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Right-Wing Extremism

Much has been written this past week about the recent incidents of violence performed by a few right-wing wackos, and many have placed the blame squarely where it belongs: with the mainstream media, particularly Fox News. Normally the commentary of right-wing bloviators wouldn’t be much of an important issue, but it has become so due to the current political climate in which a black democratic president is actively trying to implement a progressive agenda. So although I can’t say much that hasn’t already been said, I might as well add my own little rant to the chorus.

Naturally, those at Fox News who have been gleefully fanning the flames of hatred and paranoia—such as Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly—not only believe they bear no responsibility for the violence, but they actually see themselves as the victims in all of this. Fingers are only being pointed at them because others in the media are jealous of their high ratings, and it’s all part of some secret plot hatched by the government and the liberal elites at MSNBC to take down Fox News, the only network honourable enough to report the truth without a radical left-wing bias.

To a certain extent, they’re right. When you get right down to it, the primary responsibility lies purely with the shooters themselves. Glenn Beck didn’t specifically tell Richard Poplawski to fire an AK-47 at a bunch of police officers in Pittsburgh—he only gave him the idea that Obama was trying to take away his guns. A completely false proposition as Obama hasn’t even touched second amendment issues since taking office, but how could Beck have known anyone would start shooting police before running a careful fact-check? Bill O’Reilly didn’t tell Scott Roeder to murder abortion doctor George Tiller—he just repeatedly called the doctor a “baby-killer” with blood on his hands who for $5000 would kill anyone’s baby for any reason, even just for being depressed. A ridiculous charge seeing as how most of Tiller’s clients were women at risk of harm or death, but how could O’Reilly have possibly imagined that anyone would take his words so seriously? And finally, the slew of right-wing radio talk show hosts who continue to deny the Holocaust and insist that the Jews are running a worldwide conspiracy have absolutely nothing to do with James Von Brunn walking into the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. and opening fire. They obviously never actually wanted any actual Jews to be killed…right?

A few months ago, the conservative news pundits were all up-in-arms over the fact that the director of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, issued a report warning of a rising threat of right-wing extremism. Never mind that the report also warned of the threat of left-wing cyber-terrorism, or that the DHS under Bush was also keeping tabs on right-wing extremist groups—this was all the proof they needed that Obama really is a totalitarian communist fascist Nazi dictator hell-bent on going after anyone who disagrees with him politically.

To be fair, it’s not like anyone suggested that he was building concentration camps or anything…oh wait…Glenn Beck did. He just said he “couldn’t confirm” if it was true, so it’s not like you can blame him if anybody believed it.

Napolitano apologised for the language in the report, thus making it clear that right-wing extremists are not a danger—they are our friends and neighbours who just happen to have a few simple differences with the president in terms of policy. It’s the president’s spending that they hate, not the fact that he’s black. They would have been protesting against Bush if he had spent the country into unprecedented levels of debt…oh wait…he did? And none of them were protesting? Well, I’m sure it still has nothing to do with race.

The point is, there are a lot of right-wing wackos out there who are already going nuts over the idea of a black president, and if you get them angry and paranoid enough, if you keep reinforcing this idea that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim sleeper agent sent by terrorists to destroy American values, take money from successful white people and give it to poor black welfare queens, strengthen affirmative action laws so that businesses may only hire people of colour, redefine marriage as a union between any two physical objects (man and man, man and child, woman and horse, fetus and microwave, etc.), and make late-term abortions mandatory for all women, then maybe, just maybe a few of these nuts will get the idea that they ought to take matters into their own hands and start firing shots in defence of their country.

Of course, no conservative would ever go so far as to make any kind of suggestion that political change should be brought about by any means other than legal, democratic processes. Michele Bachman may have said she wanted people “armed and dangerous” over Obama’s tax plan, but this was just a figure of speech. Sure, Rush Limbaugh may have said something like, “If al-Qaeda wants to demolish the America we know and love, they better hurry, because Obama is beating them to it” but this was merely a substantive critique of the new administration’s foreign policy. And yeah, Glenn Beck may have had an entire special program called the “War Room” in which experts speculated about how an army of survivalists might take up arms against a communist Obama government, but that was all just hypothetical.

