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[personal profile] dexeron
Once again, leaving public because I'm linking from outside of Livejournal.

Today is the anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, and I'd like to share an image from that time period. I think it has some currency in our own political discussions today:


This is what was distributed by the John Birch Society in Dallas in the weeks leading up to John F. Kennedy's assassination. Did the JBS plot to kill the President? Of course not (and I doubt any of them actually wanted to see him killed.) That's not the point. After all, Lee Harvey Oswald couldn't have disagreed more with the Birchers, and was very likely behind the murder attempt of outspoken JBS member General Edwin Walker.

No, this flier didn't lead to Kennedy's death, but I want you to look at it. Look at the claims it made. Look at how absurd they were. Then consider that these same people have said the same things about every President (including Republicans like Eisenhower and Nixon!*) In their breathless, fearful narrative, we are always on the verge of being taken over by the U.N., the Communists, the Muslims, the Atheists, the Mexicans - whatever group is currently in vogue to frame as the "other." America is always teetering on a precipice, about to fall into tyranny**, and somehow the fact that none of these predictions ever come true never dissuades these people from just replacing the current threat with a new one. The "Death of the West" is always just around the corner, should they not be elected. They have "always been at war with Eastasia," and they always will be.

The John Birch Society never really died. It transformed into the current alt-right and the tea party, and their rhetoric hasn't cooled down one bit. For eight years, we've heard that Obama is about to destroy America (although there has never been an adequate reason given why he'd want to do any such thing) and here we are, at the end of his Presidency, and America is pretty much the same as it was when he took office. They'll continue to talk about how he's "destroyed America" for eight years, but it's really kind of hard to point to anything in America that's much different from when he took office. We've got the ACA (likely soon to be repealed, but that didn't destroy America.) We've got BLM protests, but that's just the revealing of problems and tensions that existed all along (and folks were unwilling to admit to.) We've got conflict in the Middle East and extremist groups trying to spread their poison more widely: and we had that before Obama took office.

Basically, none of the outrageous predictions made by these people about Obama, or Kennedy, or Eisenhower, or Nixon, or even Reagan (before they decided to retroactively canonize him) came true.

So one is left asking why they continue to make these predictions? What does this constant drumbeat of fear accomplish? Well, when you give someone something to fear, a threat, you can then promise protection from that threat. You can say "I will protect you. Do what I say, vote how I vote, donate to whom I say to donate, and you will be safe." And for decades, people have willingly surrendered their capacity for independent thought to demagogues giving them something tangible to hate, and protection from it. The fact that they never needed protection in the first place never crosses their minds; their continued safety is not because the threat never existed, but because of "courageous benefactors" out there fighting on the front lines to keep them safe.

Unfortunately, that is a very effective way to build a grass-roots movement, and to win elections. Unfortunately, it's also a terrible way to actually govern and set public policy, at least any policy that respects fundamental ideals like equality and human rights.


Side point: Although Oswald wasn't directly influenced by this flier (at least not that anyone has ever been able to demonstrate,) it is well known that this kind of rhetoric does encourage unstable folks like Oswald to go out and commit acts of violence. When you point to someone and scream for decades that that person is a traitor, a monster, a literal existential threat to our lives and to our freedom, eventually you will have someone who takes you at your word, and decides that something must be done about it. Robert Lewis Dear, Jr., Dylann Roof, and Elliot Rodger all committed their acts of violence after years of having been immersed in hateful rhetoric from these kinds of groups.


Does it trouble you that this kind of thing goes on in a free society like America? Does it hit a little close to home? Have you, perhaps, been sometimes taken in by this kind of rhetoric? (There's no shame in that, it's likely that we all fall for this sort of thing from time to time, to one extent or another.) Human nature makes us unfortunately easily susceptible to rhetoric that plays to our preexisting ideas and fears. But regardless, it ought to trouble you. You should be concerned that vulnerable people are being victimized by these kinds of hate-mongers for partisan gain.

It's worse than that though. Currently, right now, there are hate groups far worse than the John Birch Society openly meeting and proudly wearing their hatred on their sleeves. Until recently, they had remained relatively obscure, cowed by a society's general rejection of their hate. Until recently, openly admitting to being a Nazi would have carried severe societal consequences.

Yet at the recent National Policy Institute conference, literal Nazi Richard Spencer spewed his usual White Nationalist nonsense about minorities and Jews, led the crowd in crying "Hail Trump" and giving Nazi salutes, used Nazi-era German phrases to describe the press - and didn't seem at all concerned about cameras being present.

If this video doesn't terrify you, you do not know history. It is easy for some to try to rationalize the words he is using, but again, that betrays an ignorance of both history and of the movement Spencer is part of (much like the Nazis, who refrained from actually ever talking directly about killing Jewish people, they speak in euphemisms in order to make their rhetoric and actions easier to swallow or ignore by the general population.)

When people speak about the "alt-right," remember that this man was one of its founders.

Make no mistake: these people have always been there. White Nationalism is nothing new. What is new is their boldness, their belief that Trump's victory spells a mandate for them, and their willingness to now walk openly among us. Trump may not be a White Nationalist himself (and maybe he's sincere in his disavowals of racism,) but the White Nationalists' belief in their new mandate has only been bolstered by Trump's appointments and his willing dog-whistle courting of them over the past year.

