Thursday, December 03, 2015

Political violence in the US today

Even before Wednesday's shooting in San Bernadino , the very political attack on Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood last Friday had provoking a lot of discussion about the state of violent civil disoroder and political violence.

Bob Cesca, Wing-nuts have weaponized hatred: How the conservative echo chamber is making us all less safe Salon 12/01/2015 writes:

We’ve reached a tipping point in America’s political discourse. The shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility is merely the latest in an increasingly alarming series of tragedies connected to political issues, each of which has been notably distorted by conservatives — or in the case of the Planned Parenthood shooting, almost completely ignored — throughout the past year and beyond. So far, attacks have occurred in relation to the following: immigration, Muslims inside the U.S., reproductive rights, LGBT equality and racial justice.

As far-right propaganda grows louder and increasingly divorced from objective reality, it seems as if incidents of violence have escalated accordingly. While there might not be a direct one-to-one correlation, it’s obvious to anyone paying attention that the GOP’s eliminationist rhetoric, intentionally or not, serves to inflame those who are already prone to radicalism and violence. [my emphasis]

Ed Kilgore writes in Extremist Republican Rhetoric and the Planned Parenthood Attack Daily Intelligencer 11/30/2015 about two strains of far-right rhetoric that have facilitated the current outbreak of violence. One strain involves the ways the antiabortion movement talks about their cause:

The first is the comparison of legalized abortion to the great injustices of world history, including slavery and the Holocaust. The first analogy helps anti-choicers think of themselves as champions of a new civil-rights movement while facilitating a characterization of Roe v. Wade as a temporary and disreputable constitutional precedent like Dred Scott. The second follows from the right-to-life movement’s logic of regarding abortion as homicide and treats the millions of legal abortions that have been performed in the U.S. since 1973 as analogous to the Nazi extermination of Jews and other “undesirables.”

Both the slavery and Holocaust analogies for abortion have become commonplace “truisms” in the right-to-life movement and in allied Christian-right organizations (where there is a natural tendency to take on the righteous mantles of religiously motivated abolitionists and of the German “Confessing Church” resistance to Hitler). Conservative politicians have been more circumspect in using these inflammatory comparisons — though George W. Bush pulled off a clever dog-whistle reference to Dred Scott in the 2004 presidential debates, leaving most watchers puzzled while anti-choice activists nodded knowingly. But the white-hot atmosphere of conservative “base” competition in the current Republican presidential nominating contest may be loosening the bonds of self-restraint.

Mike Huckabee is by far the least inhibited presidential candidate when it comes to American Holocaust rhetoric, despite repeated warnings from groups like the Anti-Defamation League. [my emphasis]

The other is the right-to-revolution rhetoric that the NRA and other players in the gun-proliferation lobby use:
But there’s a second element of contemporary extremist rhetoric from conservatives that brings them much closer to incitement of violence: the claim that the Second Amendment encompasses a right to revolution against “tyrannical” government. Again, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz have embraced this idea most avidly. ...

It’s not difficult to see how toxic these arguments become when combined. If legalized abortion (and its alleged extension into open infanticide via the “barbaric” practices of government-subsidized Planned Parenthood “baby-killers”) represents government-sponsored mass extermination and/or a perversion of the Constitution comparable to slavery, and there is a fundamental right to violent resistance against this and other acts of tyranny, then it could definitely cross the minds of conscientious gun-owning anti-choicers to emulate John Brown or the conspirators against Hitler. After all, the two greatest wars in American history were undertaken to destroy the Slave Power and Nazism. Why not a small individual war against their contemporary equivalent?

Our political vocabulary has been so poisoned by the kind of actors that Kilgore and Cesca discuss that it's difficult to make straightforward statements and judgments about political violence.

But political violence is a part of our political life. The current bogeyman (and reality) of Muslim terrorism is also political violence, even if religious motives play a large role in it. We need to understand the nature and roots of it. And we need to understand the larger roots as well as the technical law-enforcement issues.

But the analysis needs to be realistic. It also means keeping in mind that understanding isn't justifying, explaining isn't excusing. And a realistic understanding of causes and context may not lead obviously and immediately to a clear solution.

