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Sunday, April 05, 2009

The carnage that angry white men leave in their wake
Posted by Jill | 7:03 AM
John List, who murdered his family in 1971 and then disappeared for eighteen years was just ahead of his time, it seems. An out-of-work accountant who couldn't hold down a job, he couched his slaughter in the terms of religion, as mercy killings to dispatch his family on the HOV lane to heaven before earthly temptations could ruin their chances.

Angry men resorting to murder when the things they have been led to believe about this country turn out not to be true in their own lives is nothing new, but male anger seems to be on the rise, fueled by the economic collapse and match-lit by right-wing hate talk radio. A friend of mine recently broke off a primarily e-mail and phone relationship of some 3-1/2 years after her beloved exploded at her over the telephone. They'd been discussing for a year finding a short-term rental together to see if their meat world relationship would be as successful as their virtual one had been, but the guy had always found a reason to wait. I found out about this in the context of the incident in Binghamton on Friday, in which a Vietnamese immigrant who felt "looked down on" shot thirteen people, and the one yesterday in which a dishonorably-charged Marine and wingnut who feared that Barack Obama would take away his guns (gee, I wonder where he got that idea?) killed three police officers in a domestic standoff.

My friend had always described her intended as a "manly man", who liked to hunt and build things. I'm quite certain that he is at least part of the reason she refused to talk about politics around the middle of last year and stopped even asking me if I believed that Barack Obama was sufficiently loyal to this country because of his background. This guy had recently suffered a number of health and financial setbacks that I won't detail here, and when you combine a tendency towards right-wing beliefs that include paranoia about Barack Obama, an affinity with guns, financial and health problems, and what was apparently otherwise a fairly even-tempered person exploding on a hair trigger over the telephone, I couldn't help but have the sense that my friend has perhaps literally and certainly figuratively dodged a bullet here, as heartbroken as she may be at the moment. Because we are in a recession, job opportunities are scarce, and the very white guys who sat silently while George W. Bush talked of preferring being a dictator, and swept up everyone's telephone and internet activity, and put protesters on no-fly lists, locked up Americans indefinitely without charges or trial, now suddenly have their panties in a twist because we have a black Democrat as President and Glenn Beck is telling them that said black Democrat will take their guns away.

I mean, after all, what kind of country is this, when an angry man can't blow away a few people in order to blow off some steam?

Richard Poplawski isn't the first nut who apparently got his marching orders from the bloviating of right wing talk radio hosts and nutcases like Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. Let's not forget Jim Atkisson, whose talk radio-fueled hatred for liberals drove him to bust into a Unitarian Universalist church earlier this year and kill a bunch of people. (And while you're clicking on the above link, add Spocko's Brain to your bookmarks, because he's been on the hate radio case for a long time.)

Guys like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh make blood money. These are preposterously wealthy men -- as wealthy as many of the Wall Street types who are the popular villains du jour -- who earn their wealth whipping angry men like Richard Poplawski and Jim Atkisson into a frenzy, and then when men like this murder their families, or three police officers, or thirteen people trying to learn or teach English, take their words as marching orders, they wave their hands in front of themselves, shake their heads and say "But I'm just an entertainer!"

Of course there is a right to free speech in this country, but incitement to riot or violence has always fallen outside the purview of free speech rights under the "shouting fire in a crowded theatre" notion. Perhaps Beck and Limbaugh and the even more extreme purveyors of right-wing hate radio do have the right to spill their bile over the public airwaves (though I would also argue that I am part of that public as well and fewer of MY side's voices are being heard over them), but when mainstream politicians from the Republican Party start using the same rhetoric, and accepting the leadership of these so-called "entertainers" as doctrine, their bile ceases to become "entertainment" and becomes marching orders.

We've already seen a rash of shootings such as those we've seen this weekend. Most weeks bring at least one report of a despondent man killing a few people. Usually it's his own family (and in fact there seems to be yet another one in the news, this time in Washington state).

