Timeline: Terror from the Right Since Oklahoma City Bombing

Today marks the twentieth year since the April 19 bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City by white supremacists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nicholas, in which 168 people were killed and dozens more were injured.

Since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, there have been many more terrorist plots, seditious conspiracies, individual killings and murder sprees. This timeline, compiled from SPLC data, offers an overview.

Yet, despite this record of right-wing violence, there is still a tendency to dismiss and ignore the threat of right-wing extremism in the US.

Do Some Christians Believe Trayvon Martin Got What He Deserved?

Christians believe that Jesus taught his followers to love and accept everyone, even as we all fall short before the eyes of God, so it is particularly shocking that some Christians would use the murder of Trayvon Martin as a sermon on God’s supposed intended punishment, using racial code words. Pat Robertson used his media platform to engage in racial code words:

(Video from Right-Wing Watch via ThinkProgress)

Racial code words such as “criminal” and “thug” – and now, perhaps “hoodie” – are lodged in the minds of the American public and associated with black males as people to be feared. When these code words are used in a context such as the Trayvon Martin case, they are intended to make someone like Martin out to be a menace with criminal intentions who got what he deserved.

This logic and reasoning is profoundly insensitive and disturbing, as it is contrary to many of Christianity’s central teachings. But the pounding and twisting of Christian thought to fit a particular worldview is nothing new. We have seen this behavior many times before, from the Crusades to the transatlantic slave trade. With each event in world history, the name of God was invoked as a source of inspiration for unspeakable acts of pure brutality and hatred. This is, perhaps, why it is not so shocking when folks like Ann Coulter tweet, “Hallelujah,”  shortly after the Zimmerman not-guilty verdict. Her undiplomatic remark gives the more self-righteous and like-minded followers of Jesus a license to inflame their narrow-minded passions.

But when the religious extremist, Shirley Phelps-Roper, opined on Twitter that, “God will require Trayvon’s blood,” it exposed a different and uglier side of Christianity. Other twitter users followed suit, sending forth hate and virtual judgment. One twitter user tweeted, “I want to thank god…. for that bullet that killed trayvon martin.” And yet another man who claims to be a Reverend and going by the name of Pastor Ron tweeted, “Thank God for George Zimmerman. He is a hero. Trayvon was a piece of crap.”

In my view, this is certainly not the Jesus of the Holy Bible, who would see such behavior as reprehensible and denounce it. Christ’s earthly ministry was radical in nature, accepting sinners and publicans while calling out hypocrisy at every turn and replacing the Old Testament notion of “an eye for an eye” with a new gospel of brotherly and sisterly love. This is something that some modern-day Christians have failed to fully embrace and practice, much like their ancient counterparts, and it is particularly evident when issues of race emerge. For some, God’s divine hand was at work throughout this trial and Zimmerman’s acquittal. Even Zimmerman believed that this was all a part of “God’s plan.” Therefore, he is able to wipe his hands clean of sin, as if it was part of his earthly errand to take Trayvon’s life (a modern-day mercy killing). The alarming nature of such uses of God and His will in reference to Trayvon should give us great pause.

If anything, we should be following Jesus’ path, articulated here by theologian Jim Wallis, who writes:

“…there is a religious message here for all Christians. If there ever was a time that demonstrated why racially and culturally diverse congregations are needed — that time is now. The body of Christ is meant, instructed, and commanded by Christ to be racially inclusive. If white Christians stay in our mostly-white churches and talk mostly to each other we will never understand how our black brothers and sisters are feeling after a terrible weekend like this one. It was the conversation of every black church in America on this Sunday, but very few white Christians heard that discussion or felt that pain.”

But evidently, for a great many of believers, God has spoken and revealed his word through an inspired legal system where He touches decision makers. The irony of a 5-white and all-woman jury seemed to escape this extreme version of Christianity; God has spoken and a decision was made.

The Zimmerman jury’s legal conclusion to the untimely death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin told young black men everywhere what we already knew—that our place in American society is precarious, at best, and not guaranteed. Never get too comfortable and too complacent. Black men have always stood at odds with an insecure white power structure. Since slavery, black men were seen as threats to white manhood, which provided justification of incredible violence directed at them, whether in the cotton fields or working in the big house. Black men have paid a heavy price in all manner of civil society.

