At Least Right-wingers Are Now Admitting There's A Connection Between Rhetoric And Violence ...

Well, at least we're getting somewhere: Up until that nutcase domestic terrorist, James Lee, walked in and threatened to blow up the Discovery Channel, the standard response from folks on the right to acts of domestic terrorism -- which

Well, at least we're getting somewhere: Up until that nutcase domestic terrorist, James Lee, walked in and threatened to blow up the Discovery Channel, the standard response from folks on the right to acts of domestic terrorism -- which predominantly involve right-wing politics -- was to claim that these were simply the acts of nuts, and that the incendiary political rhetoric that inspired them had no role in their violent behavior whatsoever.

But once Lee went on his rampage, supposedly fueled by environmentalist rhetoric, that all went away: Why of course it was all Al Gore's fault.

Perhaps the amusing permutation of this came from the execrable Glenn Reynolds:

Filthy. Parasites. Disgusting, overbreeding candidates for sterilization and extermination. Possessed of false morals and a “breeding culture.”

Hitler talking about the Jews? Nope. This is Discovery Channel hostage-taker James Lee talking about ... human beings. Compared to Lee, Hitler was a piker, philosophically: Der Fuehrer only wanted to kill those he considered “subhuman.” Lee considered all humans to be subhuman.

Lee was a nut, an eco-freak who said he was inspired by Al Gore’s environmental scare-documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” His badly written “manifesto” underscores his craziness. He hated “filthy human babies.”

But, of course, Lee’s not alone. Looking at the environmental literature, we find terms like those used above -- the currently stylish description is “eliminationist rhetoric” -- used widely, and plans for mass sterilization are fairly common.

Oh really? This is an extraordinary claim. Can Reynolds provide his readers with any examples of this kind of rhetoric from "the environmental literature," let alone any evidence that it's "used widely"?

Well, no. The best he can come up with is the completely discredited claims about John Holdren -- indeed, repeating the 'Lie of the Year' nominee as though it were fact, and then saying merely that Holdren "distanced" himself from the supposed beliefs -- plus some nutty chatter at Internet forums and the results of Google searches. He cites Al Gore specifically, but cannot present any examples wherein Gore might even half-suggest such anti-humanist sentiments as those used by Lee in his manifesto.

In fact, Reynolds' description of all this is breathtakingly dishonest, since the language of Lee's that he cites largely comes from this passage in Lee's manifesto:

Immigration: Programs must be developed to find solutions to stopping ALL immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that. Find solutions to stopping it. Call for people in the world to develop solutions to stop it completely and permanently. Find solutions FOR these countries so they stop sending their breeding populations to the US and the world to seek jobs and therefore breed more unwanted pollution babies. FIND SOLUTIONS FOR THEM TO STOP THEIR HUMAN GROWTH AND THE EXPORTATION OF THAT DISGUSTING FILTH! (The first world is feeding the population growth of the Third World and those human families are going to where the food is! They must stop procreating new humans looking for nonexistant jobs!)

That rhetoric, particularly the "anchor baby" stuff, is not at all common among environmentalists, except perhaps for the tiny contingent of John Tanton fans out there. But it is extremely common on the right -- particularly among the nativists who have been populating the broadcasts at Fox News for the past several years, notably in recent months as they advocate for repealing the 14th Amendment.

It's clear that Lee's radicalism is an amalgam of right- and left-wing ideologies. But the violent behavior he exhibited has been far more common the right -- particularly on immigration issues -- than it has been on the left, for many years now.

Now, it's tempting to revert to Glenn Beck mode in dealing with this: to claim that they're all just nutcases, and that nothing anyone says should be held responsible for the violent acts of the mentally ill.

That's a cop-out.

Because it's one thing if a mentally unstable person acts out violently because of some perception or belief they obtained on their own -- when, for instance, someone shoots up a classroom or school because they heard voices telling them to do it, or from reading hidden messages into Metallica lyrics.

It's quite another if a person acts violently out of rhetoric specifically intended to inspire action, particularly radicalizing rhetoric. There are two specific kinds of rhetoric in this category that become profoundly irresponsible in this context: eliminationist rhetoric -- that is, words that demonize and dehumanize their subjects by characterizing them as toxic objects fit only for elimination -- and conspiracist rhetoric, which creates a state of paranoia and a feeling of helplessness among those who believe it. A final factor -- provable falsity -- often exponentially raises the effects of these kinds of rhetoric, because it has the real-world effect of driving a wedge between the believer and objective reality: people are far more likely to act out violently if they are disconnected from the real world.

