Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fear nutjobs with guns, not 'anti-government' ideas

Casting your political opponents as enemies of the state who are aiding and abetting terrorism -- was it so long ago this was the favored debating tactic of the political right? Fast forward one historic, transformational election, however, and it is the nominal left in this country accusing their opponents of fomenting violence, calling for increased domestic surveillance and alluding to a coming civil war. By no means unexpected, the transformation has been rather stunning, though I must admit I find the prospect of a shoot-out between Daily Kos diarists and Free Republic posters to be somewhat amusing, if a bit unlikely.

Since the tragic shooting at the Holocaust museum, legions of earnest Democrats have been quick to lay blame at right-wing talk radio and the GOP, none less than the hysterical “progressive” journalist David Neiwert, who has spent the better part of a decade selling books to Concerned Liberals on the specter of right-wing violence in America -- along the way smearing anyone who may hold (gasp!) anti-government views. With right-wingers generally reviled as of late -- and for good reason -- it makes sense for someone trying to hawk a new book on the evils of the right to pin the acts of murderous nutjobs on the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. But Neiwert’s latest hack job, typified by the juvenile “wingnut” name-calling in the opening sentence, goes far beyond criticizing right-wing blowhards, instead tarring certain ideas as Officially Off Limits.

For example, criticism of the Federal Reserve is out of bounds -- anti-semitic even -- or so Neiwert implies in this passage about the suspected museum shooter:
[T]he truly telltale aspect of his record: In 1981, he was arrested for attempting a "citizen's arrest" of Alan Greenspan at the Federal Reserve Building in D.C. and was sentenced to a prison term for it.
More to the point, this is precisely the same belief system that today fuels the cottage industry in conspiracy theories -- promulgated by the likes of Ron Paul and Alex Jones -- that the Fed is part of a massive conspiracy of "international [read: Jewish] bankers" to enslave Americans and destroy the country.
First: Paul Volcker was Federal Reserve Chairman in 1981, not Alan Greenspan, who didn’t take over for another six years. This is probably a good indication of how closely Neiwert has followed economic policy. Admirably, this doesn’t stop him from accusing folks like Ron Paul from being wink-and-a-nod anti-Semites for criticizing Fed policy, despite the fact Paul hates the Fed for inflating the money supply while the Holocaust shooter hated the Fed for precisely the opposite reason: that it wasn't inflating fast enough. Say what you will about Paul’s philosophy, but the man is clearly driven by economic ideology, and in speeches and columns he drones on at length about monetary policy, not The Jews. Example:
The Fed has followed a consistent policy of flooding the economy with easy money, leading to a misallocation of resources and an artificial "boom" followed by a recession or depression when the Fed-created bubble bursts.

Though the Federal Reserve policy harms the average American, it benefits those in a position to take advantage of the cycles in monetary policy. The main beneficiaries are those who receive access to artificially inflated money and/or credit before the inflationary effects of the policy impact the entire economy. Federal Reserve policies also benefit big spending politicians who use the inflated currency created by the Fed to hide the true costs of the welfare-warfare state. It is time for Congress to put the interests of the American people ahead of the special interests and their own appetite for big government.
Huh. I guess there was a secret code in there somewhere.

Neiwert’s suggestion that criticism the Fed is destroying the country is somehow the sole domain of the racist far right is symptomatic of his rigid and outmoded definition of what constitutes “left” and “right”. One needn't be a Bircher to see something wrong with the way the Fed operates, as evidenced by Dennis Kucinich's speeches on the topic. A nominally private institution dominated by banking interests and given the monopoly power to manipulate a nation's currency is of concern to people of many political stripes – witness the majority of the House, including progressive Democrats like Lynne Woolsey, who are co-sponsoring Paul's bill calling for an audit of the secretive Fed. No doubt Neiwert will inform us these people are all promulgating “the same belief system” that drove the Holocaust museum shooter, the bastards.

In many respects, Neiwert is doing for the left what hate sites like Little Green Footballs do for the right: conflating every isolated instance of violence with an emerging “fascist” threat, only replacing Muslims with paranoid hicks. More troubling, he uses his fearmongering to paint his peaceful, non-violent political opponents – like the consistently anti-war Paul – as in league with the basest members of society, not because they objectively incite violence, but because in some instances their views sound superficially similar to those embraced by right-wing conspiracy theorists; ergo a U.S. congressman voicing criticisms of the Fed's monetary policy gives aid and comfort to those who think Ben Bernanke is actually a Jewish-Lizard hybrid.