In all seriousness, there is plenty to criticise Obama about. He’s letting the Wall Street bankers continue their shenanigans at the expense of taxpayers, compromising our civil liberties by continuing some of the most egregious Bush-era policies with regards to detainees, continuing to enforce the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy which he promised to repeal, and letting the health insurance special interests have a seat at the table to negotiate over his already heavily-compromised health-care bill. Perhaps if there were people on the left willing to pick up a gun and open fire on the headquarters of a big Wall Street bank or a health-insurance company, one could justifiably claim that there are crazies out there willing to act on any biased reporting, and Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow are just as much to blame for their impact as O’Reilly, Hannity, Limbaugh, and Beck.

But the thing is, while Olbermann and Maddow do have a clear leftist slant in their reporting, they actually report. They present the facts and then have a discussion about those facts. O’Reilly, Hannity, Limbaugh, and Beck, on the other hand, first spew out their opinions and then back them up with whatever facts they feel might be relevant, and if there are none they just invent some, like the fact that Obama is coming after your gun and might be building concentration camps for political opponents.

If you challenge any of these wingnuts, the first thing they’ll do is hide behind the First Amendment. If we criticise their speech, they say, we’re attacking their Constitutional rights! And yes, they do have a Constitutional right to spew out whatever hateful, paranoid, factually inaccurate bullshit they want. This is America, and you can’t be locked up for what you say.

But that doesn’t mean you should say it. And that’s all those on the left are saying when they criticise these commentators: You may be allowed to say these things, you may draw a large audience and generate a great deal of profit by saying this stuff, but that doesn’t mean you should fucking say it!

If these people love America even half as much as they pretend to, they might take a moment to pause and consider the genuine real-world impact this kind of speech has on society. Do they really think they’re helping the country by getting one segment of the population completely riled up, angry, afraid, and foaming-at-the-mouth-enraged over fake bullshit issues based on absolutely no substance? Do they see themselves as performing some kind of service? Perhaps they believe they are giving a voice to those disenfranchised Americans whom the black president is shamelessly ignoring on his crusade to advance the agenda of jews, gays, communists, and terrorists? If so, they would have to first believe that Obama really is on such a crusade, but if they’re that dumb they would be the ones listening to that bullshit and not the ones propagating it.

No, they know perfectly well that most of what they say is total horseshit propaganda designed to keep the established power-structure in power. They do it by convincing those most victimised by the establishment that their problems are actually caused by liberals. All they are doing is misdirecting rage.

There are two results of this: The first is that it makes it incredibly difficult for the president, who probably genuinely wants to advance a progressive agenda, to actually accomplish any progressive goals. The second is that a few crazy wingnuts start shooting people. And if the commentators insist they bear absolutely no responsibility for these acts of violence, they are simply wrong. Their speech may be legal, but it’s irresponsible and it’s dangerous. It validates ideas that should not be given any credence, and perpetuates a culture war that drives a society apart at the very moment it should be joining together.

The problems facing this country are too serious for this kind of shit to be tolerated. We should be worried about environmental degradation, climate change, nuclear proliferation, the collapsing economy and so on, but instead we’re all running around like chickens with our heads chopped off over the very idea that dangerous terrorists from Guantanamo might actually be allowed on U.S. soil! Never mind that they’d be held in supermax prisons from which no one—including the terrorists already confined in these places—has ever escaped. The liberals would make sure they get released so that they are free to hang out by school playgrounds and terrorize our children.

The debate in this country used to be between the left and the right. Now it’s between the center-left and the far far faaaaaaaaaaaaar right. The truth does not lie somewhere in between, but often way to the left. Right-wing commentators, and the mainstream media that enables them, shove the debate from the rational end of the spectrum to the batshit crazy, so we’re no longer debating any actual merits of any actual policies, but instead arguing over baseless accusations as though they are one of the legitimate sides of a two-sided argument. There are often several legitimate sides to an argument, but the far-right position is never one of them, and it’s being treated as though it is. This is poison for the national discourse, and as long as our discourse continues to be poisoned by these irresponsible propagandist bloviators appealing to the worst impulses in the worst members of society, the entrenched interests and the army of ignorant gun-toting racists they’ve got backing them up will continue to hold the rest of society hostage.

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