01/13/2011 10:01 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Think Again: The Hate We Tolerate

In the wake of so much speculation regarding the motives of a murderous madman -- something none of us can ultimately know -- it is worth taking a look at just what have been the extremes of discourse that help legitimate hatred in our society, and could, conceivably, lead some to believe in the legitimization of violence. The role, in recent times, of Glenn Beck is a particularly useful vehicle for examining this question.

When, for instance, Mr. Beck posits the outrageous notion that President Barack Obama "has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or white culture," including, say, his mother and the grandparents who raised him, Beck sounds like a madman to most of us. But not only do his views represent a consensus among many of his Fox colleagues and viewers, they also were actually endorsed by the network owner, Rupert Murdoch.

Between Beck's television program and his even less restrained daily radio broadcast, Fox is supporting the spreading of some genuinely worrisome, potentially violence-inducing arguments against America's president. Beck feels no compunction in terming the president the leader of an "army of thugs" and comparing the country under his presidency to "the damn 'Planet of the Apes.'" Beck has promoted a 1936 book, The Red Network, written by Elizabeth Dilling, in which the author claims that "un-Christianized" "colored people" are "savages" and that "American Negroes have acquired professions, property, banks, homes, and produced a rising class of refined, home loving people" thanks to the "American government and the inspiration of Christianity."

Eric Boehlert of Media Matters describes one particular incident Beck precipitated during the summer of 2010. For more than a year prior, Beck had focused on the allegedly nefarious activities of a small, progressive foundation called the Tides Center. In 30 separate broadcasts, Beck portrayed the center, which provides administrative services such as payroll, benefits, and insurance to myriad small and startup organizations fighting for social change, as "a central player in a larger, nefarious cabal of Marxist/socialist/Nazi Obama-loving outlets determined to destroy democracy in America," in Boehlert's words.

Tides, Beck informed his audience, was staffed by "thugs" and "bullies" committed to "the nasty of the nastiest," such as indoctrinating schoolchildren and undoubtedly creating a "mass organization to seize power." In response to Beck's provocations, a gentleman named Byron Williams left his home in northern California to travel to the Tides Foundation; he had with him enough guns and ammunition to murder the entire staff. Williams believed this would spark a right-wing political revolution.