In this week's edition of Banter M:
The American Right is Now a Terrorist Organization - Chez Pazienza speaks with a terrorism expert who unequivocally believes that the right wing in America now resembles a terrorist organization.
Justice Antonin Scalia: America's Quintessential Racist - In response to Scalia's abhorrent comments that African Americans should go to "less advanced" schools, Ben Cohen examines white America's convenient amnesia over the history of slavery and discrimination.
Keeping My Feelings to Myself - Jamie Frevele explains why posting your feelings about tragic events on social media isn't about making the situation better, it's about you.
The American Right is Now a Terrorist Organization
By Chez Pazienza
Let's be completely honest with ourselves about what motivated Robert Dear to shoot up a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado City. According to several reports, during his arrest Dear told police, "no more baby parts," almost certainly a reference to the rhetoric surrounding a series of entirely discredited videos released earlier this year that purport to show Planned Parenthood employees arranging the sale of aborted fetus organs to the highest bidder. The clips were championed far and wide by the GOP and its furiously anti-abortion boosters within the conservative infotainment complex, who seemed to collectively decide to distill the videos down to one highly inflammatory implication: Planned Parenthood was selling baby parts. From Fox News to the floor of the Republican controlled House, the words "baby parts" were specifically used to describe what Planned Parenthood was supposedly trafficking in. Baby parts. Spoken over and over again as both a talking point and a call to arms. Can anybody be surprised that Robert Dear heard that call loud and clear and literally took up arms?
Robert Dear: inspired to action by the lies told by mainstream Republican candidates
When a group preaches violence in the service of a political goal or to coerce a population, we call that group a terrorist organization. But what about when a group engages in the grossly negligent practice of stoking the fears and resentments of those within its ranks who might be inclined to violence? What about when a group that hammers home the notion that true patriots are heavily armed and ready to fight for their way of life tells those same "patriots" that that way of life is under attack? What about when a group knows full well that there's a substantial portion of its already edgy public that worships the Second Amendment and then warns those people that "Second Amendment remedies" may be necessary to stop the slide into tyranny? What about when a group tells a bunch of crazy people with guns that baby murderers who casually defy the will of Almighty God are within their midst and must be stopped? Can we call a group like that a terrorist organization if its rhetoric indeed spawns political bloodshed? If not, then why not? If we saw it happening in another country it would be easy for us to apply that designation. The reality is that the only thing stopping us from calling it what it is here in America is that it's happening here in America.
Officially, the Republican party and the conservative establishment claim not to condone violence, but those claims ring hollow when you look at the facts. Over the past several years we've seen a rising tide of right-wing extremism in the United States and the general response from the Republican leaders to this has been, at best, to deny its existence to the point where they attack the people bringing them the facts they'd rather not hear, or at worst to quietly give sanction to this extremism by continuing to manufacture the atmosphere that foments these extremist outbursts. We all saw what happened in 2009 when the Department of Homeland Security released its report warning of the dangers of right-wing terrorism -- when the conservative infotainment complex immediately rushed in to blame the "Obama DHS" for targeting the right, dismissing altogether the most undeniable points of the report -- and the reaction was much the same to a report earlier this year that warned yet again that right-wing extremism was a clear and present danger to the safety of the United States. Certainly more so than any threat from foreign terrorism.
It would be easy to point to the conservative establishment's embrace of racist lunatics like Cliven Bundy -- whose stand-off with the federal government included the ridiculous military cosplayer group the Oath Keepers and other "sovereign citizens" pointing assault rifles at federal agents -- as proof of its grotesque willingness to enable extremism. Likewise, there was the Texas governor's legitimization of the paranoia over the military exercise known as "Jade Helm 15," an anxiety held to by well-armed conspiracy theorists who believe that any day now they may need to defend their homeland by force, arguably becoming the very terrorists they live in fear of. Just as pointedly, there's been the seven years of Republican fear-mongering over the supposed true identity of President Obama, irresponsible rhetoric that continues to this very day and which one could easily see putting the life of the President of the United States in danger. (The Secret Service certainly thinks so.) But these specific examples are bombs that haven't completely detonated yet, taking lives with them. They're threats of violence and an atmosphere of violence but they're not actual violence.
To recognize the modern GOP and conservative establishment as an engine of terrorism, you don't even need to try to draw flimsy lines to these potential problems -- that's because there are plenty of cases where their rhetorical bluster and eliminationist fantasies have borne real bloody fruit. And nowhere is that more the case than in the fight over abortion, which has been a violent one for years -- with anti-abortion activists resorting to murder to stop what they believe are more murders -- but which lately saw its most horrific casualty county in a single act. What's more, that casualty count seemed to come, again, as a direct result of irresponsible bombast and direct language used by Republicans the the right in general. Republican politicians spoke specifically to rile up the base and someone in the base -- the heavily armed, barely hanging onto sanity base -- responded exactly as you would've expected.
