Saturday, April 02, 2005

Up to the Minuteman

Well, I kinda had a hunch the numbers of "Minutemen" might fall a little short of expectations.

Wouldn't you know it, journalists outnumber the Minutemen so far in Arizona, where only 120 of the supposed 1,000 managed to show:
About 400 people attended the opening day of the Minuteman Project Friday, coming from states as far as Pennsylvania and Tennessee to protest a lack of proper border enforcement.

Nearly half the gathered crowd was reporters, photographers and cameramen. Minuteman media liaison Mike McGarry put the number of volunteers at 120 or more.

"I wish I could shoot a picture without a journalist in it," one cameraman was heard to grumble as reporters darted from one volunteer to another.

There were a number of anti-project protesters as well. This is especially clear from reading this Freeper's-eye view of the goings-on:
The rousing speeches ended and I found myself outside amid the din of the crazy protestors. I tried to carry on a conversation with someone right in front of the building rented for the MMP but it was impossible because of the noise. I grabbed one of the ACLU Legal Observers to file a complaint against the protestors and she laughed me off. I searched out another one and actually got him to write up a formal complaint. I explained that the MMP's freedom of speech and right to peaceable assembly were being infringed by the disrupting protestors. He wrote it all down and said he would see what they could do with my complaint. I urged several others to do the same thing - to file a complaint - and several did.

Such sensitive folks. Lord knows they would never engage in disruptive activities.

I did get a kick out of the response from the mayor of Douglas when Minutemen organizer Chris Simcox accused him of spreading Aryan Nations recruitment fliers calling for members to participate:
Chris Simcox, the editor of a local newspaper and a project organizer, has refuted any link between the Minutemen and white supremacists or any other racist organizations. Simcox has accused Douglas Mayor Ray Borane, a frequent critic, of distributing the fliers in an attempt to smear the project.

"I wonder what he's smoking," the mayor replied. "He has no idea the kinds of people they're going to be attracting."

Well, actually, he probably has a pretty good idea. Now, Michelle Malkin?

Friday, April 01, 2005

Mainstreaming extremism

One of the more troubling realities about white supremacists, as I've written at length, is their seeming normalcy, and how it plays a key role in their ability to worm their way back into the mainstream of American culture.

An instructive example in how this works recently cropped up in Montana, where an avowed white supremacist is running for the school board in Bozeman:
White separatist Kevin McGuire has qualified to run as a candidate for the nine-member Bozeman School Board.

Four candidates filed papers as of Thursday's deadline to run for three open seats in the May 3 election, according to Lori King, assistant to the assistant superintendent for business.

McGuire, an activist with the National Alliance, which advocates creating a whites-only, non-Jewish society, responded to the Chronicle by e-mail, saying he was running to encourage school programs that "foster a sense of racial identity, pride and belonging."

"Our children are taught about the histories and cultures of Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Jews and Native Americans but any sense of White racial solidarity or White racial pride is condemned as White racism; and that is not right," McGuire wrote.

"I stand against the homosexual agenda currently in our school system which not only preaches acceptance of homosexuality but actively encourages it."

Thirty-nine people, including a Bozeman teacher, signed McGuire's petition to be a candidate as he walked up and down South Third Avenue and nearby streets.

As Wulfgar says, this candidacy is a ripe opportunity for progressives to stand up to the growth of these kinds of forces. More to the point, I think they'll have a lot of support. It seems highly likely to me that McGuire will be trounced at the polls: I know my way around Bozeman a little, enough to sense that people there recognize that people like McGuire are blots on their communities.

Of course, it probably won't help McGuire that the voters who signed his petition are now saying they were bamboozled by his nice-seeming appearance:
Benjamin Bennett said he had a "horrible, sinking feeling" when he read Friday that a young white separatist had qualified as a candidate for the Bozeman School Board.

"I feel so taken for a ride," said Bennett, 33, an advertising agency owner.
Bennett was one of 39 people, living in some of the most liberal voter precincts in Bozeman, who signed the candidate's petition for National Alliance activist Kevin McGuire.

Bennett said three or four Sundays ago, McGuire and a buddy wearing a cowboy hat and long coat appeared at his doorstep. McGuire was soft-spoken, looked nice and neat, and seemed timid.

"I was impressed that somebody so young was trying to be on the School Board," Bennett said. "I asked why he decided to run. He said, 'I want to try to help the School Board evolve and do things for children.' ... He never said, 'I intend to educate children against homosexuals and Jews.'"

Another petition signed who was taken in by his "nice appearance" was the one schoolteacher on the list:
Rick Hannula, a Chief Joseph Middle School teacher, said he had asked questions before signing McGuire's petition. McGuire gave him the impression he was an engineering student at Montana State University, although MSU's registrar said on Friday that McGuire is not and has never been an MSU student.

