"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is that he did not go to the New York Times Building."~Ann Coulter
The overwhelming response received from LNJ letter writers (and one forum columnist) regarding my column of Sept 12 titled "Taking Our Country Back From the Hatemongers," was impressive for the sheer variety of concerns that were aired. Let me say that I appreciate the time and effort expended by these citizens to join a conversation that we've clearly needed to have. That said, while I applaud these commentators for their passionate embrace of the right of free speech, none of the counter-arguments offered has managed to move me one iota from my original thesis: that hate-speech is decimating public discourse and civility in America. Inadvertently, the responses of these writers, which were pretty much all over the lot, have made my point for me. The question remains will we allow it to continue, or move decisively to end it?
Since my column had a relatively tight and simple focus, it begs the question - what were these people responding to? - I suspect the generalized, toxic mental environment that hate speech gives rise to and nourishes. One respondent asked whether my intention was to "extinguish free speech." Nothing could be further from the truth. Another intimated that I somehow desired the "eradication of conservative Christians," but no such phrase appeared in my piece. Finally, a forum columnist sought to divert attention from Glenn Beck's hatemongering in a clumsy stab at smearing President Obama as a racist using the threadbare tactic of guilt by association. Why this writer became fixated on race perhaps he could best explain, but race per se was never my focus. Hate speech was. Despite the well meant (if uniformly off-base) efforts of the respondents, it still is.
David Neiwert's book THE ELIMINATIONISTS deserves further mention in the context of this discussion. Only those who haven't read it could characterize it, as did one writer, as "polemical." In it, is a good working definition of hate-speech, or as he calls it, eliminationist speech. Two main features set it apart from the normal, lively back and forth of oppositional political language. First, it is focused on an enemy within, constituted by entire blocs of the citizenry. Secondly, it advocates the excision and extermination of those blocs by violent or civil means. In other words, the purveyors of hate speech are not content merely to oppose those with whom they differ. They mean to eliminate them.
In July of 2008, Jim David Adkisson entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church and gunned down two elderly congregants. Officials told reporters the next day that Adkisson had been motivated by his hatred of the liberal movement. A search of the attacker's home in Powell, TN yielded guns, ammunition, and books by leading conservative pundits Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly. Also found was a "manifesto" written by Adkisson which was, according to Neiwert, a "distillation of these works."
Abortion provider Dr. George Tiller after being mentioned on FOX's "The O'Reilly Factor" on 28 occasions with such nicknames as "Dr. Tiller, the Baby Killer," was gunned down as he attended church in Wichita, Kansas in May 2009. When confronted about his coverage, O'Reilly, Pontius Pilate-like, washed his hands of the matter. Recently, at the Family Research Council's annual Values Voters Forum, O'Reilly was awarded the forum's first ever "Courage" award. The trial of alleged shooter Scott Roeder, begins in January.
This summer, in Phoenix at a speech that Barack Obama gave on health care, a man identified as Chris Broughton showed up outside the venue toting an AR-15 assault rifle and a handgun. The day before he'd heard his pastor, Steven L. Anderson, deliver a sermon titled, "Why I Hate Barack Obama," in which he explained why congregants should pray fervently for the President to "die and go to hell." I'm still waiting for the "inevitable" public outcry from those conservatives who still rail against Barack Obama's erstwhile minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
As a liberal, I often peruse the comments expressed by Maddow, Franken, Olbermann, Dowd, Rich, Letterman, Rall, Maher, Pelosi, The Daily Kos, and The Huffington Post. Strange though it may seem, such content has not once caused me to desire or advocate doing physical harm to my conservative fellow Americans. It was a fair criticism of my previous column that it was sparse on examples of left-wing eliminationist rhetoric, but it is equally fair to note that recent incidents like those mentioned above known to emanate from the liberal community have been very rare. If my detractors can produce such examples, I'd be happy to consider them. Until then, I continue (as does Neiwert) to view hate speech, and more importantly, the violence it increasingly incites, as a predominantly right-wing phenomenon.
In light of all this, one would expect moderate conservatives (assuming any are left) to quickly move to decry the hate-speech occurring daily within their ranks in order to avoid the stigma it justly carries, taking responsibility and action where appropriate. Unfortunately, what we've seen from politicians, national pundits, and alas, the respondents to my column has been, for the most part, obfuscation, deflection and finger-pointing.
That's disappointing, because the situation we face is becoming dangerous and ever more deeply embedded in our civic discourse. The local response to date has been to reject the search for solutions in favor of partisan inertia and misplaced bravado. Ultimately, this is to settle for being a part of the problem.
Below are links to the column and letters in response to my August 23 blog post:"Civility Strikes Back!"