On Wednesday, during his first appearance in court following his rampage at Planned Parenthood, Robert Dear interrupted the proceedings several times, admitting his guilt and calling himself a "warrior for the babies." He shouted about how he protected the babies being killed in the clinic and how people "wouldn't believe the amount of blood" he saw while he was there (an ironic claim given that amount of blood he himself spilled). It can be argued that Dear is completely off the rails, but the fact remains that he's a staunch fundamentalist Christian and someone who therefore allows his abiding religious principles to guide him, making him precisely the kind of person who could be easily activated by, say, Carly Fiorina going on television and saying that she saw actual video of "a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone (who works for Planned Parenthood) says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain." Activated, by the way, is the right word to use in this context, because like so many before him, Dear was almost certainly influenced by those within the power structure of the political movement he subscribed to. They speak from positions of authority and claim to be telling the truth -- even through Fiorina wasn't; the video she says she way simply doesn't exist -- which is more than enough to trigger a guy like Robert Dear to action.
In the wake of the Planned Parenthood shooting, I reached out to a friend of mine who's an expert on both domestic and international terrorism. Mario Velarde has earned a degree in political science from St. Thomas University in Miami and he's already completed the Department of Homeland Security terrorism analysis course; he plans to go to work as an analyst for the FBI while completing his law degree. I asked him whether preaching the need for revolution -- or using superheated rhetoric that implies violence -- to people who it's obvious may be inclined to listen and resort to deadly force makes one in some way responsible for the actions of those people. Does the Republican party and conservative infotainment movement's negligently or knowingly influencing terrorist acts make them a kind of terrorist organization? He responded that what the right is doing these days and the response to it has all the hallmarks of "leaderless resistance."
"Both Paris attacks have the hallmarks of leaderless resistance. They may have gotten training from ISIS but they operated independent from them. They had targets in mind already, as ISIS or al-Qaeda make it regularly known what places they want targeted. So far, there is no evidence that ISIS actually ordered the attack.
Leaderless resistance is a two-tiered approach. The first tier can be a group or individual, let's say for argument's sake Carly Fiorina, who stokes up fear over a place or an objective. They may say in a public announcement something like Planned Parenthood is an awful place. So the first tier provided incentive and a location. The second tier is the tier that carries out the attack. They don't have to have any communication at all with the first tier. The second tier can be a lone wolf or sleeper cells that only activate when they have chosen a target... Anti-abortionists tend to be lone wolves and not an organized cell. The Center for Medical Progress and any candidate or organization that furthered that false baby parts narrative is directly responsible for this. They may not face any prosecution but this is all on them."
Velarde continues, saying that Dear was likely "motivated to act" by the doctored videos from the "Center for Medical Progress," which claimed to show haggling over baby parts, Carly Fiorina's graphic anti-abortion bluster and the general conservative shibboleth that Planned Parenthood is a baby murder factory. Given that what Dear did was positively a terrorist act, this makes the group that provided the impetus for his violence "most certainly a terrorist organization." Dear was, in the same way that Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik were in the years before they killed more than a dozen people in San Bernardino -- radicalized. Farook and Malik were radicalized by the rhetoric of the Islamic militants of Daesh (ISIS); Dear was radicalized by a ceaseless flow of white-hot hyperbole and outright falsehoods coming from the American right on the subject of abortion. When this combined with his powerful adherence to the Christian faith, he knew he had to act -- in the same way the talk of the infidels violating the will of Allah combined with Farook and Malik's strong Islamic faith to create the same kind of bloodbath.
That's what it really comes down to: using religion and the fear of tyranny and an ongoing violation of the will of God to provoke a reaction. Eight days before the Planned Parenthood attack, Ted Cruz -- remember, a Republican candidate for President of the United States -- praised an anti-abortion extremist named Troy Newman, a guy with a history of preaching violence. Cruz embraced him fully, touting his endorsement of the Cruz campaign. Imagine the message that sense. There are people in positions of power within a major political party and with its communication arm both on cable news and talk radio who legitimize violent rhetoric. There are those who engage in it themselves. They used charged language like "don't retreat, reload"; they paint an entire religion as a threat to America; they know who their audience is and yet they willfully enable and encourage them to arm themselves and be prepared to fight; they warn of oppression and the coming Armageddon and claim that the defense of their ideals is God's will, the same way Islamist groups do; they have booming voices, both in government and via the media and their point is heard loud and clear by their followers.