For instance, it's often observed that failure to effectively integrate Muslim populations into European societies produces conditions which make some of them open to violence and recruitment by jihadi groups. That doesn't justify resorting to violence or using violence directed at civilians. But it does give policymakers a framework to approach the problem of drying up the pool of potential violent jihadis. How well they approach it presents a whole new set of issues.

I like Kilgore's framing of the gun-proliferation argument that "that the Second Amendment encompasses a right to revolution against “tyrannical” government."

Historically, the purpose of the Second Amendment was to guarantee that critics of slavery would be unable to block the use of "slave patrols" in which white citizens were required to patrol for slaves who were somehow breaking the rules. It was a key institution in the slave South for gaining political and psychological commitment among nonslaveholders for the Peculiar Institution.

The right of revolution is not inherent in the Second Amendment, much less a specific right of armed revolution. No government is going to declare the right for it to be violently overthrown. The US Constitution obviously does establish good democratic/republican mechanisms for making changes, even radical changes, within the Constitutional framework.

The right of revolution is a conviction expressed in the Declaration of Independence. In that form, it was based on a concept of "natural law" which is now scarcely recognized. It was heavily influenced by English and French political theorist like John Locke and Rousseau. It is deeply rooted in American tradition, and it is not unusual for politicians to invoke it support of some cause. Remember the "Reagan Revolution"?

Apart from hair splitting and/or downright absurd arguments invoking the Second Amendment, the right to self-defense is also widely recognized in theory and in law. If a policeman is attacking someone without good cause, it would be legal to use lethal force against him. Defending oneself in court afterward would be quite a challenge in almost any imaginable circumstance.

But violence in politics should be a last resort. There have been times in American politics when unofficial violence was necessary to preserve democracy and freedom. The guerrilla between antislavery and proslavery forces in "Bloody Kansas" is one such instance. The proslavery side was definitely intending to use force to make Kansas into a slave state, legal or not. And the Southern-dominated federal government was not going to do its duty to prevent the slaveowners from imposing their will by force. We could moralize about whether people like John Brown should have taken a different approach. But given the stakes the slaveowners perceived in that conflict and the amount of illegitimate power they brought to it, it's unlikely that the antislavery could have prevailed without resorting to guerrilla warfare.

Labor unions in the 19th and 20th century often faced violence from company thugs, not infrequently hired from out-and-out mobsters. With the courts and Governors and many local officials willing to overlook criminal acts by the bosses and willing to employ the police and National Guard as well as court injunctions against unions, union activists did sometimes use violence, and not always purely in self-defense.

Civil rights activists and ordinary blacks, especially in the South, found it expedient on occasion to use guns in defense against Klan types. Even Martin Luther King, Jr., who was committed to a political strategy of Ghandian nonviolent activism bought a gun to defend himself and his family when he started becoming prominent and receiving death threats from white supremacists.

I've deliberately avoided trying to make an ethical point about those situations. Those are decisions that were taken in particular situations responding to particular threats and obstacles. Those were serious decisions with real risks. But I'm not going to make some blanket criticism or condemnation of the Abolitionists for fighting violence and aggressive slaveowners in Kansas Territory, or labor activists for defending themselves against violent opponents, or people using force to stop Klan thugs from hurting them or their families.

One influential kind of political violence that gained a significant amount of support in the 1960s and 1970s was the idea of the "foco," of starting violent actions in the hope and belief that the fact of armed resistance would draw others into the revolutionary struggle. In advanced countries, those were small groups like the Weather Underground in the US, the RAF ("Baader-Meinhof Gang") in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy, the Japanese Red Army group in Japan. With a little help from their friends in the Soviet bloc, the RAF in particular managed to pull off some spectacular kidnappings and act of terrorism, typically directed against installations or individuals identified in some way with the power structure. But in terms of building a political movement around themselves and their ideas, they faded into history with an influence vague and ill-defined influence, at best.

In Argentina, the role of violent guerrilla groups was very different, because Argentina was in a very different situation than the US or Germany. And its politics were very different. After his violent overthrow by the military in 1955, Juan Perón worked for nearly two decades to get the Peronist party legalized again and democratic processes fully restored in Argentina. Whatever one thinks about his particular policies or personality, restoring democracy was his political goal, being fully aware as he was likely to be re-elected President in a genuinely free and competitive election. Which is what occurred in 1974.

