Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hate Speech Redux

"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!"



  1. Durren,
    I blame it on the parents. Just like racism, ignorance, is not a trait you're born with. Unfortunately, the indoctrination process that is well established here in East Texas has created a culture of political ignorance and underlying racism.

    When these people reference Fox News and Beck to support their argument only shows how bad the problem is. We can only hope that as the children get older and start to think for themselves that they may break the cycle that has most of Texas encircled.

  2. Laughable at best. It is funny how I do not hear you decrying Olbermann for saying this: "She received death threats and hate-filled voice mails all thanks to the total mindless, morally bankrupt, knee-jerk, fascistic hatred, without which Michelle Malkin would just be a big mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick on it." about Michelle Malkin, or Chris Matthews for saying this: "You guys see Live and Let Die, the great Bond film with Yaphet Kotto as the bad guy, Mr. Big? In the end they jam a big CO2 pellet in his face and he blew up. I have to tell you, Rush Limbaugh is looking more and more like Mr. Big, and at some point somebody's going to jam a CO2 pellet into his head and he's going to explode like a giant blimp." about Rush Limbaugh, but I suppose its ok since you don't like either one of them. The list goes on and on and on, Nancy Pelosi herself spewed some vile garbage about the Tea Party goers as did CNN.
    You are a hypocrite plain and simple.

  3. Anonymous, let me start by saying this is the other half of this blog, Jonna, not the writer of the original entry. I hadn't seen this clip until you brought it to my attention, so thank you for pointing it out, but confirm for me please, Anonymous, that you are aware that the "she" of the "she received death threats and hate-filled voice mails" is not Michelle Malkin, but a woman Malkin wrongly identified as having written a song schoolchildren sang at a school function, a pro-Obama song, and that anti-Obama people then threatened the life of this woman wrongly identified by Malkin. He wasn't talking about Malkin receiving death threats, or suggesting that Malkin should receive death threats, or in fact threatening her in any way. He was insulting her, and he was ridiculing her, and perhaps he went over the top, but he was not threatening, and there was no hate speech as defined in the original blog - so no, he's not being slapped down here. As to Matthews, it was satire and ridicule, but not hate speech. Satire and ridicule occur on both sides every day, but FOX and other outlets go beyond satire and ridicule and yes, their words often fit the definition of hate speech as given above, and people have died as a result of them. If these two Olbermann and Matthews quotes are all you can come up with, and no evidence of any violent acts or people carrying guns to demonstrations because of them, then you are ineffective and wasting my time.

  4. Putting a co2 pellet into someone's head and making them explode is an act of violence so in that point you are wrong. And Anderson Cooper calling the tea party goers tea baggers, was that satire too? And let's not forget Mr Durren Anderson himself driving around Longview with a Rush is Reich bumper sticker, I suppose that comparing Limbaugh to a man that killed millions of people is satire too and acceptable? Oh no that's hot hateful at all. Like I said, hypocrits :) Might want to pull the beam out of your own eye before you pull the splinter out of your neighbors :D

    As far as people carrying guns to demostrations I am only aware of the man that carried one in what state? Mass? Either way he was completely within his rights to do so and no violence occured. Of course Matthews went crazy and cussed like a sailor at the man, but the man did not lose his cool. As opposed to all the violence at the G20 from the leftist protestors. Throwing rocks at the police, I guess that's ok?

  5. Anonymouse (that's satire, not hate-speech),

    First, I don't believe Chris Matthews qualifies as a member of the "Liberal Community," so I feel no great compunction to defend his words. Secondly, the words that you attributed to Matthews really only rise to the level of a joke, though I will grant that it was a bad one.

    Nor do I consider Anderson Cooper to remotely resemble anything like a "liberal." He's a mainstream journalist. I guess these things are relative. If they are not the ideological Kool-aid drinkers that the right prefers, then they are "liberals," right? Well, that's absurd.

    The right has a really thin skin in these matters, it would appear. Now that the left has talking heads who can hold their own in the arena with those on the right who have been at it much longer, and with generally more vile language, well now the right is up in arms.

    None of the examples you pose meet the standard for hate speech that the blog refers to (try reading it closely). Private citizens can pretty much display any sentiment they want on (their) truck bumpers and tee shirts and belt buckles, etc. Or haven't you noticed that right wingers have bumper stickers too?

    My concern is when journalists, pundits, and politicians at the state and national levels yield to the temptation of saying any extremist thing that pops into their mind. Since they have a larger megaphone, they should be held to a higher standard than you and me.

    Calling the tea-party people "tea-baggers," is satire and ridicule. That's in bounds and fair game, and it has always been that way. Also, we have always had mass protests like the G-20 events, where there is always the potential for protesters on the left or right to get out of control. That's why the police are on hand to throw into jail anyone who breaks the law. That's not hate speech. That's free speech. Bringing it up was irrelevant on your part.

    The Ann Coulter quote that heads the blog, is hate speech because it clearly advocates harming the people who work in the New York Times building, fellow Americans who presumably are just doing their jobs.