"He said, 'I want to make some changes in the community,'" Hannula said. "I asked, 'Any other agendas?' He said, 'Well, I just want to make some changes.'

"He definitely was less than honest, by omitting what his agenda was," Hannula said. "I felt almost violated, used."

That is, unfortunately, exactly what these folks are all about: white supremacy itself is a profound kind of charlatanism, after all.

But even though McGuire will lose, his whole campaign will have accomplished exactly what it set out to do: Create an image of white-supremacist ideology as a normative part of the community, lending it an air of legitimacy it might otherwise not have.

Inch by inch, it worms its way in. What that means, of course, is that communities have to remain constantly on guard. After the campaign -- and during it -- will come a recruitment drive. They'll keep beating their drums. And as always, the answer is not to silence them, but to outdrum them.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Just a minute, men

Well, the anticipation is palpable now as participants in the so-called "Minuteman Project" are gathering near the Mexican border even as we speak to defend Mom and apple pie against an invasion of anchor-baby-carrying brown people. We've been promised 1,000 of them.

And hey, even Michelle Malkin has endorsed them, calling the project "the mother of all neighborhood watch programs." Funny, that: That happens to be exactly how John Trochmann described the Militia of Montana to me. But then, these ideas are the products of people who have been organizing "border militias" all along -- that is, they are bona fide extremists.

Actually, we'll be very fortunate, as always, if the month of April -- supposedly the duration of the project -- passes uneventfully without some tragedy occurring. Because that's what's we're asking for here.

The project is noteworthy alone for having the potential to create a genuine international incident. The president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, earlier demanded that President Bush do something about the Minutemen. When they met last week in Texas, Bush took the unusual step of speaking out against them:
Last week, President Bush stepped into the controversy over border issues, saying he opposed the Minuteman Project.

"I'm against vigilantes in the United States of America," Bush said during a meeting in Texas with Mexican President Vincente Fox and Canadian Prime Minster Paul Martin. "I'm for enforcing law in a rational way. It's why we've got a Border Patrol, and they ought to be in charge of enforcing the border."

Simcox said Bush's statement was disrespectful to citizens who simply want to help solve border problems. "We challenge the president to join us and come down and see for himself what's really going on," he told CNN.

Fox has also expressed concern over citizen border patrols. He told reporters he was watching the Minuteman Project carefully and would take action in U.S. courts or international tribunals if any activists break the law.

"We totally reject the idea of these migrant-hunting groups," Fox said. "We will use the law -- international law and even U.S. law -- to make sure that these types of groups ... will not have any opportunity to progress."

"We don't have any evidence or any indication either that terrorists from al Qaeda or any other part of the world are coming into Mexico and going into the United States," Fox said, countering recent statements made by senior Bush administration officials. "If there is any of that evidence, we will like to have it. But as I said, it does not exist."

The genuinely ugly side of the Minuteman Project and the related border vigilantes was limned by a recent story in the Arizona Daily Star:
The stories of illegal entrants abused by Cochise County vigilantes are buried in sheriff's deputy reports -- complaints of guns drawn, dog bites, shouts and humiliation -- in official language, using terms such as aggravated assault and disorderly conduct.

Since 1999, the Mexican consul in Douglas, Miguel Escobar, has documented 65 cases in which illegal border crossers reported being detained by U.S. citizens in Cochise County.

In at least six reports taken by Cochise County Sheriff's Department deputies, illegal entrants have reported being kicked, shouted at, bitten by dogs and had guns pointed at them -- yet there's never been a single Cochise County resident prosecuted in these cases.

Human-rights activists say it's because there's a culture of looking the other way when it comes to illegal-entrant abuse. Cochise County law enforcement officials say it's because the victims -- illegal entrants -- choose not to pursue charges. And without witnesses, there are no cases.

The debate has led to civil lawsuits involving millions of dollars. And it has fueled concerns by activists that lax enforcement will allow participants in the upcoming Minuteman Project to abuse illegal entrants without fear of prosecution in Cochise County.

The story also reported that the Aryan Nations was working hard to recruit for the project:
The Minuteman Project is being touted now as a "political assembly" promising to bring 1,022 people to the banks of the San Pedro River for a monthlong protest of border enforcement, starting Friday. But activist groups point to elements within the group and cite a potential for violence.

Last year, one of its leaders, Chris Simcox, was convicted on federal weapons charges. More recently, the white supremacy group Aryan Nation has openly recruited for the Minuteman Project, promoting the monthlong protest as a "white pride event."

Organizer James Gilchrist said he didn't know the Aryan Nation was promoting the event.

Some neighborhood watch you've got there, Michelle.

