Radio Lora, 11. Oktober 2010 und Alternative Radio
Boulder, Colorado, 28. November 2009
David Barsamian von Alternative Radio unterhielt sich am 8. April 2010 mit Chip Berlet, dem Chefanalysten der Political Research Associates, einer Organisation, die sich mit der Erforschung rechter Bewegungen beschäftigt. Berlet schreibt regelmäßig für “The New York Times”, “The Boston Globe” und “The Progressive” Er ist Herausgeber von “Eyes Right: Challenging the Right Wing Backlash” und Co-Autor von “Right Wing Populism in America”.
Was ist die Tea-Party-Bewegung?
Anfangs war die Tea Party eine von Konservativen, wie Dick Armey, gesponserte Vereinigung, die vorgab, die Speerspitze einer Grasswurzelbewegung von Gegnern der Politik Präsident Obamas zu sein. Diese anfänglich noch überschaubare “Kunstrasengruppe” wurde jedoch dank der Unterstützung durch die Medien, besonders von Fox News, bald zu einer echten sozialen Bewegung. Schnell wurden Dick Armeys Vorstellungen von einer marktradikalen Wirtschaftspolitik um die schrille Diskriminierung von Fremden, Homosexuellen und Abtreibungsbefürwortern erweitert und durch krude Verschwörungstheorien ergänzt. Es handelt sich also um eine Mischung aus Verfechtern einer freien Marktwirtschaft, aus Gegnern jeglicher staatlichen Unterstützung, Vertretern der christlichen Rechten und bewaffneter Bürgerwehren. Was sie verbindet, ist der Wunsch nach einer autoritären, wirtschaftsliberalen Regierung.
Wie groß ist die Tea-Party-Bewegung?
Es dürfte sich um einige Millionen handeln, hinzukommt, dass beängstigende 30 bis 50 % aller Amerikaner die Tea Party positiv bewerten. In allen 50 Staaten gibt es bereits Niederlassungen, die sich aktiv in die Politik einmischen. Große, laute, aggressive soziale Bewegungen gehören zu jeder Demokratie, doch inzwischen werden die Republikaner schon von der Tea Party-Bewegung immer weiter nach rechts gedrängt.
Wer sind diese Tea Party Leute eigentlich?
Im Großen und Ganzen stimmen alle Untersuchungen darin überein, dass es sich um ganz normale amerikanische Bürger handelt, die sich jedoch vom Durchschnittsamerikaner dadurch unterscheiden, dass sie viel konservativer, deutlich weißer und deutlich wohlhabender sind. Sie beziehen ihre Informationen aus ultrarechten Medien, allen voran Fox News, und glauben unerschütterlich an deren Verschwörungstheorien. Die Tea Party-Bewegung kann durchaus zu einer Belastung für die Republikaner werden.
Den Demokraten hat es bereits vor Schreck die Sprache verschlagen und deshalb werden sie bei den Kongresswahlen im November weit mehr Sitze verlieren, als dies normalerweise zwischen Präsidentschaftswahlen üblich ist.
Die liberale Zeitung “The Nation” bezeichnete die Tea Party Bewegung als verrückte Randerscheinung. Warum widersprechen sie dieser Aussage?
Weil es sich um keine Randerscheinung handelt, sondern um populistische, rechte Rebellen, die schon den Handlungsspielraum der Regierung Clinton erfolgreich einschränkten.
Man kann sie natürlich als einen Haufen Verrückter abtun. aber man sollte sich hüten, diese angeblich armen Irren nicht ernst zu nehmen. Denn während Millionen Amerikaner stinksauer sind auf die Regierung, auf die Demokraten und auf die Republikaner, weil die Reichen immer reicher werden, sieht die Regierung hilflos zu und die liberalen Medien wissen nichts Besseres zu tun, als diese Menschen als Trottel zu beschimpfen. In New York mag das ja noch angehen, doch wenn mir ein Moslem in Idaho erzählt, dass er vor diesen Leuten Angst hat und auch ein amerikanischer Ureinwohner aus Montana sich vor ihnen fürchtet, dann sollten die ach so progressiven Medienleute erkennen , dass sie Farbige, Homosexuelle und Frauen, die Abtreibungen befürworten, in große Schwierigkeiten bringen.
Für Sie ist vieles an der Wut der Teebeutel-Leute durchaus nachvollziehbar. Z.B. weil man Billionen zur Bankenrettung ausgibt, während Arbeitsplätze vernichtet werden und die Hoffnung auf eine bessere Zukunft schwindet und sich das Gefühl der Benachteiligung dann schnell gegen Homosexuellen-Ehen, Abtreibung, dunkelhäutige Einwanderer und den Schwarzen im Weißen Haus richtet..
Das liegt auch an der noch immer ungeklärten Rassenfrage. Heute regiert ein Schwarzer Menschen, die noch nie einen schwarzen Chef erlebt haben, die unsicher sind, wie man mit so einem umgeht. Diese Unsicherheit wird von Leuten wie dem Fernsehmoderator Glenn Beck von Fox News schamlos ausgenützt.
Fühlen sich Tea-Party-Mitglieder als Opfer?
Sie leiden an Verlustängsten, sie fühlen sich bedroht, sie sehen ihren politischen, wirtschaftlichen und sozialen Einfluss schwinden. Und das macht sie anfällig für die rechten, Themen der religiösen Eiferer wie Wirtschaft, Rasse, Homosexualität und Abtreibung.
Auf der Web Site der amerikanischen Tea-Party-Bewegung liest man davon nichts, dort fordert man lediglich Steuererleichterungen, einen schlanken Staat und freie Märkte.
Das waren die Anfänge dieser so genannten Graswurzelbewegung. Mit dem Ruf nach einer marktradikalen Wirtschaftpolitik als Antwort auf Obamas angeblich “sozialistische” Gesundheitsreform wurde man zum Sammelbecken für alle nur erdenklichen Ängste und Strömungen.
Die anstehende Einwanderungsdebatte dürfte dann noch mehr offenen Rassismus und Fremdenfeindlichkeit zutage fördern, auch wenn viele konservative Republikaner noch glauben, dass sie die Tea-Party-Bewegung davon werden abhalten können.
Wie kommt es eigentlich zu diesem enormen Zulauf, der ja auch eine Menge Geld kostet?
Meist handelt es sich um ganz normale Menschen, die dem hysterischen Gerede über die Bedrohung der traditionellen Familie glauben. Wenn sich die weiße Arbeiterklasse und die weiße Mittelklasse mit den reichen Eliten und den Rechtsaußen der Republikaner zusammenschließen, dann hat das für sie durchaus Vorteile, denn sie sehen sich in ihren Ressentiments und ihren Vorurteilen in Fragen der Rassen- und Geschlechtergleichheit bestätigt, sie haben einen gemeinsamen Sündenbock, gegenüber dem sie sich moralisch überlegen fühlen dürfen und den sie für alle ungelösten Probleme verantwortlich machen können. Genauso wie es die Nazis mit den Juden getan haben und die ultrarechten Inder heute mit den Moslems.
Wie eskalierte Hassrhetorik zu physischer Gewalt?
