(By special invitation - promoted by Paul Rosenberg)
By Chip Berlet
Cross-posted from Talk2Action
From a moral viewpoint Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is the victim of demagogues such as Glenn Beck and his allies at Fox News and in the Tea Party Movement. This is not about legal liability but abour moral culpability. This is about a nation that has lost its moral compass.
Some of us progressive writers have been warning about this dangerous trend for several years. This includes my colleagues Fred Clarkson, David Neiwert, Sara Robinson, John Amato, Adele Stan, and others. We blame right-wing demagogues like Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter and a culture that tolerates their vicious targeting of scapegoats.
Now the shootings have created a new word floating across cyberspace: "becking." To be "becked" is to be held up as such an evil and destructive person that someone, somewhere, will interpret it as a call to eliminate that problem through violence.
I made similar assertions after the murder of Dr. Tiller in a post at Religion Dispatches,"Who Will Rid Me of This Troublesome Doctor?": Bill O'Reilly, King Henry II, and George Tiller"
Here is what I wrote then:
On the day Dr. Tiller died, May 31, 2009, Gabrielle Winant on Salon traced O'Reilly's relentless campaign against the murdered doctor. Winant wrote that some of O'Reilly's characterizations of Tiller replicated
"ancient conservative, paranoid stories: a decadent, permissive and callous elite tolerates moral monstrosities that every common-sense citizen just knows to be awful. Conspiring against our folk wisdom, O'Reilly says, the sophisticates have shielded Tiller from the appropriate, legal consequences for his deeds."
So, concludes Winant: "O'Reilly didn't tell anyone to do anything violent, but he did put Tiller in the public eye, and help make him the focus of a movement with a history of violence against exactly these kinds of targets."
The analysts at Media Matters for America have been forcefully arguing the case against the "Emerging Culture of Paranoia" and the role of "Right-Wing Media" in fostering a toxic climate in which violence is more likely. Media Matters' Eric Boehlert, who suggested after the Tiller murder that "O'Reilly and Fox News will have more right-wing vigilantism to explain," selected some of O'Reilly's most egregious statements demonizing Dr. Tiller.
The attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the killing and wounding of others was denounced by Pima County Arizona Sheriff Clarence Dupnik who said:
When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government...The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry....The vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business ... This has not become the nice United States that most of us grew up in.
Hannah Arendt described the process of demagoguery leading to violence as it occurs in totalitarian regimes ranging from Hitler to Stalin. The demagogue frames the target, but leaves off a direct call for violence. But the message is clear. Unstable people often act first. Political ideologues, however, can be mobilized as the process continues to act as a group. Sara Robinson and I have been tracking the number of political murders since the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Her article with the evidence is here.
The people who "becked" Rep. Gabrielle Giffords began with a premise of dualism or Manicheaism, and then constructed a frame that uses demonization, scapegoating, and conspiracism to divide the world into a good 'us' and a bad 'them'.
|Scapegoating is built on top of this dualistic dichotomy. Hannah Arendt discusses how totalitarian movements are built around a central fiction of a powerful conspiracy, (in the case of the Nazis, a conspiracy of Jews which dominates the world,) that requires a secretive counter-conspiracy be organized. Totalitarian groups organize the counter-conspiracy in a hierarchical manner which mimics the levels of membership and rituals of social and religious secret societies.
Arendt explains that average members of totalitarian movements need not believe all the statements made for public consumption, but they do believe "all the more fervently the standard cliches of ideological explanation." If a lie is detected by the mass of people or even the average member, it is dismissed as having been a tactical necessity which only further proves the cunning and wisdom of the leader.
For the elite members, even the basic ideological explanations of the group are not necessarily believed, but are seen as "fabricated to answer a quest for truth" among the lower ranking followers. For the elite, facts are immaterial. Their loyalty is to the leader who embodies truth, and they require neither demonstration nor explanation of the leader's assertions:
Their superiority consists in their ability to dissolve every statement of fact into a declaration of purpose. In distinction to the mass membership which, for instance, needs some demonstration of the inferiority of the Jewish race before it can safely be asked to kill Jews, the elite formations understand that the statement, all Jews are inferior, means, all Jews should be killed.
