Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Deranged by design?

When Jared Lee Loughner strayed into violence on 8 January 2011, shooting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 13 others, he was rightly called insane. Clearly, no mentally stable person would have done such a thing, and when right-wing commentators say that “no one could have predicted” his behavior, they are substantially correct: No one could have anticipated this particular madman popping out of the Arizona sandstone, gun in hand.

Jared Lee Loughner, accused of shootings in Tucson, Arizona

Jared Lee Loughner, accused of shootings in Tucson, Arizona....
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But while the behavior of deranged individuals may be unpredictable, the collective behavior of such “lone wolves” can be mapped with near-mathematical precision: If enough such individuals are pushed far enough, given enough emotional incentive, one or more of them will sooner or later erupt into violence.

In this well-researched article, Melissa McEwan has compiled recent examples of exhortations to political violence from America’s right wing. Further, she establishes a strong case that these exhortations are the product, not of a powerless and discredited fringe, but of what now passes for the conservative mainstream: They emanate from such celebrity demagogues as Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Pat Buchanan, Michelle Malkin, Pat Robertson, Pamela Geller and Michael Savage — all of whose incitements are assured a national audience by their regular appearances on Fox News (mostly in the guise of regular “commentators”) and other mass media outlets. No equivalent to this, as McEwan points out, exists on the left; public appeals for violence are essentially a right-wing monopoly.

Political violence, historically, has almost always been a trademark of the far right; indeed, it has been characterized as a fascist moral value. We find, in F. L. Carsten’s The Rise of Fascism, that in the 1920s and ’30s, when fascists and their allies rose to power in Italy, Germany, Spain and elsewhere, they routinely resorted to beating socialists and other political adversaries, and thereby established a climate of terror in which people became afraid to oppose them.

As in the U.S. today, Mussolini and Hitler could not in the early stages of their revolutions command violence at will, but they could prepare the ground for it by calumniating their opponents; in fact, Hitler led a march on Berlin in 1922 in an unsuccessful putsch against the Weimar Republic, which he reviled as Marxist. As such canards echoed across Germany, Nazi-inspired violence grew commonplace.

As they listen today to right-wing demagogues accusing Barack Obama’s administration of being Marxist, those old enough to remember Hitler must feel a shudder of recognition.

Upon consideration of the relevant history and current events, it appears that Loughner’s crime is indeed “not an anomaly [but] an inevitability.” I believe that this represents a calculated strategy on the part of a political faction for which physical aggression has never been a last resort, but a weapon of choice. The American right has now escalated its war on the rest of society from words to gunshots fired by useful lunatics whom it has nudged into lethality by the simple expedient of inspiring rage and hate in as many people as possible until one of them snaps.

This was not the first time such a “lone wolf” has struck. Nor will it be the last. We are in for a long siege, and we must be prepared either to bring those who incite violence to justice now, or watch other Americans, demonized for differing with the demagogues, fall victim to similar attacks, which will only grow more frequent and more virulent if the demagogues are emboldened to think they can suborn murder with impunity.

Originally published as a review of a essay on the eliminationist rhetoric in right-wing mainstream media.

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