Aternet has a very good analysis of the psychology of hate rhetoric and how eliminationism plays into the acts of so called 'lone nutter's who commit acts of domestic terrorism. The piece centers on an interview with David Niewert who has just released his book "The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right.
Eliminationism is defined as the idea that groups of people, as opposed to individuals, must be eliminated in order to restore the body politic to it's former pristine self. Sort of a Phoenix rising from the ashes phenomenon. This notion is based in tribalism and is a world wide historical phenomenon. When a society has an externally defined enemy, such as the evil Soviet Empire, that society will not see very much internal terrorism. However, once that enemy is defanged, so to speak, a new enemy must be found and the search turns to internal domestic groups.
In the US this can be seen in the rise of the Patriot movement, virulent anti abortionists, the rise of white supremacy and anti semitism, opposition to Hispanic immigration, and the rise of hate crimes on LGBT citizens. All of these spikes occurred after the collapse of communism and escalate even further during democratic administrations. The first five months of the Obama administration has already seen more violent attacks on distinct groups than the entirety of the eight years of the Bush administration. Why so many now as opposed to twenty years ago?
Part of the answer is the rise in prominence of talk radio and major media personalities who engage in hate rhetoric and the demonizing of others. When asked if media personalities like Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly don't really help incite these acts David Niewert had this to say:
DN: Well, in a real simple way I would say that it's just nonsense. There is a very clear causal connection between hateful rhetoric that thoroughly demonizes other people to a point that they are objects fit for elimination, and the violent action that follows. As I explain the book with example after example -- historical examples.
Eliminationist rhetoric has the effect of creating permission for people to act. We can't turn away from that. We can't simply say, "well, the only person responsible for [Kansas abortion provider] George Tiller's death was [alleged gunman] Scott Roeder." I'm sorry, Scott Roeder got a lot of his ideas -- got a lot of his hate -- from listening to people like Bill O'Reilly. Yes, he was clearly a radical. He was a Freeman and was also associated with the Army of God. But you have to understand that people like that actually see people like Limbaugh and O'Reilly as liberals.
And compared to themselves they are relatively liberal. So when a guy like O'Reilly broadcasts their beliefs and says what they are thinking is right, it not only validates them, not only validates their beliefs, but it also spurs them to action, because their thinking is that if even the liberal media is saying it, it's even worse than we thought. That is a spark to action.
Rush Limbaugh even went so far yesterday as to claim on his show that the alleged Holocaust Museum shooter was a left wing radical, and not right wing at all. Think about that for a moment given the point in the above paragraph. If a liberal nut is shooting Jews, just how bad could this Jewish problem be? Of all the idiocies that have come from the mouth of Rush Limbaugh this one is beyond the pale.
At the end of the article Neiwert sums up his thinking:
DN: Hmmm. If you had asked me how effective standing up might be and how we should go about it, my answer would be that it's really important to understand that people on the right believe that they are doing the right thing. They believe that they are being good people and that they are standing up for what is right, even when they are being just so obviously evil.
But this is part of the dynamic. They see themselves as heroic. The dynamic of being a hero is what creates this phenomenon. It's part of the dualism of the mind-set that underlies the psychology of these problems. When you want to be the hero, you have to have an enemy.
So people on the right are constantly in the act of creating enemies. When the Soviet Union fell, they didn't have their classic enemy anymore. So they went about creating new ones. Suddenly, it was the government. It was our own people who were the enemy. We internalized in the 1990s -- at least the right really internalized it -- this idea of who the enemy is.
People on the left do it, too. People on the left want to think of themselves as heroic and engaging in this sort of heroic battle against the evil forces of the right. In the process, we help -- we just keep that dragon chasing its own tail. We become part of this self-perpetuating dynamic of creating enemies, and I think it is really fundamentally important to understand when we talk to and engage the people who are susceptible to this.
I want to add that you are probably never going to convince people like Limbaugh and Coulter and the real hard-core ideologues. You are just never going to successfully engage them and change their minds. But a lot of ordinary people -- the people who are influenced by them -- well, we have a great deal of hope for actually being able to change their minds.
So when we engage them, I think it is fundamentally important that we try not to see ourselves as heroes, that we don't turn them into the enemy but rather people like us, human beings who have frailties and have flaws and engage them in a real way, because that is how we are going to pull them over.
We are not going to change people's minds by pointing at them and calling them bad people. We are going to change people's minds by taking care to honestly engage them as one human being to another. That is the only way I think that we really can succeed.
In the next few days, we are going to see this phenomenon operating in the left, and it will be directed at Barack Obama. Americablog is reporting that the Obama Justice Department will file a brief in a California gay marriage case supporting the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA). The justifications from the brief are kind breath taking, citing state's rights issues involving restrictions on heterosexual marriages between incestuous family connections and under age chldren, and the savings to the Federal government from not extending marriage benefits to same sex couples. This latter argument has been thoroughly disproven by the General Accounting Office, who are probably thinking irritated gay citizens might come to the same conclusion their right wing compatriots do--that it's no longer important to pay any taxes.
Personally I see this as just another in a constantly lengthening line of Obama concessions to the domestic right wing culture warriors. The man is a pragmatist in the Clinton mode, not a Human Rights activist in the LBJ mode. My biggest fear is that he will fail with health care reform, exactly as Bill Clinton did, because every time he colludes with the impotent right he gives back more of the power the American electorate took from the right and gave to him.
I don't see this capitulation on DOMA as a gay rights issue so much as I do an issue of trust in the democratic process. The American people elected Obama because they wanted a change in direction. They elected a virtual Democratic strangle hold on Congress because they wanted a change in direction. We seem to be getting a change in direction on the International front, but are being led down the primrose path on the domestic front. I will be watching the health care battle with eyes wide open and ears to hear.