Sunday, November 6, 2011

Another incident of domestic terrorism thwarted; another Fox News connection

Another incident of domestic terrorism thwarted; another Fox News connection:

The latest incident in what has been an ongoing pattern:
Four Georgia men who belonged to a “fringe militia group” were arrested by FBI agents on Tuesday and charged with plotting an attack against U.S. citizens and federal employees using the biological toxin ricin.

Authorities say 73-year-old Frederick Thomas of Cleveland; 67-year-old Dan Roberts; 65-year-old Ray H. Adams; and 68-year-old Samuel J. Crump, all of Toccoa, Ga. began meeting in March 2011 as part of a covert group that called itself, well, the “covert group.” [...]

Thomas allegedly said that there “is no way for us, as militiamen, to save this country, to save Georgia, without doing something that’s highly highly illegal. Murder. That’s fucking illegal, but it’s gotta be done,” Thomas allegedly said.

Yes, yes. All these plots are "unrelated." We can't possibly blame them on a right-wing ideology that revels in paranoid claims about the future of the country and how extraordinary measures are required to save it from whatever the latest bogeyman is (usually, revolving around some not-conservative figure being the ideological equivalent of Stalin, for reasons that are, shall we say, never well explained), because that would be mean. We can't blame the authors and promoters of far-right fantasias (the men in this story were inspired by a fictional novel about murdering government workers fer freedomz, etc) because that would be "persecuting" them or some such, and heaven knows the right wing feels "persecuted" enough already. And heaven forfend anyone point out how very, very often these stories have a Fox News connection or find that the alleged terrorist had written long, rambling messages on some well-known conservative blog.

In this particular case:

Thomas, who allegedly led the meeting, mentioned a fictional novel he read online in which an anti-government group killed a large number of Justice Department attorneys.

The online novel in question is called “Absolved.” It’s written by Mike Vanderboegh, a right-wing blogger and former militia man who lives on government disability checks, has been featured on Fox News in relation to the Fast and Furious scandal, is on Rep. Darrell Issa’s press release distribution list and previously advocated on his blog “Sipsey Street Irregulars” for opponents of the health care law to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic members of Congress.

Mike Vanderboegh
Vanderboegh, cited as inspiration for attacks


From the Olympics bombing to Norway, right-wing extremism has carved a consistent path of destruction. It's usually predicated on the far-right believe that somebody else is on the verge of doing something bad (Muslims, invisible communists, the ATF) and need to be beaten to the punch. I don't think there's anything inherent to conservative philosophy that would require such a thing, of course; the bigger issue is the now-constant mainstreaming of crackpot conspiracy theories into supposed "legitimate" political discourse. Conservatives losing an election is considered not a blow to their ideology, but a plot against them. You may have seen the election of Barack Obama as the rather obvious repudiation of Bushism, but to a large part of America, Obama clearly has to be a socialist, because some guy somewhere said so. He's going to take away your guns or ammunition, say groups like the NRA without one damn bit of evidence to support the claim, and suddenly that becomes a talking point among both extremist groups and commonplace Republicans.

It is this lack of separation between mere "conservatism" and the far-right that is eminently blamable for these constant episodes of minor, major or thwarted domestic terrorism. Having a crackpot pen an imaginary plot to murder government officials is one thing: then putting him on a major network (if Fox can be considered one) as an "expert" in something or other, thus multiplying his publicity a hundredfold, is or should be considered to be crossing a line. By mainstreaming those that tease the edges of violence and muse over justifications for terrorism, conservatism grants them legitimacy in the eyes of others that might share similar views. This is not a difficult concept. In this specific instance the plotters, such as they were, were directly influenced by right-wing novel about murdering government officials. But why would such a person even be granted legitimacy, by the likes of Fox News?

This isn't a trick question. Fox and other conservative outlets constantly are putting forth dubious figures as supposed authorities on their topics: Those that dabble in white supremacy are put in front of a camera to comment on immigration policies, those with strong militia ties or with a history of crackpot, violence-peddling conspiracy theories are paraded about as experts on the government. Why?