Sobald in einer Gesellschaft die Dämonisierung von Sündenböcken kein Tabu mehr ist, darf man sich ihnen offenbar mit allen nur erdenklichen Mitteln in den Weg stellen. So könnte man eventuell auch die 9 rassistischen oder antisemitischen Morde erklären, die unmittelbar nach Obamas Amtsantritt begangen wurden. Doch bereits unter Clinton, wurden Abtreibungsärzte erschossen und jagten Timothy McVeigh und Terry Nichols in Oklahoma ein Regierungsgebäude in die Luft und töteten dabei168 Menschen. Neu dagegen sind die militanten, schwer bewaffneten ultrarechten Bürgerwehren wie die Hutaree in Michigan, in deren Augen die Polizei eine Art feindlicher apokalyptischer Reitertruppe ist. Man stelle sich die Reaktion auf eine ähnliche Zusammenrottung von Muslimen, Schwarzen oder Mexikanern vor! Doch so lange sie keine Straftaten begangen haben, bin ich ganz entschieden gegen eine staatliche Überwachung dieser rassistischen Extremisten. Aber man darf die Gefahr, die von ihnen ausgeht, keinesfalls unterschätzen. So sollen sie geplant haben, einen Polizisten – in ihren Augen einen Vertreter des verhassten Staates – zu erschießen und anlässlich seiner Beerdigung die dort anwesenden Trauergäste umzubringen. Seitdem ist es vorbei mit der scheinheiligen, rassistischen Propaganda, dass es immer nur Muslime sind, die keinen Respekt vor dem Leben haben.
Was passiert, wenn Sie bei einer Tea-Party-Veranstaltung auftauchen?
In Boise standen mir die führenden Mitglieder sehr freundlich Rede und Antwort und erklärten mir, wie sie die Republikaner bis zu den Wahlen am 2. November weiter nach rechts rücken würden. Inzwischen ist ihnen das ja bereits in allen 50 Staaten gelungen. Ein anderes Mal, in einer Radiosendung, schaffte man es allerdings nicht, mir klar zu machen, warum man sich gegen diese Regierung unbedingt mit einer Pistole bewaffnen muss. Diese bewaffneten Bürgerwehren befürchten allen Ernstes, dass die Regierung ihnen ihre Waffen wegnimmt, sie in eine Art Konzentrationslager sperrt, das Kriegsrecht ausruft und anschließend eine sozialistische Diktatur errichtet. Das ist das Ergebnis von Verschwörungstheorien über eine Neue Weltordnung, wie sie von Alex Jones in Wort und Schrift verbreitet werden. Auf der Basis solcher Verschwörungstheorien ist keine vernünftige politische Auseinandersetzung möglich. Und ob man will oder nicht, erinnert das alles an die Weimarer Republik, als die Politik aussichtslos festgefahren war und die Menschen des Geredes über den Untergang Deutschlands so überdrüssig waren, dass sogar auch viele Angehörige der Mittelklasse und Gemäßigte für Hitler stimmten.
Heute befinden wir uns in der Situation, dass viele einflussreiche weiße Männer und Frauen befürchten, aufgrund des mangelnden Vertrauens in die Regierung und wegen der wachsenden Anzahl von Nichtweißen in der Bevölkerung ihre Privilegien zu verlieren. Das könnte auch bisher gemäßigte Wähler dazu verleiten, einmal völlig anders zu wählen und abzuwarten, was dann daraus wird.
Wie in der Weimarer Republik haben wir heute eine Wirtschaftskrise, die Menschen haben ihre Arbeit und ihre Häuser verloren und sind hoch verschuldet.
Kein Wissenschaftler bestreitet, dass Rechtspopulismus das Kernelement faschistischer Bewegungen ist, und, dass die abscheulichste populistische faschistische Bewegung der deutsche Nationalsozialismus war.
1928 waren die Nazis noch genau so normale, mit ihrer Regierung unzufrieden Leute, wie die Tea-Party-Mitglieder heute. Zum Glück wird nicht jede rechtsgerichtete Bewegung faschistisch und kaum eine faschistische Bewegung gelangt an die Macht. Aber eine Bewegung, die sich auf Ressentiments gegenüber Sündenböcken stützt, kann ganz schnell zu einer großen Gefahr für Farbige und Einwanderer werden.
Die Wall Street, die Banken und die Konzerne haben unsere Wirtschaft kollabieren lassen, doch niemand benützt den Begriff “kapitalistisch” als Schimpfwort, nur “staatlich” steht für etwas Böses, etwas Bedrohliches, sogar bei Menschen, die von staatlicher Sozialhilfe leben oder krankenversichert sind.
Das ist die gute alte amerikanische Trias von Calvinismus, Individualismus und Kapitalismus, die bereits in den 1930er Jahren gegen Roosevelts Sozialpolitik agitierte. Und obwohl Barry Goldwater bei den Präsidentschaftswahlen 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson haushoch unterlag, gelang es ihm, den Grundstein für eine Neue Rechte zu legen. Unsummen Geldes wurden seither ausgegeben, um die Amerikaner von den Vorteilen einer liberalen, kapitalistischen Marktwirtschaft und den Nachteilen eines sozialen Netzes zu überzeugen. Ronald Reagan verdankte seinen Wahlsieg dieser Verbindung aus rechtem Calvinismus und der Verteufelung des Staates. Mit jedem unserer Einkäufe finanzieren wir bis heute die Propaganda, wonach es ganz in Ordnung ist, wenn Banker, die 12 Millionen verdienen, Banken und ihre Kunden in den Ruin treiben. Längst haben Rechtsradikale mit ihren massiven Investitionen in Firmen und Stiftungen eine Infrastruktur rechts von der republikanischen Partei errichtet. Und was unternimmt die Linke? So gut wie nichts! Statt in liberale Medien, Tagungen und Think Tanks, investieren wir in orientierungslose Aktivisten, die den gut organisierten Rechten nicht Paroli bieten können und gelegentlich sogar nichts ahnend Spendengelder verplempern. Und weil auch die Obama Regierung keinen Plan für den Ausbau und die Stärkung des sozialen Netzes hat, muss die Linke endlich lautstark protestieren und dieser Entwicklung ganz energisch Einhalt gebieten.
Zu den rechten Stiftungen gehören auch “Heritage, Bradley and Scaife”, wichtige Sponsoren des AEI (American Enterprise Institute), das in den Medien allgegenwärtig scheint.
Das AEI, die Denkfabrik der Neokonservativen, hat gerade David Frum, George W. Bushs ehemaligen Redenschreiber, entlassen, nachdem er gesagte hatte, dass ihm der Weg, den die Republikaner eingeschlagen haben, Angst mache. Am AEI werden die Theorien entwickelt, mit denen Medienleuten wie Glenn Beck Angst und Schrecken verbreiten. Es handelt sich dabei um eine Mischung aus Marktinteressen und surrealer, alarmistischer Weltuntergangsrhetorik, wie sie auch bei der christlichen Rechten gang und gebe ist
Was berichteten die Medien über Joe Stack, der aus Hass auf die Regierung sein Flugzeug in eine Steuerbehörde gelenkt hat?
Hier zeigt sich die herrschende Doppelmoral. Während man Joe Stack als verwirrten Sonderling mit einer politischen Botschaft bezeichnete, sieht man in jedem Attentäter der Dritten Welt immer nur das kriminelle, terroristische Ungeheuer. Warum sind Timothy McVeigh und die Mörder von Abtreibungsärzten keine Terroristen? Warum wird Gewalt, die von der Rechten ausgeht, stets als erklärbare und entschuldbare Dummheit bezeichnet, während es sich bei linken Steinewerfern immer gleich um Terroristen handeln muss?
