How sugary is Brooks’ argument? Compare it to what he wrote following the shooting rampage that took place at Fort Hood in November 2009. In that murderous incident, Major Nidal Malik Hasan was ultimately charged with killing 13 and wounding over 30. Hasan, a Muslim psychiatrist, was clearly disturbed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (he was about to be deployed to the latter) and his deteriorating mental state had been a concern to officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

That was before Hasan snapped. Despite documented psychiatric worries, the issue of terrorism quickly dominated public discussion of Hasan’s act.

At the time, Brooks derided talk of Hasan’s mental state and characterized those who brought it up as casting “a shroud of political correctness” over the Hasan “narrative.”

“The conversation in the first few days after the massacre was well intentioned, but it suggested a willful flight from reality,” Brooks intoned. “It ignored the fact that the war narrative of the struggle against Islam is the central feature of American foreign policy. It ignored the fact that this narrative can be embraced by a self-radicalizing individual in the U.S. as much as by groups in Tehran, Gaza or Kandahar.”

So much for “vicious charges” and empathy. They are apparently reserved for young white males in Tucson; Muslims need not apply.

Meanwhile, the bodies are piling up in Arizona and Tennessee, Kansas and Pennsylvania. The Homeland Security Department issued a lonely cautionary report in 2009 on the rising tide of right-wing extremism; it was loudly hooted down by right-wing radio celebrities like Rush Limbaugh and Internet pundits like Michelle Malkin. The killings and the attacks went on.

Now, we have arrived at another Martin Luther King Day, the birthday of a man gunned down by a right-wing extremist more than 40 years ago and, while we talk endlessly about rhetoric, we have done a remarkable job of ignoring the growing pile of bodies. The murderous right wing is still with us. The racists and the skinheads and the neo-Nazis are still here. Sales of Glock semi-automatic guns are skyrocketing in the wake of Tucson. The growing piles of bodies is real evidence of growing extremist activity. What could be plainer or starker?

Congressman Peter King, the New York Republican who now heads the House Homeland Security Committee, is planning to hold hearings on Muslim radicalization in America when the new Congress convenes. Muslims, he said in the wake of the Tucson killings, are recruited by "foreign" terrorists, while Loughner is just a "deranged" American, the latest in a long line of deranged Americans.

What place is this? Where are we now?

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