Finishing off the whole toxic mix is a healthy dose of paranoia, also given a "mainstream" shot in the arm, from the Washington Times, which is reporting that Latino gang members are planning to show up and run counter-actions:
Members of a violent Central America-based gang have been sent to Arizona to target Minuteman Project volunteers, who will begin a monthlong border vigil this weekend to find and report foreigner sneaking into the United States, project officials say.

James Gilchrist, a Vietnam veteran who helped organize the vigil to protest the federal government's failure to control illegal immigration, said he has been told that California and Texas leaders of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, have issued orders to teach "a lesson" to the Minuteman volunteers.

"We're not worried because half of our recruits are retired trained combat soldiers," Mr. Gilchrist said. "And those guys are just a bunch of punks."

More than 1,000 volunteers are expected to take part in the Minuteman vigil, which will include civilian patrols along a 20-mile section of the San Pedro River Valley, which has become a frequent entry point to the United States for foreigner headed north.

About 40 percent of the 1.15 million foreign nationals caught last year by the U.S. Border Patrol trying to gain illegal entry to the United States were apprehended along a 260-mile stretch of the Arizona border here known as the Tucson sector.

Having sat around many a Patriot campfire, and heard many a tale of a looming army of well-armed brown people, often gang members, preparing to attack the patriotic militiamen defending their country, well ... I think it's highly likely the Times reporter was being, shall we say, a bit credulous.

In fact, given their propensity for jumping to the wroung conclusions and attacking innocent people, their fondness for heavy weaponry, their itchy trigger fingers, and the heavy paranoia in which they have been bathing themselves, I'd say we have, as the Star's editors put it, a recipe for disaster.

Just about the time some hapless family stumbles across one of their watchpoints at about, say, Day 17 of the Project, when everyone is tired of waiting for something to happen and worked into a paranoiac state of frenzy.


I must be a member of the Culture of Death, because I find myself relieved that Terri Schiavo finally passed away this morning.

But largely because it prevents folks like Bo Gritz and Norm Olson and the Michigan Militia from "rescuing" her:
Norm Olson, senior adviser to the Michigan militia and pastor of a strong right-to-life church in Wolverine, said Tuesday he had put together an unarmed coalition of state militias that were prepared to storm the Florida hospice where Terri Schiavo has been left to die, and take her to a safe house.

Olson said he needed only the OK from Schiavo's father, Robert Schindler, either directly or through his attorney David Gibbs, to put the plan, called "Operation Resurrection," into action on Sunday.

But Olson said Gibbs contacted the FBI instead of passing his message on to Schindler.

Olson said the FBI had been monitoring e-mails within militia groups and on Tuesday, March 29, sent an agent from Traverse City to his home in Alanson and other agents to militia leaders in the South to question them about the plan.

The FBI was unavailable for comment.

Olson said that last Thursday he phoned Gibbs' secretary with a message that he had organized 1,500 to 2,000 militia members from Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia and Michigan, who were ready to remove Schiavo from the hospice and take her in a convoy to a safe house.

Olson said he never was able to speak directly to the Schindlers or Gibbs.

"Gibbs probably told the Schindlers not to get the militia involved. That's why Schindler came out with statement that he did not want any civil disobedience. Now they're begging for someone to do something, but it's too late," Olson said.

Olson said the militias needed time to arrange for an ambulance, medical support staff and a safe house before the plan could be put into action.

"We would have overwhelmed the local law enforcement," Olson said, adding the militias would not have been armed.

The story also includes a rundown of Olson's e-mails to his supporters:
Wednesday, March 23:

"Are there militia in Florida who are willing to go rescue Terri?

"How about Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana?

"I've got some very angry Michigan militia folks chomping at the bit ..."

"Shall we save Terri Schiavo?

"The Courts say NO

"The Law Makers say NO

"The Executives say NO

"It's time for us to say: 'Let's Roll!'

Thursday, March 24:

"Florida Militia: Please contact me. We're going to need several hundred willing to storm the building. I suspect that hundreds of 'civilians' may go with us. There is very little time, but I've got people ready to roll tonight."

"Failure is very probable, but not to try is to fail already."

"Too small of a force will mean total failure. It is a 'Bridge Too Far' but with enough people it may work.

"It isn't a commando raid or sneak attack. It is a mass saturation of people able to overwhelm the minimal forces there at this time."

"A large scale military assault need not be bloody. As much as we might like to, care must be taken to avoid inflicting injury on the bad guys."

Reality check: I met Olson at the Freemen standoff in Montana. He, like about 99 percent of all militiamen, is a loudmouthed fantasist whose chief combat capabilities involve scratching their posteriors. Olson has no significant remaining influence within the Patriot movement. If he actually gave such a call, it would be ignored. The only thing Olson seems capable of doing anymore is attracting attention to himself and pretending to represent a large movement, when in fact his supporters probably number in the low double digits --if that high.