Although there are flickers and flashes of great expressions of stalwart black male mobility in life, black men remain an exploited group, relegated to the margins of society, alienated and overly criminalized. Trayvon’s tragic death, and more significantly, the so-called Christian response to his death and the acquittal of his killer reify this point. But if we are to call on God’s name in any way from this trial, it should be to forgive us for our pre-judgments, unfounded fears, and deep insecurities so that we may be lead on the path of enlightenment and righteousness.

 

~ Dr. Darron Smith is an assistant professor in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. You can follow him on twitter @drdarronsmith.

Glenn Beck Attempts to Co-Opt Dr. King’s Civil Rights Legacy

On his June 18 radio talk show, Glenn Beck discussed his upcoming “Restoring Honor” rally, which is scheduled to take place this coming August 28th at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.  If Beck’s earlier “Rally for America” (2003), the finale of his book promotion tour through “real America” is any indication, there will be lots of flag waving, honoring the troops, and some relatively small crowds.  But he has something else in mind for this rally.

(Beck at ‘Rally for America’ 2003)

As Beck noted, August 28 marks the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. What critical, progressive commentators can only recognize as an absurd, disgusting irony befitting life in the 21st century “bizarro world” of contemporary racial relations, Beck regards himself and the event as ordained by no less than God:

“what an appropriate day – at first we picked that date and we didn’t know and I thought ‘oh geez,’ but now I think it was almost Divine providence… I do.”

In his characteristically melodramatic style (and despite the fact that his initial hesitation suggests he, himself, questioned the appropriateness of doing so) Beck ran with the symbolism, sentimentally opining on June 15:

“As we create history together, your children will be able to say ‘I remember. I was there,’ as we… as we pick up Martin Luther King’s dream that has been distorted and lost. It’s time to restore it, and to finish it.”

There are perhaps no better words to capture the perfectly incongruous nature of this association than those provided by the master of satire, Stephen Colbert: “Finally, someone is bringing Martin Luther King’s movement back to its conservative white roots” (The Colbert Report, June 23).

Indeed, the idea that Glenn Beck or his scheduled guests (which include Sarah Palin and the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre and Ted Nugent) should assume the mantel of restoring King’s dream is beyond perverse. Recent articles by Dennis Henigan and Paul Helmke expose the track records of the individuals involved in planning this event, and with those, demonstrate what an offense this event is to the civil rights legacy of Dr. King. Among many gems from NRA Board Member, Ted Nugent, is his public declaration that South Africa’s apartheid wasn’t that “cut and dry,” because “all men are not created equal. The preponderance of South Africa is a different breed of man.” Is the wicked irony of the NRA’s celebrated presence at an event shrouded in the legacy of the assassinated leader, whose entire platform was built on peaceful, nonviolent protest, lost on everyone organizing this event?

Beck, for his part, has been at the conservative right forefront of what anti-racist writer/educator Tim Wise has cleverly labeled the “Cult of White Victimhood,” and their calls of “faux-pression”. In fact, Beck has not only argued that President Obama’s policy agenda is driven by “reparations” and the desire to “settle old racial scores,” (an absurd claim, the legitimacy of some form of restorative justice notwithstanding); he boldly claimed on Fox News that Obama was a “racist” with a clear “deep-seated hatred for white people.”

Stepping back from the obvious problems of Beck’s rally, however, we should contextualize white conservatives’ embrace of Dr. King’s legacy and civil rights rhetoric in a larger
framework. This latest example is part and parcel of an increasingly commonplace exercise in colorblind racism. Whites frequently invoke memories of the civil rights movement and the beloved Dr. King as a maneuver of positive self-presentation, evidence of the progress we have made in society. While the intentions of such whites may be “good,” the rhetoric remains problematic nonetheless, as it is often employed to invalidate the persistence of ongoing interpersonal, institutionalized and structural racism.