Was halten Sie von Sarah Palin, der ehemaligen republikanischen Vizepräsidentschaftskandidatin und jetzigen Fox News Kommentatorin?
Sie wird von vielen Mitgliedern der Tea-Party-Bewegung und der Republikanischen Partei sehr verehrt. Sie scheint eine Ikone sowohl der Marktradikalen als auch der christlichen Rechten zu sein. Sie ist für Israel, weil sie an die Wiederkunft Christi glaubt. In ihr vereinigen sich religiöse Endzeitideen mit dem Recht auf Waffenbesitz. Wenn sie, Staaten, die für Obamas Gesundheitsreform gestimmt haben, bei Fox News als Zielscheibe bezeichnet, dann erinnert das an den rassistischen Terror des Ku-Klux-Klans. Wenn sie auf diese Weise politische Gegner, Schwarze, Abtreibungsbefürworter und Homosexuelle quasi zum Abschuss freigibt, dann wird sich vermutlich sehr bald jemand finden, der die Kugel aus dem Lauf lässt.
(Due to time constraints some portions of the interview were not included in the national broadcast. Those portions are included in this transcript.)
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The Tea Party Movement by Chip Berlet
Radio Lora, 11. Oktober 2010 and Alternative Radio
Interviewed by David Barsamian
Boulder, Colorado 8 April 2010
Chip Berlet is senior analyst with Political Research Associates, an organization which monitors and reports on right-wing
movements. His articles appear in “The New York Times,” “The Boston Globe” and “The Progressive” magazine. He is the editor of “Eyes Right: Challenging the Right Wing Backlash” and co-author of “Right-Wing Populism in America.”
What are the origins of the Tea Party movement?
The Tea Party movement starts out as Astroturf. It’s a creation of people like Dick Armey and a lot of Republican political operatives and conservative political operatives. They’re trying to create the impression thatthere is a groundswell of antagonism towards the Obama agenda. Some of the early activities really are very thin and really are Astroturf. But as the media begins to pick up on it, and especially on Fox News, you get a kind of drum roll in support of it. It actually attracts a lot of attention out among a lot of Americans, and it turns into an actual social movement. That’s interesting, because it suddenly escaped the parameters set for it by the Dick Armeys of the world, which is a very specific economic libertarian agenda. So what you start to see happening is other issues immediately are brought in. Some of these issues are xenophobic and nativist and anti-immigrant, some of them are anti-gay, some of them are anti-abortion, some of them are built around conspiracy theories about the new world order and the U.N coming in black helicopters. So it’s a very volatile movement, and it draws from a number of different pre-existing movements. So you have the Ron Paul people, you have the economic libertarians, you have the Christian right, you have militia-type people, you have what I like to call the nebulous conspiracy theorists. They think, for instance, that first Bush and now Obama were going to go merge the United States with Canada and Mexico into a North American union. And some wag even started coining ameros, like the euro coins. So it turns into an oppositional kind of anti-regime movement. It’s not really fair to call it anti-government. I think they would be quite happy with a kind of authoritarian, laissez-faire government in many cases. So it’s an anti-regime movement.
Dick Armey being the former Republican House leader from Texas who is now involved in an organization that funds a lot of these events. Explain Astroturf.
Astroturf is when political elites are funded to create a fake grass roots. Thus Astroturf, fake grass. I’m sure they would object to it at the corporate level. But the term has come to mean the attempt to create the impression that there is a large mass movement when, in fact, it appears across the country but it’s very thin.
The Tea Party movement, what kind of numbers are you talking about?
I think it’s in the millions, clearly. But when you look at any movement, you have to look at the activist leaders, the participants, and the supporters. Some polls are showing that somewhere between 30% and 50% of Americans have a favorable view of the Tea Party movement. That’s pretty scary. But that’s a very cultural kind of phenomenon. It doesn’t really represent the organizations. The last time I checked there are Tea Party chapters or movement activities in almost all 50 states, and in some cases there are six, seven, eight, nine, ten chapters or activist centers, and they’re all involved in some kind of political activism. You have to understand that when you have a social movement getting involved in political activism, there’s a dynamic. Social movements pull political parties in their direction. So you look at the labor movement pulling FDR kicking and screaming in the 1930s to a more progressive position than he was originally willing to take. You see the civil rights movement doing the same with the Democrats in the 1960s. You see other movements doing that. You see the Christian right doing that and helping elect Ronald Reagan. So the dynamic is, when you have a very large and aggressive and loud social movement-nothing wrong with that in a democracy-it pulls political parties in its direction. So now you have the Republican Party moving to embrace the Tea Party movement and the Tea Party movement in some ways gravitating towards Republican Party politics. I attended a Tea Party meeting in Boise, Idaho. I interviewed a number of folks before the meeting started. There were two elected Republicans from the state legislature at that meeting presenting their policy ideas. And there was a perfectly sensible, if right-wing, libertarian discussion about policy going on. And there was rhetoric that was alarmist and red-baiting. So that in November of 2009, before the health care package came to a vote, this woman was saying, “Well, we already have socialized medicine in America.” Not that I was aware of. But these themes go throughout the Tea Party movement, and we see the Republican Party moving to the right, and 2 we see to a certain extent the Democratic Party following it to the right.
There is a scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where they’re basically surrounded, and Butch turns to Sundance and asks, “Who are those guys?” Who are the Tea Party people in terms of race, class, income,education?
There are a number of studies that have been done by a variety of polling places and people who have collected data. There is a little bit of disagreement, but there is a lot of unanimity. If you look at who’s involved in these movements or who says they support them on some level, it really reflects a pretty close demographic of the entire country. So when you hear Democrats saying, “Oh, most of them earn over $50,000 a year,” if you look at what most Americans earn, it’s not too far from that. The same is true in terms of race and a lot of other things. Where there is a distinctiveness is that these are much more conservative than the norm. Also, they tend to be a bit significantly more white, a bit significantly more people who are wealthy. But in general, they tend to reflect the demographics of America.
However, they are very much mobilized by their information sources. Most of these people say that they get their information from a very narrow range of sources, such as Fox News, talk radio, and specific politically ideological publications. So they are getting most of their information on which they’re basing their activism from a core group of folks who in some cases have very rightwing ideological agendas and rhetoric but also are beginning to really push very alarmist conspiracy theories about socialism and treason and betrayal. That, I think, is sweeping through the Tea Party movement and making it much more of a potential liability for the Republicans.
But I don’t see the Democrats successfully framing a response. It’s traditional that whoever the party is in power during an off-year election, they lose. And the only question at this point is how many seats the Democrats are going to lose in November because of their failure to craft a response that rebuts and rejects some of these claims that are pretty widespread now.
Has the movement been able to attract young people?
There are some young people involved, and they tend to be folks who were mobilized by the Ron Paul campaign and other libertarian candidates. And there are some interesting appearances by very young people at rallies, who are heavily applauded, because this represents the future. I haven’t seen a demographic breakdown that shows that they’re more involved. Certainly, the Obama campaign in 2008 represented a major increase in the involvement of young people. I don’t think we’re seeing that happen with the Tea Party.
The Nation magazine had a feature story entitled “The Mad Tea Party.” You take issue with those kinds of dismissive comments that these people are just simply nuts, they’re completely off the wall, a fringe movement.
