Political Violence in America

by: Mike Lux

Mon Jun 01, 2009 at 17:58


I have been meaning to write about this topic for several days now, in part because of Cheney and the right-wing movement’s proud defense of torture, and in part because of having finally finished (after much delay because of my book tour) Rick Perlstein’s masterful book Nixonland. I got started yesterday morning, and then got the terrible news about Dr. Tiller, and had to stop for awhile. I hesitated to keep writing because I want to be careful with tying this terrible event to the conservative movement, and indeed I want to start with some caveats. But there are some things that just have to be said on this dark day.
Mike Lux :: Political Violence in America

My first caveat is a big one, and an obvious one: most conservatives do not in any way support this kind of political terrorism, and are in fact saddened by it. There is no question about that, and I think when discussing the issue of political violence and American fascism, we should be very clear about that important point.

In addition, I think it is extremely important that progressives be very slow and very careful in calling conservatives fascist or supporters of political violence unless they actually show themselves to be that. A person may passionately believe, for example, that abortion is murder, and still strongly oppose any kind of domestic terrorism.

One final caveat: if you look back at the history of political violence in America, as I do in my book The Progressive Revolution: How The Best In America Came To Be, there is no question that progressive-minded folks have also engaged in political violence. The Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II were all led by progressives and you don’t get much more violent than a war (not that I would have opposed those wars, I would have supported them). John Brown in the 1850s believed and fought for a violent slave rebellion, and occasionally leftist leaders in the 1960s went over the line and committed acts of violence. And anarchists assassinated William McKinley in 1901.

Having said all of that, though, it is also undeniably true that there is a dangerous and virulent streak of violence and fascism in American conservatism, now and throughout our country’s history.

Conservatives in the South who vehemently and violently defended and fought for slavery and Jim Crow are the most obvious example: From the vicious caning of political opponents on the floor of the Senate, to the fighting of the bloody Civil War, to the gunning down of hundreds of freed slaves in the reconstruction era, to the lynching of thousand of African-Americans in the 90 years after the Civil War, to all of the horrible violence of the civil rights struggles in the 1950s and 60s, the story of race relations in the South has been long and incredibly bloody. The North wasn’t exactly pure on race issues either, from the mass murder of blacks in Tulsa in 1921 to the rock throwing mobs of Chicago greeting Martin Luther King.

Racial violence hasn’t been the only from of political violence by those opposed to progressive change in this country either. Labor leaders have been assassinated; women suffragists and other progressive reformers have been tarred and feathered, and violently harassed. Tim McVeigh, the perpetrator of the country’s biggest single act of domestic terrorism was a far right-wing, militia activist. Sadly, the Tiller killing is only the latest in a long string of anti-abortion activists bombing clinics and murdering people.

Even more serious, though, is the kind of domestic political violence we have seen by certain politicians. Everyone should read Nixonland, which shows the depth of depravity of the kind of political movement Richard Nixon was leading – blatantly breaking the law right and left, seriously considering the firebombing of a think tank they didn’t like, gloating over gunning down the four students at Kent State.

This is the administration Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Pat Buchanan, George H.W. Bush, G. Gordon Liddy, and many other modern day conservatives happily and proudly worked for. It is no wonder that we see them today so blithely defending the violation of the Geneva Convention and our own Bill of Rights. These are political leaders who have no qualms about torturing people, either, which is perhaps the ultimate example of political violence.

Just as political conservatives of an earlier generation had no problems aligning themselves with segregationists of the South while mobs were beating freedom riders almost to death, Bill Connor was sicking German Shepherds on children, and terrorists were firebombing churches with little girls inside them, there is a virulent strain of political conservatism today that is not troubled by political violence. Let us hope that progressives win the day over this kind of conservatism. If we don’t, I think it is safe to say we should fear for our country.


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Examples? (4.00 / 1)
"there is no question that progressive-minded folks have also engaged in political violence. "

There were a handful of actual left-wing riots during the heyday of the labor movement, but most of actions were workers on strike and the violence was started by the owners via Pinkerton men or the police or the national guard.

It is a vastly different moral dimension to be protesting for labor or civil rights than to be defending capital.

There were anarchist movements during the period, but I think it is a mischaracterization to call them "left or progressive". Anarchists were only concerned with tearing down, they had no ideas for a replacement social order.

I've never heard a "progressive" suggesting assassination as a form of political actions, yet this is common fare on talk radio and Fox. Even if some of it is hyperbole, look what happens when a psychopath hears the repeated message.

Policies not Politics


Dude, read the very next sentence (4.00 / 2)
The Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II were all led by progressives and you don't get much more violent than a war (not that I would have opposed those wars, I would have supported them). John Brown in the 1850s believed and fought for a violent slave rebellion, and occasionally leftist leaders in the 1960s went over the line and committed acts of violence. And anarchists assassinated William McKinley in 1901.