More malevolent and concerning, however, is the way in which white conservatives are increasingly invoking the civil rights legacy to support the actual dismantling of civil rights victories. Tragically, the paradoxical invocation of civil rights rhetoric has become a contemporary means by which the racial status quo of white supremacy is restabilized and even strengthened against further attack. Consider the way in which “civil rights” have been rearticulated in the battle over affirmative action. In the past several years “Civil Rights Initiatives” groups have emerged in numerous states, including Michigan, Washington, California, Nebraska, Colorado and Arizona. While the name might suggest otherwise, these groups have successfully introduced “civil rights” proposals in the past 2006 and 2008 November election ballots that would ban affirmative action in government hiring and university admissions.  (In at least one case, the U.S. District Court found that the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative had engaged in systematic voter fraud, as individuals recruited to sign the anti-affirmative action petition were led to believe the ballot initiative was actually in support of affirmative action.   This suggests just how distorted “civil rights” rhetoric has become in recent years.)  Indeed, affirmative action has been rendered largely impotent in wake of these types of legal battles, including several key Supreme Court decisions.

Similar rearticulations of “civil rights” abound. Affirmative action re-coded as “reverse discrimination”; health care and economic reform reframed as “reparations,” with the implicit understanding that something is being taken from innocent whites and redistributed to undeserving blacks; fellowship and scholarship programs originally designed to increase the representation students of color in various programs literally struck down under the Civil Rights Act of 1964!

In this upside-down climate, conservatives like Beck and other “Cult of White Victimhood” members unflinchingly argue that they are the true defenders of civil rights, as they work to erode the hard fought gains of people of color and protect normative white dominance. With no-end in sight, the need for critical scholars, activists, and citizens to publicly deconstruct the political rhetoric of so-called “civil rights” in the 21st century, and reappropriate and protect the civil rights symbols of our past is nothing short of urgent.


~ Jennifer Mueller, Doctoral Candidate & Graduate Lecturer, Department of Sociology, Texas A&M University

White Supremacists and the Mainstream Right-Wing

In an interesting new video called “White Power U.S.A.,” filmmakers Rick Rowley and Jacquie Soohen explore the contemporary white supremacist movement and the overlap with more mainstream right-wing political movements, such as anti-immigration groups (h/t to @June4th via Twitter). The video originally aired on Al-Jazeera on January 6, and is in the format of a news magazine story; it’s on the long side for web video (23:58) but well worth the time to watch:

Part of what I appreciate about this video clip is the attempt by Rowley and Soohen to connect the extremist groups with the more mainstream groups, an argument I made in my earlier book White Lies (1997). Another interesting bit near the end comes when a “new recruit” says something off the script of white supremacy, and the organizer of the group explains this by saying that people really become indoctrinated into the ideology once they’re in the organization and begin reading, and internalizing, the movement rhetoric. This is a point that I mentioned in the earlier book and develop in the most recent one, Cyber Racism (2009). This story illustrates how social movement recruitment tends to work. People are recruited into social movement organizations through personal connections: by neighbors, friends, relatives. Then, once inside the organization, they read and internalize the movement rhetoric.

CNN Feeling Pressure as Drop Dobbs Campaign Gains Momentum

Over the past few weeks, CNN has begun to feel the pressure to drop their anti-immigrant news reader and talking head Lou Dobbs.   The effort to get Dobbs off the airwaves has garnered widespread attention, particularly through two websites, DropDobbs.com and BastaDobbs.com.  As Jessie noted here a couple of weeks ago, BastaDobbs.com is a website that demands that “CNN deal with its Dobbs problem once and for all.”

In response to these calls for his resignation, Lou Dobbs has asserted his right to free speech as protecting his view that illegal immigrants have no right to be in the US.   Let’s look at the discussion – does Lou Dobbs cross the line of what’s considered protected speech?

First of all, it is important to clarify that Lou Dobbs Tonight is not exactly a question of “free” speech. Lou Dobbs, and CNN, make a lot of money from advertisers. Mr. Dobbs is getting paid by CNN to express his views. In that light, CNN needs to take into account how what Dobbs says affects its viewers. Without viewers, there would be no advertising revenue, and no CNN. Also, there are plenty of things Dobbs is not allowed to say on CNN, such as “Swiffer dusters are bad for the environment,” or “Planters peanuts are picked by exploited workers.” Making these statements would cause those two advertisers to pull their commercials from CNN. In that light, should Dobbs be allowed to say: “The invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans”? Especially, should he be allowed to say this when it is unsubstantiated?