Talk about that. They’re hardly a fringe movement in terms of popular perception. That may be partly due to media bias. But, in fact, this is part of a right-wing populist rebellion. We’ve seen it before. We saw it during the Clinton administration, when there were right-wing populist movements claiming that Clinton had murdered his aide Vince Foster and was about to impose a new world order and black helicopters were to sweep in with U.N troops and take away all of our guns. That was also described as a fringe movement. But these conspiracy theories became popular and widespread, and it hampered the ability of the Clinton administration to get policy passed through Congress.
So you can say that their ideas are silly, but if you are the Democratic Party and you’re the target of this onslaught, do you really want to poke a stick at it? Do you really want to bring it on? And do you want to say, “These are crazy and ignorant people”?
I understand that as an organizer who is a progressive, I’m not going to get very far trying to organize the leaders and the activists of the Tea Party. But there are millions of Americans who are pissed off at the government for what they see as gridlock in Washington. They’re pissed off at Democrats and Republicans who have been feeding wealth upwards.
Holly Sklar writes about this every year: how much more the top 10% and 1% have skimmed off the American economy. It’s appalling.
So there’s anger out there. There are millions of people who could be reached by a Democratic or progressive kind of answer and a framing. Instead, you have basically all the liberal media dismissing these folks as crackpots and wingnuts. I get that it feels good to say that when you’re in New York. But if you’re in Boise, Idaho, and you interview a young Muslim, they say, “These people scare me. My level of fear is higher.” If you go to Montana and you talk to Native Americans, they say, “These folks scare us. We have a greater anxiety now because we see this anger being pointed towards us.” So it’s very privileged for liberal media people-and I see you as a progressive media person not doing this. But too many liberal media people are very self-important and very unclear that this process that they’re engaging in of dismissing the Tea Party as wingnuts is creating problems for people of color and gay people and women who support abortion rights out in most of America.
A few years back, there was a popular rock group called Rage Against the Machine. There seems to be some of that. In your Progressive article, “Taking Tea Partiers Seriously,” based on your trip to Idaho, Montana, and Washington, you write-this is to echo a bit of what you just said-“It helps to recognize that much of what steams the Tea Bag contingent is legitimate. They see their jobs vanish in front of their eyes as Wall Street gets trillions.
They see their wages stagnate. They worry that their children will be even less well off than they are. They sense that Washington doesn’t really care about them.
With no one appearing to champion their cause, they line up with the anti-Obama crowd and they stir in some of their social worries about gay marriage and abortion, dark-skinned immigrants, and a black man in the White House.” I think the unfinished debate over race in America, the confrontation with racism, is part of this. And a lot of folks now know how to come up with slogans and rhetoric that don’t appear racist on the surface. But so much, I think, of the anxiety over Obama is built around this idea that they don’t know what to do with a black president.
We’ve elected one. Most people have never had a black boss. A lot of Americans see the president as the boss.
They just don’t know how to act, and they’re anxious.
And this anxiety can be exploited by people like Glenn Beck and others, who use a racial subtext all the time.
Clearly there are occasions when people step over the line into overt racism. But I think much of the racism in the Tea Party movement is unconscious. It’s there, but it’s unconscious, and it’s couched in different terms. For instance, the idea that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. is a surrogate issue for racism. The idea that a real American black person could never be president. There are smarter black people around the world, so Obama clearly can’t be one of “them.” There is a lot of anxiety over gender as well.
So when you see a movement that is concerned about the economy, about race, and about gender-especially in the Christian right portion of the Tea Party movement they’re concerned about gay marriage and abortion-these are three very powerful emotive kinds of hot buttons, and we have all three at the same time. And they’re being exploited by these major media demagogues.
Do you sense from your studies of the movement that large numbers of people feel victimized?
They feel under threat, they feel displaced. One of the great studies of how right-wing movements are different from left-wing movements is by a scholar named Rory McVeigh. And he says, Look, right-wing movements are different from left-wing movements because right-wing movements are in defense of unfair power and privilege.
They’re defending something that folks have and don’t want to lose. That’s a high motivator, right? So if you look at what they want to defend, according to McVeigh, it’s losing power in the political sphere, losing power in the economic sphere, or losing power in the social sphere.
That lines up with those three issue areas of the economy, of race, and of gay rights and abortion. So it’s the perfect storm for bigotry to be cloaked in an antiregime kind of rhetoric.
The Web site of the American Tea Party movement promotes its three core concerns-fiscal responsibility, constitutional limited government, and free markets.
That’s quite different from the issues you’re suggesting such as abortion, gay rights, and gun control.
And that was their ideal as an Astroturf campaign. They wanted to create a very narrow economic libertarian kind of grass-roots movement impression. It was a fake movement; it was Astroturf. And what happens is that from that initial plan to develop an economic libertarian Maginot Line against the Obama socialism, it mobilized all these people who then brought into the movement their own concerns that transcended the economic and focused on a lot of other issues. So I think with health care, you could see a lot of these fears about collectivism and big government as socialism.
A lot of those track back to Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises and these ideas from the 1940s that socialism and national socialism were both forms of totalitarianism since national socialism was Nazism, and they equated socialism with communism. That’s how they end up with a formula that Obama is both Stalin and Hitler. Well, it’s a silly sign, but it’s rooted in those three core things that Dick Armey and his economic libertarian pals wanted this movement to be.
But when the movement actually took off as an autonomous movement, all of these other things were brought into it. I think you’re going to see any attempt to engage in immigration reform is going to bring out a lot more racism and xenophobia in a more overt way. Sadly, we already see a lot of vicious red-baiting and absurd claims about Obama. And instead of Republicans, who really wanted to focus on an economic libertarian blockage of the Obama plans to open up the economy to more people, what’s happening is this kind of looking the other way.
So you have important Republican political officials and conservative activists and elected officials like Michelle Bachman, who are calling the Tea Party movement a patriot movement, it’s good for America.
And I don’t think, having sort of embraced the Tea Party movement and trying to lead it, that they’re going to stop the more nasty racist and xenophobic rhetoric when it will appear. And it will appear during any debate over immigration reform.
Michelle Bachman being the Republican Congresswoman from Minnesota. What are the mechanics for mobilizing resentment? Where is the money coming from to organize meetings, rent halls and do publicity?
The person who founded Political Research Associates was Jean Hardisty. She wrote a book called Mobilizing Resentment to explain why people who are basically average, intelligent, and thoughtful could join these movements that seem to be a fantasy of fear and anxiety about threats to the traditional family. Thomas Frank wrote about it in What’s the Matter with Kansas? You can argue with the demographics, but the basic idea is, it’s not that people are selling out their own economic interest for nothing. They’re getting something. So when white working-class and white middle-class Americans really decide to side with the wealthy elites and the Republican right, they’re getting something out of it. It’s a sense of stability in traditional hierarchies of race and gender. So that when resentment is mobilized, it’s pointing it to preexisting prejudices and pre-existing scapegoats and targets. Hannah Arendt writes about this. You don’t build a campaign of prejudice and scapegoating out of thin air.
It has to be rooted in the society in which it’s built.
The procedure is very simple. You start out with this kind of hot rhetoric of us/them. We’re good, they’re bad.
We’re going save America, they’re going to destroy America. Then you take all the problems of the society, and you place them on a named scapegoat. In Germany it was the Jews. In India now you have the RSS, ultra-Hindu groups, blaming everything on the Muslims. So you pick a target that’s already resented, and you mobilize even more resentment against it. Then you demonize them. They’re not just bad, they’re evil. In some cases this involves a religious appeal to a battle between good and evil, especially within Christianity, which is a basis of a lot of the Christian-right activism.