In the wake of the Planned Parenthood attack, YouTube preacher Josh Feurstein took to the internet to encourage more violence against the organization. "I think it’s time that abortion doctors should have to run and hide and be afraid for their life," he said. There haven't been any new terrorist attacks on the level of Colorado City against Planned Parenthood yet, but we should be reminded that during the tenure of Glenn Beck's daily apocalyptic ramblings on Fox News, there were a whole series of attacks involving edgy people with guns who claimed they were inspired by Beck. One killed three police officers in Pittsburgh and another got into a shootout with the California Highway Patrol on the way to shoot up the offices of an organization Beck had targeted as a threat to America day in and day out. These acts are no different from the two-tiered "leaderless resistance" that took place in Paris and in San Bernardino. It may not be officially sanctioned by the top tier, but the voices there deserve the blame. It's their message. Their cause. Their fault.
Keeping My Feelings to Myself
by Jamie Frevele
It's a crazy, horrible world out there right now: Donald Trump is cartoonishly positioning himself as America's heir to Hitler and throwing Godwin's Law out the window. We have had more mass shootings in this country than days in the year and no one seems to think there should be anything done because guns are holy, blameless creatures. And ISIS -- or really, Daesh, as we should be calling it because why should we dignify these fucks by recognizing them as an "Islamic State"? Add to these global, life-threatening concerns all the other ones on increasingly local levels, and there is so damn much to be upset about these days. Everyone is having a lot of thoughts and feelings about this stuff, which is perfectly normal and warranted.
But the worst part is that every single person now has social media as a platform to express those thoughts and feelings. And pardon me if I sound like a dick, but not everyone should because they just aren't smart enough. And this massive flood of unsolicited thoughts has ruined discourse for humanity as a whole because it's just so damn loud in here now that no one can hear anything. That's why I'm choosing to shut up.
When the Charlie Hebdo shooting happened, I took it a little personally because I consider myself someone who has the same job, or at least does the same thing. I find political satire to be one of the best ways to explain issues in a way that isn't too dry that takes a position without shoving it down a reader's throat. I also think that when someone can't understand satire or refuses to recognize it as an acceptable form of commentary. Seriously, fuck anyone who says that they can't draw Mohammed and then kills people over it. That's just the biggest, crybaby bullshit I've ever seen and it really offends me that not being able to take a joke ended in a massacre.
I changed my Twitter picture to "Je Suis Charlie" after that. I wanted to stand with Charlie Hebdo because I truly felt like I could be a target if those guys were stateside. But that was the last time I changed my social media profile because I have realized that no one gives a flying fuck what I do on social media unless I'm providing my followers something of substance.
Were you really connected to anyone in Paris?
I don't mean to shame people who offer their "thoughts and prayers" and change their profile photos when a tragedy happens. Actually, deep down inside, I kind of do. We all have a few people who use their Facebook pages to write essays about their thoughts on a subject, and a good portion of the time, they really shouldn't. A friend of mine put it perfectly when he said that when someone posts something related to a tragedy on social media, they know it's going to get "likes." And how does that help a tragedy? How does it help the conversation? Of course everyone is entitled to have feelings and feel sympathy for victims of horrific acts -- but believe me, everyone knows you're feeling those things because unless you're a sociopath, everyone is feeling those things. And honestly, unless you're somehow connected to one of these events, it looks insincere.
I have worked for the internet for a long time. About 90 percent of it is insincere. It exists for attention, clicks, pageviews, traffic, and money. It's bloated, it's loud, and it doesn't have a soul. No one needs to post their thoughts there because all it does is fuel the clunky, unfeeling, faceless data beast. I say this as a person who loves writing for the internet because I love writing jokes. I love making an audience laugh, but it's more satisfying to do that in person. I despise measuring my worth in clicks, followers, etc. but I do it on a daily basis and it sucks.
So, maybe I'm disillusioned by the internet and most (normal) people are not. But is it so bad to wish that people could just go back to keeping their thoughts to themselves? I know for a fact that my thoughts aren't important. I also know that prayers don't do anything because they are also merely thoughts that are addressed to something that has no control over anything. When the world experienced the Planned Parenthood shooting and the Paris shooting in a matter of days, quickly followed by the San Bernadino shooting, it was pretty clear that there is no fucking hope left in this world when it comes to terrorism. That was when I officially gave up on trying to say anything online about tragedy. I continued RTing the fun shit I like to read because that's what the internet is ultimately for: entertainment.
When you go through the effort to take out your phone or log on to your computer, visit a web page, fire up the text editor, and then spend the time to craft a statement on how you feel about things that will either make people laugh, cry, think, or change their mind (HAHAHAHAHA), it's not about the tragedy anymore -- it's about you. Charlie Hebdo was not about me. But we've gotten so full of ourselves that we make global tragedies about ourselves, as if anything we do actually makes a dent in terrorists or murderers deciding not to carry out depraved acts. Meanwhile, the people who actually can do something (Congress) won't because they are also not thinking about anyone but themselves. And you idiots are too lazy and distracted by your Twitter feeds to go out and vote in an off-year to get these morons out of office. We are all failing humanity, so I hope you're happy!
