White Power, White Terrorism, White Mainstream

As you’ve probably heard by now, Jared Lee Loughner is accused of a horrific attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ.) and the murder of six other people, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old little girl.  Loughner also injured 14 other people.  Remarkably, Giffords survived – in no small measure due to the heroic actions of a gay, Latino intern who rushed to administer first aid – and doctors are cautiously optimistic that she will recover.   While the facts in this terrible case are still unfolding, the initial indications are that the shooting points to some profound connections between white power, terrorism and the mainstream political culture of the U.S.

Hate group monitors, including Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates and Mark Potok at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC),  have noted the ties Loughner had to white power groups through his posting to various web sites and his YouTube channel.   Elise Foley, reporting at the Huffington Post, suggests that Loughner had ties to the American Renaissance, a white nationalist group that operates under a pseudo think tank called the New Century Foundation.  Among a number of notions it holds rooted in white supremacy, the American Renaissance is also opposed to the entry of “non-whites” into the United States and supports Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law.  The group is known for its anti-semitism and a number of media outlets have pointed to the fact that Hitler’s Mein Kampf was listed as one of Loughner’s favorite books, leading to questions about whether anti-semitism and anti-immigrant hostility were motives in the shootings.  Giffords is the first Jewish U.S. representative to be elected in Arizona (and an opponent of SB 1070) and Gabe Zimmerman, a Giffords aide who was killed in the shooting, was also Jewish.    Potok is more circumspect when he observes:

I didn’t see anything that suggested racial, anti-Semitic or anti-immigrant animus in Loughner’s writings. Certainly, there’s nothing I saw at all reminiscent of American Renaissance, which focuses heavily on the alleged intellectual and psychological inferiority of black people.  At this early stage, I think Loughner is probably best described as a mentally ill or unstable person who was influenced by the rhetoric and demonizing propaganda around him. Ideology may not explain why he allegedly killed, but it could help explain how he selected his target.

One thing that seems clear is that Giffords … was the nearest and most obvious representative of “the government” that Loughner could find. Another is that he likely absorbed some of his anger from the vitriolic political atmosphere in the United States in general and Arizona in particular.

I tend to agree with Potok here.  I doubt that any official ties between Loughner and white supremacist (or nationalist) groups will be unearthed.  But, even though he Loughner isn’t much of a “joiner” doesn’t mean he’s not a political terrorist – he is.  He even calls himself a terrorist.  And, that’s what he is.  The only problem is that he’s white, so lots of people are going to have trouble recognizing him as a terrorist.

Academic blogger Juan Cole (h/t @tandmark) makes this point:

“[He] was clearly mentally unstable. But the political themes of his instability were those of the American far Right. Loughner was acting politically even if he is not all there. He is said to have called out the names of his victims, such as Roll and Gifford, as he fired. As usual, when white people do these things, the mass media doesn’t call it terrorism.

While lots of liberal bloggers have picked up this white-terrorism meme, there is almost nothing in the mainstream media about the whiteness of this suspect.  The white mainstream is already framing this shooting as the act of a crazed, lone gunman, rather than part of a consistent pattern of right-wing violence perpetrated almost exclusively by white men who are responding to a political climate that is increasingly stoked by vitriolic rhetoric.

Sarah Palin has been a chief instigator, although certainly not alone, in generating this deadly rhetoric.  Palin bears a special responsibility for the shooting given her frequent, and reckless, use of the gun metaphors such as her Twitter update: “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” (Indeed, Palin’s rhetoric was so inflammatory during the presidential election that the Secret Service blamed her remarks about Obama for increasing the number of death threats against him.)   Giffords was well aware of the threat posed by Palin campaign rhetoric like this map with cross hairs mimicking a gun scope on 20 Democratic districts, including Giffords’ own:

After the shooting, Palin’s political action group tried to scrub the Internet of traces of the map, but to no avail. Lots of evidence of Palin’s vitriol still exists on the web, including an interview Giffords did last spring directly addressing the poster.  Speaking to MSNBC reporter Chuck Todd after her office was vandalized in March of this year, Giffords tells Todd:

GIFFORDS:   Community leaders, figures in our community need to say “look, we can’t stand for this.”  This is a situation where — people don’t — they really need to realize that the rhetoric and firing people up and, you know, even things, for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district.  And when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there’s consequences to that action.