That The New Republic's insufferable Jamie Kirchick uses the Holocaust museum shooter and the exact same formulation as Neiwert to smear the left -- even citing the “fringe” left's interest in Ron Paul's presidential campaign as evidence of their “views about Israel, the Middle East and 'neocons'” are the same as those of the Holocaust museum shooter -- is a strong indication of how silly this type of argument is, and how it's nothing more than a dishonest tool of partisan hacks too lazy or incapable of rationally debating policy.

And not to undercut Neiwert’s theory of an emergent reactionary menace, but since Obama took office, how many people have been killed in the United States by politically motivated violence? I’m not sure, but I can guarantee you the number’s less than those killed in Pakistan from the drone attacks Obama has authorized. And in terms of threats to minorities, the enlightened, liberal Obama administration oversees the world’s largest prison population, largely consisting of non-violent drug offenders – disproportionately black and Hispanic -- and has shown no signs of promoting serious reform to address this scandalous condition.

Unfortunately, Neiwert and his fellow liberal travelers prefer focusing on the violent hyperbole of their domestic political opponents to the very real and much greater evil of state-sanctioned murder and incarceration. While quick to denounce the “eliminationist” rhetoric of the right, Neiwert characteristically had precious little to say about liberal Hillary Clinton's vow last year to “obliterate” the more than 65 million people of Iran should their government attack Israel. Likewise, Neiwert’s preoccupation with his theories on freelance fascism have caused him to go conspicuously silent on those the progressive Obama administration slaughters overseas, suggesting a rather misplaced set of priorities.

As Reason's Jesse Walker writes of the spate of right-wing violence:
Yes, these murders are terrorism, but they're the sort of terrorism that can be contained by the average small-town police force. If you try to blow them up into a grand pattern that threatens ordinary Americans, you're no different from the C-level conservative pundits who treat every politically motivated crime by a Muslim as evidence of a broad Islamic threat to ordinary Americans' well-being.
Exactly. Conflating a few gun-toting crazies with the threat of a looming civil war might sell a few books and reassure a few liberal of their own superiority, but is about as loony as Glenn Beck accusing Ron Paul supporters of (wait for it) . . . being domestic terrorists.

Meanwhile, as the notorious right-wing extremist Henry David Thoreau wrote when the U.S. government was similarly engaged in an indefensible, immoral war, "How does it become a man to behave toward the American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it."

I'm guessing Mr. Thoreau would have a hard time in the Age of Obama posting that on most liberal blogs, the traitorous old kook.


  1. I think part of the problem you've got here is that it's not the "anti-government" part that's the problem, it's that when these people take up arms they take them up against, say nine year old girls.

    The thing is, I'm with you on the fact that we should consider Obama's perpetuation of the American Empire a problem. But I don't think that means the upswing in violent and racist right wing rhetoric and the shooting of 9 year old girls or security guards isn't also particularly problematic. It's not an either/or. We are allowed to be concerned by both, and the "but what about" argument is just distraction.

    If anti-government loons on the right only attacked the government I wouldn't give a shit. They don't. What "anti government" generally means on the American Right is "anti-non-white", and those people are much easier targets than the Fed.

  2. McDuff,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that extremists with guns are a threat, and that many of the so-called "anti-government" militia types are in fact cowards more likely to shoot up a family planning clinic than actually take on their ostensible enemy, the state. But I guess this post was in reaction to what I feel is the problem of liberal journalists and bloggers hyperventilating about a pending civil war and exploiting the tragedy of the Holocaust museum shooting for partisan gain, while greater evils go ignored. Concerns about right-wing violence and the U.S. empire are not exclusive, as you rightly point out. But when liberal commentators focus on the former while saying nothing about the latter, then the specter of domestic extremism becomes a useful red herring for our rulers.

    While I'm concerned about right-wing idiots inciting violence here at home, I'm more disturbed by our well-respected liberal politicians perpetrating it both here and abroad.

  3. Understandable, Mr Davis, but I'm wary about the "oh yeah, well what about this!?" line of argumentation in general.

    It's rarely an either-or, and picking apart people like Niewert seems a tad misguided. Those of us who refer to the Overton Window more than is healthy can draw a pretty reasonable correlative hypothesis between the "mainstreaming" of radical nationalist thought and the inability of even supposed "progressives" like Obama to bite back against American Imperialism. Understanding cultural contexts as to why voters behave like a bunch of scared rubes who are so easily cowed with weasel words about "national security" can in fact be helpful when it comes to working out how to stop it. Or, failing that, in winning arguments on the internet while sinking deeper into a mire of cynical depression.

    Point being, we're actually stupidly unlikely to ever actually beat the government - us real, genuine, anti-US-Imperialism types, that is. What we can do, however, is point out that the phonies on the right shoot security guards and nine-year old girls, and are therefore scum as well as fakers. Small pleasure, but possibly something that will save the life of a nine-year old girl or two down the line.