Tuesday, February 10, 2009

They taught him hate

Last July, I blogged about Jim Adkisson, a fan of conservative movement hate proponents such as Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage, who went on a shooting spree in a Knoxville Unitarian church.

The note he left explaining his actions is now available on-line in pdf format. With the exception of an instance or two of naked racism, it reads like exactly the sort of thing you would expect to hear from someone who filled his brain with the rantings of Coulter, Limbaugh, Savage, Hannity, Goldberg, O'Reilly, et al. More generally, it is clear that Adkisson's views about "liberals" are directly linked to the conservative movement's decades long efforts to demonize "liberals" as subversive, traitorous, unAmerican far leftists.

For example, in the letter Adkisson states "I'm protesting the liberal Supreme Court Justices for give [sic] the terrorists at GITMO constitutional rights." Sound familiar? It should, recall this from Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention: "Is a Supreme Court liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with Constitution rights? It's liberal!"

But here is the essence of Adkisson's rant

Know this if nothing else: This was a hate crime. I hate the damn left-wing liberals. There is a vast left-wing conspiracy in this country & these liberals are working together to attack every decent & honorable institution in the nation, trying to turn this country into a communist state.
That is basically the message of Bill O'Reilly's Culture Warrior, a book which launders traditional "right-wing" conspiratorial hate and presents it in a more palatable and marketable mainstream form. Of course, O'Reilly prefers the "S-P" label. Adkisson, in the note calls the Unitarian church a cult which "worships the God of Secularism" and is the "fountainhead, the veritable wellspring of anti-American organizations like Moveon.org, Code Pink, and other un-American groups." O'Reilly demonizes such groups routinely.

Adkisson goes on to state that he wanted to "kill ... every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book" and "everyone in the mainstream media" but since he couldn't reach these "generals & high ranking officers of the Marxist movement" he went after "the chickenshit liberals that vote in these traitorous people" in the hopes that others would be inspired to go out and kill the cancerous liberals ("Go kill Liberals!"). He also describes liberals as a pestilent termite infestation who are allies of Muslim terrorists.

Consider the above sentiments in the following context: Bill O'Reilly considers George Soros to be the mastermind behind the "S-P" plot to transform America into a far left socialist state and O'Reilly has framed Soros as an ally of terrorists; and he's previously said that someone "ought to hang Soros." Also consider that Soros appears as one of the 100 figures in Goldberg's book.

Here's what I said about this before

Another issue that this brings to light: Thomas Frank has a new book coming out in a few days called The Wrecking Crew about how the conservative movement in power yields incompetent and ruinous government. Yet, whether in power or not, the noise machine figures spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week blaming "liberals" for all problems in America.

For example, they say vote for Republicans as a solution to fiscally irresponsible Democrats. They get in power and bankrupt the country and then say vote for Republicans as a solution to fiscally irresponsible Democrats. You get the idea ... they're very good at scapegoating, not so good at governing.

This guy Adkisson felt down and out. And he scapegoated "liberals" in the same terms that the authors of the books found in his home scapegoat "liberals" on a daily basis. I turned to Hannity's radio show yesterday - no lie - randomly and the instant I flipped it on I heard Hannity telling me "liberals" are to blame for high gas prices and that if Obama becomes president his tax policy will cause another Great Depression.

Kevin Phillips - a disenchanted Republican - had a chapter in his 1993 book Boiling Point about how middle class frustration after a decade of Reaganomics gave rise to "the politics of resentment" during the '92 presidential campaign which resembled the dynamic by which national socialism began to flourish in the Weimar Republic (remember that David Duke was making his runs for office back then.)

Fascism's violent populism tends to prey upon people feeling down and out like Adkisson - who read Michael Savage who pretty much is a fascist - and gives them a Demon to hate.
As Jeffrey Feldman puts it

O'Reilly's books and broadcasts are significant in the Tennessee murder because they are part of a broader media market that undermines the civic body and turns individual frustrations into violent civic habits.

In learning of Adkisson's hatred for 'the Liberal Movement' and his collection of right-wing books, one is struck by the sheer amount of right-wing punditry that advances a similar logic of liberals destroying America--and pushes the idea that the destruction of liberals is a logical response.

The overlap between the style of talk, the intellectual themes, and the performance put O'Reilly and Adkisson in a disturbingly common arena.

That arena can be described as a place where civic actors turn their frustration into violent habits--into violent expression, violent theories, and violent performance.

The broader issue, of course, is not whether Bill O'Reilly's book--and Michael Savages' book and Sean Hannity's book--caused Jim Adkisson to pick up a Remington shot gun and kill members of a Tennessee church who he perceived as worth of death because they were liberals. The more important question is how Bill O'Reilly's work--layered as it is with multiple forms of violent rhetoric and performance and broadcast to levels that it impacts millions of lives daily--has contributed to a fundamental collapse in the civic body. And once that collapse happens, violent results follow.

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