Thursday, April 30, 2009

"A hoax"

On the House floor yesterday, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) - someone who regularly gets high marks (often 100%) from "far right," doctrinally anti-homosexual fundamentalist, dominionist influenced groups like Eagle Forum and Christian Coalition* - told two intellectually dishonest lies.

In the first she cited "liberal commentator Glenn Greenwald" as an exemplary opponent of hate crimes legislation. Although she did not make the explicit connection, it's possible that Greenwald was chosen to give her opposition to hate crimes legislation more force because he is openly gay. The only problem is that Greenwald did not argue against hate crimes, he argued against hate speech laws.

The post that Rep. Foxx is quoting is one which condemns hate speech laws. That is why its title is "The Noxious Fruits of Hate Speech laws." It has nothing to do with hate crimes legislation. Hate speech laws and hate crimes laws are entirely different, since the former punishes the pure expression of ideas while the latter involves the commission of actual crimes, usually quite violent and serious crimes. One can easily and coherently oppose the former but support the latter.

I do actually harbor ambivalence about hate crimes laws, but find them far more justifiable than hate speech laws. The GOP floor leader opposing the bill should probably be aware of that distinction. I fully expect what I write to be radically distorted on the sort of right-wing blogs that support people like Rep. Foxx, but don't expect that to happen on the floor of the House, though, at this point, that is probably an unreasonable distinction to draw.
The second lie goes beyond intellectually dishonest and well into heinous. She asserted that the brutal murder of Mathew Shepard being a hate crime is "a hoax."

The bill was named after a very unfortunate incident that happened, where a young man was killed, but we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of robbery. It wasn't because he was gay. The bill was named for him, the hate crimes bill was named for him, but it's, it's really a hoax, that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.
Even after being widely denounced for these comments and despite the ample evidence that Shepard was targeted because of his sexuality, Foxx stands by her assertion that this was a simple robbery.

The persons I've seen commenting on this have been justifiably outraged and indignant, but they seem to be getting the impression that this idea of Shepard's murder not being motivated by hate came from Foxx. Or at least they are not doing a good enough job of explaining why Foxx would say such a thing. And here's the reason:

In the universe she inhabits, she's right. Plugged into the Republican noise machine, the Drudge-Hannity-Limbaugh-Malkin axis of misinformation where facts and reality are crafted to suit an ideological world view, it's pretty much a given that she would think that Shepard wasn't targeted because of his sexuality.

The same claim was actually made a few days ago by Sandy Rios, president of the anti-gay Christian nationalist Culture Campaign, on Glenn Beck's Fox show, but I ignored it since that sort of afactual reality revision is so typical that I take it for granted. But now we see a member of the US Congress attempting to legislate based upon lies that circulated in the noise machine. Which is why I blog so much about AM radio and its analogues in print, tv, and net media; I consider it's constant reality revision and casual misinformation a subversive assault on democracy. A means of shaping the debate not through honest argument but by the illusory creation of an ideological fanstasy world.

The basis of Rios' claim is a 20/20 episode from 2004 - see here and here for typical examples of noise machine blogs writing about it - which asserted controversially that Shepard's murder was not the result of hate targeting but methamphetamine fueled rage. The segment seems more contrarian sensationalism than news, to me, not least of which being because it appears to have ignored most of the evidence demonstrating the prejudicial motivations for the crime in order to propose its alternate scenario. Yet Rios and others take the 20/20 report and claim that it "debunked" Mathew Shepard's murder being hate motivated. They employ the same epistemology of creationists (not surprising since many in the movement are creationists,) ignoring all the weight of evidence against their position while perfectly content to take the flimsiest of evidence in the other direction as incontrovertible.

So while it's perfectly proper to denounce Foxx for her remarks, remarks which were made while Shepard's mother was sitting in front of her, what is more important is that responsible figures in the media denounce the intellectual culture of the conservative movement which enculturates a disregard for reality, so long as the disregard has ideological benefit. I would go so far as to say that the lies and propaganda of the Christian nationalist movement which serve to characterize every non-believer as some sort of second-class citizen fall into the type of lies that Hannah Arendt considered to be part of The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Before they seize power and establish a world according to their doctrines, totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations. The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda—before the movements have the power to drop iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world -- lies in its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.
If you think that's a bit harsh, take a moment and listen to what Pat Robertson said about this hate crimes legislation. Robertson's concern has the effect of legitimizing the notion that particular groups of person deserve to be killed because of their sexual orientation. Although Robertson chooses bestiality and pedophilia as his examples, the point remains that he seems to be concerned that hate-based vigilante assaults might be criminalized. Right Wing Watch parsed Robertson's logic:

If you attack someone because they are gay, or because you think they are gay, you are going to get charged with a hate crime.

If you have sex with a duck, you are going to get charged with bestiality.

But what is not going to happen is that people who have sex with ducks are suddenly going to find their behavior "protected" because of the passage of hate crimes legislation. The two things are utterly unrelated.

So the question the Right is really asking is: will you get charged with a hate crime for beating someone up because they had sex with a duck? Probably not, because bestiality is illegal, though you will likely be charged with assault.

Is there some vigilante group of conservative Christians out there taking physical retribution against suspected zoophiles that I am unaware of and whose mission will be fundamentally jeopardized by the passage of this legislation?

Is the Religious Right planning on unleashing a campaign of violent beat-downs of suspected homosexuals at some point in the future that would have to be called off if this legislation passes?
The reason why we need to pass hate crimes laws is that such crimes are not merely a crime against an individual, but a crime against the humanity of an entire category of humans. It is a dehumanizing act of violence meant to threaten not just the victim but others too, and the law should recognize it as such.

*The same sorts of groups that were written about by Michelle Goldberg in Kingdom Coming (see here for an excerpt) and Chris Hedges in his fiercely critical American Fascists (see here for Democracy Now's discussion of the book.)

Update: Tangential, but related.

Rick Warren typically denies holding public positions that might be characterized as hateful but he nonetheless endorses and supports African clerics, such as Peter Akinola and Henry Orombi, who promote extreme forms of anti-gay and anti-Jewish bigotry. According to a September 2, 2007, UPI story, Nigerian Anglican Bishop Isaac Orama, under the jurisdiction of Akinola, declared that "Homosexuality and lesbianism are inhuman. Those who practice them are insane, satanic and are not fit to live because they are rebels to God's purpose for man." Archbishop Peter Akinola has endorsed proposed legislation that would strip Nigeria's gays of basic human rights and is more severe than analogous criminal codes implemented during Adolf Hitler's pre-World War Two Third Reich. Not to be outdone, Henry Orombi has claimed, in a June 13, 2007 public address in Uganda, that "Acts of homosexuality and lesbianism have infiltrated our schools, especially secondary schools." The Archbishop went on to declare that he has "personally joined the war" against the alleged 'invasion', which Orombi associated with the "moral decay of society." Orombi's statements about the alleged threat have included the suggestion that gay assassins might be plotting to kill him.
Update II: Dave Neiwert has more on the false witness bearing that is being done by the religious right. Here's a choice quote:

REP. GRESHMAN BARRET (R-SC): This bill would inhibit religious freedom in our society -- a scary thought.

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