Thursday, June 18, 2009

Can't Take the Chaos

"Society, crazy and deep,
I hope you're not lonely without me"
-- Eddie Vedder, "Society"
(Into the Wild)

There must be bloggers who thrive on periods of cultural and political chaos. I am not one of those bloggers and if I once was, I have long abandoned the need to immerse myself in that sort of chaos for the sake of a few thought provoking posts. In fact, I have found that I am the exact opposite of those who thrive on the anxiety, chaos, and general discontent found in today's political world. Perhaps I have grown into this type of person, departing from the once reactionary writer I began this blog for and more and more becoming a writer who avoids the up-to-the-minute commentary on whatever big news story has enveloped the American public. However, I tend to believe that it was the 2008 presidential election that changed me and everything around me.

I have thought a great deal about Dave Neiwert lately, both because I have been reading his new book and because the things he has devoted his research and writing time to have been plastered all over the news. Recent events have probably served to sell copies of his book, but he must be horribly tormented seeing the things he talks about in his book coming to fruition. What I find truly amazing is that those who stood on their soapboxes when the Department of Homeland Security released its assessment on the rising recruitment rates of hate groups following the election of Obama are continuing to say that those actual recruits are leftists and not the making of the hate speech being broadcast, televised and printed by the American right. Some are going so far as to say that the writings of Mr. von Brunn, the Holocaust museum shooter, are disappearing all over the internet because they are precisely the links that would tie the domestic terrorist to the left. Yes, people here in Idaho are spouting this paranoid, conspiratorial nonsense.

The election of our first African-American President of the United States has not turned out to be the only event that has caused some fringe-conservative Americans to come unhinged. The selection of Sonia Sotomayor as potentially the next Justice of the United States Supreme Court has fueled a particularly out-of-control fire that has been burning for years surrounding the immigration debate. There is an immense hatred for Latinos at this particular point in our history, a hatred that has only been fed by the likes of Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck and Idaho's own Zeb Bell. Add to the election of Obama and the selection of Sotomayor the growing fear for any and all diversity and you have an American people trapped in a cycle of fear and hatred.

Here at home, it has yet to be determined if the recent beating death of a Native American bouncer at a local bar was racially motivated. Thirty or so minutes away, a same-sex couple were faced with small town bigotry, a story that has sadly resorted to pointing fingers every which way. And the local and state media appear to still be arguing over whether or not they should report on racism and hate groups. To them I offer the following quotation from Dave Neiwert's The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right:
When I was the editor [of] the Daily Bee in Sandpoint in the late 1970s, we were faced with the touch decision of how to handle the increasing viability of Richard Butler's neo-Nazi Church of Jesus Christ Christian, based at the Aryan Nations compound some 30 miles down the road in Hayden Lake. After much hand-wringing, we decided it was best not to give them any coverage, since publicity was what they craved, and it would only encourage their radicalism

What we didn't understand was that the silence was interpreted as consent. And so, over the next several years, the Idaho Panhandle witnesses a parade of disturbing hate crimes (enough so that Idaho became one of the first state to pass a bias-crime law)...I certainly never forgot that mistake. (p. 32-33)
Perhaps one of the reasons I choose not to jump into this period of cultural and political chaos is because we have been down this road before. Not just my state, but me personally. I have given my time and attention to the exposing of hate where it lives, unfortunately in the valley where I spent most of my childhood, and all that my time and effort resulted in was a man's cause fueled by the attention and many sleepless nights on my part.

This is why I admire writers like Dave Neiwert; they have seen the hatred, seen where it is born and where it is fueled, and they're able to write about it in a way that not only identifies the problem and presents a way to counter it, but also write about it in a way that inspires others to pick up the cause. The way I wrote about Zeb Bell and others of a similar mindset in the Magic Valley only brought one seriously concerned citizen to the cause. We were never able to get others involved the way Neiwert has been. In fact nearly the opposite happened, we enraged a populace that came to stand with Zeb Bell and his hatred. What we were saying about hatred in southcentral Idaho was met by defensive members of Zeb Bell's little world, some of which contacted members of my own family to voice their complaints and disgust with what I was saying. And what was I able to change? Very little, actually. The same filth is broadcast every Monday through Thursday morning on the same station as has always given it voice.