One of the most compelling arguments made by people such as Roberto Lovato of Presente.org and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now about Lou Dobbs’ problematic show is that Mr. Dobbs spreads lies about Latinos, immigrants, and undocumented immigrants. This claim is justified.

In 2008, the Media Matters Action Network published a report on the representation of undocumented immigration on cable news networks, appropriately titled: Fear and Loathing in Prime Time: Immigration Myths and Cable News. This report revealed that three shows: The O’Reilly Factor, Lou Dobbs Tonight, and Glenn Beck consistently propagate myths about undocumented immigrants. These myths include the alleged criminality of undocumented immigrants, the falsehood that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes, and the myth that Mexicans plan to carry out a reconquista of the United States.    Lou Dobbs seems to be obsessed with the topic of illegal immigration.  In 2007,  70 percent of his shows involved a discussion of illegal immigration. In the three shows combined, there were 402 shows in 2007 where illegal immigration is discussed, an average of more than one per day.

Perhaps most controversial is Dobbs’ sensationalist discussion of crime. Dobbs frequently misrepresents the criminality of undocumented people. For example, on October 5, 2006, Lou Dobbs said “just about a third of the prison population in this country is estimated to be illegal aliens.” This is a gross misrepresentation of the reality – less than six percent of prisoners are foreign-born, and only some of those are undocumented immigrants, the remaining being naturalized citizens, permanent legal residents and other visa holders.

All of these myths are easily countered with research. Extensive research by Rubén Rumbaut and his colleagues has demonstrated that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native born: the incarceration rate of the native born was four times the rate of the foreign born in 2006.  More than half of undocumented workers pay payroll taxes, and everyone pays property and sales taxes (PDF). The idea of a reconquista is perhaps the domain of a marginalized few, but certainly not the sentiment of most Mexican-Americans.

The constant repetition of hate-filled rhetoric dehumanizes undocumented migrants and renders them appropriate targets for law enforcement activities. One way this can be seen is in polls Lou Dobbs conducts on his show. On his March 5, 2007, show, Dobbs reported that “Ninety-eight percent of you [viewers] voted that illegal immigration, failed border security, and sanctuary laws are contributing to the rise in gang violence in this country.” By consistently presenting undocumented migrants as criminals and dehumanizing them by referring to them as “illegals,” these popular media pundits create animosity toward undocumented migrants in the US.

Creating ill will towards undocumented migrants by spreading lies is certainly something worth complaining about. This not only affects undocumented migrants; it also affects their family members, people who live in communities with undocumented migrants, people who are in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, and people who are not undocumented, but who may be mistaken for an undocumented migrant.

I have to agree – ¡Basta Dobbs! Click here to add your name to a petition to get Dobbs off the air.

Tanya Golash-Boza is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and American Studies at the University of Kansas. Currently, she is in Guatemala, and blogs about her research at: http://tanyagolashboza.blogspot.com

Cloaked Sites Key to Right-Wing Propaganda

I’ve got to give credit where credit is due and this week it goes to Rachel Maddow – who’s been doing a terrific job with her investigations into the right-wing propaganda machine.  On her show last night, she featured a devastating critique of Richard Berman, a Republican political operative profiled by CBS’s 60 Minutes as “Dr. Evil” for his willingness, even enthusiasm, for taking on politically regressive causes.  He’s the one behind the most recent attacks on ACORN, an organization that mostly does things like advocate for poor black and brown people, get poor people registered to vote, and lobby for raising the minimum wage.  Apparently, rich white people – like the ones that hire Berman – are very upset by this sort of activity.

Also featured in this segment is Peter Dreier, a professor of political science at Occidental College, who has a new research which demonstrates the way that the mainstream media bought into the lies that Berman put forward and missed getting out the accurate story about ACORN, including one finding that about 80% of news stories failed to report that ACORN itself was the group that reported irregularities in voting registration in the first place.

