Saturday, June 27, 2009

Right Wing Terrorism

Homeland Defense Secretary Janet Napolitano shouldn't have caved so quickly when conservatives howled at the DHS report that cited the danger potential from right wing extremists. Events since that report have proven that the report's thesis was valid. Now, we know that, but I was still surprised that people in other countries were watching America that closely when it came to the issue. I guess I shouldn't have been. One opinion piece in The Netherlands's Elsevier expressed essentially the same conclusion I've just described. It also contains a pretty solid analysis on why we've seen such a dramatic up-tick of right wing terrorism this year.

Since the inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 20 this year, ethnic relations may have improved on average, but there is currently more danger than before from the violent extremism of the right. After the attack on the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City in April 1995, in which 168 were murdered, it had diminished. However, since late 2008, extremism from the right is making itself heard very clearly, once again. ...

To account for the phenomenon, four reasons are mentioned, namely: the election of a black president; the economic crisis; the growing number of completely disillusioned war veterans back from Iraq and Afghanistan; and, finally, the fear that this government will be addressing the virtually unregulated possession of weapons. That last reason is based in conspiracy theory, because - however desperately needed - there are no plans to strongly restrict the possession of guns.

Guns have been the weapons of choice in the most recent barrage of attacks, and certainly the almost unlimited access to guns for just about anyone who seeks them is part of the problem. That said, even I have to admit that the violence would not necessarily be halted if all gun and ammunition sales were severely limited or even banned. The atmosphere right now is so charged with hatred that those who would strike would find the means to do so. Explosives, poisons, even chemicals could ostensibly be put into play.

The other three elements mentioned by Rik Kuethe, the author of the opinion piece, certainly are an accurate description of the elements in this deadly calculus, but I think Mr. Kuethe has overlooked one other very important element: the increasing virulence of the extreme right wing leaders with access to public forums such as talk radio and the Internet. One such right winger finally stepped over the line enough that he managed to get arrested twice this month. From a June 24, 2009 post at Think Progress:

Today, FBI agents went to the New Jersey home of white supremacist blogger/radio host Hal Turner and arrested him “on a federal complaint filed in Chicago alleging that he made Internet postings threatening to assault and murder three federal appeals court judges in Chicago in retaliation for their recent ruling upholding handgun bans in Chicago and a suburb,” according to a statement released by the Justice Department. ...

Turner is already in trouble with the law. Earlier this month, he turned himself in to the Connecticut State Police on charges of “inciting violence” against three state officials. He urged his audience to “take up arms” because he was reportedly “angry over legislation that would have given lay members of Roman Catholic churches in Connecticut more control over their parish’s finances.” Turner’s next court appearance in this case is on July 14.

Mr. Turner represents an extreme case because he has been so explicit in his threats and the urgings to his audience to take up arms against those whose opinion or actions they despise. A kook? Absolutely, and a dangerous one.

Equally as dangerous, however, are those with a more sophisticated approach, those who use code words or phrases to get their message across. Those who refer to abortion as "murder" and the doctors who perform the procedure as "murderers" are in reality calling on their supporters to do something about these criminals. In a society which finds capital punishment acceptable, the message is clear, and that message is coming from our radios and televisions with increasing regularity.

What we need to realize is that this kind of hate-filled incitement to violence is not speech protected by the First Amendment and never has been. In most jurisdictions, it's illegal, and rightfully so. Until we face that fact and do something about defanging the violence mongers, I fear the attacks will continue and will increase in frequency and severity.

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