TODD:  But in fairness, campaign rhetoric and war rhetoric have been interchangeable for years.  And so that’s — is there not, is there a line here?  I understand that in the moment it may look bad, but do you really think that’s what she intended?

GIFFORDS:  You know, I can’t say, I’m not Sarah Palin.  But I can say that in the years that some of my colleagues have served — 20, 30 years — they’ve never seen it like this.

Todd dismisses Giffords concerns here, and I have to wonder if part of the dismissal has to do with the fact that Sarah Palin is a white woman, and thus, somehow less threatening.   What’s relevant here for my point is that Chuck Todd is part of the white mainstream that initially dismissed this violent political rhetoric as worthy of concern, and will continue in his role on MSNBC to be one of the framers of this event as the act of a “lone gunman” who is “mentally unbalanced.” These are partial truths.

What Todd and others like him in the white mainstream do when they repeat these partial truths over and over again, is that they hide from view the larger truth about the way whiteness and white supremacy are implicated in this violent political era.

Dan Fanelli, Racial Profiling, and Whitewashing Terrorism: How Racial Fictions Become Racial Realities

It was only a matter of time.

Shortly after Faisal Shahzad was indicted on charges for the foiled Times Square car bombing, Florida GOP primary congressional candidate, Dan Fanelli, publicly endorsed racial profiling to combat terrorism. Fanelli released two campaign messages at his website entitled “Simple Facts” and “Simple Facts II.” (These advertisements are also available at “Simple Facts” and “Simple Facts II”).

While Fanelli’s concern for safety from terrorism may be a legitimate one, his solution is nothing short of racial tyranny, or what Tim Wise labels “The Tyranny of Common Sense” ( “The Tyranny of Common Sense: The Faulty Logic of ‘Terrorist’ Profiling.” Pp. 128-132 In Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflection from an Angry White Male, Tim Wise, (Ed.), Berkeley, CA: Soft Skull Press, [2005] 2008. “The Tyranny of Common Sense: The Faulty Logic of ‘Terrorist’ Profiling.” Pp. 128-132 In Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflection from an Angry White Male, edited by Tim Wise. Berkeley, CA: Soft Skull Press.. Fanelli suggests that terrorists have a profile, and it is only common sense that this profile be targeted. In these recent ads, the line between “Arab-looking” men and terrorists is blurred, and Fanelli leads his constituency to believe these two are one in the same. All the while, Fanelli symbolizes white heroism and righteousness as he vows to protect “America” from Arab-looking men flying planes into buildings. His solution: Stop political correctness, end the invasion of privacy (e.g. supposedly unfair screening processes), and racially profile those who look like terrorists.

This, however, begs a fundamental question: What does a terrorist look like? According to these ads, they are dark-skinned, Turban-wearing, Arab-looking men who look similar to Shahzad or the 19 al-Qaeda members that committed the atrocities of 9/11. For Fanelli, these acts of a few individuals are justifiable grounds to profile a group that comprises millions of people. According to Fanelli, it’s just common sense. However, his common sense is nothing short of a gross overgeneralization that unjustly targets innocent people.

Racial profiling not only targets innocent people, but it fails as an effective counterterrorism tactic. Despite the fact that terrorists come in many different shades, Fanelli casts a picture that relies upon one-dimensional anti-Arab stereotypes. Even the al-Qaeda network, which Fanelli alludes to with a Twin Towers reference, is a global network comprised of decentralized terrorist cells (Howard, Russell and Reid Sawyer. Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Understanding the New Security Environment, Readings and Interpretations (2nd Edition). Dubuque, Iowa: McGraw-Hill, 2006.). Its vast presence transcends boundaries of racial identifiers such as skin tone and physical appearance and ethnic identifiers such as language or “Arab-sounding” names. In short, racial profiling is based on ill logic, and it is not a reliable tactic.

Though Fanelli suggests that it will enhance safety, racial profiling could have the reverse effect as intended.  With attention diverted to “Arab-looking” men, “closet terrorists” who don’t fit the profile might be overlooked. For example, consider the most recent successful terrorist act on American soil. This atrocity was committed by Joseph Andrew Stack, a software engineer enraged over U.S. tax policies and the federal government in general. His rage drove him to crash a plane into Austin’s IRS building this past February.

