The story surfaces nationally with a surreal Glenn Beck segment and two ludicrous Fox News discussions highlighting the false claim that Brandeis University was hosting an international conference linking the Tea Party movement to Nazis in Europe. The conference, which took place yesterday, revealed the entire propaganda campaign was a hoax, but not before anguished Holocaust survivors, conservative Jews in the Tea Party movement, and others had deluged Brandeis University with complaints.
Now it seems that the story emerged as part of a Fox News campaign to defend the diverse and complicated Tea Party movement from evidence that its supporters include a significant contingent of White people who harbor racial resentment against Blacks and Latinos/Latinas.
For the original Brandeis story on Fox News reporters relied on the claims of a single local Boston Tea Party advocate and conservative talk radio shock jock, Michael Graham, for its information. So Fox News featured the offensive hoax based on biased hearsay, unsubstantiated supposition, and a misreading of the conference program by a person who is a Tea Party supporter
The Glenn Beck segment drifted farther away from facts and logic.
Glenn Beck segment:
3:20 Brandeis conference denounced
6:00 Beck tell viewers to contact Brandeis
As Media Matters for America observed, apparently the most significant aspect of the story for Beck was that the University was named after Jewish scholar and Supreme Court justice, the late Louis D. Brandeis. The group said that for Beck, the "Brandeis University symposium on political extremism is suspect because Louis Brandeis was in Wilson's cabinet," quipped Media Matter's link to that portion of Beck's tirade which skirted on the thin ice of classic antisemitic conspiracy claims about manipulation of politics by powerful elite Jews.
Since I was a conference participant, and part of the hoax was based on the title of my paper, I am writing this from a personal perspective. And am I pissed off? You Betcha!
Unlike Fox News and the right-wing blogosphere, some people actually contacted me before the conference and fact-checked the claims. Not Graham, who wrote an op-ed in the Boston Herald repeating his false claims.
My conference paper, which clearly stated that I did not think that Tea Party activists were Nazis, was presented at an interdisciplinary conference coordinated by the Brandeis Center for German and European Studies. The conference title was "New Right-Wing Radicalism: A Transatlantic Perspective." A range of scholars with demonstrable expertise on the subject from Europe and United States were invited.
When Brandeis realized the conference program was being misinterpreted, it issued the following statement:
On April 28, the Center for German and European Studies at Brandeis University is hosting a conference on the rise of right-wing radicalism.
The event, which features speakers from a variety of universities and institutions, focuses on developments in Europe, including the rise of neo-Nazi and anti-semitic groups. It also includes discussion of a wide range of movements and activities in the United States, from the extreme and violent to the Tea Party, as a point of comparison.
The logo created for the conference showed a swastika inside the international symbol of negation, reflecting the legitimate concern people feel over the activities, often violent, of neo-Nazi extremists.
Unfortunately, this logo created an impression that Brandeis and the conference organizers equated a range of organizations, including the Tea Party in the United States, with extremist groups on both continents.
That was not the intention of the faculty, staff or students of the University who were involved in creating the conference, and Brandeis regrets the unintended association and pain this caused. The logo has been removed from the event page promoting the conference
So Brandeis understood that the agony for Holocaust survivors caused by the hoax media claims required a revised graphic and an apology. Good for Brandeis. No apologies yet from Fox News for not bothering to fact-check the hoax allegations before misrepresenting the Brandeis program on national television and spawning a storm of controversy on the right-wing side of the Internet.
After the conference Fox News continued to beat the dead horse droppings of their manufactured story. They featured Graham, who is publicizing himself by contacting other conservative outlets such as Accuracy in Media and highlighting his role in publicizing what he calls a scandal and I call a hoax.
Fox News is using the Brandeis controversy to insulate the Tea Parties from increasing media coverage of racism and xenophobia within the movement. I reviewed the racial bias in the Tea Parties in my Brandeis presentation yesterday.
On their first story about the Brandeis conference Fox News sandbagged NPR commentator Juan Williams who was asked to comment on the charge that the Tea Party activists were Nazis. Not surprisingly Williams thought the charge was outlandish. It is. It is also a hoax. Williams should be more alert to the idea that Fox News would exploit William's skin color as a way to dismiss increasing evidence of racial bias in the movement.
Victor Goode on RaceWire, the Colorlines Blog, summarized a New York Times poll that "shows that while their most important concern is the economy, they often view this issue through the lens of racially tinted glasses."
The University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality has released a study that shows the "tea party is not just about politics and size of government. The data suggests it may also be about race" study author Christopher Parker, explained. The study asked questions about the trustworthiness and intelligence of Black and Latino/Latina people in the United States, and showed that Tea Party supporters are significantly more prone to prejudice, than those who oppose the movement.
According to a University press release:
Indeed, strong support for the tea party movement results in a 45 percent decline in support for health care reform compared with those who oppose the tea party. "While it's clear that the tea party in one sense is about limited government, it's also clear from the data that people who want limited government don't want certain services for certain kinds of people. Those services include health care,"Parker said.
Some defenders of the Tea Parties go so far as to claim the movement is not on the political right at all. David A Graham on the Newsweek website has put together a photo essay depicting similar historic conservative movements. According to Graham, "the United States has a long tradition of reactionary, conservative, populist movements, dating back to before the Civil War. States has a long tradition of reactionary, conservative, populist movements, dating back to before the Civil War." Many of them included racial or ethnic prejudice and hostility toward immigrants.
