The right-wingers have been in full-on gloat mode since the capture of the Boston Marathon bombers -- not because it turned out that they were right about the nature of the perpetrators (they weren't), but because speculation that they might be right-wing extremists was wrong. Only wingnuts can convert a sigh of relief into an attack on their opponents.
The problem is that all they're really doing is attempting, yet again, to whitewash away the very real existence of violent extremists on their own side.
Leading the charge is William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection, who published a post over the weekend titled "Add Boston Marathon Bombing to pile of Failed Eliminationist Narratives":
Yet there was a theory behind the madness, the Eliminationist Narrative created by Dave Neiwart of Crooks and Liars about an “eliminationist” radical right seeking to dehumanize and eliminate political opposition. It was a play on the over-used narrative of Richard Hofstadter’s “paranoid style” in American politics.
The Eliminationist Narrative was aided and abetted by an abuse of the term “right-wing” to include groups who are the opposite of conservatism and the Tea Party movement.
In the case of Sparkman, the accusations were just Another Failed Eliminationist Narrative. And the Eliminationist Narrative would fail time and time again:
The Cabby Stabber
The “killer” of Bill Sparkman
The Fort Hood Shooter
The IRS Plane Crasher
The Pentagon Shooter
We can now add the Boston Marathon Bombing to the pile. The wild speculation that there was a Tea Party or “right-wing” connection proved false.
Of course, it would always help if people like Jacobson managed to review the posts of the people he's attacking -- since neither I nor anyone at Crooks and Liars ever speculated in print that the perps were white right-wing extremists. Others did, however -- and frankly, we discussed it among ourselves. But we knew that it was irresponsible to speculate publicly until we knew more, and so we waited -- unlike a few progressives, and even many, many more conservatives. (More about that in a moment.)
The fact, however, is that the speculation about right-wing extremism's potential role was entirely rational, considering that in the past four years, there have been nearly 70 acts of domestic terrorism committed by right-wing extremists in the United States, compared to just over 30 such acts committed by Islamist extremists here. (I have prepared a report on this that Mother Jones will be publishing soon.)
And let's not overlook the OTHER terrorist attack that occurred in the same week -- namely, the ricin attacks on the White House and Senate, a case that is still officially unsolved, now that the original suspect has been released. However, considering both the targets and the fact that ricin has long been a favorite weapon of right-wing extremists, there is a high likelihood that one or more of them will eventually prove to be the source of these attacks.
Indeed, just in the past year alone, we've observed the following entirely successful acts of domestic terrorism, perpetrated by extremists animated by various kinds of far-right ideologies and their eliminationist rhetoric:
We've also had a couple of unsuccessful plots broken up:
Of course, the violence and terror emanating from right-wing extremism has not been limited merely to the United States. Easily the worst case in recent memory was that of Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing Islamophobe who massacred a school-camp full of children in Norway because they had been "polluted" by liberal education, and set off bombs in Oslo that killed more people.
Recall the eagerness with which media and right-wingers leapt to assume that this was a case of Islamist radicals. Instead, it turned out that Breivik was inspired by a bevy of right-wing American pundits who fueled his fanatical Islamophobia with their vicious smear attacks on Muslims.
That same eagerness to assume that Arabic radicals were the only kind of terrorists worth fearing was again on display after the Boston Marathon bombings, particularly among right-wing pundits and the wingnutosphere. The reactions ranged from a bevy of pundits spewing vile things about Arabs to even more appalling behavior by the mouth-breathing troglodytes who follow them.
As Tim Wise adroitly observes (and be sure to read the whole thing):
White privilege is knowing that even if the Boston Marathon bomber turns out to be white, his or her identity will not result in white folks generally being singled out for suspicion by law enforcement, or the TSA, or the FBI.
White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white, no one will call for whites to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening, or threatened with deportation.
