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Bigotry, Demonizing Rhetoric and Right-Wing Violence

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Since the inauguration of Barack Obama there have been nine murders by men and women who have intersected with ideologies of White Supremacy, xenophobia, and antisemitism. Across America there is a rising crescendo of diverse voices clamoring for a public discussion of the connection between demonizing rhetoric by high profile pundits and politicians and the rash of violent attacks by individuals enmeshed in bigotry and conspiracy theories.

During the election campaign in 2008 it was clear some people on the political Right were becoming agitated about the potential for a Black man backed by liberals to become the next President of the United States.

Shortly before the election, police broke up an alleged plot by racist skinheads in Tennessee to kill Black people and then assassinate candidate Obama.

On election night Ali Kamara, a teenage Muslim and Black immigrant from Liberia who lives on Staten Island, New York , was brutally assaulted by attackers who shouted “Obama.” That same night a church serving a predominantly Black congregation in Springfield, Massachusetts , was burned to the ground in an arson attack later determined to be a racist hate crime. In Maine residents discovered Black figures hanging from nooses tied to trees. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey crosses were burned in the yards of Obama supporters.

The acts of bigotry and violence continued. In December a man in Maine was shot to death by his wife who said he had become increasingly agitated about the election of Obama and had collected bomb-making materials in their home. Police found a filled-out application for joining a neonazi group.

Just a day after Obama’s inauguration in January, a young White man is alleged to have killed two people of color in the Cape Verdean community in Brockton, Massachusetts. Reports indicate he had been browsing White Supremacist and neonazi websites and had come to believe that White people were facing genocide at the hands of non-Whites, Hispanics and Jews.

After police detained him, he told them he had also planned to kill as many Jews as he could find that night. The dead included Selma Goncalves, who had tried to stop the alleged rape of her sister by the gunman. The other death was a father of eight, Arlindo Goncalves (not related), shot dead in the street simply because of skin color. There were other incidents of violence and threats against Obama linked to White Supremacists in North Carolina and Florida. On April 4, 2009 , a Pittsburgh man was charged with killing three police officers, Eric Kelly, Stephen Mayhle, and Paul Sciullo III. According to news reports, the gunman had expressed White Supremacist and antisemitic views, and worried that there was a conspiracy afoot for government agents to seize all guns. Then, in the space of two weeks, there were three more deadly incidents. May 30, Arizona. Police allege that a gang of racist vigilante “border patrol” activists staged an armed invasion of the home of a Mexican family, killing the father, Raul Flores, the nine-year-old daughter, Brisenia, and seriously wounding the mother. According to the charges brought against a trio linked to the Minuteman American Defense (MAD), the plan was to kill all the residents of the house, and then steal the narcotics and money the vigilantes expected to find there. The funds were to be used to support increased border vigilante actions. In a “Patriot Hearts Network” web radio interview a few weeks earlier, one of the trio had denounced the illegal crossing of the border by Mexicans and warned, “We’re going to be walking into some times of revolution….” May 31, Kansas. A man involved in the right-wing Sovereign Citizen movement and the militant wing of the anti-abortion movement walked up to Dr. George Tiller, standing at the entrance to his church, and shot him dead. Tiller, considered a hero by many in the reproductive justice movement, was a symbol of evil to many in the anti-abortion movement. The Sovereign Citizen movement is rooted in a White Supremacist interpretation of U.S. Constitutional law, and frequently overlaps with antisemitic conspiracy theories. Several right-wing pundits on TV and radio had repeatedly condemned Tiller by name. June 10, Washington, DC. A gunman walked toward the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum firing a rifle, and killing a Black security guard, Stephen Tyrone Johns. The man charged in the armed assault has a long history of virulent writings outlining his White Supremacist and antisemitic views. The victims are named in this update. The perpetrators are evidence of a larger pattern of racist scapegoating and conspiracist thinking that is toxic to democracy. Their names are not as important as the need for a public discussion of these deadly dynamics.
What you can do... 1) Spread the word about today's Fresh Air program and the Media Matters for America press conference also scheduled for today. Read Media Matters' Report on Right-wing media and the fringe: A growing history of violence (and denial). 2) Download and Read Toxic to Democracy: Conspiracy Theories, Demonization, & Scapegoating. 3) Browse the list of resources from a number of civil rights and human right groups concerned about this toxic environment of bigotry. Then pick a group to work with and support them. Get involved. 4) Resist further erosion of our civil liberties. The recent government report on so-called "Right-Wing Extremism" had valuable information, but was flawed by dubious claims and a failure to differentiate between right-wing ideas and criminal activity.
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(photo copyright 2009, Chip Berlet)