Thus, if liberal Democrats are treasonous and evil, then they should be killed to save the nation.
Arendt argues, "an ideology which has to persuade and mobilize people cannot choose its victim arbitrarily." So something is happening in a society where scapegoating is promoted by demagogues and adopted by a large mass of people, even when there are only a tiny number of persons in the scapegoated group. Scapegoated groups sometimes play some objective role in a real conflict, even when they are innocent of the irrational and fabricated charges used to demonise them.
In our book Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, Matthew N. Lyons and I arrived at the following formula:
We use the term scapegoating to describe the social process whereby the hostility and grievances of an angry, frustrated group are directed away from the real causes of a social problem onto a target group demonized as malevolent wrongdoers. The scapegoat bears the blame, while the scapegoaters feel a sense of righteousness and increased unity. The social problem may be real or imaginary, the grievances legitimate or illegitimate, and members of the targeted group may be wholly innocent or partly culpable. What matters is that the scapegoats are wrongfully stereotyped as all sharing the same negative trait, or are singled out for blame while other major culprits are let off the hook.
Following the shooting of Rep. Giffords we once again heard calls for civility and pundits pointing out that hateful rhetoric is aimed at Republicans and conservatives by Democrats and their lefty allies. This is true, and I do object to liberals who hurl buckets of mud as we on the left are being buried in an avalanche of shit from right-wing demagogues with national television and radio programs, websites, and newspaper columns. The comparison is true in the manipulated facts yet false in the claim of equivalence.
Peter Daou writes about the bogus equivalency between right/left extremism in his post "Gabriel Giffords and the rightwing hate machine." The targeting of political scapegoats in our nation today is overwhelmingly coming from the Political Right. To claim otherwise is a lie easily debunked by even a modicum of research. A big lie.
Imagine we are living in the Weimar Regime and it is 1928. Noam Chomsky has observed that at this point Germany could have moved toward social progress or the Nazi nightmare. Let's not wring our hands and use histrionic language about Fascism marching through the street. Chomsky was talking about that moment in a democratic society when decent people still have a chance to stop the descent into barbarism.
If this is Weimar, then Fox News is playing the role of the Nazi propaganda organ Der Stürmer, and Glenn Beck is cast as either Joseph Geobbels or Julias Striecher.
This is a grotesque exaggeration you say? Clearly Fox News is not Der Stürmer and Beck is neither Goebels or Streicher. True enough. But do we wait in silence to see what happens next in this script?
The view of Streicher and Der Stürmer at the Nuremberg trials:
The crime of Streicher is that he made these crimes possible, which they would never have been had it not been for him and for those like him. Without Streicher and his propaganda, I.E " Der Stürmer", mass murderers such as Heydrich, Kaltenbrunner, Globocnik, Hoess, and even Himmler himself, would have had no one to do their dirty work for them.
In its extent Streicher's crime is probably greater and more far-reaching than that of any of the other defendants. The misery which they caused ceased with their capture.
In 1942 the students who formed the White Rose Society issued a series of pamphlets. Between 1928 and 1942 much had changed in Germany, and these students knew they faced death for their call to conscience.
Here are some excerpts.
If at the start this cancerous growth in the nation was not particularly noticeable, it was only because there were still enough forces at work that operated for the good, so that it was kept under control. As it grew larger, however, and finally in an ultimate spurt of growth attained ruling power, the tumor broke open, as it were, and infected the whole body. The greater part of its former opponents went into hiding. The German intellectuals fled to their cellars, there, like plants struggling in the dark, away from light and sun, gradually to choke to death....
If everyone waits until the other [person] makes a start, the messengers of avenging Nemesis will come steadily closer; then even the last victim will have been cast senselessly into the maw of the insatiable demon.
We who must speak out are not faced with death here in our nation this week. We are faced with our visage in a moral mirror looking back at our conscience which is telling us that we must speak out against the crescendo of totalitarian demagoguery.
We must oppose the becking of our society.
How many more must die before we wake up and put a stop to this terrible trend?
The views here are solely those of the author, and may not reflect the views of any organization with which the author is affiliated