By William Rivers Pitt.
Author’s Note: Sometimes, the best way to celebrate April Fools’ Day is by spotlighting some actual there-but-by-the-grace-of-God-go-I fools, genuine and in the raw for all to see … So, no, none of what follows is a joke. Alas.
The dark specter of broad-spectrum political violence stirred last week in America for the first time in a long while. Reports of threats and intimidation directed against Democratic lawmakers, and a few Republican officeholders, came in from all over, each more disturbing than the last:
The FBI is investigating a severed gas line at the home of Rep. Tom Perriello’s (D-VA) brother. A local tea party group had posted the brother’s address online, thinking it was Perriello’s and calling for a protest there. Windows were broken across the country, at Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s Tucson office, Rep. Louise Slaughter’s district office, and Democratic Party offices in Ohio, western New York and Kansas. (Someone also spray-painted the word “dorks” on one party office in Ohio.) House Minority Whip Eric Cantor also claimed someone shot a bullet into his campaign office, but local police say it was a random bullet that struck the office window.
Pictures of nooses were faxed to the offices of Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), who is black, and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), who is white. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) said his office in Kew Gardens, New York, received an envelope containing white powder and a threatening letter. Protestors showed up to Rep. Russ Carnahan’s (D-MO) home with a coffin over the weekend after he voted in support of the health care reform bill.
Rep. Betsy Markey (D-CO) said she received two threatening phone calls after announcing that she would switch her vote on health care from no to yes. One caller said to a staffer, “Better hope I don’t run into you in a dark alley with a knife, a club or a gun.” Another said, “Better tell your boss that she better be careful when she comes back here to Colorado.”
Rep. Vic Snyder (D-AR) said he received a letter that read, “Militia central has selected you for assassination. If we cannot stalk and find you in Washington, D.C., we will get you in Little Rock.” Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ) said he got death threats before and after the vote, and a note about health care was sent to his office along with coal and dog poop. Republicans also received threats: Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) received a threatening voicemail and someone threw bricks through the window of the Republican Party headquarters in Albermarle, Va.
Wisconsin Democratic Reps. Steve Kagen and David Obey received phone threats after voting for health care. A spokeswoman for Kagen told a local paper that one staffer took a leave of absence due to stress after answering many of the calls. Iowa Democratic Reps. Bruce Braley and Rep. Dave Loebsack both told the Des Moines Register last week that they had received threats. Braley reported threats of physical violence, while Loebsack aides told the Register that the congressman has been sent “disturbing messages.”
Both the “mainstream” and independent media have been focusing their coverage regarding these despicable events on Republicans in Congress and high-profile leaders of the right-wing media – Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity et al. – as the inspiration for these activities. To wit, the rhetoric coming from the GOP establishment and their media mouthpieces has inspired the far-right members of the party’s base to act out in this fashion.
A closer examination, however, reveals this perspective to be entirely misplaced. It is an easy mistake to make, because by and large, we are all used to seeing images of ranters and ravers frothing at a podium to whip up a crowd into mob action. That’s the pattern, one we have seen a thousand times.
This action is different. This action is coming from the ground up. GOP leaders aren’t feeding lines to the mobs, but are receiving them from the mob. The same goes for the right-wing media stars, but this relationship is more insidious. In their case, people like Beck and Limbaugh hear the hoarse screams of the madding crowd, take in the invective and the threats, repackage them, and shout them back at the mob through a massive microphone. The result is an escalating spiral of frenzied fury, which has translated into the acts of violence and intimidation that have been reported in the aftermath of the passage of the health care reform bill.
In an effort to delve deeper into this phenomenon, I enlisted the help of some old friends on a popular online forum in an effort to collect hard evidence of GOP base activists and Tea Party members hurling threats and invective at both Democrats in Congress and at President Obama. The result was a noxious cornucopia of commentary from all over the web that proves my point: Republicans in Congress are getting their best lines from the worst elements of their base, and right-wing media platforms like Fox are cheering it all on for fun and profit.
One may feel it inappropriate or deceptive to point to the darkest and most deranged corners of the right-wing web as an example of the larger phenomenon. You don’t have to look very far to find hate online, and under normal circumstances, using that hatred as a broad brush would be completely unfair; doing so would be the same as using a conversation thread from the white supremacist site Stormfront as an example of how all white people think.
But the problem here is that the fringes are the ones driving this behavior. It was a totally obscure and unknown blogger in Alabama who inspired the national spate of window-breaking, and another totally obscure blogger from Virginia who was responsible for ginning up the attack on the home of the brother of Representative Perriello. This violence is bubbling up from the bottom, and has become the defining attitude of many, if not most, GOP members of Congress and their media representatives. People need to see it for themselves, because the connection is impossible to miss.
