Monday, April 05, 2010

False Equivalence, and the Republicans' Craven Dance with Violent Right Wing Extremism

The most craven and irresponsible LIE by Republicans in their constellation of LIES about Democratic policy initiatives and President Obama’s words and birth right, is their systematic rejection of any responsibility for inciting and stoking extremist violence on the right with incendiary rhetoric, from Sarah Palin to Michelle Bachmann and John Boehner, to the right wing propaganda machine on Fox to Limbaugh Inc.’s hate radio monopoly.

When a wingnut propagandist equates the violence and threats of further violence from right wing militias -- threatening law enforcement in service of the end times, or demanding that governors leave office or be removed –- there is no equivalent threat from the left. When kidnapping, assault, attempted murder, and murder are committed against abortion doctors and clinic workers, as well as arson and bombings, there is no equivalent incidence of violence from the left.

This false equivalence fallacy occurs “when someone falsely equates an act by one party as being equally egregious to that of another without taking into account the underlying differences which may make the comparison patently invalid.” To amplify on the example of anti-abortion terrorism, at least eight people have been murdered in the U.S, in anti-abortion terrorism. Since 1977 in the United States and Canada, there have been 17 attempted murders, 383 death threats, 153 incidents of assault or battery, and 3 kidnappings committed against abortion providers. There are no equivalent incidents of murder and violence on the left.

Right wingers constantly resort to false equivalence on media outlets. They do so with impunity, because their counterparts on the left have largely been unwilling to refute the lies in the limited time allotted. The fact is, the last time a leftist group engaged in armed, terroristic violence against the government, of the type and threat level posed by right wing militias, was in the 70s, when the group calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army came to prominence by abducting Patty Hearst and pulling bank jobs. That was more than 30 years ago.

The wingnuts cannot point to a single instance of organized domestic terror from the left since those days. There is nothing domestically that compares in scope to the threat of anti-government militias and anti-abortion terrorists whose violence, grounded in Christian fundamentalism, often overlaps. Instead, right wing propagandists reach for the lone nutcase example on the left to build up by sheer repetition –- Goebbels’ BIG LIE (repeated often enough) technique –- the false equivalence of a lone madman on the left, such as the Unabomber. From 1978 to 1995, Theodore Kaczynski carried out a series of deadly mail bombings, causing serious injuries to most of his victims and three fatalities.

As heinous as the Unabomber’s crimes were, it is a fallacy to equate them with the same threat level posed by heavily armed anti-government militias. The Unabomer’s despicable attacks were carried out by a single disturbed individual. There is a pattern of this kind of violence that runs through American history. But a far more dangerous and deadly pattern has re-emerged today, since the resurgence of right wing extremist militias in the 90s after Waco and Ruby Ridge, culminating with the Oklahoma City bombing. In scope and severity, this threat to people, government, and institutions from extremist organized groups on the right is far more significant than the "lone wolf" scenario. This is not to diminish or minimize in any way the horrific crimes committed by the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski.

But the nature of the threat from the entire panoply of extremist right groups -- armed militias, nativists, white supremacists, anti-abortion religious fundamentalists -- is different, especially in how individual and collective responsibility is assigned. Right wing propagandists focus on the “lone wolf” madman precisely because it rids them of responsibility for any further, more serious acts of violence that might accrue from their hate speech. It is undeniable that Rush Limbaugh and Fox denizens scream “FIRE!” in a crowded theater on a daily basis. Republicans do it consistently. They LIE consistently. They cannot shirk their responsibility for inciting right wing extremist violence.

Once Republican members of Congress incite the Teabaggers with incendiary rhetoric while Party leadership refuses to rein in its most extreme members -- Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and the drumbeat from hate media Fox and Limbaugh Inc. -- it is disingenuous at best for the GOP and self-appointed Tebagger leaders (it’s not a movement, it’s a rabble) to claim that the violence, vandalism, and hateful rhetoric is just an isolated expression of a few “lone wolves” on the fringes. That won’t wash.

In our recent history, domestic terrorism on the right involving armed and dangerous extremist groups reached its zenith with the tragic Oklahoma City bombing committed by Tim McVeigh and his known accomplice Terry Nichols. The Oklahoma City bombing ranks as the worst case of domestic terrorism in American history. It took the lives of 169 people. It is this kind of threat from the extremist right, that the Department of Homeland Security warned of in a 2009 report. Instead of heeding the report’s findings with sober analysis, the right reacted with hysterical attempts to discredit it while Republicans called for Director Janet Napolitano’s head. They claimed it was biased toward the left, which is absurd, since it had been commissioned by the Bush administration. Facts are facts.

How soon they forget how far they have gone to keep the truth about right wing violent extremism from coming out, and how far they will go to cover up their significant share of responsibility for acts of serious violence that may erupt from extremist groups on the right. What the right wing propaganda machine is doing now, with its constant chorus of false equivalence, is to lay the groundwork aiming to shirk and evade responsibility should more serious right wing extremist violence come to pass in these turbulent times. It has been said before, and it should be repeated: Words have consequences. Grievances against government should be addressed at the ballot box.

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