But it is well worth noting just how avidly the Schiavo cause was adopted by right-wing extremists. Bill Berkowitz at Media Transparency has already detailed the far-right money trail in this brouhaha, especially the prominent role of the noxious Randall Terry, who earned special notice for accusing Michael Schiavo of adultery, a point on which Terry himself lives in something of aglass house. Terry, along with his cohort Matthew Trewhella, was one of the first public advocates of forming militias, back in 1994.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

'Anchor babies' away

Calling Michelle Malkin! We need your expertise, on a key immigration issue. It should be right up your alley.

Maybe you've heard about this. One of the more audacious efforts of the anti-immigration crowd with whom you've aligned yourself -- you know, Tom Tancredo, Nathan Deal, those folks -- has arrived in the form of legislation that would strip the children of illegal immigrants born in the United States of citizenship rights:
[A] bill co-sponsored by Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea, would deny citizenship to children born to undocumented immigrants in the United States, but opponents say the bill uses immigrants as a scapegoat for poorly developed policies.

"If you're coming here illegally, you shouldn't be benefiting from it," Miller said. "If I rob a bank, and left some money to my kids, should they be allowed to keep it?"

About 1 million people legally enter the United States from other countries each year, and an additional estimated 500,000 cross the border undocumented, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports the bill.

The 14th Amendment grants citizenship to individuals born in the United States, though the 1868 ratification of the amendment was intended to give citizenship to freed slaves, according to federation spokesman Ira Mehlman.

"It was intended to apply to a specific group of people -- it wasn't likely that people could travel thousands of miles to give birth to a child in a different country," Mehlman said.

The chief sponsor of the bill in Congress is actually Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., who hails from a part of the country that is wrestling with old demons when it comes to the new wave of Latino immigrants.

California, where Miller hails from, is another such place. Miller, in fact, is rated the most conservative member of the California delegation, which is saying something. Meanwhile, Miller's own press release reiterates the hoary charge that the 14th Amendment was never meant to include these people:
"More than 120 nations, including Germany, Japan and Italy, do not grant automatic citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants," said Miller. "The United States must wise up and join the rest of the industrialized world in acknowledging that caring for, educating and integrating unregulated waves of immigrants is not sustainable."

The 14th Amendment grants citizenship to individuals born in the United States, though the 1868 ratification of the amendment was intended to give citizenship to freed slaves. Miller argues the authors of the amendment would not approve of its current application.

There's no sign the legislation will actually succeed, and considering how radical it is in nature, it seems unlikely; but then, a couple of months ago, it seemed unlikely that Congress would meet in special session in an attempt to butt its nose into a family tragedy involving a brain-dead woman. So you never know.

Another of the obvious hurdles the bill will have to face is that it is nakedly unconstitutional and is nearly certain to meet an ugly fate in the courts. But that's never stopped the True Believers of the right before, has it? They can just declare the judges who slap them down as "judicial activists," and right-wing radio creeps will begin broadcasting their home addresses.

Well, the mere fact that a number of Republicans have signed on to support it should give pause to anyone who thinks that so-called "pro-life" issues are the only ones to have been hijacked by wackaloons and yet pandered to by politicians. Of course, we know you're not among that crowd, Michelle.

Still, I'm having trouble seeing you support this. Even you must realize that immigration, after all, has for all of this nation's history been closely associated with citizenship, and the familial ties that spring from having citizen children has always been an essential ingredient in that formula. You have a little personal experience in that area, right?

I mean, even the normally quite conservative San Diego Union-Tribune blasted this legislation:
Actually, it's not enough to say that this bill would simply deny U.S. citizenship. Since the people impacted are already citizens under current law, what this legislation really intends to do is to revoke one's citizenship. That's a punishment so severe that it is usually reserved for traitors and enemies of the state. And this bill would mete out that punishment to children. And what did these pint-size subversives do to deserve all this? Absolutely nothing. They only managed to be born to parents who entered the country illegally.

Now this is not exactly a new phenomenon. One is likely to find this story told over and over again in the pages of U.S. history. Scores of pregnant women boarded ships in Italy or Ireland, headed for Ellis Island -– not always with the proper documents -– so that their children could enter the world as U.S. citizens. That's a beautiful tradition, and it's one worth preserving.

Such sentiments, of course, carry little weight with the anti-immigrant crowd, which is, as always, intent on its pound of flesh.

Indeed, you can find examples of it throughout history, always associated with Nativism and the worst, most bigoted elements of American society.

For instance, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Senator Tom Stewart of Tennessee proposed stripping citizenship from anyone of Japanese descent: "A Jap's a Jap anywhere," he said.

This proposal had wide support on the Pacific Coast. Fairly typical was a letter to the Post-Intelligencer from Charlotte Drysdale of Seattle:
It has been interesting to note how many contributors have been afraid we would have no garden truck if the Japs are sent to concentration areas. We had gardens long before the Japs were imported about the turn of the century, to work for a very low wage (a move for which we are still paying dearly) and we can still have them after we have no Japs.

