Wingnut Murder Spree or Are WE Part of the Problem?

05/25/2011 01:30 pm ET
  • Rob Kall Host, Bottom-up Radio Show WNJC 1360, publisher, and

Last week, a right wing extremist known to be mentally ill murdered an abortion doctor, who Bill O'Reilly repeatedly called "Tiller the baby killer."

Yesterday an imbalanced right wing extremist killed a guard at the Jewish Holocaust Museum.

What's next? A gay couple shot in a gay marriage state as they are wed? A cop shot because he finds an unregistered weapon? African Americans at church? Muslims at mid-day prayer at a mosque? Jews in a synagogue? Latino workers waiting at a bus stop? Protesters run over and killed while peacefully protesting the war?

The extremist right wing echo chamber has decided to sow unrest by characterizing left wingers and their positions as anti-American, murderous, traitorous, thieving, criminal, family-threatening, communist, socialist, perverted, deranged... and it is working. This is more than sowing unrest. It is sowing ideation-- ideas of killing.

The extremist left wing blogosphere (they don't have an effective mainstream media echo chamber presence) composed of anarchists, extremist libertarians and conspiracy theorists rails about Zionist plots, about a New World Order that aims to imprison Americans in concentration camps, about government as Mordor (the evil entity in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings). And these people are also interested in their gun rights and fighting. There are less of these, and sometimes it's hard to tell if they are right or left wing. But it's clear they are extremists.

Hate is rising. Unfortunately, more than 5% of the population has emotional or mental illness. Some stats suggest the rate could be as high as 26%. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports,

An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older -- about one in four adults -- suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people.

Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion -- about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 -- who suffer from a serious mental illness. In addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for ages 15-44.

Many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a given time. Nearly half (45 percent) of those with any mental disorder meet criteria for 2 or more disorders, with severity strongly related to comorbidity.

This means that when O'Reilly or Hannity or Beck or Savage or even some of the left-appearing conspiracy sites invoke hate imagery, or when neo-nazi, aryan, white power websites characterize minorities hatefully, there are millions of highly imbalanced, severely mentally disordered Americans -- easily exceeding 10 million-- who can be influenced. It is amazing that more have not already been "stirred" by extremist media and website evocations to take violent action. But that is changing. We've seen, in recent months, huge increases in violent acts by individuals. Some have been revenge killings. These two recent murders have been clearly associated with hate.

In early April this year, Homeland Security and the FBI issued a joint intelligence assessment: Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization & Recruitment It reports:

This product is one of a series of intelligence assessments published by the Extremism and Radicalization Branch to facilitate a greater understanding of the phenomenon of violent radicalization in the United States. The information is provided to federal, state, local, and tribal counterterrorism and law enforcement officials so they may effectively deter, prevent, preempt, or respond to terrorist attacks against the United States. Federal efforts to influence domestic public opinion must be conducted in an overt and transparent manner, clearly identifying United States Government sponsorship.

Threats from white supremacist and violent antigovernment groups during 2009 have been largely rhetorical and have not indicated plans to carry out violent acts. Nevertheless, the consequences of a prolonged economic downturn -- including real estate foreclosures, unemployment, and an inability to obtain credit -- could create a fertile recruiting environment for rightwing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities similar to those in the past.

Rightwing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda, but they have not yet turned to attack planning.

The current economic and political climate has some similarities to the 1990s when rightwing extremism experienced a resurgence fueled largely by an economic recession, criticism about the outsourcing of jobs, and the perceived threat to U.S. power and sovereignty by other foreign powers.

During the 1990s, these issues contributed to the growth in the number of domestic rightwing terrorist and extremist groups and an increase in violent acts targeting government facilities, law enforcement officers, banks, and infrastructure sectors.

Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson Amy Kudwa, when asked to comment on the tie between yesterday's Holocaust museum killing and the April Intelligence Estimate on Rightwing Extremism referred me to yesterday's FBI report and confirmed that DHS is involved in investigations. The report isn't really worth clicking through to read, it's so skimpy.