Don't provide fawning publicity to those that fantasize about terrorist acts. Again, this isn't a fucking difficult concept. It also should not be asking too much, of any honest outlet. We cannot stop isolated, violent people from doing isolated, violent things, but we can at least have the decency to not implicitly approve of those acts by providing platforms to those that do approve of such things.

Senators, congressmen, radio outlets, television outlets: The conservative right at this point can do little else but fearmonger. When even our elected leaders are waving their arms about supposed death panels and socialism, when members of Congress themselves are among the louder voices musing over the danger posed by Americans that practice the Islamic faith, when every single damn thing that comes along represents the possible "collapse of our military" (gay soldiers) or of the rule of law (some random environmental regulation): There is nothing but the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories, at this point. I have never been one to take the intellectual side of conservatism seriously, but at least there once was an intellectual side. You would be damn hard pressed to find such a thing now.

Remember this?

Daryl Johnson, who headed the DHS unit responsible for analyzing security threats from non-Islamic domestic extremists, was the principal author of the April 7, 2009, report "Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment."

The report was intended only for distribution to law enforcement agencies. But after it was leaked to the media, a firestorm erupted among conservative commentators who wrongly claimed it equated conservatives with terrorists. Within days, Napolitano had disowned it.

Johnson, who was interviewed for the upcoming summer issue of the SPLC’s Intelligence Report, said that following the controversy, the DHS dismantled the intelligence team that studied the threat from right-wing extremists and that the department no longer produces its own analytical reports on that subject. When the 2009 report was written, there were six analysts in the unit, including Johnson. Today, he said, there is one.

"DHS stopped all of our work and instituted restrictive policies," said Johnson, who has since left the department. "Eventually, they ended up gutting my unit. All of this happened within six to nine months after the furor over the report. Since our report was leaked, DHS has not released a single report of its own on this topic. Not anything dealing with non-Islamic domestic extremism – whether it’s anti-abortion extremists, white supremacists, 'sovereign citizens,' eco-terrorists, the whole gamut."

The 2009 report, speculating that isolated right-wing extremists might be being re-radicalized by the current political environment, caused such an uproar among conservatives (who presumed it to tar every one of them, merely by its existence) that the Department of Homeland Security not only nixed it, all but stopped researching non-Islamic terrorism threats altogether. Oh, heavens, we couldn't possibly consider radicalized right-wingers a threat to anyone, and how dare you even bring it up, said such bright intellects as Michelle Malkin and up-and-comers such as Newt Gingrich. It doesn't matter how many incidents take place, we are obligated to shield our eyes from any developing pattern. No, strike that: Even law enforcement is required to see no such pattern.

It is a lovely circle. The supposedly "mainstream" right is so convinced of government conspiracies against them that the government even pointing out violent elements in their midst is considered, itself, to be a conspiracy against them.

Again, why? Yes, it is all well and good to robustly condemn the crackpots after the fact, to say after the abortion-performing doctor was shot that you of course despise such actions, even if he was murdering people on a daily basis and needed to be stopped and such, or that nobody could have expected that a fellow traveller would read your thoughts about the imminent doom of society, based on supposed Muslim efforts to immigrate to western nations and outbreed good, decent white folks and take them to be exactly the sort of existential threat to their country that you have been vowing them to be. It would be better, however, to disassociate yourself from such rhetoric beforehand, and not afterwards.

We cannot prevent terrorism. It is impossible: Not even the worst of police states could manage it. But we can certainly distance ourselves from those that seek to legitimize it. I do not understand the impetus behind Fox News, in particular, constantly mainstreaming voices on the outer edges of the extreme. There should be no value in it for them. Yes, it provides a good, fearmongering thrill to the audience, but it seems a demonstrably dangerous game to play, at this point. I certainly think we should be allowed—no, required—to judge the network from the company it keeps, and it is far, far too often that we hear these stories and hear the perpetrators praising vicious conspiracy theories not too far off the mark from their own deranged thoughts, and find out they come from a book by Fox News contributor so-and-so, or Fox News personality so-and-so. Once is coincidence, two times, perhaps, but it is a pattern. Read about an incident of domestic terrorism or attempted act of terrorism, and within a day someone comes up with a picture of a right-wing figure that helped inspire the act or was specifically praised by the terrorist, complete with the Fox News corporate logo prominently displayed.

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