Isn't that discounting American ability just a little too low?

And by Americans I mean not the children of the races ineligible to naturalization. The mere fact that a child is born in this country should not give him the rights and privileges of citizenship.

The fourteenth amendment, granting automatic citizenship to American born, was placed there for the protection of the Negro and at that time the great infiltration of Japs was not even thought of. In recent years there has been so much fear of hurting the feelings of these people that no one has had the courage to try to rectify the situation. Now it would seem that the time is ripe to put things right, for once and for all time.

Er, um, now that I think about it, maybe you'd have actually agreed with Mrs. Drysdale, wouldn't you, Michelle?

It's all so confusing. You are, after all, so devoted to all major immigration issues that I see you've even begun a separate blog devoted to the subject. So far -- and hey, it's early in the thing, so maybe I'm just impatient -- you don't seem to have managed to address H.R. 698. Nor have you seem to have written on it at your regular blog. Though I see your colleagues at VDare have done so enthusiastically.

But everyone has to wonder if there's at least a possibility that, were this bill to pass, you yourself could be stripped of your citizenship, Michelle Maglalang Malkin. After all, it doesn't take much to be declared an "illegal alien"; all you have to do is miss some paperwork or lack certain documents, and under this legislation, voila! Your children are no longer citizens.

You, like many other citizen children of immigrants in this country, might have your citizenship revoked if it is found that, at the time of your birth, your parents did not qualify as "legal residents." Now, I'm not impugning them or their reputations -- I'm sure they were here perfectly legally in every jot and tittle at every step of their residency -- I'm just pointing out that such vagaries are fairly common for most children of immigrants, and sometimes involve obscure paperwork the children might not even be aware of.

And like most of us descended within a few generations from immigrant forebears, I'm sure this smacks of a betrayal of our heritage as a nation of immigrants to you just as it does to me. It's one thing to argue for smarter immigration; it's another to deny children their traditional birthright. A birthright I'm sure you treasure as deeply as do I.

Maybe you can clear up the confusion for us.

In the meantime, I'll sure you'll be happy to note that not only has this bill found great favor at VDare (itself designated a "hate group" by the SPLC), but it also has drawn the full-fledged support of the the fine folks at White Revolution.

I guess that's called "expanding the base." Or is it?

Monday, March 28, 2005


So far, most of the evidence that the Bush administration is mishandling the domestic side of the "war on terror" has been a matter of omission, that is, what isn't being done: We haven't caught the anthrax killer. The William Krar case was swept under the national carpet. Even the recent concerns raised by the Lefkow killings raised nary an eyebrow.

There have been clearer indications that this administration is playing politics with the "war on terror," particularly in the skewing of priorities at the FBI, where investigators who specialize in right-wing extremists have been shunted to the back, and the FBI instead has announced "eco-terrorists" as the top domestic-terror threat.

There is also, of course, the clear failure of this administration to recognize the asymmetrical nature of terrorism, embarking on a costly and diversionary war in Iraq that has so far only worsened the root causes of terrorism in the Middle East (current right-wing optimism notwithstanding; we've heard rose-petal scenarios before). As I've argued before, this kind of mishandling of our response to the threat of terrorism only ensures that we'll have more of the same soon.

Now comes a report from Congressional Quarterly that makes clear just how badly the federal agencies supposedly in charge of confronting terrorism have skewed their priorities:
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not list right-wing domestic terrorists and terrorist groups on a document that appears to be an internal list of threats to the nation's security.

According to the list -- part of a draft planning document obtained by CQ Homeland Security -- between now and 2011 DHS expects to contend primarily with adversaries such as al Qaeda and other foreign entities affiliated with the Islamic Jihad movement, as well as domestic radical Islamist groups.

It also lists left-wing domestic groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), as terrorist threats, but it does not mention anti-government groups, white supremacists and other radical right-wing movements, which have staged numerous terrorist attacks that have killed scores of Americans. Recent attacks on cars, businesses and property in Virginia, Oregon and California have been attributed to ELF.

DHS did not respond to repeated requests for comment or confirmation of the document's authenticity.

The report makes clear that this is, by nearly any standard, a gross misappropriation of priorities, especially when it comes to the level of actual threat represented:
Domestic terror experts were surprised the department did not include right-wing groups on their list of adversaries.

"They are still a threat, and they will continue to be a threat," said Mike German, a 16-year undercover agent for the FBI who spent most of his career infiltrating radical right-wing groups. "If for some reason the government no longer considers them a threat, I think they will regret that," said German, who left the FBI last year. "Hopefully it's an oversight."