Given how some anti-abortionists consider abortion to be genocidal mass-murder, you have to be careful how you justify such violence as well.


[ Parent ]
Progressive (0.00 / 0)
Mark:
I suppose it depends upon how you define "progressive", but I think calling John Brown one is a stretch.

Anyway it doesn't contradict my point that such acts were aimed at expanding civil liberties as opposed to those on the other side which support the rights of property owners.

By the way, I'm not "dude". I post under my own name so I think it is only polite if you use it, otherwise I'll assume you intend to be insulting.

Policies not Politics


[ Parent ]
Sorry about the "Dude" (0.00 / 0)
But when you quote a line and ask for something very specific, it seems the fact the very next sentence answered the question should at least be addressed.

It is my belief that the greatest evils in this world have been perpetrated by those that believed they were on the side of good.  The easiest way to allow yourself down the path of evil is to believe you really are not capable of it, for whatever reason.  This way of thinking is far more common among conservatives than liberals, but I hope it is obvious that we can't allow ourselves to believe we are immune.

To many anti-abortionists abortion is about civil rights.  There is a reason Kucinich was pro-life up until he decided to run for president, for example.  It is very, very hard to justify any violence in terms of generic ideals; reality never falls into these simple categories we want it to.


[ Parent ]
to many right wing conservatives, (0.00 / 0)
any state intervention in the economy is fascism or communism or something. I don't think the fact that  "many anti-abortionists abortion is about civil rights" is particularly significant. Hitler and the Nazis thought they were saving the Fatherland by purifying it of a pestilence that was weakening its foundations.  

[ Parent ]
I don't believe it. (4.00 / 1)
I think the use of civil rights language is a "tell," it betrays the fact that they are embarrassed about being on the wrong side of civil rights fifty years ago.

But you can tell it's nothing to do with civil rights in reality, because real civil rights never involve taking rights away from other people. Whites did not "lose" any rights when blacks were allowed to vote, they just felt like they did. And straights will not lose anything when gays are allowed to legally marry.

The fact that "rights for the unborn" can only be achieved at the expense of  the born (i.e., the living, breathing women forced to risk their lives against their wills) gives it all away.

Montani semper liberi


[ Parent ]
Brown (0.00 / 0)
is tough to classify with today's definitions of left and right.  I'd say that he was neither.  His actions were completely based in his personal understanding of Christianity.  Fascinating character.

Actually, I'm not so sure the abortion-driven fundamentalists themselves can be so easily defined as politically conservative.  The whole thing seems like more of a religious cult movement to me than anything else.  I'm sure lots of these sickos would be fine with a larger government role in aspects of their lives that don't interfere with their select core beliefs.

The issue is as much a religious/ethical one as it is a political one.  They joined the tent that would have them, I suppose.

vodamusic.com


[ Parent ]
It's the mix though (4.00 / 1)
Actually, I'm not so sure the abortion-driven fundamentalists themselves can be so easily defined as politically conservative.

True. Most of the seriously religious fundamentalists are marginally politicized -- though their leadership is certainly dialed in.

However, the people who take it to the level of violence are generally cross-wired into the conservative/right-wing militant scene.  

Me | My Work | Future Majority


[ Parent ]
Long process (4.00 / 1)
A couple of months ago I read an extraordinary narrative history of how some African Americans in Florida won a measure of recognition and justice for the eradication of their town by white racists in the 1920s. This country has a lot of these stories. My book review here.

What gripped me about this story was how long it took and what a huge part in winning some reparations was played by a few very determined individuals.

As we contemplate the anti-democratic, imperialist crimes of governments of the last 50 years, we have to understand that it will be a life's work, and maybe then some, to win any corrective. It's not about one election or campaign. It's a long process that, if we stick with it, defines what and who this country is.

Can it happen here?


I can take you (4.00 / 1)
to towns in the south that still have marble monuments extolling the virtues of racist lynch mobs. Not only is the healing slow, it's rather incomplete.

[ Parent ]
would smashing (0.00 / 0)
those monuments be considered Liberal Terrorism?

vodamusic.com

[ Parent ]
Chesnutt (0.00 / 0)
If you've never read "The Marrow of Tradition" you might find it to your liking. It's a novel, but based on a similarly famous incident.

Wiki has a good summary:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T...

The author is also an interesting person to read about.

Policies not Politics


[ Parent ]
Another example (4.00 / 2)
In Wilmington NC, 111 years ago "the only instance of a municipal government being overthrown in US history" occurred when white supremacists seized political and economic power from democratically elected black officials in the largest city in North Carolina. The "long process" to expose this crime and seek justice took over a hundred years just to get going. It wasn't until "2007, that the North Carolina Democratic Party officially acknowledged and renounced the actions by party leaders during the Wilmington insurrection and the White Supremacy campaigns." We need to be constantly vigilant about today's right-wing people who would again usurp democracy to keep their power.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
I appreciate the reluctance (4.00 / 2)
to label violence as a function of a particular political ideology.