The part of this story that I wanted to call attention to is the bit about the websites that are key part of Berman’s strategy.   Maddow refers to them as “grass roots-ish” which is cute, but I’d like to respectfully suggest that she call these cloaked sites. Cloaked websites are published by individuals or groups who conceal authorship in order to deliberately disguise a hidden political agenda. In this way, these sites are similar to previous versions of print media propaganda, such as “black,” “white” and “grey” propaganda. In my latest book, Cyber Racism, I write extensively about how racist groups are using cloaked websites to further their goals to subvert civil rights and affirm white supremacy in covert ways.  I also write about the range of political movements that use cloaked websites in a recent article, “Cloaked websites: propaganda, cyber-racism and epistemology in the digital era,”  in the journal New Media & Society. While not the exclusive purview of the right-wing, it does seem that the right is amplifying their use of this technique.

Cloaked sites are a key piece of the propaganda machine that Berman is operating, and they’re incredibly hard-to-detect and perniciously effective according to my research.     According to this site which seeks to expose Berman, he has been the force behind dozens of cloaked sites, including “RottenAcorn.com” and anti-ACORN site that disguises the real authorship behind something called “Employment Policies Institute” which is a front group that Berman runs.   Maddow mentions a couple of others, such as “UnionFacts.com” (with very similar graphics to the previous site) an anti-labor union site, again with the true authorship disguised in order to advance a hidden political agenda.   And, “MercuryFacts.org” a cloaked pro-fishing-industry site that disguises its authorship and corporate agenda.  In my study of how young people made sense of cloaked white supremacist sites, I found that most of the 15-19 year-olds I interviewed as they surfed the web could not easily tell they were white supremacist sites.  It seems very likely that most of those people who visited the cloaked sites that Berman created were fooled as well.

What difference does it make?    Well, it makes a difference in a lot of ways.  If you’re someone like me who is in the classroom, then you’re going to have to deal with students bringing arguments found on cloaked websites into the classroom.   This happens to me frequently and just happened to a friend and colleague of mine the other day.  In a discussion on “racial profiling,” a student in my colleague’s class brought up a report called “The Color of Crime,” which concludes that black people are inherently more dangerous than white people, published by Jared Taylor of the New Century Foundation, a white supremacist organization.   In a recent class of mine, a student did a presentation on “post-abortion syndrome,” not a medically recognized condition – as the student believed – but a rhetorical strategy of the pro-life movement.  She had found information about this supposed “syndrome” on a cloaked pro-life site called “TeenBreaks.com.”

Cloaked sites, websites that look legitimate yet disguise a political agenda, are like the Trojan Horses of the digital era.   These sorts of sites make it possible to smuggle in ideas into current debate that have been discredited, and allow right-wing political operatives to undermine organizations, like ACORN, which are doing hard work on behalf of impoverished people of color.    Fighting back takes much more sophisticated critical thinking about the information we find online and good, investigative reporting, like Rachel Maddow’s on this topic.

Here’s the clip from the show in case you missed it:

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Racism and Right-Wing Lunacy

For a group that regularly decries what they view as “minority” whining, and the politics of victimization, white conservatives are demonstrating a penchant for the unhinged histrionics of victimhood, virtually unparalleled in modern times. Facing a nation led by a black man, with a black wife and black children, sullying the hallowed halls of a house they long considered white in more than just name, the far-right finds itself in the midst of a prolonged and currently exploding aneurysm, which would be humorous to observe were it not so toxic in its consequences for the nation.

Going off the Rails on a Crazy Train: Right-Wing Lunacy in the Age of Obama

Now, with the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, these same gasbags see yet further confirmation of the takeover of America by hostile colored forces. It is making them insane, literally, as with Bill O’Reilly, who recently stated with a straight (if somewhat contorted and scowling) face, that Sotomayor’s nomination is just more evidence that the left “sees white men as the problem,” in America.

Reactionary cranks across the radio dial have been trying to outdo one another in the annals of batshit lunacy, and so Continue reading…