White privilege is knowing that if the bomber turns out to be white, he or she will be viewed as an exception to an otherwise non-white rule, an aberration, an anomaly, and that he or she will be able to join the ranks of pantheon of white people who engage in (or have plotted) politically motivated violence meant to terrorize — and specifically to kill — but whose actions result in the assumption of absolutely nothing about white people generally, or white Christians in particular.
It turned out, of course, that the bombers were white Chechen Muslims, which basically threw out everyone's guesses and predictions. That has nonetheless not stopped right-wingers from scapegoating all Muslims for the act.
And it is this same powerful impulse to scapegoat minorities, liberals, and the powerless that fuels the violence that spews forth on a regular basis from right-wing extremists:
Right-wing movements attract people who are likely to act out violently because they indulge so overtly and, in recent years, remorselessly in the politics of fear and loathing: indulging in eliminationist rhetoric, depicting their opposition as less than human, and aggressively attacking efforts to blunt the toxic effects of their politics as "political correctness" -- or, in the case of both Anders Breivik and Andrew Breitbart, "Cultural Marxism".
Scapegoating is, as Chip Berlet explains, "the social process whereby hostility and aggression of an angry and frustrated group are directed away from a rational explanation of a conflict and projected onto targets demonized by irrational claims of wrongdoing, so that the scapegoat bears the blame for causing the conflict, while the scapegoaters feel a sense of innocence and increased unity."
Now, readers of blogs like Legal Insurrection will be forgiven if they are unaware of many of the incidents listed above, because generally speaking, they get short shrift in the media, and hardly a word about them thus appears in places like right-wing blogs. When they do appear in the media -- as in the cases of the Wisconsin Sikh massacre and Anders' Breivik's rampage -- they are addressed dismissively if at all at places like Jacobson's blog.
Jacobson, you see, has simply defined the problem away for mainstream conservatives: These extremists are not definably "right wing" in any discernible way, it seems, and therefore no taint exists. That's his rationale in claiming, in this weekend's post, that calling neo-Nazis and white supremacists right-wing extremists constituted an "abuse of the term 'right wing'". This was also his rationale in dismissing Anders Breivik's rampage as somehow unconnected with his American friends' hatemongering.
He explained it similarly when confronted with the reality that the neo-Nazi Sikh massacre perpetrator was a right-wing extremist:
Needless to say, the MSM and left-blogosphere have concluded the shooter was a white supremacist/neo-Nazi based on tattoos and being a former member of what they describe as a “skinhead” band — which they then obscenely generalize to be “right-wing,” a way of trying to link him to the political right. This is the age-old tactic. If Page was a white supremacist/neo-Nazi/skinhead, then he stood against everything the political right stands for.
Trust me on this, Mr. Jacobson, as a person who has attended their gatherings and spent time observing their ideology up close and personally: There is nothing remotely left-wing, or anything other than right wing, about the ideology promoted by people like the Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan and American Renaissance and a whole bevy of other hate groups out there operating in America today. The notion that they are not from the political right is simply risible.
It just depends where on the very real spectrum of right-wing thought each happens to fall. You see, the reason they call these people right wing extremists is that they begin with simple, perhaps even mainstream, conservative positions and extend them to their most outrageous and illogical extreme.
Conservatives are, for instance, skeptical of the power of the federal government to intervene in civil-rights matters; right-wing extremists believe it has no such power whatsoever, but it has been usurped by a Jewish conspiracy that is imposing its will on white people.
Conservatives are skeptical of internationalism and entities like the United Nations. Right-wing extremists believe the U.N. represents a diabolical plot to overthrow American sovereignty and impose totalitarian rule.
Conservatives believe that abortion is murder of a living being and oppose its use on demand. Right-wing extremists believe that this justifies committing murder and various violent crimes in order to prevent it.
Conservatives believe affirmative action is a form of reverse discrimination. Right-wing extremists believe it is part of a plot to oppress white people.
Conservatives oppose taxation, and tax increases in particular, on principle. Right-wing extremists believe that the IRS is an illegitimate institution imposed on the body politic by the aforementioned Jewish conspiracy.
