- June 21, 2009
The Obama era
Back in mid-April, the US Department of Homeland Security under new Obama appointee Janet Napolitano released a sobering report on the recent rise of right-wing extremism in the US. The report noted that the election of the first African-American president; growing joblessness created by the current economic downturn; the ongoing epidemic of illegal immigration; rumours of new restrictions on firearms; the return of military vets from Afghanistan and Iraq having trouble reintegrating into their communities; and the existence of the Internet, which gives domestic extremists easy access to bomb-making and weapons training expertise, and easy access to one another under cover of relative anonymity, all presented “unique drivers” for right-wing radicalization and recruitment, and “could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.”
The report also disclosed that “the high volume of purchases and stockpiling of weapons and ammunition by rightwing extremists in anticipation of restrictions and bans continue to be a primary concern to law enforcement.”
Republicans in Congress, and some veterans’ associations, hit the roof. The report, they declared, comprised nothing less than a slander of “our brave troops” and of good, law-abiding [and gun-obsessed] Americans.
Napolitano cravenly apologized
She did so despite the fact that, just a week earlier, a lone gunman, “reportedly influenced by racist ideology and a belief in anti-government conspiracy theories related to gun confiscations, citizen detention camps, and a Jewish-controlled ‘one world government,’” had shot dead three police officers in Pittsburgh.
Then, late last month, Dr George Tiller, the well-known abortion-provider, was shot dead by an anti-abortion fanatic while attending church. From jail, the gunman warned that many more such killings were in the works across the country.
And then, earlier this month – and just two days after Obama had laid a wreath at the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald, in Germany – a white supremacist opened fire at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC, killing a (black) security guard before being shot himself.
In its May 4th issue, Newsweek (‘Rebranding Hate in the Age of Obama’) reminded its readers that several white supremacist websites had crashed the day after Obama won the presidency due to an unprecedented flood of traffic.
And nine days ago, NYT columnist Paul Krugman (‘The Big Hate’) warned that “Today… right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment [which] have gone out of their way to provide a platform for conspiracy theories and apocalyptic rhetoric.”
Krugman cited Fox News’s Glenn Beck warning viewers that FEMA might be building concentration camps as part of the Obama administration’s “totalitarian agenda.” He also cited the rightwing Washington Times, mouthpiece of the Bush administration, which “earlier this week, saw fit to run an opinion piece” – not by some self-evident nutcase, but by an ex-high-level Defense Department official appointed by Ronald Reagan –declaring that President Obama “not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one himself,” and that in any case Obama has “aligned himself” with the radical Muslim Brotherhood.
Krugman pointed out: “The worst terrorist attack in our history was perpetrated by a foreign conspiracy. But the second worst, the Oklahoma City bombing, was perpetrated by an all-American lunatic” and returned veteran from the Persian Gulf War, Timothy McVeigh.
On the day Krugman’s column appeared, South Carolina Republican activist Rusty DePass likened Michelle Obama to an ape. Referring to a gorilla that had escaped from a South Carolina zoo, DePass said, ‘I’m sure it’s just one of Michelle’s ancestors – probably harmless.” Funny, funny!
Two days later, Frank Rich, the NYT’s leading columnist, weighed in (‘The Obama Haters’ Silent Enablers’), stressing, as Krugman had done, the continuity of incendiary rhetoric linking the rightwing lunatic fringe and the Republican Party establishment. Rich also cited Shepard Smith, a Fox News anchor, of all people, reporting that his e-mail from viewers had “become more and more frightening” in recent months. From that Wednesday alone, reported Smith, he could read a hundred messages spewing “hate that’s not based in fact,” much of it about Obama. Smith opined that the authors of such emails were “out there in a scary place.”
When the white supremacist James von Brunn opened fire at the Holocaust Museum, Fox News’s Glenn Beck took the chance to warn that “the pot in America is boiling”; as if, remarked Rich sardonically, “Beck himself were not the boiling pot cheering the kettle on.”
Now, this column has repeatedly stressed (what Trinidadians doubtless noticed during the Summit of the Americas conference in Port of Spain back in April) how hard it is to get anywhere near to, far less assassinate, a US president in our time. Security precautions are so drastic, this column remarked on November 23 (‘Keeping Him Safe’), as to give the US presidency the aura of an imperial presidency: “Obama rides in an armoured limousine, in a convoy deploying high-tech detection and jamming devices as it goes. If you live along his motorcade’s route, eg, don’t try to open your garage door with the remote. It won’t work until the motorcade’s passed… The air of any enclosed space he’s about to enter is tested for weaponized bacteria. When GW Bush visited Liberia earlier this year, the Secret Service insisted that all the trees along the 10 miles of road between the airport and the capital be cut down.’
And so on.
That column concluded: “The odds of some Alabama redneck with a rifle getting to Obama are vanishingly small.”
Given, however, the frenzy of hatred of Obama by the extreme right, that conclusion may have been complacent. At any rate, many leading US media commentators have been expressing real anxiety about Obama’s safety of late.
So it may be time to look squarely at what, for most of the 2008 campaign, was the elephant in the room; so much so that when Hillary Clinton referred to the soon-to-be-assassinated Bobby Kennedy “campaigning on in June,” she was silenced by a great roar of commingled terror and anger. One means, of course, British Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing’s rather cavalier remark, early last year, that “a black man in the position of president would probably not last long. They would kill him.”