And then you come to the final stage, where you’ve gone through the othering, the us/them, the dualism, the demonization, the scapegoating, you come up with conspiracy theories that portray them as evil and dangerous enough to get us. And then the final question in the equation is, Why should we wait for them to attack us?
Let’s get them before they get us.
Draw the connection between rhetoric and violence. In the last few months Obama was told during the State of the Union Address: “You lie.” Stupak, the Michigan Democrat, who voted for the health care legislation, was called a “baby killer.” The virulence of language is particularly acute. Everything is Armageddon, apocalyptic, or a nuclear option.
This is actually Sociology 101. The idea that a society that is engaging in this process of demonization and scapegoating of another creates this dynamic that I talk about in general as “Why wait?” If these people are so bad and so evil and going to destroy the world as we know it, it is our duty to stop them by any means necessary. And that’s exactly the outcome of this public kind of hateful rhetoric. It’s really portraying the political opposition not as people with whom you disagree but people for whom there is no rational compromise, because how can you compromise with evil, how can you compromise with Satan, how can you compromise with those people who want to destroy America?
What happens in that dynamic is a series of things.
For instance, after Obama was inaugurated, there were nine murders allegedly carried out by people who believed a conspiracy theory that was rooted either in a white supremacist constitutional understanding or an anti- Semitic conspiracy theory about global power. And you have people in supremacist groups and others. There are killings based on race and other things.
Describe what happened in Pittsburgh with the murder of two police officers.
In that case there was a person who lived on the Internet worried about gun control. Some police officers came to his house to serve him with some completely unrelated legal documents, and he interpreted this as Obama had now ordered the police to come and seize all the guns.
And he opened his doors and shot them dead. This is a maxim that actually has a name, called the Thomas theory in sociology. Situations that are defined as real are real in their consequences. In English what that means is if you believe something to be true and you’re highly motivated to act on it, then even the wildest belief system can lead to people actually act out not just in voting booths but with guns.
And a doctor was murdered in Missouri.
Dr. George Tiller was shot dead in the entrance to his church because of his conducting abortions in that state for many years. The person who did it and is now convicted of it is someone who believed in the sovereign citizen view of citizenry, which is a white supremacist worldview. So there is a connection here between all kinds of different issues in people’s minds. But the scapegoats are named, so some people act on them. Sometimes what you see-in the 1990s you had a militia movement. You had the same kind of allegations about Bill Clinton. There was a new world order that was coming, it was going to impose tyranny. It was sort of like the movie Red Dawn.
What happens is you have John Salvi, who trains with a militia in Florida, comes up to the Boston area, is reading these apocalyptic Catholic tracts about abortion and justifiable homicide. And he goes out and kills a bunch of reproductive rights staff people at clinics. Was John Salvi mentally ill? It turns out he was. But he didn’t go out and shoot up a Wendy’s, he didn’t go out and target some clothing store. He picked a reproductive rights clinic because that was the scapegoat he was pointed to.
Then, as this rhetoric increases, you see more and more threats, more and more kinds of calls to action. And then on April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh blows up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Now, McVeigh and Terry Nichols, one of his partners, had been in the militia movement in the broad sense. They were selling items at patriot events and militia events. But McVeigh had moved on to a neo-Nazi insurgency kind of mode, and he was blowing up the Federal Building as a call to arms of the militia movement.
Right now we’re in a very similar period. We’ve just seen the arrest of the members of the Hutaree militia. Yes, they were unusual, but the dynamic is the same. We now have these militias who are actually vigilantes. We use the term “militia” because that’s the name they give themselves. But these are vigilante groups. Throughout history, we’ve had vigilante groups. It creates a dynamic where even inadvertently some of these people might interpret-if they’re driving down the street, they’re going to interpret a police officer pulling them over for not having a taillight as perhaps Obama has ordered the seizure of guns, and you will get into a gunfight over this misperception. So words have consequences and rhetoric does lead people to act in certain ways.
This Hutaree group in Michigan was described-I saw this on television-by a Michigan state justice official saying the group was different from “mainstream militias.” That struck me as rather odd.
It is. It’s as if armed vigilante movements on the right have become normalized now. I ask you to consider a group of a dozen armed Muslims in Detroit meeting regularly, and ask yourself how long that would be allowed to go on. I understand that the Hutaree militia had a very apocalyptic view. I’m always skeptical of situations where there is an informer in a group who’s the one who obviously is encouraging them, very often, to carry out even more aggressive acts. I think probably it was okay to arrest the Hutaree militia to sort it out. But I urge people to be careful, because we’re seeing among some liberal centrists calls to crack down on extremism and radicalization. And I think that’s very dangerous.
I’m going to take us aside for a second and say, Look, I think dissidents of the left and right who are not breaking any law should not be the target of government surveillance. There is a new suspicious activity reporting system that’s going to be taken nationwide unless it’s stopped. So I think we need to make two declarations here. One is, absent evidence of criminal activity-and we should always be skeptical of informers-that it’s not okay for people on the left to say we should let the government round these people up. So much of what I’m seeing in liberal, and even in The Nation, are the kind of arguments that these people are crazy and the government should crack down on them. No. Only if they’re breaking the law.
On the other hand, the idea that an armed vigilante movement that now has hundreds of cells around the country is somehow mainstream is appalling to me. Again, if these were Muslim, if these were black, if these were Mexican, this would not be tolerated. You know, there’s 100 armed Mexican cells around America, but it’s okay, folks, they’re mainstream. So there is racism here and there is a tolerance of armed vigilantism on the right.
The Hutaree vigilante group actually had a very interesting plan, which we attribute always to the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
They were going to kill a police officer, and then engage in what could have been a bombing but was certainly going to be an armed attack on the people who showed up for the funeral. It’s one of those classic platitudes that those people over there in those foreign countries don’t have the same respect for life that we do. Here we have an example of the nastiest, most vicious kinds of political execution of law enforcement officers by a group of rightwing Americans. And somehow we don’t see that that’s how far things have gotten. I think all people have a respect for life and their families and children. I don’t believe this racist view that the other people over there don’t care about life as much as we do. But when we see our own people plotting these kinds of vicious attacks and we don’t understand that what this means is that the stakes have gotten so high in this political struggle that there is danger, then that is a terrifically hypocritical position to be in.
Tell me more about your trip to Idaho, Washington, and Montana in collecting information on the Tea Party. What kind of reception did you get at these meetings? Were people open? Were they hostile?
The meeting I went to was in Boise, and they were not hostile at all. I came early with a friend, a human rights activist. It’s always good to have a little backup. I’m a little cautious. And the biggest people who arrived early were the elected officials and a couple folks and the leader of the meeting. I said, “Hi. I’m writing for T h e Progressive magazine. We’re on the left, but we really think it’s important for folks to talk about what you guys are thinking about and what you’re actually doing.” And they allowed me to come into their meeting. I talked to them for a little bit, I took pictures, I interviewed folks before the meeting. I understand that very often some of the signs at these public events are pretty odd. But the folks that I met with in Boise were quite rational and politically strategic and already working with the Republican Party to move it to the right, and they’re very clear. There are a couple of reporters that have tracked down how many states where this is happening. And just five, six months ago it was over 35. Now it’s close to all 50 states where you see Tea Parties working closely with the Republican Party in aiming at the November elections.