Hate begets more hate. Violence begets more violence. Combine hate and fear radio, hate, fear and intolerance websites, hate podcasts and a crisis economy where people feel they are losing all they have and we see the beginning of a perfect storm of hate crimes and murders committed by a tiny percentage of the millions of unstable, severely mentally ill who have been primed to move from sullen bigotry and anger to violent criminal action.

There were, in 2004, according to NIMH, 5.7 million American adults with bipolar disorder, 2.4 million with schizophrenia, 7.7 with Post traumatic stress disorder. These people are at risk every day. The hate mongers, like O'Reilly, Savage, Beck, Aryan Nation, Fox News... the list is a long one... are priming these tens of millions of people.

A social security check arrives late. A bounced check starts bank charges that end up costing hundreds of dollars and one of these people can go over the edge, blaming immigrants, blacks, Jews, gays, war protesters -- and the next thing you know we are seeing dead people on national TV. And those millions of other Americans afflicted with mental or emotional illness are also seeing one more case of a person letting go, unleashing the hate that the extremist media has built up.

Anti-abortion people put on a shocked face and decry the murder of Dr. Tiller.

The Washington Post reports that John de Nugent, white supremacist friend of the Holocaust Museum murderer James W. Von Brunn "called von Brunn a genius but described the shooting as the act of "a loner and a hothead." "The responsible white separatist community condemns this," he said. "It makes us look bad."

Crooksandliars reports that Glen Beck suggests that the Holocaust Museum killer is not a right winger, he's a lefty. Beck offered the following rationale on his Fox News show tonight:

What they're missing is: the pot in America is boiling. And this is just yet another warning to all Americans of things to come.

Actually, Beck has this exactly right. But frankly, it's boiling because of people like Glenn Beck, ranting hysterically every night about impending apocalypses of various forms -- looming "liberal fascism," the "economic meltdown," the "New World Order," violence spilling over the Mexican border, even FEMA concentration camps. Well thank you for your deflection of responsibility sir. But you can't stir up and promote the hate and then beg off when the hate evokes action.

When behaviors manifest in the public sphere, when extremist "activators" in the media and on the web give huge amounts of attention to people who go crazy, who act out the worst kinds of behavior, we are likely to see more of the same-- an increased frequency of this kind of behavior. Rupert Sheldrake calls this morphogenetic field theory.

Today's TV news coverage serves James W. Von Brunn well, giving the link to his website, broadcasting in high rotation repetition his message of hate. I can imagine his extremist hate group allies whispering to him at his hospital bedside, "You done good Jim. You're a hero. You've done more for the cause, getting all this publicity than a thousand websites or protests. You've moved the cause a quantum leap forward."

And they'd be right, thanks to media coverage of his sick act of cowardice. And maybe even this article I'm writing will help to forward that cause, because I too, am helping to cast light on him.

A government source told me, "continued media coverage only perpetuates the problem."

What a dilemma: tell a compelling, dramatic story, and by doing so get sucked down the rabbit-hole, helping the haters. What do we do, shut up?

As a columnist who must plead guilty to years of vilifying the other side, perhaps I must face the reality that we all need to cool the rhetoric and talk about issues, not toxic characterizations. We need to be able to deal with the tough problems we all face. A climate in which the idea of talking about the problem raises the risk of exacerbating that problem is dangerous.

There's no simple answer, but surely, fomenting the wingnuts and adding to their ranks is not part of the solution.

In the late '90's, Tipper Gore campaigned to get musicians to clean up their lyrics. Perhaps it's time for another campaign.

I started this article with a shorter title-- Wingnut Murder Spree. But that involves name calling that goes to the place I'm calling for us all to refrain from. So I edited it. It's a small start.

We are NOT all Anne Coulters and perhaps, whether left or right, we need to work very hard to move far, far away from that way of dealing with our dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. It's easy for passions to run high. We need to direct those energies into productive activism that makes change happen, not the anger and hate and toxic talk that potentiates more murders and violence.

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