Some chilling examples:
A thread on a site named “timebomb2000″ asks the following question: “With this POC bill being shoved up our anus, and our beloved country going down the sewer, I guess I must ask what are you prepared to do? I believe I know what I will do, and I pray that I have the courage of my convictions to walk the walk.”
Replies to this include:
“Those who ignore their oath’s to protect and defend the Constitution, will face impeachment. Failing that, I will reach for the ammo box.”
“Guess this is not the same country anymore that I have known in my life. This makes me not want to stay and live in this Socialist Commie society anymore.”
“We have been discussing course of action all day with our extended family. More than that I should probably not say.”
“If you want politicians to listen to your concerns, you should probably be an illegal alien with no health insurance wearing explosive underwear on a plane.”
“The hell with bugging out. Know which hill you’re willing to die on. And remember, you are bullet proof until God decides otherwise.”
“This will not become a reality to the despots who now rule over us until the first shot is fired. I know it’s coming. Find commonality in people around you and make contingency plans. That’s what I am doing. That, and trying to get my wife to seriously consider how dire the situation is.”
“Before me, my father and his friends and family fought a guerrilla war in the Philippines during WWII. Now, here we are with the enemy now ruling over us. They are in our lines. I feel like screaming WOLVERINES!”
Another thread from the same site perfectly exemplifies the attitude that has led to those threats against members of Congress:
I hope every single one of them is scared stiff. I hope that when a squirrel runs across their roof … they wonder if it might be … someone who is pissed off and desperate.
I hope they worry about their spouses, their kids, their parents. I hope they start wondering about whether or not someone knows where they live, the route they take to school or work, where they shop for groceries.
I hope they know that Obama has all the SS protection HE and HIS family need (well, they think he does, anyway) … and their names and faces are out there with one heck of a lot less cover.
I hope they never get a decent night’s sleep again – if they can sleep through the fact that they murdered the once-shining beacon of freedom, I hope they can’t sleep for worrying about their own sorry, worthless hides.
Some people have LONG memories.
Facebook has become a commonly-used clearinghouse for this breed of rhetoric. The FB page Americans Who Want To Punch Nancy Pelosi has gathered over 4,000 members since its inception. Another FB page against the health care bill carries comments like, “We will slit the Democrat’s throats at the ballot box this November.” The poster was sharp enough to use the phrase “at the ballot box,” but the menacing intent behind such language is impossible to miss.
As ever, the far-right web forum FreeRepublic led the way in providing incendiary rhetoric and threats of violence. The most recent prime example comes in a thread discussing president Obama’s visit to Afghanistan. A sample of the commentary:
“Press Secretary Gibbs would not confirm or deny that Obama will have meeting with Osama bin Laden.”
“The muslim apostate is in Kabul? For him that’s a rather bold move.”
“He might be afraid of the US military.”
“Probably searching for Christ so he can crucify him.”
“Osama Bin Ladin called Obama and told him to come over to Afghanistan for a Coffee together and Booze for the TOTUS! Is it any coincidence that Obama chooses the week that Osama comes out publicly twice? You gotta believe Osama knows everything about Obama’s past that is hidden from Us!”
“To enhance security CAUCASIAN troop are banned from meeting the Resident.”
“Wow, he looks so white.”
“He wanted to fly over Siberia to see the Gulags for all the tea party people.”
“The Muzlems know he is on an undercover jihadi mission pretending to be a Christian.”
“We are being destroyed from inside. He has Muslim Brotherhood moles throughout the govt and militarty probably leaking intel to kill our troops.”
“a nice meteor from Heaven would do a world of good.”
“Calling all Afgan freedom fighters, cleanup on isle 4.”
Any of this ring a bell from last week? It should. This is but a minuscule sample of the hate and venom being spewed across the web, a fair representation of the kinds of threatening messages Congressional Democrats have been receiving, and a fitting explanation for what has been going on across the country.
The effect has been dynamic, and goes far beyond the news reports we have been reading. In essence, the result is two-fold: on the one hand, the Republican leadership has stayed largely silent about the invective being hurled at Democrats, either because they condone it, or because they are themselves terrified of becoming the target of their own party’s base. On the other hand, the stars of the right-wing media establishment are reveling in all this rage, channeling it and making it their own because it translates directly into ratings and profit.
Make no mistake about it. This crazy is going from the ground up. Rarely are we provided with a profile in cowardice on this level, but there it is. It will continue this way, and perhaps become worse, until the Republican leadership and their media mouthpieces take active steps to tamp it down, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The way things have been going, there may well be blood in the streets before the last chapter of this story is written.
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