In other states I met with both people involved in immigrants rights organizing or native rights organizing or women’s rights organizing. There were e-mails and phone numbers for a lot of these patriot groups. I would pick up the phone and I’d say, “I’m interested in what you guys are doing. Yes, I’m progressive, but sometimes I’m worried about the government, too. What worries you?” One of the most interesting things was on radio. I was on the Diane Rehm Show along with a Tea Party person who was trying to explain in golden and very mellow terms what they were all about. I don’t agree. But the person was articulate. But then when I pressed him on what was it about the government that made him scared enough to pick up a gun, what was he worried about the government doing, he couldn’t articulate that in a way that was believable. He clearly felt that the government posed some kind of threat to him that required him to be armed, and yet he wouldn’t say on national radio what that was.
If you, in fact, go to these Web sites and read these documents or collect some of this information from other sources, like newsletters and newspapers, what you find is that the militia movement is an armed vigilante movement that is afraid that the government is about to impose martial law, to sweep away right-wing activists to FEMA concentration camps, take away all the guns, and set up some kind of socialist dictatorship. I find Alex Jones amusing as the rest of the folks who are rowing with both oars.
Who is Alex Jones?
Alex Jones is a very popular conspiracy theory person who has a radio show, a Web site, all kinds of tchotchkes that you can buy that warn you about the coming apocalypse. And there are people on the left who listen to him. All the time I am getting e-mails saying, “Why don’t you say what Alex Jones is saying?” I say, “It’s because I’m a reporter, not a rumor gossip. Come on, give me a break.” What happens is that a lot of these vigilante militias, as I’ll call them, are assuming the government is going to use force to impose martial law and that’s why they’re armed. Again, this is not a good position for political discourse. This is not civil society. When you have conspiracy theories sweeping across the political debates, and you have armed white guys with guns saying that they’re going to protect America from tyranny, and you have the Oath Keepers, people who are either former veteran and police officers or even current, saying that they’re not going to enforce laws that are built around this coming tyranny, you really have a very kind of upset crisis of legitimacy going on. Habermas was right. All those courses that folks took, that when there is a crisis of legitimacy, anti-regime politics can not just grow but become completely irrational.
One of the examples, of course, to use the F word, is in Weimar Germany, when the political scene was completely gridlocked and there were opposing forces, there was all kind of rhetoric about the destruction of the entire country of Germany. There was this period when a large group of the middle class, the burgher parties they were called-there is a professor, Peter Fritzsche, who went over there and looked at what happened. What he discovers is that there was a point when so many middleclass, moderate voters were so fed up with the system and so surrounded with conspiracy theories about the collapse and who is really behind all of this, that they voted for Hitler, not because they liked Hitler or the National Socialists but because they had just had it.
In that kind of situation, when there is a large group of people who already have, shall I say, excess power and privilege-white men in society, white women in society-versus the changing demographic of America-more people of color coming into the country through a variety of mechanisms so that people in the nottoo- far-distant future will not be the majority-I think what you’re seeing here is a combination of a crisis of legitimacy in the government, where very few people trust the government, but also this subtext of a racial defense of white rights. That’s a very explosive situation. We know that when people who are otherwise moderate voters begin to vote just because they’ve had it and they want to just completely overturn the system and see what happens, that often what happens isn’t very good.
The political gridlock that you described in the Weimar years was combined also with economic collapse, paralleling somewhat what’s going on today. People have lost their jobs, their homes have been foreclosed, they can’t afford their kids’ tuition, they’re deeply in debt, yada-yada-yada. It’s interesting to point out that in 1928 the Nazis only got 3% of the vote. Four years later, they were in power.
I think the dynamic of right-wing populism going bad has to be understood. The modern theory among those of us who write these ponderous scholarly articles about fascism and neofascism and right-wing populism is that if you look at the sort of general consensus among scholars now, right-wing populism is a core element of fascist movements, and that the most egregious right-wing populist movement was German Nazism.
Now, when fascism takes state power, it, of course, completely changes its tune. So people always are looking at fascism and state power in Italy and Germany and saying, “Well, that can’t be the Tea Party. These are average people, these are just normal people. There aren’t storm troopers in the streets. These are just voters who are angry.” And I say, “Yes, exactly like Weimar in 1928.” There was a growing number of unhappy people who had not yet broken with the idea of a reform of the existing situation and had not been mobilized into this angry resentment against Jews, but also other people in the society who were seen as betraying the society, especially the government of Weimar.
So, yes, right-wing populist movements seldom become fascist. And fascist movements seldom take power. But when we are looking at a major social movement built around scapegoating and resentment or what philosophers would call resentiment-you’re taking the sentiments of people and reframing them towards a scapegoat-and you look at the situation where things can happen very quickly, it’s no comfort that the Tea Party movement now has not yet turned into a kind of volatile movement that could, in fact, engage in tremendous scapegoating towards people of color and immigrants in this country.
Again, the lexical terrain is very interesting to observe.
For example, Wall Street, the banks, the corporations run the economy into the ground. Yet one doesn’t hear the term “capitalist-run” as a derogatory term. The counterpoint to that is “government-run” has become a term of derision, something awful, pointy-headed bureaucrats ruining everything. The contradictions here are just startling. Many people get Social Security, many people get Medicare and other programs that are government-run, but it seems that those dots are not connected.
They’ve been disconnected. If you read Protestant sermons from the late 1800s-I know most people don’t-what they will sound like is a lot like sort of Glenn Beck on a good day. They’re basically anti-big government, they’re anti-collective, they’re anti-labor union, they’re anti-radical. Basically, the idea is good Calvinist Protestants don’t depend on the government.
And you have the peculiar Protestant work ethic that Max Weber talked about. So in America, individualism and hard work and Calvinism and capitalism were seen as kind of a package deal. It wasn’t until FDR sort of took the invisible hand and slapped back at the banks and the financial sector that you saw a major shift towards a social welfare economy. A social safety net was constructed.
That was a real change in how Americans looked at government. I happen to think that was a good thing that FDR did that. He was dragged kicking and screaming by labor and an organized left to do that, but I think it helped.
So what happens is the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, a lot of Christian conservative organizations immediately begin a campaign against big government and Roosevelt, claiming that it is the road to socialism and fascism. This was a common discourse in the 1930s and up through the 1940s.
Then, what you have with William F. Buckley after World War II is an attempt to say, We have to roll back the social safety net. He would put it a different way, I’m sure, if he were alive. Essentially, it’s that big government and social welfare and the social safety net is a bad idea, so we have to re-establish a laissez-faire, free-market form of capitalism. This is a battle, then, that gets launched on an intellectual level. There is a mobilization to elect Barry Goldwater in 1964 around these ideas. It didn’t work.
Goldwater did extremely poorly in the general election.
But it built the base of what became the new right.
The new right then merged with a group of corporate thinkers. There’s a series of memos where there was a call for capital to marshal its forces and its money and fund an attack on the left, an attack on social welfare and to defend free-market capitalism. Tens of millions of dollars were spent on convincing Americans that free markets were the better way. It was part of what helped elect Ronald Reagan, this combination of the Calvinist Christian right and its view of big government as ungodly, and perhaps even Satanic in the End Times, and economic libertarians, who thought that philosophically big government was the road to totalitarianism. So we have really allowed the creation of corporate personhood to raise so much money by charging us a little extra for every candy bar that we buy so that they can propagandize us to accept the idea that someone making $12 million a year to run a failed bank is a good idea. So the dots have been disconnected because of a massive investment by right-wingers, both corporate and philosophical foundations. All kinds of people funding an infrastructure of the right that’s outside of the Republican Party that pulls it to the right.
