An astonishing thing seems to have happened to the case of Richard Poplawski and the three dead Pittsburgh policemen: It's been turned into a story about dog pee -- and not about the fact that Poplawski was fueled by a toxic mix of white-supremacist/conspiracy-theorist paranoia and mainstream-media fearmongering, including from the likes of Glenn Beck and Fox News.
Maybe the media are collectively embarrassed by the way this case demonstrates how they play an important role in whipping up the far-right crazies out there -- and they should be. Because not only did Richard Poplawski avidly participate in white-supremacist online forums and right-wing conspiracy-theory sites, he also avidly consumed mainstream conservative media, particularly Fox.
The classic instance of this: A few weeks ago, Poplawski posted a clip of Beck talking about FEMA concentration camps on the neo-Nazi Stormfront forum site. (You can see the clip from the show in question above.)
Eric Boehlert at Media Matters noticed yesterday that the New York Times completely ignored the white-supremacy aspect of the story, running an AP story that only briefly alluded to Poplawski's paranoiac fears and instead focused on the dog-pee-on-the-carpet angle. David Waldman at Daily Kos noted a similar trend.
MSNBC, which ran the same story, had this for a headline:
Meanwhile, Mark Pitcavage at the Anti-Defamation League published his findings Monday:
-- Poplawski believed that the federal government, the media, and the banking system are all largely or completely controlled by Jews. He thought African-Americans were "vile" and non-white races inferior to whites.
-- He also believed that a conspiracy led by "evil Zionists" and "greedy traitorous goyim" was "ramping up" a police state in the United States for malign purposes.
-- Web sites like the neo-Nazi Stormfront forums and the anti-government conspiracy Infowars site fueled his racist, anti-Semitic, and conspiratorial mindset.
... Poplawski bought into the SHTF/TEOTWAKI [S--t Hits The Fan/The End Of The World As We Know It] conspiracy theories hook, line and sinker, even posting a link to Stormfront of a YouTube video featuring talk show host Glenn Beck talking about FEMA camps with Congressman Ron Paul. When the city of Pittsburgh got a Homeland Security grant to add surveillance cameras to protect downtown bridges, Poplawski told Stormfronters that it was "ramping up the police state." He said, too, that he gave warnings to grocery store customers he encountered (but only if they were white) to stock up on canned goods and other long-lasting foods.
Accused cop-killer Richard Poplawski spent hours posting racist messages on an extremist right-wing Web site, decrying blacks and Latinos and warning of forthcoming economic collapse fueled by the "Zionist occupation" of America, an expert in political extremism has determined. Earlier, he had praised the "AK" rifle as his ideal weapon.
It was an AK-47 that police say Mr. Poplawski used to gun down three Pittsburgh police officers who arrived at his house Saturday morning in the midst of a domestic dispute.
An account kept on Stormfront, a gathering place for racial extremists and others from the far-right show Mr. Poplawski's increasing belief in a coming economic and political collapse in the days leading up to the time of the deadly standoff in which he is charged with killing three Pittsburgh police officers.
The ADL report also delves his love of Alex Jones' conspiracy theories. Roddy has more details on this today. Boehlert observes that this is the same Alex Jones who's been prominently featured on Fox News lately.
This is a classic example of how "the Transmission Belt", by which far-right ideas are borne into the mainstream of American political discourse, actually works -- "how stuff gets essentially a trial run in ... the far right, and the messages will get refined, and then they'll be picked up by these intermediary groups and individuals, and refined some more, and then there'll be a buzz that's created, and then that gets media attention in the mainstream press."
It's important to point out the relationship between the mainstream media and the far right in these situations, especially for unstable and violent actors like Poplawski: Typically, full-on subscribers to extremist beliefs view mainstream conservatives with distaste and distrust, since they believe them to be weak-kneed sellouts. They instead tend to trust the Joneses and the John Trochmanns and Lew Rockwells and Ron Pauls first.
So when the memes regarding "suppressed knowledge" that these extremists organize around suddenly appear in the mainstream media -- in places like Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs' and Sean Hannity's cable-network shows -- it has a real amplifying effect: Not only is it final and consummate confirmation of their beliefs in these conspiracy theories, but it induces an extreme apocalypticism, a fear that things must be even worse than they suspected.
That's why Poplawski posted that Beck video on FEMA camps: If even the mainstream media were reporting it, then you know it had to be coming.
Now, the dog-pee angle is in fact handy for one thing: It lets neo-Confederates like Robert Stacy McCain simply sneer at reportage pointing out the white-supremacy aspect of the story, in a futile effort to kick some sand to cover the scent.
But it's probably not what journalists interested in reporting the truth of this kind of tragic story should be writing about.