Conservatives oppose increased immigration on principle and illegal immigration as a matter of law enforcement, and believe the borders should be secure. Right-wing extremists believe that Mexicans are coming here as part of an "Aztlan" conspiracy to retake the Southwest for Mexico, and that we should start shooting border crossers on sight.
You get the idea.
Moreover, the claim that right-wing extremists have nothing to do with the Tea Party is just flatly risible. I have two simple words regarding that claim: Oath Keepers.
But the conspiracist Oath Keepers are hardly the only extremist element that has been absorbed within the ranks of the Tea Party. The list is long, but it's headed up by the Minutemen who have become Tea Party leaders. Moreover, as I explored in an investigative piece for AlterNet, the movement became a functional extension of the Patriot/militia movement in many precincts, especially in rural areas, away from the television crews. You can see the video for yourself below.
Jacobson's limitations on what constitutes "right wing" are not only ahistorical, afactual, and fully at odds with reality, they're also predictably self-serving. So it's not surprising that, given his criteria, even his list of "failed eliminationist narratives" is fatally flawed.
Most of the examples he provides, notably the Bill Sparkman episode, were never discussed by me or by anyone at C&L as instances of right-wing violence, because we never considered them such. However, there are three cases here that we did indeed describe as involving right-wing extremists. And you know what? We still do.
We realize, for instance, that the post-shooting narrative favored pretending that Jared Lee Loughner was somehow not a terrorist because he was mentally ill (a claim they for some reason do not make when it comes to Nidal Hasan, the mentally ill gunman in the Fort Hood shooting rampage). They also found other mitigating factors, such as Loughner's youthful liberalism, to claim that he was not a right-wing extremist, despite the obvious liberal-ness of his targets. However, none of that can overcome the reality that at the time he acted, Loughner was carrying out what he saw as a mission on behalf of his now-adopted right-wing beliefs involving a global monetary conspiracy. He was indeed a right-wing extremist, and other experts on the subject who have examined the record have reached the same conclusion.
Similarly, we found that the IRS plane bomber was indeed a terrorist, and that he was acting on behalf of the very same extremist anti-tax ideology we described above. And the Pentagon shooter, John Patrick Bedell, was acting out on his beliefs derived from Alex Jones's conspiracy theories -- and Jones, despite many efforts to pretend otherwise, is clearly a classic right-wing conspiracy theorist and extremist from the old John Birch mold.
Yes, we recognize very much that there is a significant difference between mainstream conservatives and right-wing extremists, as we've outlined above -- but those differences, frankly, keep diminishing, and the ideological distances keep shrinking.
We would love nothing more than to report that conservatives were bravely standing up against extremists on the right and doing their part as citizens to bring an end to their toxic contributions to our society. Believe me, as a onetime moderate Republican from a conservative state, I would love nothing more than to see mainstream conservatives stand up against right-wing extremism, as they once did in the 1980s when Idaho became one of the first states to pass a hate-crimes law.
But those days are long gone. There are still a handful of thoughtful and decent conservatives remaining who will stand up to confront this problem, but they are tiny in number and nil in influence. Instead, conservatism is dominated by the likes of Michelle Malkin and Jonah Goldberg and Glenn Beck and William Jacobson (not to mention nearly everyone at Fox News), who instead of taking the problem of right-wing extremism seriously, dismiss its presence, downplay its influence and spread, and otherwise look the other way while viciously attacking anyone with the nerve to point it out.
Conservatives have instead made a cottage industry out of whitewashing away their extremists, most notably when decrying any efforts by law enforcement to confront the issue, and this latest effort in the wake of the Boston bombing is just the latest chapter.
In the meantime, of course, the tide is rising as the number of extremist groups in America reaches record proportions. And mainstream conservatives are aiding and abetting them -- first by pretending that they don't exist while attacking anyone who points out that they do, and second by silently giving them a warm embrace into the ranks of the Tea Party. It bodes ill for us all.
[Cross-posted at Orcinus.]