In March of 2011, Republican Congressman Peter King initiated hearings at the House Homeland Security panel on the “radicalization of American Muslims.” What followed from this first hearing was a largely hyperbolic expression of fear and loathing for “radical muslims” comparable to the McCarthyite trials of old. Understandably, King has faced some backlash for his attempts at fear mongering, with over 50 groups banding together to condemn the hearings for their attack on the Muslim community at large.
While the bourgeois media focused intently on these controversial hearings, a greater threat went on ignored. This threat, which has claimed lives and terrorized communities in an increasing amount in recent years, is the threat of right-wing terror.
From individuals taking up arms against groups of the innocent for reactionary purposes, to larger systems of repression and terror, these forces of the right are given a pass in the bourgeois press. They are either ignored, excused as being “insane” or otherwise swept under the rug after the first news-cycle. The threat they pose is very real to working people of all backgrounds and must not be ignored.
MLK Day Bomber: The Massacre that Wasn’t
On January 17, 2011, a man named Kevin Harpham placed a home-made bomb on a park bench in the path of of a Martin Luther King Day parade scheduled to pass by. Fortunately, the device was discovered and disabled, and the parade diverted, before any harm came to those marching.
Harpham had all of the makings of an American Neo-Nazi, having made frequent visits to the white-supremacist form “Stormfront” and having been a member of the National Alliance, an American Neo-Nazi group.
In building the backpack bomb, Harpham included shrapnel and rat poison (an anti-coagulant) designed to create the most visceral carnage conceivable. Harpham is currently undergoing a trial for this attempted bombing, which has been classified as a hate crime by the courts.
This attempted massacre of people based on their skin color and support of a prominent civil rights figure has since received minimal media attention, arguably because the would-be murderer failed in his attempted bombing. Yet, in the case that he were successful, and that the bloodied and mangled bodies of his victims be broadcast on the airwaves for all to see, what is it that we’d be expected to take away from this? The answer is likely the same we have been given in regards to Jared Lee Loughner’s mass-murder: “he was simply insane.”
The Insanity Defense: Whittling Trends Down to the Acts of Individuals
In a society that fetishizes individualism, the archetypical “lunatic” serves to be the main excuse for all acts of deviance. If one does something that others perceive to be out of the ordinary, destructive or otherwise going against the “mainstream,” they can be dismissed as “crazy.” Additionally, this “crazy” label has been utilized to pigeon-hole groups who take up deviant behavior.
While some will be satisfied by calling violent reactionaries like the Herphams and Loughners of today “crazy” and leave it at that, they effectively ignore an emerging trend of right-wing violence. Instead, the focus is on the capacities of the magazines used in the latest shooting, or the availability of component parts used in explosives. Little attention is given in connecting these trends to larger reactionary movements whose rhetoric and positions grow increasingly violent, or even the increase in the number of groups who can be more easily be connected to such acts. For more information on this, direct your attention to the Southern Poverty Law Center, who host an interactive map with locations of many of America’s modern-day white-supremacist, neo-Nazi, and generalized hate groups.
The Tea Party and the “Crazy” Label: Ignoring an Old Pattern
While the Tea Party has faced criticism for overt instances of racism, from signs at protests displaying racial slurs to implied threats of violence, they too have been dismissed as “crazy” by bourgeois liberals and some conservatives. This use of the “crazy” label, which tries to whittle the Tea Party as a social phenomena down to a gathering of “crazy rednecks,” ignores both the circumstances which have given rise to what amounts to an ultra-nationalist movement that can barely conceal its racialist views and the danger posed by such a movement.
It was only 50 years ago that segregation was still alive and well in the American South. Lynchings, the community murder of black men by hanging them from trees, were the proverbial axe hanging over the heads of millions of Americans unfortunate enough to live in the American South’s Apartheid state. The memory of this gloomy past has been brought to life in recent years, with a black professor at Colombia University having a noose hung from his office door, yet despite this, the illusion that the United States is “post-racial” because a black man is in the white house is being hawked to quickly sweep the shame of institutionalized racism into the dustbin of history. If institutionalized racism has been effectively scuttled, racist rhetoric and actions can only be the result of the mental instability of individual bigots, not a resurgent trend within bourgeois politics.
Unfortunately, racism is alive and well within America, with nearly 50% of Mississippi republicans believing that interracial marriage should be illegal. Again, the answer to why this is isn’t as simple as “Mississippi Republicans are crazy,” or “the Tea Party is crazy,” or the National Alliance, Klu Klux Klan and other neo-fascist groups are “crazy.” The reality is that the United States was (despite its insistence on “liberty” and “democracy”) founded through colonialism and, in turn, has utilized colonialist ideology for the domination of blacks, Amerindians, Latinos and all others considered “non-white.”
This system of stratification based around bogus “racial hierarchies” hawked by the bourgeoisie through religious proclamation and pseudo-science was an essential component to early capitalist construction. It is also essential to the world view of imperialism, which sees no problem with the toiling of peoples all over the globe in sweat shops and in mining minerals for the benefit of the few to the detriment of the many. In the immortal words of Malcom X: “You can’t have capitalism without racism.” This was true of the past and rings true today.
Legislating Racism: The New Strategy of a Robe-Less Klan
Considering the prevailing illusions of a “post-racial society,” contenders within mainstream politics have been forced to soften their rhetoric. While, for instance, there exists a substantial base of support among Mississippi Republicans to outlaw interracial marriage in the state, no idiot would dare include such a prerogative on their electoral platform if they had any hope of electoral success. Instead, attacks on minority and marginalized groups need to be made very carefully, with other factors being emphasized such as “national security,” “fiscal discipline” and other “politically correct” excuses for exacting repressive measures against these communities.
Let us consider the “small government” argument about the need to “reduce the deficit” by cutting “entitlements.” While couched in terms of a purely economic argument, the underlying message ultimately makes a racial statement. Who is it that is supposedly earning “entitlements” from the state, through food stamps and other welfare mechanisms designed to cope with the direst levels of poverty, who are a burden to white tax-payers? What group is perceived to be taking up the many jobs and offices in “big government” that the Tea Party would like to see reduced? What group is singled out as being the “criminal element” when the latest “law and order” candidate of the Right decides that more police and more severe punishments for petty offenses are needed to protect property? The answer is the same as it was 50 years ago, the same as it was throughout the reconstruction era: those perceived to be “non-white.”
The treatment of minority and marginalized groups as a threat to be contained has been central to the recent legislative assault against immigrant workers in this country. Arizona’s SB 1070 and the various copy-cat laws which have emerged across the country demonstrate an attempt to organize and facilitate the mass arrest and deportation of an entire ethnic group. The structural violence of such a plan can only serve to create an apartheid state, a society divided along racial lines wherein the colonized are made to live in constant fear of their “betters.”
Reactionary Violence: Repression by Other Means
While reactionary efforts are made within bourgeois politics to legislate to their ideology of racial hatred, there are those among the right who decide to take matters into their own hands. Whether their decision to take action beyond the “legitimate” racism championed by mainstream reactionaries is aided by mental illness or some other factor is irrelevant. Just as Jim Crow involved a dual system of overt segregation reinforced through the more covert lynchings and assassinations carried out by the Klan and others, this new legislation of colonialist ideology will undoubtedly be accompanied by acts of violence.
As Tea Klux Klanners brandish weapons at rallies and advocate “second amendment solutions” to a government that is too liberal for their tastes, there will exist those who take such proclamations as a call to action. It is not simply enough to ignore these incidents as the acts of individual “crazy people,” as hard to comprehend as such crimes are; one must keep in mind the larger forces that help facilitate and encourage such actions.