Are rightwing bloggers to blame for the Norway massacre?
In an article titled Killings in Norway Spotlight Anti-Muslim Thought in U.S., the New York Times highlights the connection between Anders Behring Breivik and American bloggers:
The man accused of the killing spree in Norway was deeply influenced by a small group of American bloggers and writers who have warned for years about the threat from Islam, lacing his 1,500-page manifesto with quotations from them…
His manifesto, which denounced Norwegian politicians as failing to defend the country from Islamic influence, quoted Robert Spencer, who operates the Jihad Watch Web site, 64 times, and cited other Western writers who shared his view that Muslim immigrants pose a grave danger to Western culture.
Mr. Breivik frequently cited another blog, Atlas Shrugs, and recommended the Gates of Vienna among Web sites. Pamela Geller, an outspoken critic of Islam who runs Atlas Shrugs, wrote on her blog Sunday that any assertion that she or other antijihad writers bore any responsibility for Mr. Breivik’s actions was “ridiculous.”
Much as I find Geller’s writing execrable, the primary responsibility for the slaughter in Norway rests with the cowardly killer and not the hate-mongers he quotes in his pathetic manifesto.
That’s not to say that there are no consequences for spewing a constant stream of hatred and intolerance.
After the Giffords shooting, I wrote about eliminationism on the right. My focus was on the invective directed by rightwingers at the left, but it also applies to anti-Muslim bigotry rampant on a number of conservative sites…
Hate breeds violence (Originally posted 1/8/11)
Anyone who listens to the relentless liberal-bashing on rightwing radio and other conservative outlets will quickly realize that the level of vitriol and derision directed at the left will inevitably provoke a few individuals to act out. And they do. Often with deadly consequences.
It is clear to me that most people in journalism and (non-right wing) blogging do not listen to right wing talk radio very often and simply cannot believe it when critics report what they are saying. … I realize that it’s hard to believe that Americans are this obnoxious. It’s probably even harder to believe they are paid hundreds of millions of dollars to promote this bigotry on the radio to millions of other Americans, but they are — they are speaking the language of eliminationism and hate day after day after day. If it soothes you to believe that those who are alarmed by that are the intemperate ones so be it, but it doesn’t change what they are doing or the effect it’s had on our politics.
For context, read The Terrorist Threat: Right-Wing Radicals and the Eliminationist Mindset:
An abortion provider who had been a frequent target of Fox News’ bloviator Bill O’Reilly was gunned down during a church service in Kansas; a mentally disturbed man who believed the “tea-bagging” movement’s contention that the Obama administration is destroying the American economy — and who reportedly owned a number of firearms — withdrew $85,000 from his bank account, said he was part of a plot to assassinate the president and disappeared (he was later captured in Las Vegas); and this week, a white supremacist who was deeply steeped in far-right conspiracism entered the U.S. Holocaust Museum and opened fire, killing a guard before being shot and wounded by security personnel.
The three incidents share a common feature: All of these men thought they were serving a higher moral purpose, that is, defending their country from an insidious “enemy within” as defined by the far right — a “baby-killer,” the Jews who secretly control the world and a president who’s been accused of being a Manchurian Candidate-style foreign agent bent on nothing less than the destruction of the American Way.
David Neiwert, a veteran journalist who has covered violent right-wing groups for years, calls the worldview that informs this twisted sense of moral purpose “eliminationism.” It’s the belief that one’s political opponents are not just wrongheaded, misinformed or even acting in bad faith. Eliminationism holds that they are a cancer on the body politic that must be excised — either by separation from the public at large, through censorship or by outright extermination — in order to protect the purity of the nation.
As eliminationist rhetoric becomes increasingly mainstream within the American right — fueled in large part by the wildly overheated discourse found on conservative blogs and talk radio — Neiwert’s new book, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right, could not have come at a more important time. In it, Neiwert painstakingly details how the rise in eliminationism is a very real threat and points to the dangers of dismissing extreme rhetoric as merely a form of “entertainment.”
Here’s an exceptionally detailed post from Media Matters on another example of rightwing hate breeding violence:
“I would have never started watching Fox News if it wasn’t for the fact that Beck was on there. And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed that blew my mind.” – Byron Williams
Byron Williams, a 45-year-old ex-felon, exploded onto the national stage in the early morning hours of July 18.
According to a police investigation, Williams opened fire on California Highway Patrol officers who had stopped him on an Oakland freeway for driving erratically. For 12 frantic minutes, Williams traded shots with the police, employing three firearms and a small arsenal of ammunition, including armor-piercing rounds fired from a .308-caliber rifle.
When the smoke cleared, Williams surrendered; the ballistic body armor he was wearing had saved his life. Miraculously, only two of the 10 CHP officers involved in the shootout were injured.
In an affidavit, an Oakland police investigator reported that during an interview at the hospital, Williams “stated that his intention was to start a revolution by traveling to San Francisco and killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU.”
One myth promulgated by the right and the media is that there is equivalence between provocative language on the far left and far right, but that is far from the case:
Even the most cursory perusal of rightwing radio, television, blogs and assorted punditry illustrates a profound distinction: in large measure, the right’s overarching purpose is to stoke hatred of the left, of liberalism. The right’s messaging infrastructure, meticulously constructed and refined over decades, promotes an image of liberals as traitors and America-haters, unworthy of their country and bent on destroying it. There is simply no comparable propaganda effort on the left.