    If you can find me examples of liberals doing that, I will condemn them because inciting to harm fellow Americans is wrong. That's the point here. The biblical parable you mention is good advice, and you should take it. There is also the saying that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

    As to citizens bringing weapons to political events, it strikes me the same as would lighting a match in a fireworks factory. Sure, we have the right to do so, but is it smart? We have the rights of drinking alcohol and driving cars, but most agree that combining the two is dumb and dangerous. The same goes for guns at political events where emotions run high, and passions are on display.

    Even if you find good examples of eliminationist left-wing talk, does that make the same kind of violent rhetoric that conservatives engage in right? No, it doesn't. This is not a childish game of tit for tat. There is a serious problem that affects all, liberal or conservative. If you persist in missing that point, things are bound to get worse. Bottom line? Clean your own house if it needs it (it does). I'll clean mine.

    Lastly, since you obviously know who I am in referring to a bumper sticker on my personal vehicle (several years ago), I would ask you in the future to share your identity as well. If you choose not to do so, well I find that to be a bit, shall we say, "timid?" At any rate, posts under "anonymous" will no longer be accepted on this blog.


  6. Anonymous, there were several incidents of guns at Obama protest rallies, outside events where Obama was attending, in NH, AZ and CO, and not just one person. As I believe Durren has already pointed out, the AZ incident was in direct response to a sermon preached by the man's minister. If you've not heard of these incidents, you might want to check in with a source other than FOX News every once in awhile.

  7. I only comment as Anonymous because I do not have any of those other ID's in the profile selection. Most forums and such have this registration process you go through and submit your email and such. I will tell you who I am. We have even met once a long time ago. You worked with my brother at Baron's book store, last. My name is Mike. A few more examples:

    •National Public Radio legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg:

    [I]f there is retributive justice [Sen. Jesse Helms] will get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it.

    •USA Today syndicated columnist Julianne Malveaux, on Clarence Thomas:

    I hope his wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter and he dies early like many black men do, of heart disease.

    •Washington Post syndicated columnist Richard Cohen:

    For hypocrisy, for sheer gall, [Newt] Gingrich should be hanged

    And that was my point to you sir, the left has been directing hate speech for years, yet when the right hits back, suddenly the discourse is no long acceptable? It's back to the glass house analogy.

  8. O.K. Mike,

    I can't loose this argument because essentially it is against all hate speech, even that occurring on the left. Of the three examples you offer, only Cohen's could be construed as hate speech because it openly advocates a violent act against an individual American. As such, I join you in condemning it.

    As to the other examples, they are indeed in poor taste, but really only amount to a kind of "wishful thinking" on the part of the writers in that they express a wish for the "poetic justice" of ill befalling others. That is fundamentally different from suggesting that they should actually be harmed by their enemies or opponents.

    I can't help but notice that you had to go back pretty far in time to find the examples that you unearthed. Whereas, I can show rafts of such comments coming from the right everyday from media personalities much more prominent and influential than those you mentioned. If you want to play that game, you'll lose. But as I said before, this is no childish game we are playing here. People have died recently as a result of hate-speech. It's not a joke. It's a serious matter.

    I take it that if you can recognize hate-speech on the left, you can also recognize it on the right. Only, I don't hear much condemnation of the right from its own members for this kind of outrageous rhetoric.

    We have always had and will continue to have lively oppositional political language. Some of it will be harsh, sarcastic, and biting, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's hate-speech or eliminationist speech. Hate speech as I have defined it, is language that openly suggests or advocates doing actual violence to some segment of society or to an individual.

    I have no problem condemning liberals for doing this when it meets that definition. The question is, when will conservatives call out their own for doing it? As stated in the blog, people (mostly liberals lately) have died as a result of this language which seems to "give permission" to certain types in our culture who take things to the next level. Especially when they hear it from those in positions of power in our statehouses and on the airwaves who should know better.

    You still haven't come up with any examples of liberals who, upon hearing extreme language from folks like Malveaux, Totenburg, Cohen, or any other liberal you care to mention, went out and shot someone as in the examples from the blog post.

    My point is that this should worry conservatives much more than the harsh rhetoric coming from the left. Why do you ignore it, and focus only on the left? Isn't the more important question why conservatives lately seem to be "acting out" and committing violent acts toward those perceived as liberal enemies? Liberals are not "enemies," you know. Just Americans who see things differently, which the constitution gives them the right to do. They should not have to live in fear of violence from their own fellow citizens.

    If we can't even agree on that, then I think we're done here.


  9. Wanta know why you don't hear from moderate conservatives? We jumped ship in 1992 at the RNC when Pat Buchanan was allowed to spew forth ....
    We'd rather be considered moderate liberals now, thank you very much! :-)

  10. Hi, Durren, I hope you remember me from when I lived in Longview,we were introduced by Ron Harrelson. I have enjoyed your columns amd concur wholeheartedly as a fellow human hoping for a more civilized future. Check out my blog if you want, its called

    Bluewarp, a Retrospective of Drawings and Poetry

  11. Ted,

    I remember the name, but my memory banks have yet to produce a face for it. Thanks for the support. Will check out your blog at my first opportunity.