There is, moreover, an important distinction between this kind of rhetoric on the left and the same kind on the right -- because it can indeed be found on both sides of the political aisle. But as we can see from Glenn Reynolds' weak examples, its appearance on the left is relegated largely to a tiny fringe of radical extremists who have no discernible influence on the national discourse outside of a handful of little-read Internet forums.

Its appearance on the right, however, is not merely pervasive, it is wielded by prominent national opinion leaders and public figures. Reynolds may want to blame Al Gore for James Lee's eliminationist rhetoric, but he is unable to point to a single instance of anything Gore has written or said that would lead to or even remotely suggest that eliminationism. On the other hand, we can point to any number of major right-wing pundits, politicians, and cultural leaders who not only have used the kind of hateful rhetoric that inspired Lee, but a number of other violent acts -- ranging in the recent past from Jim David Adkisson's hateful assault on a liberal church in Knoxville, to Scott Roeder's assassination of Dr. George Tiller, to the recent shootout in Oakland with a gunman inspired by Glenn Beck to go attack the Tides Foundation -- can all be directly and concretely tied to major-media right-wing pundits.

I explained this in The Eliminationists:

The increasingly nasty tone of liberal rhetoric in recent years, especially on an interpersonal level, is also important to note. Some of the examples Malkin cites are ugly, indeed, as are some of the examples of bile directed toward George W. Bush in recent years.

However, most of the examples Malkin and her fellow conservatives point to involve anger directed at a specific person—most typically, George Bush or Dick Cheney—and often for reasons related to the loss of American and civilian lives in Iraq. Few of them are eliminationist—that is, most do not call for the suppression and eradication of an entire class or bloc of people. Rather, the hatred is focused on a handful of individuals.

In contrast, right-wing rhetoric has been explicitly eliminationist, calling for the infliction of harm on entire blocs of American citizens: liberals, gays and lesbians, Latinos, blacks, Jews, feminists, or whatever target group is the victim du jour of right-wing ire. This vile form of “anti-discourse” has been coming from the most prominent figures of movement conservatism: its most popular pundits and its leading politicians. And the sheer volume and intensity of the rhetoric dwarf whatever ugliness is coming from the liberal side of the debate.

The Adkisson case is particularly instructive, because when police went through his belongings, they discovered that his library was filled with books from the likes of Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly and Michael Savage.

Moreover, he too left a manifesto -- and unlike Lee's manifesto, which mentions Gore only as an inspiration for environmental action, but then goes on to criticize it as well for not going far enough, Adkisson's document specifically describes how he was inspired by mainstream right-wing pundits:

This was a symbolic killing. Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book. I'd like to kill everyone in the mainstream media. But I know those people were inaccessible to me. I couldn't get to the generals & high ranking officers of the Marxist movement so I went after the foot soldiers, the chickenshit liberals that vote in these traitorous people. Someone had to get the ball rolling. I volunteered. I hope others do the same. It's the only way we can rid America of this cancerous pestilence.

Moreover, the train of logic that he followed in reaching his decision to take violent eliminationist action was directly driven by ideas that could be found broadcast on any Fox News or Rush Limbaugh show:

In a parallel train of thought; It saddens me to think back on all the bad things that Liberalism has done to this country. The worst problem America faces today is Liberalism. They have dumbed down education, they have defined deviancy down. Liberals have attack'd every major institution that made America great. From the Boy Scouts to the military; from education to Religion. The Major News outlets have become the propaganda arm of the Democrat Party. Liberals are evil, they embrace the tenets of Karl Marx, they're Marxist, socialist, communists.

There's no logical connection between Gore's warnings about global climate change and James Lee's belief that anchor babies and illegal immigrants are destroying the environment -- that is, the belief that inspired his violent act.

However, the same cannot be said regarding the things that major-media right-wing pundits say on a daily basis and their relationship to, say, Jim David Adkisson's belief that liberals are evil and need to be eliminated, or Scott Roeder's belief that George Tiller was committing infanticide, or Richard Poplawski's belief that Obama was going to take his guns away, or Byron Williams' decision to go shoot up the Tides Foundation.

At least Glenn Reynolds and his fellow right-wingers are now conceding that ugly and irresponsible rhetoric can have violent consequences -- and that the people who indulge in it bear some culpability for those consequences.

That's a start. Now they need to think it through.

About David Neiwert

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