One of the reasons that Perón's return didn't have an happy ending for the country had to do in part with the multifaceted strategy he used during the years between 1955 and 1974. At various times, he authorized and directed his supporters to use some classical resistance tactics like various kinds of sabotage and nonlegal actions. Most significantly was his encouragement of the Peronist guerrilla group, the Montoneros. In the early 1970s, it was one of the guerrilla groups that developed a significant degree of military capacity to make partisan war for real, including in urban areas. Their actions were a part of the successful pressure that lead to the legalization of the Peronist party and Perón's return to power.

The problem was that the Monteneros assumed that they could continue guerrilla warfare against the Argentine oligarchy with Perón's continued support. They were wrong. Perón expected them to stand down. And when they didn't, he green-lighted at different kind of political violence, the death squads led by his most dubious adviser of all, José López Rega. The continuing civil conflict became the justification for overthrowing the democratic government by the military junta that took power in 1976. They proceeded to practice a different kind of political violence by instituting a reign of terror in the old-fashioned sense, terrorism of the state.

All of this is to say that political violence is real and its effects both short-term and long-term are complex. And need to be understood in their real context.

Which brings us to the current state of political violence in the US. At the moment, it's almost all from the political right. And I include violence from violent jihadists in that characterization, even though the white right considers them deadly enemies. Because violent Islamic fundamentalists are not aiming to establish democracy or practical equality of all or democratic civil liberties. Much less a social-democratic state, radical or otherwise. Although super-conservative Saudi Arabia doesn't mind state ownership of oil resources.

But the violent white Christianist right, like the antiabortion bombers and assassins, are working on a model that resembles the Ku Klux Klan model of Segregation 1.0. They are in one sense independent operators, loose cannons even, in relationship to governments or political parties. But they also benefit from the support and encouragement of sympathetic politicians and officials. In the segregated South, it wasn't unusual for the local white shurff to be either sympathetic to the Klan or even an active member. So they could be counted on to look the other way at Klan violence, both before and after the fact. The extremist Oath Keepers group seems to be focused on developing that kind of sympathy in local law enforcement.

That's why it's important for people to pay attention to how those connections work. The infamous fradulent anti-Planned Parenthood video that made "no more baby parts" an emotional cause was prepared by a fringe, extremist group, the "Center for Medical Progress." But, as Digby Parton observes (Wing-nuts are impervious to tragedy Salon 12/01/2015:

You’ll recall that [former House Speaker John] Boehner had tried for months to appease the social conservative base which had been smarting from its loss on marriage equality and felt that it was being take for granted by the GOP. When the edited footage from the Center for Medical Progress was publicly released, it gave this faction a new focus for its energy and the GOP establishment was happy to help. Indeed, the activist filmmakers had consulted with Republican members of congress weeks in advance of the release and they appear to have coordinated the response. From the moment the edited tapes were made public, Republicans at all levels pulled out every rhetorical stop to condemn them, with Boehner himself saying “I could talk about the video but I think I’d vomit trying to talk about it. It’s disgusting.”

Knowing that the fervor for shutting down the government over this issue was growing — and also knowing that it would be lethal for Republicans in an election year — Boehner and other establishment Republicans worked overtime to mollify these zealots by throwing out the most incendiary rhetoric they could imagine, almost always including their patented slogan: “baby parts.” They convened a variety of committee investigations and held hearings with names like “Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.” Boehner even created a “Benghazi” level select House committee which they fatuously named the “Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives.” All of this was done in the hopes that if they threw out enough vitriol and anger, they could somehow keep the angry social conservatives under control.

Boehner thundered to reporters, “the goal here is not to shut down the government, the goal is to stop these horrific practices of organizations selling baby parts!” [my emphasis]
If you light enough fuses, the fire will eventually reach some of the explosives on the other end. And when the Republicans howl long enough and loud enough that abortion is "murdering babies" and "worse than the Holocaust," some people are going to feel enticed to respond with violence to what the Republicans are constantly declaring to be mass murder.

And there's no intention that the antiabortion activists and their more prominent Republican reporters intend to stop. Neither the more clean-shaven versions nor the rest.

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