Whereas on the left, liberals do not fund a similar network. The liberals tend to fund Band-Aids when what we need is a different system that wouldn’t require Band- Aids. So when the right in the late 1960s and early 1970s began to fund media think tanks, conferences, all kinds of infrastructure that helped build a strategic kind of response in defense of capitalism, no similar money was invested by liberal foundations. And to this day liberal foundations will say, We don’t fund media, we don’t fund meetings, we don’t fund conferences, we don’t fund think tanks, really, because we fund activists. Activists without direction and without ideology and without a road map are at a loss to confront the right-wing activists who have all of that. I have to say that there were tens of millions of dollars raised by a group of people who went around to liberal funders and said, We have to do what the right wing did. Instead, they took that money and funded only a thin slice of it, which was opposition research inside the Beltway primarily. Most of the strategic progressive groups that have been doing fight-the-right work, for 30 years in some cases, didn’t see a dime.
So you have to say, if you want to really push back against this concerted campaign to fund free-market, laissez-faire capitalism, somebody is going to have to invest in a strategic plan to make the argument for social welfare and a social safety net. I don’t see the Obama administration doing that and I don’t see left foundations and liberal foundations doing that. So I think it’s up to the left to just raise a ruckus and start saying, “This is unacceptable.” Some of these foundations are perhaps Heritage, Bradley, and Scaife.
What role does the American Enterprise Institute play? They have an enormous media presence.
AEI just purged David Frum who said, “The direction of the Republican Party scares me.” He got tossed out on his butt. So this is a well-funded, well-oiled set of institutions that were created largely following the Goldwater campaign in 1964 and became very institutionalized in the 1970s. This is the basis for a lot of these free-market ideas that are being pushed.
And then you have the Glenn Becks, who take these ideas and wrap them around these alarmist histrionic claims which make people fearful and anxious. You have both a philosophical argument that’s funded tremendously by the right and corporate interests, and then you have this kind of surreal, alarmist, Armageddonist kind of rhetoric from folks like Glenn Beck, but also very much within the Christian right with people like Tim LaHaye and all of those folks who talk about one world government and global cooperation and peace as maybe the plan of Satan and the End Times. That certainly scares the bejesus out of the Christian right.
How does the capitalist economic system get a free ride? At the most, you will get some criticisms of bad apples, and then there are proposals in Congress for something that’s laughingly called oversight or reform. How do they get away with it?
Before World War II you could have a conversation where you said unregulated capitalism is a bad idea and you weren’t called a socialist. You might be called a Democrat. What’s happened is that as these major corporate powers and Christian right powers began to mobilize in the 1940s and 1950s, they created a kind of push-back against any kind of scheme that they would call collectivist. And then you had the McCarthy period, where so many of the intellectuals on the left or activists in labor unions on the left or any kind of person who really wanted to have a conversation about what a regulated capitalist system with social welfare would look like were completely cut off at the knees. There was a whole generation of intellectuals and activists who were simply removed from public life in this purge that started with the Dies Committee in the 1940s and moved on through the 1950s and didn’t really end until the mid-1950s.
Whereupon the FBI picked up the fallen torch of the McCarthy period and began to systematically undermine left movements through the COINTELPRO program, which was an illegal not just surveillance program but a harassment program. In some cases, especially with Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago, it actually killed popular Black Panther leaders who were articulate and talking about real reform. They had close ties to all kinds of white religious communities and labor people. They were not the stereotype, which is largely false, of the Panthers. They were set up by an FBI informer, who lied about there being weapons in their headquarters, where they also lived, and set up Mark Clark and Fred Hampton and others for a raid in which Hampton and Clark were killed. There was an X on the bed in the drawing the informer gave the FBI. And after Hampton was killed, he received a bonus.
During COINTELPRO other formations such as the American Indian Movement, the Young Lords, the women’s movement, were infiltrated and in some cases, particularly the American Indian Movement, numbers of people were killed.
This is down the memory hole for a lot of folks.
COINTELPRO ran from 1956 to 1974, roughly, and it became increasingly more disruptive and harassing rather than surveillance. The white left suffered, but the people of color who were activists tended to have the more aggressive and murderous activity carried out against them. But the goal was to stop a merger of the white left, of the white Christian community and black civil rights leaders and labor leaders. There was a stated goal, essentially, to stop the leadership of various movements getting together around what really is known to a certain extent as Martin Luther King’s Riverside Church speech, where he basically laid out the argument, which he carried forward all the way to his death in Memphis, when he was actually walking a lot, that human rights, of which civil rights is a part, human rights, economic justice and peace are inextricably woven together, and that a real progressive movement that wanted liberation and equality in America would have to address human rights, economic justice, and peace. He was in Memphis to support a garbage workers’ strike. So the goal of COINTELPRO was to stop the merger of these themes into a coherent progressive movement.
Around Dr. King’s birthday, like clockwork you hear the “I Have a Dream” speech. And the Riverside Church speech, April 4, 1967, is not that well known. King talked about the triplets of militarism, materialism, and racism.
That’s exactly what has lost a generation of leadership or two generations of leadership through various coordinated attacks in part by private right-wing forces and in part by government right-wing forces. It’s a shame. We can overcome this, but it’s going to take time. And we have to understand that this discourse, this idea that we can’t talk about capitalism and regulating it because it’s a form of socialism is a silencing that is very profound, and it’s going to take us quite a while to talk to average Americans about the difference between Stalin and single payer health care.
Talk about the media coverage and response to Joe Stack, who took his plane and flew it into the IRS building in Austin, killing himself and an IRS employee.
When people are stressed to a certain point and they have a grievance, they sometimes can snap and decide to do things, like do essentially a suicide attack. When we see suicide attacks carried out by militants in the Middle East against “American interests,” we recognize that as a form of terrorism, we recognize that as a form of suicide attack.
When people in this country do it, they are disturbed people who have done an unfortunate thing. So the media coverage is ridiculous. What we have in America is these two separate categories where the media is completely opaque. One is that people who carry out acts of violence somehow have a political agenda, even if they are a little disturbed. I get that. But there is a political content to this rebellion, and it’s leading some people to act out in violence.
The second thing is the double standard, that when other people under stress in Third World countries or countries where America is being the bully do these things, they somehow are subhuman political automatons who have no rational reason for doing these things. If you actually compare some of these events, a person taking a gun and attacking the Pentagon, a person flying a plane into a building, Timothy McVey blowing up the Oklahoma Federal Building and killing 168 people, why don’t we see that we have a political murders in this country, political assassinations in this country, terrorist attacks in this country? There are numerous physical assaults on reproductive-rights clinics. And yet we never seem to remember that those are acts of terrorism. We look at the number of armed vigilantes in America and we call them militias and they’re mainstream. So the media has a double standard.
It also has a double standard in terms of what it would call violence on the left and violence on the right.
Violence on the right is always unfortunate or justifiable or understandable or at least maybe they’re crazy, whereas if somebody on the left throws a brick through a window of a shop, this is tantamount to terrorism. So, again, there is a double standard for how the media covers these events.