Anyway, I should probably just not be on social media so much, but that's where all my friends' adorable dogs and funny jokes are. It's also where their gross baby stories and terrible jokes are, but whatever. None of that bullshit it mine. (Except the dog pictures. I have lots of those.)
Justice Antonin Scalia: America's Quintessential Racist
by Ben Cohen
Just when you thought white male bigotry couldn't get any more extreme in America, Justice Antonin Scalia decided that one gigantic asshole making disgusting comments about Muslims, Mexicans and pretty much anyone not white wasn't enough. During oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court in a case challenging affirmative action this week, Scalia told the court:
There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don't come from schools like the University of Texas.
As is always the case with gigantic racist assholes, they take circumstantial evidence without any historic context whatsoever, and draw conclusions they have already made based on their assholish predetermined world view.
Please excuse the language here, but the incessant drone of elderly, rich white men in America lecturing minorities on what is good for them needs to fucking stop.
Blacks are lazy and stupid in the eyes of bigots like Scalia -- a man who has spent his career making the lives of minorities and women unnecessarily difficult -- so affirmative action cases like Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin, a lawsuit brought against the school by a white woman, Abigail Fisher, after she was denied admission in 2008, are proof this whole affirmative action thing is a giant scam to punish white people.
Scalia is not lying about the data, but he is not providing the full picture -- that affirmative action is one of the very, very few ways of redressing centuries of exploitation, discrimination and inequality in America. The white power structure that exists in America was quite literally built on the backs of African American slave labor, and the incredible inequality that exists today a direct consequence of that exploitative labor. Policies like affirmative action may well place less prepared African American students into places of academic excellence -- but that's the whole point. How else does the imbalance get redressed over time? By sending African American students to crappier schools where they do relatively better than they would have in a more academic setting? Given the US government has steadfastly refused to entertain reparations as way to pay back black Americans for the hundreds of years of free labor they were forced to do, there really aren't any serious propositions coming from the establishment as to how to alleviate the obvious problems the crimes of slavery created.
The truth is, universities are not just institutions for learning, they provide a vast social and professional network for students who will use them to get ahead in life long after they graduate. Just ask George W. Bush about that one. Giving disadvantaged minorities a leg up and access to these networks is vital if we want the workplace to be more diverse and representative of the actual population. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor said of affirmative action:
I had no need to apologize that the look-wider, search-more affirmative action that Princeton and Yale practiced had opened doors for me. That was its purpose: to create the conditions whereby students from disadvantaged backgrounds could be brought to the starting line of a race many were unaware was even being run.
It is inherent in human nature to work mostly in the interests of people you identify with, and if institutions are predominantly white, they will work predominantly in the interests of white people. If the institution becomes more diverse, it stands to reason that it is at least more likely to work in the interests of a more diverse population.
Of course affirmative action isn't perfect, and one can pull any number of stats out to prove a superficial point either way -- but the fact remains America's elite academic and professional institutions are overwhelmingly white, and that is largely because those of European ancestry in America own the vast majority of the country's wealth, send their kids to the best high schools and then off to the best universities in the country.
In 2005, Princeton University did an in-depth study looking at what ending affirmative action would do to minority college enrollment, and the conclusion was horrifying. The study was published in the June issue of Social Science Quarterly, and the authors Thomas Espenshade and Chang Chung determined that ending affirmative action would "devastate most minority college enrollment". According to the study, without affirmative action:
The acceptance rate for African-American candidates likely would fall nearly two-thirds, from 33.7 percent to 12.2 percent, while the acceptance rate for Hispanic applicants likely would be cut in half, from 26.8 percent to 12.9 percent. While these declines are dramatic, the authors note that the long-term impact could be worse.
It is clear then, that reversing affirmative action policies would make America's elite academic institutions whiter, and given that elite academic institutions often operate as gateways into the highest levels of government and other powerful institutions, they in turn would become whiter still. This is the cycle affirmative action hopes to break -- and unless you believe blacks and other minorities are somehow genetically inferior to whites, it seems completely rational to implement policies that discriminate positively. And if you were being fair, you'd implement these policies for at least as many years as slavery existed (that's 246 years for those of you unaware).
Of course much of white America wants to pretend that color doesn't exist, that slavery happened centuries ago and everyone is equal now -- but that simply is not the case. Whites have 12 times the amount of wealth blacks do in America, and in an age where wealth inequality is spiraling out of control, the outlook for black Americans is pretty bleak. History, the government, the schooling system, and the economy have worked against black interests in America since they arrived here on slave ships.
One small ray of light that aims to put right some of the historic injustices done to African Americans is now in danger of being extinguished, and all because assholes like Justice Antonin Scalia believe that because he made it, so can everyone else.