James O. Ellis III, a senior terror researcher for the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT), said in a telephone interview Friday that whereas left-wing groups, which have been more active recently, have focused mainly on the destruction of property, right-wing groups have a much deadlier and more violent record and should be on the list. "The nature of the history of terrorism is that you will see acts in the name of [right-wing] causes in the future."

Here's a reality check for the Department of Homeland Security: After the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, through Jan. 1, 2000, there were over 40 serious cases of domestic terrorism -- some of it realized, some of it thwarted -- committed by right-wing extremists.

These were not petty or mere property crimes. They included the bombing of the Atlanta Olympics and abortion clinics by Eric Rudolph; a plan to attack a gathering of military families in the Midwest; and a plot to blow up a California propane facility. In every instance, the planned or perpetrated act involved serious violence in which potentially many people could be killed or injured.

Since that time, the rate has declined dramatically, but the cases keep occurring with some regularity, and the lethal nature of the threat has if anything become worse. Since 2000, we're talking about an actual anthrax attack; plans to set off cyanide and sarin bombs; more planned bombings of abortion clinics; and threats against federal judges. All emanating from either lone wolves or organized extremists from the far right.

These are not torchings of SUVs and vacant condos or trashing of research laboratories, which are bad enough, and certainly a problem worth confronting on a level deserving the actual threat they pose. But the level of violence, and the lethality of the threat posed, is of another order altogether when it comes to right-wing extremists.

The CQ report does point out that eco-terrorists are in fact seemingly more active now, which may be why they are more on the radar. But no one should be fooled by the current lull in the numbers participating in far-right groups. They have always been cyclical in nature, and during downswings like the current ones, the remaining True Believers tend to become even more radicalized, and are far more likely to spin off into violence.

The report also makes clear that this apparently is only a draft version of the list of apparent threats. But if it emerges that this in fact is the DHS view of domestic terrorism, then it should be clear there is something seriously wrong with its priorities.

And then, perhaps, we should begin asking some of the uncomfortable questions that naturally arise, to wit: Does this administration's heavy rightward political tilt have any role in its failure to recognize right-wing extremists as the serious security threat that they objectively are?

It seems, after all, a perfectly logical question to ask.

Blogging about

I've got a fresh post up at the newly redesigned American Street titled "Right wing scamsters," a follow-up to the recent post about the "Little Shell Pembina Band."

Eriposte has put together all the links to an excellent series at the Left Coaster on "How the Liberal Media Myth is Created." Be sure to check it out.

Philosoraptor has the definitive assessment of David Brooks' latest installment in his long-running "liberals are moral-relativist weenies" crock o' bobo.

Sean-Paul Kelly at the Agonist has posted an open letter to the National Press Club regarding its latest panel on blogs and journalism -- which includes faux journalist James Guckert, but no bloggers -- urging it add John Aravosis to the panel. I'm signing it; you should too. (Via Majikthese.)

And Part 1 of Natasha's "A Canticle for Lieberman" at Pacific Views is a must-read.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

'Balance' and the tipping point

A lot of people see the Schiavo case as a kind of tipping point in the Culture War, though exactly what kind depends on the perspective. My old friend Danny Westneat at the Seattle Times sees it as the demise of the conservative movement. Tristero goes even farther, declaring it the point at which we jumped the shark into full-fledged fascism.

Even the normally reserved editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times (which called it a "constitutional coup d'etat") and the New York Times were alarmed by the behavior of Republicans in this matter:
President Bush and his Congressional allies have begun to enunciate a new principle: the rules of government are worth respecting only if they produce the result we want. It may be a formula for short-term political success, but it is no way to preserve and protect a great republic.

Most of the well-earned opprobrium has been directed at the politicians in this fiasco. But just as worthy for its behavior has been the nation's supposedly "mainstream" media -- because its handling of the Schiavo case has revealed, irrevocably, the utter bankruptcy of what it nowadays calls "balance."

As much as right-wing politicians have leapt into the breach to exploit Terri Schiavo for their own purposes, it's the media who have driven the story incessantly.

Feeding frenzies are typically the product of two common traits of editors and producers: a pack mentality, and a craven impulse to provide the public with stories they think will drive up their respective shares of the audience. The former often leads them to misjudge the latter, as in the Schiavo case: It's clear that the public's disgust with the politicians' behavior is primarily over their grotesque invasion of an agonizing private family matter, and on that score, the media's behavior is even more reprehensible.

What is especially appalling about the media treatment of the Schiavo case is how ardently, and unmistakably, it has adopted the supposedly "pro life" side of the argument. This ranges from outrageous bomb-throwing like that from Fox's John Gibson, to fingerpointing from MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, and Rush Limbaugh, to subtler bias like the omnipresent "Fight For Terri" label that is being used by half the networks to accompany their coverage logos.

