We've been reporting here at C&L for a long time on the way mainstream conservative pundits have been transmitting talking points, ideas, and a panoply of fake "facts" that originated on the extremist right and treating them as legitimate, thereby giving them credibility with the public they do not deserve, and in the process radicalizing increasing segments of the American Right.
Yesterday, Eric Boehlert of Media Matters hosted a panel of leading progressive who are ready to start speaking out about the phenomenon. It included officials from the Southern Poverty Law Center, America's Voice, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Council of La Raza, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, who set out "to examine how the mainstreaming of extremism impacts our security, politics, and culture."
The discussion follows on the heels of LCCR's timely report that was released earlier this week pointing out the toxic effects of mainstream right-wing punditry in helping to foment the atmosphere of intolerance, scapegoating, and violence that now surrounds the immigration debate. (Think Progress has more on this too.)
A classic example of this is about to occur: As America's Voice explains in a background briefing, this weekend's "America's Cause" conference will be a prime breeding ground for this kind of rhetoric:
For those who cover immigration issues, none of this hate speech is new. Nor is the fact that so-called legitimate spokespersons deliver hate-filled messages that flow seamlessly from CNN to the white nationalist foot soldier and to Congress in a flood of angry faxes and phone calls.
This weekend's American Cause conference is a vivid example of how the worlds of extremism, media and politics converge.
Look Who's Coming To Virginia:
According to the conference website, joining the Buchanan siblings at the meeting are such right-wing luminaries as: Tony Blankley, Tom Tancredo, Phyllis Schlafly, Terry Jeffrey, Ward Connerly, John Hostettler, Ken Blackwell, Christopher Horner, Richard Scott, Lou Barletta and Peter Brimelow. Leaders in the fight against healthcare reform, environmental protection, and more are joining unvarnished white nationalists to "Build the New Majority."
I've been talking about this subject on the radio quite a bit this past week, since it is the core subject of my book, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right. I've been pointing out how the underlying dynamic is almost identical in nature to the challenge confronting communities when they have to deal with hate crimes and hate groups in their midst -- writ large, as it were.
In those situations, it's important to understand that the perpetrators believe they are acting on the unspoken, real wishes and needs of their communities. They believe they are actually being heroic and patriotic in standing up for those wishes.
This is why it's so critical for communities who wish to prevent these kinds of acts from occurring to stand up and make their real wishes, their real needs, publicly known. That's why the act of standing up to this kind of talk -- no matter how "PC" it may feel" -- absolutely essential: It undercuts their belief that they're being "heroic."
As I told Joshua Holland:
DN: ...What we are advocating -- what I'm advocating -- is standing up, using our own free speech. Hate speech is protected speech in this country, and it should be. I wouldn't have it any other way. But it's grossly irresponsible speech.
We, as citizens, have an obligation: If we are going to enjoy freedom of speech, we need to live up to the responsibility that comes with it. This is of course a common theme on the right -- that with your freedoms come responsibility. We say yes. With your freedom of speech comes a responsibility to speak responsibly, not in a way that harms other people, particularly when you have these huge media megaphones that give individuals the power to propagandize to millions of people.
It's incredibly irresponsible to start demonizing and dehumanizing other people, because that opens all of those people up to hate crimes and various acts of vicious retaliation that disturbed individuals have gotten permission for from eliminationist rhetoric.
Remember, censorship is government action against individuals. What we want to talk about is ... nobody wants to take Bill O'Reilly's free speech away, but we need to question whether he deserves to have that big megaphone. So I always advocate going to their advertisers and doing whatever you need to do to stand up.
One of the things that I learned while studying hate crimes is that the vast majority of hate crimes are committed by ordinary people, not by members of hate groups. Yet it's also the case that the vast majority of hate crimes are accompanied by hate-group rhetoric. So in a lot of ways hate crimes are a manifestation of the way right-wing extremism has permeated the broader culture. But more than that, these ordinary people also believe -- and I might add this includes the white supremacists -- that what they are doing reflects the secret desires, the unspoken wishes of the community that they believe they are defending.
When you stand up to them, when you engage in the act of standing up to them, that knocks that plank right out from under them, because when the community stands up and says, "No, these are not our values, this is not what we believe in, what you are doing is wrong," that takes that belief away.
JH: The silent majority ...
DN: Right. It's really important that the "silent majority" stop being silent and let them know that this is not acceptable. There are various ways of letting them know that. A guy like O'Reilly is never going to stop. So eventually what you have to do is go after his advertisers, get him off the air, because he is not going to change his ways.
This kind of focused attention to the problem is an important act of standing up. Hopefully, it's only the start.