These are groups whose very bread and butter is the kind of fear that I speak of above: fear of the "other," be it women, minorities (religious or ethnic,) or political opponents. They preach the end of America (though their vision of America is not exactly that of most people) and they also preach that they are its saviors. And otherwise "decent" people, wanting solutions to the problems they are facing (or someone convenient to blame for them) find in their company scapegoats, someone to blame, someone to fear. These "decent" folk may not understand exactly who it is they have gotten into bed with, or perhaps they are merely willing to ignore that because of the security (physical and economic) that is being offered. Either way, the Nationalists among the alt-right prey on the insecurities and real fears of Americans who otherwise might balk if their message were presented openly and honestly. And regardless of whether these "decent" Americans actually support racist White Nationalist policies, the alt-right doesn't require their ideological adherence, but merely their dollars and their votes.

Other folks are less "decent," and flock to the alt-right banner because it tells them what they want to hear: that other people are to blame for everything that has gone wrong in their lives. Those people do not balk at the message being presented, and White Nationalists and other hate groups are happy to continue playing the drumbeat over and over again about the threat posed by "the other," about the wrongs done by them, about the destruction being wrought by them. And sometimes, people go out and act on that.


Why do I keep going on about this stuff? Understand what is happening. Understand history, and how this has happened in the past (and continues to happen around the world.) It starts with words, and it escalates from there. Random people are already out there committing acts of violence against people that they think are "the other." Women are having scarves ripped off of their head because some racist believed that they were Muslim (and even if these women were Muslim, it still would be abominable.) Minorities are being harassed and threatened. And again, this has been going on all along. This is nothing new. What is new is its frequency, its openness, its boldness.

For right now, most of it is just words.

Let me leave you with a statement from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

"The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words. The Museum calls on all American citizens, our religious and civic leaders, and the leadership of all branches of the government to confront racist thinking and divisive hateful speech."

It starts with words. It always starts with "just words," just random harassment, just outliers. It always moves in baby-steps, like the metaphorical frog being slowly boiled and not understanding the danger until it is too late. Germany did not wake up one morning having gone from the tolerant and libertine society of the early 30s to suddenly murdering Jews. There were small, discrete steps along the way, each carefully chosen and gauged to move people slightly farther along the path towards Hell. And each step was just a little thing, not a big deal, just a small compromise. After all, we all have to make sacrifices for freedom, right?

I fear that the next time some terrible attack happens in our country, or some disaster, or economic slump, we'll find that we're already so far along that path that too many of us will willingly take that next step. We already have people on national TV willingly referencing the internment of Japanese Americans in WWII --AS IF IT WERE A GOOD THING.--

What are you going to do to stand against this? This is something we all need to think long and hard about, because these groups are active, they're already gained more power than they've seen in decades, and they are seeking more. Do we just continue to "wait and see," or do we actually live up to those ideals we so often preach about ourselves?

It wasn't just "bad Germans" who let the Holocaust happen. It was the good Germans who stayed silent while happily walking along that path towards Hell until it was too late to speak up. It won't be just the White Nationalists who do the same in America. It will be us, all of us, you and me, who remain silent as they coax us, a step at a time, along that path towards Hell, while we remain silent and continue to "wait and see."


Here is a link to a brief explanation of how fascism attains power by testing people with small, discrete steps over time.

*Remember that these folks even preached this sort of thing about Reagan, though now they pretend to have never done so, and now consider him a saint. Doublethink indeed!

**An irony is that these groups often warn about a coming "tyranny" instituted by those that they hate and fear, yet propose as the alternative their own tyranny. See, it is not really tyranny that they fear, but merely not getting to be the ones actually in the position of dictator. They actually want tyranny, and love authoritarianism, and so they assume everyone else must as well; that someone might disagree with them, yet not want to institute some kind of dictatorship over them, is completely outside of their ability to imagine.

Date: 2016-11-22 06:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This article was posted after CNN weighed in on the Spencer video I linked above. Much of being made of the CNN marque stating "ALT-RIGHT FOUNDER QUESTIONS IF JEWS ARE PEOPLE" and the round table discussion on national TV actually giving airtime to his poison (even if only to disagree with it.)

Many will harp on the CNN marque as if that is where the issue truly lies. We will admit, for the sake of consistency, that despite being a horrible anti-Semite, Spencer never actually asked "Are Jews People?" or said that they aren't. But again, you have to remember euphemisms and rhetoric. Spencer didn't outright say that Jews were not really people. But he certainly implied it by evoking the Golem from Jewish mythology.

Does that sound like a cop-out, an excuse to cast aspersions on what might be an otherwise honest and innocent statement? Again, only if you have remained ignorant of history and how these groups have operated for nigh-upon a century now; even the Nazis themselves never outright admitted to killing Jews, and became expert at finding all kinds of euphemistic ways of making their mass murder more palatable to their own citizens and the rest of the world. Spencer's not an idiot. He knows damn well that speaking plainly would be rejected by a vast majority of Americans. What he has said, couched in euphemisms and dog-whistles, will be understood by the true believers, but leaves him enough wiggle room that he can call a literal Nazi salute a "rhetorical flourish." It's bullshit. Everyone knows it's bullshit, but he and people like him will respond to anyone calling it out for what it is as if he is the injured party, and lament loudly about being unfairly judged.

Do not fall for it. Do not let Nazis define the terms of our national conversation, even if CNN's marque isn't technically correct.


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Daniel Lustig

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