We're seeing reporters credulously refer to highly dubious medical claims waved by Schiavo's parents -- including the recent claim that she indicated to them she did not want her tube removed -- as though they had anything other than the thinnest veneer of truth to them. We're watching news anchors openly accuse Michael Schiavo of being a bad husband. If there's a propaganda line out there that isn't being parroted in the mainstream media as fact, it might only be Bo Gritz's buffoonery. And they're working on that.

They're wallowing in it. Cheering it on. Even if it is only the viewpoint of about 20 percent of the country, at best, that politicians and reporters have any business, as Knute Berger put it, poking their ugly noses inside the dying room.

This is the way "balance" manifests itself in journalism nowadays.

Now, there is such a thing as real balance. Real balance is a genuine striving for truth: a willingness to both recognize and honestly explore the multiplicity of viewpoints as well as facts that are part of the naturally complex nature of truth. It is complicated and hard work. Of course, real, hard truth is elusive and rare; but the striving is what brings us closer to it.

However, a genuine balance does not countenance obvious falsehoods where it encounters them. It does not treat misinformation as a legitimate "counter" to reasonably established facts, as though a falsehood were just another opinion. It does not put lies on an even footing with facts.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what we have gotten, in increasing doses, as standard practice from the nation's press for the past decade. As I argued previously regarding the growth of "intelligent design" as a right-wing religious stratagem:
The key piece of illogic is one that has especially lodged itself in the media in recent years: The notion that a demonstrably true fact can be properly countered by a demonstrably false one -- and that the two, placed side by side, represent a kind of "balance" in the national discourse. This is the Foxcist model of Newspeak, in which "fair and balanced" comes to mean its exact opposite.

This kind of "balance" is a direct product of the right-wing myth of the "liberal media". Having worked in the media for many years, I can attest that it may often exhibit a bias, but it is not a liberal one; it is a self-interested one. And having dealt with many ideologues of all stripes in my various media capacities over the years, one of the distinguishing characteristics of movement conservatives that I observed is their knee-jerk and oft-shouted belief that any position contrary to or critical of their official party line is, by definition, "liberal."

What "balance" has become, in essence, is a fig leaf for broadcasting falsehoods on behalf of right-wing propaganda efforts. In the process, it has become a major means for transmitting extremist beliefs into the mainstream. The Schiavo matter is only the most prominent recent example of this.

Perhaps less noticed, but even more illustrative, was the recent case of C-SPAN's decision to "balance" its coverage of Deborah Lipstadt's book on her ordeal with Holocaust denier David Irving by insisting that Irving be given equal airtime.

Richard Cohen of the Washington Post (who has, it must be noted, been known for succumbing to right-wing notions of "balance" himself) was the first to raise the issue, in a column that gets it right, for once:
You will not be seeing Deborah Lipstadt on C-SPAN. The Holocaust scholar at Emory University has a new book out ("History on Trial"), and an upcoming lecture of hers at Harvard was scheduled to be televised on the public affairs cable outlet. The book is about a libel case brought against her in Britain by David Irving, a Holocaust denier, trivializer and prevaricator who is, by solemn ruling of the very court that heard his lawsuit, "anti-Semitic and racist." No matter. C-SPAN wanted Irving to "balance" Lipstadt.

The word balance is not in quotes for emphasis. It was invoked repeatedly by C-SPAN producers who seemed convinced that they had chosen the most noble of all journalistic causes: fairness. "We want to balance it [Lipstadt's lecture] by covering him," said Amy Roach, a producer for C-SPAN's Book TV. Her boss, Connie Doebele, put it another way. "You know how important fairness and balance is at C-SPAN," she told me. "We work very, very hard at this. We ask ourselves, 'Is there an opposing view of this?' "

As the New York Times reported, this raised immediate concerns among historians:
More than 200 historians at colleges nationwide sent a petition to C-Span yesterday to protest its plan to accompany its coverage of a lecture by Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University, with a speech by David Irving, who has argued that Hitler was not fully responsible for the mass murder of Jews.

"Falsifiers of history cannot 'balance' histories," said the petition, delivered to Connie Doebele, the executive producer at C-Span who planned the coverage. "Falsehoods cannot 'balance' the truth."

Mr. Irving, a British writer, sued Professor Lipstadt for libel for calling him a Holocaust denier, but the British Royal High Court of Justice dismissed the lawsuit on April 11, 2000, concluding that Mr. Irving was anti-Semitic and racist and that he persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence.

Professor Lipstadt has been promoting her new book, an account of the case titled "History on Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving," which Ecco published last month.

C-Span wanted to feature the book on its weekend program "Book TV" and asked Professor Lipstadt if it could record a speech she was making on March 16 at Harvard Hillel, a Jewish organization at Harvard University.

But when Professor Lipstadt learned that the cable network planned to include a lecture by Mr. Irving along with her remarks, she refused to allow C-Span to tape the event.