Ironically, in one ad Fanelli jokingly says that if “good-looking, ripped guy[s] without much hair” were hijacking planes and flying them into buildings, then he’d have no problem being profiled. Did I mention that Stack was an older white man without much hair, and as Jon Stewart satirically points out, looks striking similar to Fanelli? However, Fanelli does not seriously suggest that white men ought to be racially profiled. And virtually no other public figures make this suggestion either.

But why? It certainly is not because there’s been a shortage of isolated terrorist acts committed by white men. Other atrocities in recent history include terrorist acts committed by Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, Eric Rudolph, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Columbine, and most other school shootings. And unfortunately, this list goes on. Despite these examples, Fanelli incessantly suggests racially profiling “Arab-looking” men is the answer to preventing terrorism.

In the short run Fanelli’s scapegoating tactics may get him elected, but in the long run they have much larger implications. These ads operate as a narrative that reinforces what Joe Feagin labels the dominant white racial frame (The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Framing and Counter-Framing, New York: Routledge, 2010). This frame contrasts a positive orientation of whites with a negative orientation with racial “Others,” and it helps whites (and others) process their everyday racial world. Through narrative, Fanelli’s ads legitimize a particular type of information that perpetuates racial oppression.

Fanelli discourages his constituency to critically think about terrorism and the limits of racial profiling. He does this by including the atrocities of 9/11 that were committed by “Arab-looking” men and excluding examples that counter his narrative. Through the evocation of anti-Arab resentment and fear of terrorism, Fanelli’s ads encourage audiences to ignore inconvenient facts of recent racial history and selectively remember others. This, in turn, legitimizes negative Arab stereotypes and problematizes an entire group of people.

All the while, these ads reinforce “sincere fictions of the white self” by legitimizing romanticized stereotypes of white heroism and innocence (Feagin, Joe, Hernán Vera, and Pinar Batur, White Racism: The Basics (2nd), New York: Routledge, 2001). These stereotypes are reinforced when Fanelli self-proclaims his heroism by vowing to protect “America” from terrorists and when the other unnamed white man is casted as an innocent bystander, subjected to intrusive safety screening processes. Consequently, these ads not only scapegoat one group, but they exonerate and glorify another, particularly whites.

For those who care about living in a racially just world, Fanelli’s ads pose a serious problem. Their effectiveness depends upon many whites, and others, to adopt the dominant white racial frame. In doing this, Fanelli’s message persuades many to live in what Charles Mills calls a “racial fantasyland” (The Racial Contract, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1997). And if people believe in such a racial fantasyland as though it were real, recognition of past and present racial realities remain out of reach.

    ~Kasey Henricks, Master’s Student, Sociology Department, Loyola University Chicago

    Analysis: “The McVeigh Tapes”

    Tonight, MSNBC aired “The McVeigh Tapes,” a television documentary about the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  Lou Michel, author of American Terrorist, recorded the interviews with McVeigh while he was in prison awaiting execution. The description of the piece from MSNBC’s site says:

    “Drawing from 45 hours of never-before-released interview audiotapes recorded during McVeigh’s prison stay, the film reveals the bomber’s descriptions of the planning and execution of the horrific attack and offers insight into how a decorated American soldier became a dangerous, anti-government terrorist.”

    The show did much more of the former, focusing almost exclusively on “descriptions of the planning and execution of the horrific attack” and very little on “how a decorated American soldier” became a terrorist.  The 2-hour news show was a standard re-enactment of the events leading up to the attack.   There were two elements to the story that made it cable-television-worthy: 1) the audio tapes and 2) the computer graphics in which an actor played Tim McVeigh, and then graphic artists altered the face to look more or less like McVeigh.   Personally, I found the computer graphics distracting (my partner said “it’s working for me,” so clearly, people disagree on how effective these were).   The really compelling story at the heart of this, though, was the juxtaposition of McVeigh’s cold, emotionless voice recounting his actions set against the horrific damage done to the victims, many of them children.   People today in Oklahoma City continue to walk through the pain that he left in their lives, either through injuries that linger or through the grief they continue to carry for loved ones.   For his part, the McVeigh in the tapes is beyond remorseless, he’s “content and peaceful” that he has succeeded in carrying out his plot to take as many people with him as possible in his “state-assisted suicide.”