What I find the most disturbing about the conservative fringe is not the bloviating that is taking place on the airwaves, but the adamant approval of our friends and neighbors who listen to those programs. It wasn't what Zeb Bell was saying that got under my skin as much as it was the tacit approval of his listeners, men and women I've known my entire life and looked to as upstanding members of the community. It wasn't so much men like Frosty Wooldridge, the David Duke follower and immigration opponent, as it was housewives like the Iron Yak, who from her home and child care facility writes on her website exactly what she despises in society, despite her clever attempt to disguise the hatred she harbors:
I do not hate atheists, gays, lesbians, environmentalists, pro-choicers, Muslims, terrorists, pedophiles, drug pushers, rapists, prostitutes, murders, or politicians, but I hate what they do and the fact that they often hurt, scar and even kill others. I also hate liars.
Yes, please, tell me how she can truly not hate all of those things when she has clearly grouped them together because they are equal in her eyes. Incredulously, the previous quote is followed by the statement, "I love the Lord." That anyone groups an Atheist with a pedophile suggests a certain degree of contempt for both. And that anyone will state in whatever way they can that they are Christian as a way of saying they are a good person and can't possibly harbor hate is a strategy I may never understand. As I said, it isn't the most openly hateful that worry me, it is those that get together after church on Sunday for a family meal and discuss how opposed they are to the growing Hispanic population, not because of any threat to their way of life or their jobs, but because they believe (like many Dittoheads) that it is an invasion.

The cultural and political chaos we are currently engulfed in is distressing to the many of us who know better than to believe that anyone wants to take our guns away, that any one race seeks superiority over another, that our President isn't truly a citizen of this country or that he will do nothing to protect us from nuclear annihilation, and that same-sex marriage will put an end to civilization as we know it. It has to be distressing to those who watched as the political process became increasingly volatile this past year, not just because conservatives attempted to tie the Democratic nominee to a wide array of perceived evils (terrorism, William Ayers, the Muslim faith, etc.), but because liberals went on the offensive every time anyone, even other liberals, said anything that wasn't 100% supportive of Obama. Those very liberals would counter the hatred if it happened to be directed at their candidate and ignore the hatred if it were directed anywhere else, even if that happened to be in the heart of their communities.

What the 2008 presidential election changed in me was the amount of hope I held for a country less partisan and full of what Neiwert refers to as eliminationists. More and more we are seeing that the election of Obama brought out the most radical of the fringe conservatives and that the mainstream conservatives and their nationally coordinated tea parties only fueled that emergence of the fringe.

To be completely honest, domestic terrorists and those who condone acts of domestic terrorism like the assassination of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortionist or the shooting at the Holocaust Museum by a white supremacist, scare me on a level not at all rivaled by foreign terrorism or the acts we are addressing in the global war on terror. Maybe because the hatred that fuels domestic terrorism is something quite personal to me, something I heard as a kid growing up and continue to hear from the more conservative members of my own family and community. This is, fortunately or unfortunately, why I have chosen not to wade through everything being said about the current chaotic status of our country. It is disturbing, distressing and from time to time leaves me with the desire to run as far away from it as I can get. Thankfully, there are those much stronger than me who write continuously about these events and the fears we all must be facing right now in this country. I truly believe those of us who lack in bravery owe a debt of gratitude to those like Dave Neiwert who courageously stand up to counter the hatred in society.


Benjamin said...

Bravo! Excellent post. It is frustrating that so many accept and embrace hate. Very sad.

Tara A. Rowe said...

Thanks, Ben.
As an aside, a co-worker is ranting about the United States headed toward nuclear war this morning. Seriously, ranting because a North Korean vessel is in need of interception in the South China Sea. That chaos gets to me...