Loud and Loaded Words and Actions
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 06:27:06 PM EST
Much has happened since Politico yesterday reported that a recent graduate of the journalism school at Liberty University, founded by Religious Right leader Jerry Falwell is a "tea party organizer angry over Rep. Thomas Perriello's (D-Va) vote in favor of health care reform."  

Teapartying journalism grad Mike Troxel took it upon himself to post Perriello's home address on the blog of the Lynchburg Tea Party in case any readers "want to drop by" and provide a "personal touch" to their views. (Lynchburg is the city where Liberty U. is located.) But the address turned out to be  not that of the Congressman, but his brother.

Now the FBI is investigating a cut propane gas line at Perriello's brother's home, and the press and blogosphere is all over the story, as violence and threats of violence against Democratic Members of Congress are breaking out all over the country.  

The case of the wrong address offers us a remarkable window onto some styles of thought that have greatly contritubted to this volatile situation.

When Politico pointed out his error, Troxel stuck to his story -- invoking his Liberty U. journalism degree:  "I was a journalism major in college," he said, "so I have every reason to believe my research is accurate." Nevertheless, Troxel further demanded that Perriello's office give out the correct address if he was wrong.

(The blog operated by Mike Troxel was crashed due to overload of the bandwidth. But it is discussed on the web site of the Lynchburg Tea Party.)

Meanwhile, Mark Potok, writing at HateWatch, observes that Troxel was not the only one.

According to The Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Va., Danville Tea Party leader Nigel Coleman was one of the two people who posted the address of Bo Perriello, the older brother of U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Ivy), who voted for the health care bill. "This is Rep. Thomas Stuart Perriello's home address," Coleman wrote Monday, going on to suggest that others who oppose the health care bill "drop by" and "express their thanks." He added, "I ain't holding back no more."

According to the Politico website, Coleman, upon learning he had posted the wrong address, said on a blog: "Do you mean I posted his brother's address on my Facebook? Oh well, collateral damage."

While there is much that is alarming and despicable about all this, I want to highlight two things.  The first is that Mike Troxel epitomizes the way ideology, religious or otherwise, can utterly trump concern for the facts.  I think it can be fairly argued that this is one of the defining feature of the Religious Right on everything from documenting and teaching the facts of history and science to how one acts in the course of reporting on politics and government.

Secondly, I want to underscore that Coleman's stated reason why facts are unimportant is that his error could be attributed to "collateral damage." This is of course, the euphemism used by the military to refer to unintended civilian casualties. Coleman's use of a term of modern warfare suggests much about who he is and what he thinks he is doing.

Of course, the dispute over the correct address partially obscures the underlying issue of the not very subtle call for vigilantism against a Member of Congress. Potok observes that Coleman's act is

"...remarkably similar to those of American neo-Nazi leaders who in recent years have made a practice of posting their enemies' addresses and other personal information. They, too, often suggested that their sympathizers drop by to let enemies know their feelings."

It should be added that the the violently theocratic wing of the antiabortion movement pioneered the tactic of publishing the home addresses of abortion providers (among other personal information) as part of a campaign of intimidation. You can read the above link for more detail, but here is a sample from my article in Ms. magazine:

Antiabortion extremists, including many who would become leaders of the then newly-formed American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA), argued that the murder of Dr. Gunn was "justifiable." A wave of four murders and seven attempted murders of doctors and clinic personnel came in the next two years. No group was held responsible for the attacks, although individuals were prosecuted. In 1995, ACLA launched a campaign it called the "Deadly Dozen" that featured Old West-style "unwanted" posters of 13 leading abortion providers. Some of the posters included the providers' home and work addresses. The targeted physicians said they were acutely aware that similar posters-not attributed to ACLA-had preceded the murders of three of their colleagues. The providers said they viewed the posters as a hit list, and the FBI contacted those on the list and offered protection; the abortion providers donned bulletproof vests and took other security precautions.

In 1996, four doctors and two abortion-provider organizations sued under the civil section of FACE, in what became Planned Parenthood v ACLA. The case sought an injunction to stop the published threats against doctors and also sought monetary damages.

One of those named in the suit was the Rev. Michael Bray of Bowie, Maryland, a founder of the ACLA. Bray, who is pastor of a church he cofounded, is the author of A Time to Kill: A Study Concerning the Use of Force and Abortion. The book maintains that there is a "biblical mandate" for the use of "deadly, godly, force to protect the unborn." Bray served four years in federal prison in the 1980s for his role in the arson attacks and bombings of seven abortion clinics.

ACLA leaders gave some of the "Deadly Dozen" data to Neal Horsley, of Carrollton, Georgia, who posted the material on his "Nuremberg Files" Web site. The Web site named doctors and abortion rights supporters and called for them to be tried for "crimes against humanity." When an abortion provider was murdered. The name appeared on the site with a line through it. Horsley used gray tape for the names of abortion providers or staff who had been wounded. The entire Web site was designed to look as if it were dripping in blood.

After Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot through the kitchen window of his home in October 1998, his name was placed on Horsley's Web site with a line through it. In the April, 2001 HBO documentary, Soldiers in the Army of God, Horsley spoke of the Slepian murder: "See, I told you. There's another one. How many more is it going to take before we finally realize that legalized abortion in fact will destroy the United States of America? What do you expect people to do who literally understand that these people are making a living killing babies? Well, the evidence is at hand. There are people out there who will go and blow their brains out."

Troxel's standards of journalism say that is it not only OK to publish the home address of a Member of Congress accompanied by a veiled threat; but that is is also OK to publish the wrong information. For his part, Coleman thinks publishing the same wrong information is OK because it is merely "collateral damage." And yet when a reporter informed him about the cutting of the propane line at the home of Perreillo's brother, he professed to be "shocked" and "almost speechless" and claimed to be against violence.  

Maybe Coleman actually believes that his ideology and actions are not an incitement to violence. The culture of the ideology, framing and escalating rhetoric of warfare across a wide swath of the political and religious right has become so deeply ingrained that it is taken by many as unexceptional.

When people believe themselves to be in a "war" and use the language of warfare to frame routine politics in a democratic society; and state that their religious and political ideals have been allegedly abused by a "tyrannical" government; claim that it is time to rise up against it, and organize groups such as militias and tea parties (invoking the anti-tea tax action in Boston in the run up to the American Revolution) -- no one should be surprised when some people's actions begin to fit their words.  

Read Romans 13: 1-4.

by Edwardswd on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 06:56:34 AM EST

Last night on CNN there was a report about Sarah Palin posting a site on the web listing the states where Democratic candidates were up for election.  The posting showed the states in the crosshairs of a rifle scope. Sarah introduced the site by stating, "lock and load".
Meanwhile Glenn Beck was reminding his audience in tearful fear that Democrats wanted to give voting rights to ex-cons and illegal immigrants.  This was done to assure a takeover of the nation by the "progressives".  

by wilkyjr on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 09:45:14 AM EST

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