    The events of April 19, 1995 are methodically retold here with little that’s actually new.  There is an enormous amount of detail on how they (McVeigh and his accomplice Nichols) built the bomb inside the rented Ryder truck, so much detail in fact, that I winced while listening to it wondering if it were offering a blueprint for others watching the show.  This reenactment is serviceable enough, as such things go, but not really compelling television.  The reason that I, and I suspect millions of others, tuned in was for the second part of the tease – the “how a decorated American soldier” became a terrorist bit.   This is where viewers with any interest in the racial ideology that motivated McVeigh will be disappointed because it is a story completely denuded of any discussion of race.

    At the time of the bombing, Timothy McVeigh was not officially a member of any white supremacist group.  Yet, he was radicalized by his reading of The Turner Diaries, a dystopian white supremacist novel written by William Pierce under the pseudonym “Andrew McDonald.”  The Turner Diaries depicts a violent revolution and race war, that leads to the elimination of all Jews, non-whites and ‘white race traitors.’   In the week after the Oklahoma City bombing, an article in The New York Times called the novel “explicitly racist and anti-Semitic.”  The article in The New York Times went on to note that the Oklahoma City bombing had been “foretold” in this “Bible of the Extreme Right.” One of the central ideas in The Turner Diaries and in white supremacist ideology is the equivalency of “government” with “Jewish interests,” or simply “Jews.”    In fact, in this rhetoric the federal government is often referred to as “Z.O.G.” which stands for “Zionist Occupied Government.”  The language about “anti-government” in white supremacist rhetoric is almost always code for “anti-Jewish.”  A key theme in this racial ideology is that “Z.O.G.” is trying to ruin the white race by encouraging “race-mixing” (marriage and children across racial lines).

    The importance of this text to McVeigh’s radicalization as a white supremacist terrorist cannot be underestimated.  According to reports at the time and from monitoring organization, ADL, in the days before the bombing, McVeigh mailed a letter to his sister warning that “something big is going to happen,” and sent her an envelop with clippings from The Turner Diaries. When she learned of her brother’s arrest in connection with the bombing, McVeigh’s sister burned the clippings.   F.B.I. agents also found a copy of a passage from The Turner Diaries in the car McVeigh drove on the day of the bombing.  And, during the bombing trial, several of McVeigh’s friends testified that he had sent them copies of Pierce’s novel with notes encouraging them to read it. Testimony also showed that McVeigh sold The Turner Diaries and Hunter, Pierce’s follow-up to The Turner Diaries, at weekend gun shows.  One of the chief reasons McVeigh went from being an American soldier to a terrorist is because he read The Turner Diaries.

    So, if we viewers were interested in understanding “how a decorated American soldier” became a terrorist, it seems that at least some discussion of The Turner Diaries and the white supremacist ideology behind it would be in order.   Not so in “The McVeigh Tapes,” In the 2-hour show, there’s one glimpse of the computer-graphic-McVeigh sitting on his bunk while in the army reading a copy of The Turner Diaries, yet no mention at all of race or antisemitism or white supremacy.    All descriptors of McVeigh’s ideology are scripted as “his anti-government views,” a description that is misleading for the half-truth it tells.

    This omission of any discussion of race is so systematic and total throughout the 2-hours of the film that it must be intentional.  The question is why?  Why intentionally leave out this important element in understanding how McVeigh became a terrorist?

    The best answer I (and those in discussion on Twitter hashtag #OKC) came up with is that MSNBC has a primarily white audience that is uncomfortable with discussions of race, racism, antisemitism or white supremacy.  While perfectly capable of listening to a discussion about “anti-government views,” the explicit, straightforward discussion of the racial ideology that animated McVeigh and inspired his horrific act is too much for us as a nation.  As @Sonyers put this to me: “A lot of people don’t have the courage to see the reality of race. It’s ugly and powerful.” I guess that’s true.  It’s a shame though.  We could understand more if we had an analysis that included a critical understanding of race. Specifically, we could understand more – not less -if we had an analysis of the racial ideology of The Turner Diaries how it “foretold” the Oklahoma City bombing.

    What “The McVeigh Tapes,” leaves us with is a description of the excruciating detail of each minute leading up to that moment on April 19th, 1995 but almost no analysis of what would prompt a young, white, man to target a federal building with a daycare center in it, or why so many would rally today, in 2010, to “celebrate” that heinous act fifteen years ago.