Thomas F. Schaller
January 24, 2011
In my previous column I argued that radical, even violent rhetoric coming from the political right is more incendiary and aggressive than that coming from the left. I received a lot of angry e-mails claiming both sides deserved equal scorn.
Really? Well then, let’s move beyond mere rhetoric to action — from talking the talk, to walking the walk. Before proceeding, again let me clarify that the overwhelming majority of conservatives neither engage in nor incite violence. However, it is almost always conservatives who use violence, even murder, to express political anger.
In 2009, David Neiwert published “The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right,” a book detailing the language and actions employed by right-wing radicals. Mr. Neiwert continues to track politically motivated crimes committed by those expressing anger about taxes, abortion, racial minorities or liberals. I previously mentioned the May 2009 murder of abortion doctor George Tiller and tax protester Joseph Stack’s crashing of a plane into an IRS building in February 2010. But readers might not recall other, similar incidents:
•In July 2008, after writing a manifesto complaining about how left-wing liberals are destroying America, Jim Adkisson walks into a Unitarian church in Knoxville, Tenn., and shoots and kills two churchgoers.
•White supremacist Richard Poplawski, who claims President Barack Obama wants to take away his guns, shoots and kills three Pittsburgh police officers in April 2009.
•In July 2009, anti-tax zealot and Holocaust denier James von Brunn opens fire inside the national Holocaust Museum, killing a security guard.
I don’t have space for the rest, but Mr. Neiwert chronicles 18 incidents like this from the past 21/2 years — that’s one incident roughly every 40 days — involving militia members, so-called “sovereign citizen” anarchists, white supremacists or anti-abortion radicals who killed or were caught plotting the murder of innocent people, local law enforcement officials and, of course, President Obama.
Now consider two incidents from last week, neither of which garnered much national attention.
On Jan. 17, a bomb later defused by authorities was found in a backpack at a Martin Luther King Day rally in Spokane, Wash. The next day, 200 sheet metal workers and painters union members burst into a Washington, D.C., hotel to protest a meeting of homebuilder executives whose companies benefited from nearly a billion dollars in federal tax breaks at a time when millions of Americans were losing their homes to foreclosure.
These incidents typify the glaring difference between how political anger is expressed by most on the left and the small but growing number on the radicalized right. Yes, sometimes environmentalists, Code Pink protestors or union members trespass or disturb the peace; what they don’t do is try to kill their political opponents or innocent civilians.
Let me offer two final observations, and a challenge to my critics.
First, for decades, conservatives have insisted that culture influences action. Violent or sexed-up video games, television shows and movies, though fictional, are routinely blamed for contributing to drug use, promiscuous sex, illegitimacy, gang violence and other social ills. Yet somehow the daily rants by conservative radio and television personalities about tyrannical government, evil liberals and murdering abortionists, though not fictional, are wholly unrelated to the actions of a supposedly isolated, mentally disturbed few? Culture warriors want it both ways.
Second, imagine the reaction of Glenn Beck and his ilk had Muslim radicals, post-Sept. 11, shot police officers, killed churchgoers, bombed the Salt Lake City Olympics or flown planes into corporate headquarters. America would be put on Orange-level alert, and rightly so. Yet, despite an April 2009 report issued by the Department of Homeland Security warning that, amid rising economic insecurity and following the election of the nation’s first African-American president, “lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat” in America, there will be no such alerts for domestic terrorism.
To my critics, I pose a simple challenge: Produce a comparable list of violent acts or attempted acts during the past two years perpetrated by those who support economic fairness, reproductive choice, universal health care, environmental protection, animal rights or any other liberal cause against corporate executives, pro-life organizers, small business owners or white evangelicals.
If you can, I’ll retract this column and the previous one. Good luck.
Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column, which has been published on alternate Tuesdays, will now be appearing on alternate Wednesdays. His e-mail is [email protected].
Editor’s note: Earlier versions of this article wrongly referred to a T-shirt found in the backpack containing the bomb in Spokane, Wash., as having an anti-abortion slogan on it. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.