Tell what happened at the Pentagon.
A person got out of the metro subway and began shooting at the guards at the entrance to the Pentagon. Because there is a direct entrance to the Pentagon out of the metro station. He carried out an armed attack against the Pentagon. And it’s already down the memory hole.
What role does the National Rifle Association, often described as one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, play in this equation?
The National Rifle Association has always been relatively conservative and obviously pro-gun. What happened was that a number of years ago it sort of was taken over by right-wing ideologues and moved away from a pure Second Amendment gun-rights activism into weaving into its outreach to its members a kind of scare mongering about liberal politics and gun regulation of any sort.
You’re not going to find that many hunters in America who think that the average person should be able to walk down the street and buy some kind of AR15 rifle that could be converted to automatic firing. The actual concern of most people who have guns, whether they are collectors or hunters, bears very little resemblance to the political orientation of the NRA. So the NRA has become a major mechanism by which fear mongering about government tyranny is basically spread around the country now.
This, if I could say, gun fetish, is it a uniquely U.S. phenomenon?
It’s interesting, because in some countries a large number of the male population between, say, the ages of 18 and 60 are required to have guns. In Switzerland, for instance, or in a number of countries the kind of attitude towards guns is very different. In the United States we have a relatively unique idea of rugged individualism and a kind of a libertarian view of government which has resulted in a kind of deformed idea of what the Second Amendment was originally about and whether or not any attempt to regulate guns is tantamount to tyranny. So I think you would have to say that the kind of John Wayne mentality has much greater sway in the United States, and it’s really perverted what otherwise would have been a rather reasonable regulation of handguns and automatic weapons.
The former governor of Alaska and Republican vicepresidential candidate, Sarah Palin, is now a Fox News commentator. After the vote on health care, she had a map of the country posted targeting specific districts with crosshairs on those districts and with the comment “Reload.” What do you make of her? And what kind of support does she have?
Sarah Palin is greatly admired by a lot of folks in the Tea Party and in the Republican Party. And you’re seeing people who disagree with that sort of shoved aside in the Republican Party. So there is a battle within the Republican Party for its soul. But Palin is kind of a freefloating signifier. People who are angry at the regime and angry at liberal policies attach to her their pet peeve. So Palin is not just a representative of economic libertarianism but also the Christian right. And support for Israel is part of the End Times plan for the return of Jesus Christ. And gun rights and all of these things she manages to wrap up in herself.
But let’s talk about what it means to put crosshairs on targets. I think that it is fair to interpret putting crosshairs on your political enemy as similar to the kind of Klan terror, armed violence against elected officials in the South in the late 1800s during the war against black freedom in the South, in which armed white men in robes put black people back into their place and instituted Jim Crow with guns. People forget that Jim Crow began with armed terror. So, okay, I get that Sarah Palin isn’t wearing a white sheet. But the argument here is that if they’re both pushed too hard, if they’re too pushy, these people of color taking over America, if these gay people and abortionists aren’t stopped, then maybe it’s okay to put a target on their back and just shoot them. I don’t think that that’s an overstatement of how some people are interpreting her act of painting targets on her political opponents’ back. I think that that is a clear indication that she’s threatening that and that some people will see that as a possibility and others will see that as a job to do.
What you said reminds me of something that Howard Zinn often commented on, that for 100 years no president ever enforced the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, or Sixteenth Amendments.
There is a mythology about blacks in America and there is a mythology about immigrants in America in which the story line is perverted and the threat is perceived by some white people as, We’re the victims. I’m a white man, and I do not interpret black liberation and immigration as a threat to my rights. I think that much of the story line is that if America is no longer white, it’s no longer America.
A lot of the subtext of the racism in right-wing populism is, in fact, built around this fear that when America ceases to be majority white and majority Christian, it’s no longer America.
I don’t think that’s true. America changes with a changing demographic and grows and transforms and becomes stronger and better with struggle. Nobody says this is easy. But unless we deal with these issues and continue to change America, which the Founders, as flawed as they were, created a dynamic where constant change was the expectation, that this is something that we can accomplish. But it’s going to be a struggle. And that’s what Frederick Douglass said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, it never will.” So it’s time for those of us on the left to struggle.
You’ve mentioned Glenn Beck several times. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting in New York has a magazine called Extra. It recently had a cover story on Beck. Here are a couple of some comments he made. “Officials in and around this White House are routinely praising radical leftists and communist dictators and the wonders of socialism in spreading the wealth. The enemy to our Constitution is the progressive movement, which aims to evolve the United States out of a republic.” And, “Progressives have been patient for decades, creeping their way into the system in the cover of darkness. And this is their opportunity. They’re going to deal a final death blow to the Constitution if they can.” Ten years ago no one ever heard of Beck. What’s his background?
He really comes out of a kind of esoteric, Mormonist, paranoid, conspiracy culture which is woven through a variety of texts, which I have in our library at Political Research Associates, so I recognize that rhetoric. It is the more militant and highfalutin rhetoric of ideas you would find in the John Birch Society publications going back to the early 1960s. This is a part of right-wing ideology as seen through the eyes of conspiracy theorists on the right.
I happen to have read the John Birch Society publications back to the 1960s, so I recognize what Beck is doing is taking the idea that liberal secular humanists, who were during the Cold War in league with the communists, and are now in league with other forces of darkness and are really out to destroy America, both God and country.
Therefore, this isn’t just a battle over political ideology between unregulated capitalism and social welfare states, but it’s a battle between good and evil. It’s a battle in which Christians and other people of faith have to stop godless, Satanic leftists.
If you read None Dare Call It Conspiracy or None Dare Call It Treason or any of the books that came out in the 1960s and 1970s, which start out saying that the civil rights movement is a plot of communists and in some cases Jews, what you find is that over time, as communism went away as the bogeyman, with liberal secular humanism and gay rights and abortion and immigration reform, that the left has been reconstructed as the communist menace from within. It’s a very powerful mobilizing force to see yourself as the heroic defenders of America against the sinister, dark, evil force plotting against the common good, apparently the advice of Frances Fox Piven, if you read David Horowitz and others. So that there is this creation of a bogeyman of the left in which single payer health care and a decent living wage is somehow a plot to impose tyranny, which is absurd.
But it’s scary, and it plays on fears that can be rooted in a religious apocalyptic viewpoint in which in the end of time, as prophesied in the Book of Revelation, that a world political figure-could it be Obama?-is going to attempt to build a one world government and establish world peace. So what’s bad? What’s bad is big government helping its own citizens and looking for peace. So that’s a certain Christian apocalyptic construction on the right. But you can also put that in a secular economic libertarian construction as well. Glenn Beck is just the most absurdly histrionic reteller of this fairy tale.
You urge people to get involved and to learn more.
Political Research Associates, based in Somerville, Massachusetts, is doing a lot of work.
We’ve had three projects that have been in the news lately. It was our investigator, Kapya Kaoma, who broke the story by undercover research about the antihomosexual activities in Uganda. That was a very longterm project that sent him over there with a cell phone camera to record some of these folks in the act of promoting murderous homophobia. We have a new project criticizing government surveillance. Last summer I wrote a report called “Toxic to Democracy” that warned that right-wing conspiracies would lead to violence. And, of course, it has.
(Due to time constraints some portions of the interview were not included in the national broadcast. Those portions are included in this transcript.)
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