This country is full of walking time bombs with guns, and we have now had three successive days in which they have used said guns to deal with their anger, an anger that has been building for over three decades, as Republicans gained political power by stoking the fires of fear and loathing and ignorance. It goes back as far as Richard Nixon with his enemies list and Spiro Agnew's dismissal of intelligent people as "effete snobs." It continued with Ronald Reagan's evocation of "welfare queens" to whip the right into a frenzy about undeserving black people getting their hard-earned tax dollars. It crescendoed with Willie Horton and the blatant appeal to racism of Jesse Helms' "white hands" ad. It continued during the Bush Administration with the fear that everyone brown of skin was a Muslim terrorist and with the scapegoating of undocumented immigrants as being the sole cause of our economic problems. And all that time, the hatemongers of the right, now aided and abetted by talk radio hosts who will say in print interviews that anyone who believes what they say is an idiot but who continue to spew their bile over the airwaves without such caveats, continue to whip these guys into a frenzy.

And as we hear more of these stories, more and more men who have been told by right-wing talk show "entertainers" and the politicians who love them that their world of privilege is being stolen out from under their noses, will deal with the fact that they've been lied to by taking a few lives.

(UPDATE: More from David Neiwert, who has also been covering the eliminationist rhetoric bandwagon for years and whose book on the subject is about to be released.)

UPDATE #2: What Blue Girl said.)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
Thank you for posting about this.
You are so right that there is a poisonous atmosphere coming from wingnut radio.
One problem is the cheap syndication of these talk show hosts. They are everywhere in the country. They are also aided by cable tv.
There isn't freedom of speech on radio. The contracts limit what someone can say.
I do hope that the progressive bloggers tell people that you can write letters to the FCC about your local radio station. You don't have to wait until the license in up for renewal.
The current radio vitriol has crossed the Rubicon.
The hosts think they are so clever and they get attention.
The big turn around in this country would be a standard of decency. This has to come from us, not the government.
Enough people have to tell the FCC and the radio station managers that enough is enough.
The evil crazies are indeed set off and feel validated by the spewing of hatred.
I remember the first news about John List. Who would have thought that this type of insanity would be on its way to being common.

Blogger Jayhawk said...
You speak of anger, but I suspect the motivation is fear; fear manifested as anger, but fear at the root. Just as Beck is spouting fear. Beck is not angry, Beck is afraid. He is a terrified little man, puffing up himself to prove to himself that he is not afraid.

Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...
back on home the rez we have a pretty stock answer to folks who express a concern about eliminationist rhetoric....

tell it to the indians.

we've been hearing this kind of talk since ya'll got here.

Blogger Jill said...
And even before. My grandparents came here in the nineteen-teens. :-)

Blogger Bob said...
Watching Colbert's frightening clips of Beck, the hysterical religiosity was chilling. It was a combination of fear & showmanship, a man who has found his mission.

Blogger spocko said...
Thanks for mentioning me Jill!

It is interesting what anonymous says above. One thing that I found in my research and listening is that the companies that employ them is that the hosts violate their own rules of speaking of violence. But they are never any consequences for it. Lately I've been looking at the advertisers rules of conduct for vendors (the hosts act as spokesmen for these shows) and I've found that they violate the rules of these companies as well.
I think that I can convince United that these people threats of violence and discrimination toward the Muslims and harrassment toward women are violations of vendor rules and therefore give them an EXCUSE to pull their ads.

My goal is to defund them. If they are well funded there are all sorts of reasons for people to defend them because they are making money. If they are losing money and become a liability instead of an asset then they are more likely to be dismissed.

Blogger Rhode Island Rules said...
Yes there is a right to free speech in this country, however, that does not mean that any speech should be given the "legitimacy" of the airwaves.
For the general population, if they hear it on a TV or Radio show, it must be right or it wouldn't show up on those venues.

Beck, Coulter, Limbaugh et al would have been the crazy folks shouting their opinions while standing on soapboxes on a street corner years ago. Normal folks would have covered their children's ears and cut the crazies a wide swath. I can't quite pinpoint when it happened, but now those street corner pyschos make themselves millions of dollars. They think they are being entertaining, because they don't believe or live by a word they say but are happy to be paid to stay in character, but they are tools of powerful people, they are being used to spread fear, hate and division. I think they know that, but because they have no feelings for anything but themselves, enriching themselves and drawing attention to themselves, they could push any theme or any view without it bothering their consciences because they personally don't have one.

Anonymous A Mom Anon said...
You have the right to say whatever you wish in America. However,you are NOT AT ALL guaranteed the right to become insanely rich spewing your hate all over the place. Nor do you have the right to escape all responsibility for your words.

With freedom comes responsibility.