But as other posters mention, yoking together certain participants in the American Revolution, Civil War, WW-era anarchism, and the New Left under the label of "political violence" obscures more than it reveals.  

Leaving aside the problem of identifying a common "progressive" strain within the movements you cite, the comparison you raise fails to account for the ways in which militancy could be said to characterize the periods to which you allude in general.  Certainly radicals during the Revolutionary War, Civil War and Civil Rights movement resorted to militant, even what would now be understood as terrorist tactics.  But such tactics by and large emerged as a response to a social and political contexts that were themselves defined by the deliberate use of violence as a tactic.  

The same cannot be said of anti-choice militants responding to pro-choice activism.  While conspicuous elements of the anti-choice element are defined by their relationship to the use of violence, there is no remotely comparable argument to be made for the pro-choice side.  I appreciate that you realize the provocative nature of the accusation you level here, but caveats like these only further distort the issues, actors, and stakes involved in a critical social problem.

Let's just feel comfortable for calling these people what they are: terrorists.  


Poor grammar (0.00 / 0)
I wish I would've edited the previous post, but the general idea comes through clearly enough.

[ Parent ]
not a coincidence (4.00 / 1)
Mike Lux wrote:

"It is no wonder that we see them today so blithely
defending the violation of the Geneva Convention and
our own Bill of Rights. These are political leaders
who have no qualms about torturing people, either,
which is perhaps the ultimate example of political
violence."

Yes, it is absolutely not a coincidence or accident
that the Bush administration started pushing for
torture at the first opportunity (911). And again,
it is not a coincidence or accident that Conservatives
roundly support torture. Nor is a coincidence or accident
that 24 was created by a Conservative, and that
Conservatives love 24.

Torture is not a conspiracy, nor is it a strategy,
it is a mindset.

http://www.amconmag.com/articl...

http://www.americanthinker.com...

http://rightwingnuthouse.com/a...


The Right (4.00 / 1)
has no non-violent theory of power. There is no King, no Ghandi among them because they believe violence, or the threat of violence, is the only way to make changes in society.

Montani semper liberi

Hobbs' world (4.00 / 2)
...they believe violence, or the threat of violence, is the only way to make changes in society.

Not even just "make changes," but also to preserve order and maintain in-group safety vs outside threats.

This is part of the moral/psychological rationale for the war on drugs. The threat of violent punishment is understood as the only effective or proper means to curb anti-social behavior. Even when its demonstrably counter-productive, anything else would weak or permissive.

Me | My Work | Future Majority


[ Parent ]
Greensboro massacre (4.00 / 1)
Almost 40 years ago a caravan of 40 armed KKK and American Nazis opened fire and killed four who were rallying against the KKK in Greensboro North Carolina. Although the KKK and Nazis were infiltrated by the police and FBI, although they informed the police and authorities of the planned confrontation by the caravan of right-wingers, there was no police present. Although the entire attack was filmed, none of the murderers were ever convicted or punished. I think this massacre is an integral part of the history of right-wing terror and violence in the US.

why is anti-abortion self-righteousness considered valid (4.00 / 2)
They are wrong.  They would deprive women of the freedom of their bodies.  That they are sincere or use the tactic of legislation to implement their assault on women's rights makes them only slightly less vile.  And in fact do more damage.

Full Court Press!  http://www.openleft.com/showDi...

I'll tell you why. (4.00 / 1)
Because even those speaking for the progressive left concede the right wing perspective that in Hillary Clinton's words abortion is "sad and tragic choice."  

Once you accept that terms of the debate, it is only a difference what tactics you will use to make sure that it is kept "rare" (Obama's adjective of choice).

Scott Roeder was acting on the shared world view of Bill O'Reilly and Hilary Clinton.

We should have learned by now that adopting the assumptions of the right opens the door to and legitimates the ugliest expressions of the American character.  

The New Democrats are just as culpable in Dr. Tiller's murder as they are in the Iraq fiasco, torture, the financial collapse, and much else-and for much the same reason.


[ Parent ]
I think we're on the same page here (4.00 / 2)
My point is that we should not concede them anything.  Tactically, I may differ in that the Democrats should be hammered into taking a stand, while the right should simply be hammered.

Full Court Press!  http://www.openleft.com/showDi...

[ Parent ]
I'm also not crazy about Obama's (4.00 / 3)
"whatever our differences" schtick. I don't remember anyone saying "whatever our differences" when Al Qaeda hit us on 9/11. Nor do I remember "whatever our differences" when Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building.

Why is it only terrorists who attack women, and our allies like Dr. Ridder, that get this kind of hand-wringing, furrowed brow, non-condemning condemnation? Other terrorists have "different opinions" too.

Montani semper liberi


[ Parent ]
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