"I called the producer at C-Span and told her that this was a man who was a Holocaust denier, and this idea of using both of us made no sense to me," Professor Lipstadt said.

She and many of her supporters believe that including such a figure in an account of her views would be as wrongheaded as accompanying a story on slavery in the United States with remarks from someone who said that slavery never happened.

"I told C-Span that I assumed that if they weren't going to tape my lecture, they also wouldn't use David Irving, but they said no, they were committed to having him on," Professor Lipstadt said yesterday. "This is a man who's said that Holocaust survivors are all liars, and that more people died in Senator Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than in the gas chambers."

C-Span did tape the speech Mr. Irving made last weekend at the Landmark Diner in Atlanta. But Peggy Keegan, a spokeswoman for the network, said in an interview yesterday that its plans were now up in the air.

Indeed, as the Los Angeles Times later reported, C-SPAN is in full "reconsideration" mode on this decision.

It must be noted that this isn't the first time that C-SPAN has pandered to right-wing extremists. In the past, it has broadcast conferences of Jared Taylor's American Renaissance organization, as well as Council of Conservative Citizens conferences. Both are white-supremacist organizations, designated hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. And no, C-SPAN didn't see fit to find "balancing" viewpoints to these conferences. I wonder if might have been hard to find someone who would go on-air and to argue that blacks, contra Taylor, aren't a "retrograde species of humanity."

What was most amusing about this, though, was the way right-wing bloggers used the matter to position themselves on the side of the angels. Even the hatemongers at Little Green Footballs and Free Republic got into the act.

Roger Simon hit the truly classic note in all this:
It seems that C-SPAN has lying confused with opinion. How pathetic and shameful.

Yes, that is precisely the problem with this model of "balance." But what seems to have eluded everyone on the right is that this is not an isolated problem with C-SPAN. It is, in fact, pervasive throughout the media -- and particularly from self-identified "conservative" media like the "fair and balanced" Fox. And it has been going on for a long time now.

It was not uncommon, in the 1990s, to see clearly outrageous liars like Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and L. Jean Lewis treated not only with kid gloves, but as the chief source of supposedly credible "investigations" into Bill Clinton's private life.

As impeachment fever reached its crescendo in 1999, this willingness to treat blatant falsehoods as "the other side of the story" became pervasive. It was not uncommon to see Barbara or Ted Olson, or Mark Levine, or Ann Coulter, or some other congenital frothing-at-the-mouth Clinton-hater fulminate all over the tube daily with some bizarre speculation or other based in nothing but groundless conspiracy theories and a heavy dose of bile. It continued through the 2000 election, when we were told constantly that "Al Gore says he invented the Internet" and, later, that machine recounts were more accurate than hand recounts.

And it has continued apace since. We've been continually bludgeoned with weapons of mass destruction, orange-code warnings, Swift Boat Veterans and the phony "Rathergate" brouhaha -- all of them exercises in overt mendacity, all designed to bolster conservative-movement propaganda, and all accorded respectful treatment by a "balanced" media.

Perhaps the defining moment was the treatment given to Michelle Malkin, whose book defending the Japanese-American internment was boosted by a fawning press (and right-wing blogosphere) onto the New York Times bestseller list, despite the fact that it represented, rather clearly, an extension of David Irving-style historical revisionism. If Irving is so reprehensible to the folks at Little Green Footballs, why isn't Malkin?

Such hypocrisies, though, are second nature to today's conservatives, which is how they can continue to complain about a "liberal media" (the entire purpose of the "Rathergate" fiasco) even as right-wing propaganda overwhelms mainstream reportage. A quick survey of the Schiavo coverage only makes abundantly clear how far gone are the bulk of our "mainstream" media.

It is one thing, of course, to point out that both our politicians and our media are being grossly irresponsible. What's equally important is to recognize the potentially horrific consequences of this.

Hateful propaganda is just the beginning, because it creates an army of True Believers -- who I previously described as "their oxyconned, Foxcized, Freeped-out, fanatic army of followers" -- who will not be as restrained, either in their words or their actions, as their leaders. The limits on awful behavior are already being pushed to extremes by people like Randall Terry and Bo Gritz.

The vultures are already coming to roost. Hal Turner has been calling for the use of force to "save" Terri Schiavo, and killing anyone who interferes. And sure enough, someone has already been caught putting out a bounty on Michael Schiavo, while another man was arrested for stealing a gun in hopes he could "take some action and rescue Terri Schiavo."

As John Cole has been pointing out, genuine conservatives should be as horrified by these events as liberals -- and at some point, must come to grips with the fresh monsters in our midst. All of us: citizens, politicians, the media.

It won't happen, though, until we recognize the current model of "balance" for what it is: an open invitation to the spread of lies and misinformation. And get back to the time-honored traditions of striving for the truth.