The second Fox News program on the Brandeis affair, after the conference, attempted to divert attention away from the potential anti-immigrant trends in the Tea Parties. One recent Tea Party event featured anti-immigrant Machiavellian mastermind Tom Tancredo--a notorious bigot and racist. The former Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo told a Tea Party rally in South Carolina that Obama should be sent back to Africa.
One of the core themes of Beck and Fox News is that fascism is a left-wing movement. The subject came up at the Brandeis conference, and one of the German scholars observed that while it was undeniably true that national socialists led by Gregor Strasser played an important role in the Nazi Party, the 1934 Röhm-Putsch (aka the Night of the Long Knives), terminated the revolutionary socialist agenda of the Nazi Party. He said, however, it was generally accepted that German Nazism was a right-wing movement.
I was part of a group of scholars asked by the History News Network to review Jonah Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism, and all of us thought the claims and analysis in the book were unsubstantiated, and contradicted the majority scholarship.
The discussion of the role of angry middle-class right-wing populist movements intersecting with opportunistic politicians and media demagogues to facilitate the formation of fascist and neo fascist movements is well studied in scholarly literature. But hyperbolic claims from the political Left that the Tea Party movement itself is a Nazi movement flow from deeply inaccurate and superficial perceptions about the nature of fascism and the actual attitudes within the Tea Party movement.
There is, however, a set of dynamics that the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as "Rage on the Right," that involves the Patriot Movement, the Militias, Anti-immigrant groups, and the Ultra Right including neonazis.
In recent months a number of progressive scholars and journalists have opened up a discussion about these dynamics, most recently Noam Chomsky, but preceded by Sara Robinson, David Neiwert, author of The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right.
This is not the same as denouncing the Tea Party movement as Nazis. It is a comparative analysis of the role of right-wing populist movements in Germany during the Weimar regime, and the role they played in the decision of elite faction in Germany to give power to Hitler to solve the "crisis;" but also to block the growing power of socialist and communist parties and movements.
That's not the situation in the U.S. today. The Tea Party movement is not on the verge of joining the tiny "groupuscule" of neonazis in our country. It is far more likely they will pull the Republican Party further to the right--chased by the Democrats led by deluded spin doctors who apparently control what passes for Democratic Party strategy built around snidely deriding the Tea Party activists as ignorant and lunatic "wing-nuts."
Of course like all populist social movements on the right or left, the Tea Party could collapse in a few months, or merge into a revitalized Republican Party, or splinter into segments built around libertarianism, xenophobic anti-immigrant activism, Gun Rights, anti-Muslim fears, and the Christian Right gender-drive social agenda of pushing gay people back into the closet and forcing women into back alleys for abortions. Nobody knows for sure.
Shock Jock Graham apparently missed the parts of my presentation dealing with why a comparative analysis of how the Tea Party, Town Hall, and Militia movements interact in a dynamic way with the Republican Party on one side and organized insurgent ultra-right movements on the other side. He might have picked up one of the diagrams I distributed at the conference, but if so, he apparently missed the point. (this version is from 2009, as it shows how long I have used this analytical lens mentioning the reformist and dissident Tea Party movement as situated between the reformist Conservative Right and the Insurgent Ultra Right including neonazis.
I have also explained the dynamic of how angry right-wing populism can lead to aggression and violence, especially against people of color and immigrants, on Religion Dispatches, and in the Progressive magazine in a February cover story titled Taking Tea Partiers Seriously."
Since Graham apparently has not bothered to actually read any of my work, or else he simply ignores its content. So here is the text from the end of my Brandeis conference paper:
Fascism exploits anger and frustration and directs it into demonization and scapegoating; creating a potential for aggression and violence that in the worst case scenario can end in genocide.
The work of Fritzsche and others on voting patterns in Weimar Germany demonstrates that in the late 1920s Hitler's Nazi Party was able to exploit the fears of exasperated middle class voters by promising to fix a broken economic and political system.
After the First World War Yeats wrote in his poem "The Second Coming" :
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold...
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Most right-wing populist movements never become fascist, and most fascist movements never gain state power; but the turmoil created in these volatile periods can undermine civil society, and harm the individuals targeted as scapegoats.
Even if you think my presentation is hogwash, please understand that no one at Brandeis and no panelist here today, including me, ever meant to suggest that the Tea Party movement was the equivalent of the Nazi Party. We all thought that was obvious.
A simple Internet search would have demonstrated that I have repeatedly condemned the trivialization, mockery, and name-calling aimed at the participants in the Tea Party movement.
For media demagogues to exploit the agony of the Holocaust for political gain and to attract personal attention is offensive to this audience, the Brandeis community, Jews around the world, and every decent person on this planet.
You may disagree with everything I said here today, but know that the point of conferences like this is to ensure we have learned the horrible lessons of the Nazi genocide, and continuously explore it from a variety of perspectives. And I hope all of us here today can agree on one point... Never Again!
This post is my personal rant (see, for example going Santelli) . It does not in any way represent the views of my employer, my freelance editors, or the many subversive pinko human rights groups to which I belong or support as a board member or advisor.