Monday, June 03, 2013

Crazy mixed with guns and politics is bad news

Sometimes you think you've got it figured out. Here's newspaper columnist Leonard Pitts
Consider: This nation’s recent history is stained by repeated acts of school violence. From Newtown, Conn., to West Paducah, Ky., to Santee, Calif., to Eugene, Ore., to Conyers, Ga., to Pearl, Miss., to Jonesboro, Ark. to DeKalb, Ill., to Littleton, Colo., we have seen scores of people killed and injured. The violence has been random, large scale and indiscriminate, identical to terrorism except that it has no political motive. And the profile of the assailants is virtually always the same: white boys and young men from suburban, small town or rural communities.

Small wonder Chris Rock got such a huge laugh when he joked about diving off the elevator when two high school age white kids got on. “I am scared of young white boys,” cracked Rock in 1999.
This seems intuitively right to me, though I agree with Pitts that it is factually unfair to blame young white men -- all 16.5 million of them -- for the totality of vicious violence that too often seems a national pastime.

David Neiwert makes sure we don't confine our opprobrium to young white males in And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border. This is the story of a not-very-young white woman, a psychopath for sure, who murdered a nine-year-old little girl and her father in a remote Arizona border town. Shawna Forde, a con woman chasing prestige, power and cash, fit right in with the nativists of the Minuteman movement who briefly grabbed national attention in the middle of the last decade with highly publicized armed vigilante gatherings on the borders. She took several varieties of these guys on a dizzying ride. They provided Forde financing and a chance at attracting media attention, when she wasn't instigating conflicts among them. It all ended with the brutal killing of two U.S. citizens of Latino ethnicity and Forde sitting on death row in Arizona. It's a horror story of poverty, mutual exploitation, grandiloquence and violence.

Neiwert's concern, beyond a solid journalistic narration of an ugly, sordid tale, is to warn that U.S. right wingers almost inevitably attract deranged personalities to their organizations. Some excerpts:
The thing is, there really is a problem on the border. The extremist right in America has always fed on real grievances that go either unaddressed or are mishandled by the mainstream system -- by government, and in particular the federal government. … What gives them special traction ... is their knack for finding unaddressed grievances and exploiting them as examples of [an elite] conspiracy, thus manipulating working-class people who have legitimate problems. … In the twenty-first century, right-wing extremists became focused on a ... dysfunctional immigration system as a means to recruit believers, in part because nativism is part of the genetic structure of the racist American right, dating back to the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan, and in part because it was such a ripe opportunity target. After all, American immigration policy in the past forty years and more has time and again proven a colossal bureaucratic bungle that no one has been able to untangle, which presents an opening for right-wing extremists to jump in and offer their toxic solutions.

… The long history of nativist organizations in America is littered with the same story: gathered to fight the perceived immigrant threats of their respective times, and riding a wave of scapegoating and frequently eliminationist rhetoric, they all have in relatively short order scattered in disarray, usually amid claims of financial misfeasance and power grabbing. … the Minuteman movement attracted primarily angry white men who were fearful of demographic change, which played an outsize role in the organizations' resulting volatility. Trying to rein them in was like herding cats. Big, angry cats with guns. … In the end these groups are mostly scams, brewed up by a handful of bunkum artists -- using a heady concoction of jingoistic fervor, bigoted xenophobia, and paranoid conspiracism-- and served up as a means to salve all that ails the patriotic soul, but having mostly the mysterious effect of separating their fellow right-wingers from their money.

… The Minuteman movement began crumbling apart even at the moment of its greatest triumph -- the media circus … in April 2005 -- in large part because of the kind of personalities that it attracted: contentious, prone to anger, hypercritical, paranoid, grandiose, egocentric people who found it almost impossible to coexist after only a few weeks of fitful cooperation. The strife and dissension, over issues ranging from strategy to finances, not only continued but intensified over the ensuing years. … It attracted these kinds of personalities in large part because they reflected both the politics and the rhetoric the movement employed in its appeals: resentment and anger were common features of their rhetoric -- indeed, the more inflammatory the speech, the greater its audience seemed to be. The core of the Minutemen's politics was scapegoating: blaming Latino immigrants for being forced into circumstances that they did not create and that were for that matter created by Americans as much as Mexicans.

… as the case of Shawna Forde -- as well as the larger movement's internal dynamics -- amply demonstrated, the movement was vulnerable to the depredations of people with personality disorders. Just as it attracted contentious and angry people because so much of its appeal was contentious and angry, it also attracted toxic personalities -- borderline personalities, narcissists, and psychopaths -- because so much of its rhetoric reproduced their interior lives. … What movements like the Minutemen most offer psychopaths like Shawna Forde is the opportunity to remake themselves into their own hyperinflated view of themselves as Heroes with a capital H, all without the hard work, sacrifice, and dedication that usually comprise the foundations of real heroism. This is something the Minutemen shared in common with nearly all brands of right-wing extremism: a core ethos dedicated to constructing and establishing their own heroic identities, a grandiose kind of self-validation.
David Neiwert, who blogs at Crooks and Liars, has made a career of understanding the dynamics of violent racist rightwing groups (and their only slightly more respectable allies like much of the Tea Party.) He's written about internment of a Northwest Japanese community during World War II, hate crimes, and what he names "eliminationism" in U.S. political culture. I take warnings from this student of the paranoid Right very seriously indeed. As Shawna Forde demonstrated, this kind of madness allied with fanaticism can leave dead bodies in its wake.

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