The imbalance is stark: Democrats and liberals rail against the right’s ideas; the right rails against the left’s very existence.
The result is an atmosphere where bigotry thrives, where science and reason are under assault, where progress (associated with progressivism) is frowned upon. And it’s an atmosphere where violence becomes more likely. Pretending this is not the case is to enable it.
The deeply-etched themes that run through American politics reflect the right’s successful framing: Democrats and liberals are wimps, Republicans and conservatives are gun-toting patriots; Democrats and liberals despise their country, Republicans and conservatives are the only ones willing to protect it; Democrats and liberals want to intrude on your freedom, tax you and bankrupt the nation, Republicans and conservatives want to give you freedom, liberty and wealth. The current of eliminationism infusing the right’s worldview is an inevitable outcome of such contorted impressions – it’s a natural impulse to want to destroy that which is (supposedly) destroying you.
Those who foist the false right/left equivalency ignore this reality. Their definition of extremism is necessarily warped, since they have to stretch logic to fabricate a sense of balance. If you want single-payer health care, you’re a liberal extremist, but if you deny global warming, you’re simply a conservative skeptic. As the national discourse moves further and further right, only the most unhinged rightwingers are tagged as extreme, while all it takes for a liberal to be labeled an extremist is to espouse a policy position that is out of the mainstream. That is not to say there are not violent individuals and extremists on the left, but that it is absurd to argue that left and right are comparable in the language of violence and incitement.
When center becomes right and right becomes far right, conservatives can get away with wilder and weirder behavior. Exhortations from radio blatherers to bash liberals are dismissed as “entertainment.” Glenn Beck’s bizarre rantings barely get a yawn.
This has been a long time coming and culpability lies not just with the haters but with those in the media and Democratic establishment who refuse to confront the hate-mongering when they see it. Here’s something I wrote about Ann Coulter in 2006. It sums up everything I want to say about the ongoing demonization of the left and the resulting potential for violence [The title of Coulter's most recent book is "Demonic"]:
NBC, a major U.S. media outlet, has given Coulter extended play in recent days. They have knowingly given a public forum to a woman who slandered 9/11 widows and who is now on the record identifying John Murtha, a U.S. Congressman, a Marine, as an ideal target for murder. Anybody who watched Ann Coulter’s June 14th appearance on the Tonight Show had to realize that it was a watershed moment in the war between the establishment media and the progressive netroots. It was also a signal to Democrats that liberal ideology can be denigrated with impunity. Had the words “Jew” or “Christian” or “Conservative” been substituted for “Liberal” we’d be waking up to a national scandal.
Never mind that Jay Leno and George Carlin sat like trembling lambs while Coulter spewed gutter-level invective at millions of Americans – we’ve already seen the same obsequiousness from Larry King, Matt Lauer (who ended his faux-debate with Coulter by saying “always fun to have you”) and others. The larger issue here is that despite an uproar from the progressive netroots, NBC saw fit to give Coulter a platform to continue her liberal-scapegoating and to slander women who lost their husbands on 9/11.
It’s hard to deny that Coulter’s words border on incitement. What she says is neither amusing nor smart nor humorous nor factual nor worthy of airing on a major media outlet. It treats a substantial segment of the population as sub-human, as creatures deserving of public scorn and worse (She said Jesus would say that “we are called upon to do battle” on liberalism). Careful not to violate Godwin’s Law, I’ll refrain from the obvious comparisons, but what we’re dealing with here is a dangerous inflection point in American politics. When this kind of opprobrium is peddled by major media outlets, it’s high time that the Democratic establishment and the larger progressive community understand that this is a make-or-break showdown with the media.
Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and their ilk have made an industry out of liberal-bashing. Coulter fits in perfectly with those hate-traffickers. And contrary to the false Michael Moore comparisons made by Leno and others, there is no progressive counterpart to these people on the national stage. The basic thrust of the left’s critique is that George W. Bush and his administration are bad for America. It is in our tradition for citizens to defend the Constitution and to question the actions of their elected leaders. Rightwingers may characterize it as Bush Derangement Syndrome, but the progressive community, for the most part, is going after government corruption and lies, not vilifying an entire group of Americans as Bin Laden-loving traitors.
Nearly five years after I wrote that, only one thing has changed: the problem has gotten worse.
Melissa McEwan nails it:
This is not an argument there is no hatred, no inappropriate and even violent rhetoric, among US leftists. There is. This is evidence that, although violent rhetoric exists among US leftists, it is not remotely on the same scale, and, more importantly, not an institutionally endorsed tactic, as it is among US rightwingers.
This is a fact. It is not debatable.
And there is observably precious little integrity among conservatives in addressing this fact, in the wake of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
And as long as we continue to play this foolish game of “both sides are just as bad,” and rely on trusty old ablism to dismiss Jared Lee Loughner as a crackpot—dutifully ignoring that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators; carefully pretending that the existence of people with mental illness who are potentially dangerous somehow absolves us of responsibility for violent rhetoric, as opposed to serving to underline precisely why it’s irresponsible—it will be inevitable again.
The Norway tragedy is the work of an evil individual, and he should burn in hell for his barbaric actions. He is culpable for the carnage he wrought, not the bloggers from whom he drew inspiration. The blood of children is on his hands. Nevertheless, we would be foolish to discount the climate created by the torrent of invective and incitement emanating from America’s right.