Eliminationist Dog Whistling and Free Speech

Eliminationist Dog Whistling and Free Speech

“Our democracy is a light, a beacon really, around the world because we affect change at the ballot box and not because of these outbursts of violence.” ~ U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, March 25, 2010

I’ve reached the end of mourning, the occasion marked as I was watching Sarah Palin say she’s a victim of “blood libel.” She’s had days to compose a response, and this is it? There are a lot of things she could have done here, but invoking this charge is amazing. Is she meaning to be the persecuted Jew here? Is it a cluster of associations that aim to function subliminally (something like “Giffords is Jewish, there’s something biblical about bloodguilt or blood libel or something like that, I’ve run across this somewhere, don’t wanna say “guilty,” maybe a Patriot said, “slander” is too eggheady, it’s a really big wrong thing I think, I can flip it back this way”) ? That’s reaching… but how could this have been said, and distributed? I don’t know what she intended, but I’m not buying ignorance.

Blood libel (also blood accusation) refers to a false accusation or claim that religious minorities, almost always Jews, murder children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays. Historically, these claims have–alongside those of well poisoning and host desecration–been a major theme in European persecution of Jews.

Note: The Wikipedia article goes further than the definition and gives a decent summary of the history of the blood libel charge, in case you missed History 101. This hateful and untrue charge has resulted countless persecutions and massacres for centuries.

Maybe she does know what it means. Or maybe she doesn’t know. As a weighted (even “loaded”) phrase you’d be hard-pressed to find better. Crusade, maybe (remember W?). Is it accidental, or is it deliberate? Is she using dog-whistle politics (or, at the higher level, the insights of audience reception theory)? Is she calling out in associative code, like she and others tend to do? What will be her response when people note the actual definition? Will it matter? Will she claim “persecution”?

Dog-whistle politics, also known as the use of code words, is a term for a type of political campaigning or speechmaking which employs coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has a different or more specific meaning for a targeted subgroup of the audience. The term is invariably pejorative, and is used to refer both to messages with an intentional subtext, and those where the existence or intent of a secondary meaning is disputed. The term is an analogy to dog whistles, which are built in such a way that the high-frequency whistle is heard by dogs, but appears silent to human hearing.

Maybe it’s a wishful Freudian slip – or even a cognitive slip. What’s on her mind? My friend Perry commented on this: “Does she even know what “blood libel” is? Blood libel would be, for example in this case, to say that she’s sacrificing Democrats and bathing in their blood to maintain her evil power.”

In contrast to Freud and his followers, cognitive psychologists claim that linguistic slips can represent a sequencing conflict in grammar production. From this perspective, slips may be due to cognitive underspecification that can take a variety of forms – inattention, incomplete sense data or insufficient knowledge. Secondly, they may be due to the existence of some locally appropriate response pattern that is strongly primed by its prior usage, recent activation or emotional change or by the situation calling conditions.

Parapraxis. A reaction to government control by grammar? Nah, I’m just playing with the idea in Glen Beck style. Schizoid style. Connection by emotion, connection by predefined association. Repetition. Repeat.

If I were to give Palin the benefit of the doubt, I’d say she might have meant to say “bloodguilty” but didn’t want to say “guilty.” Cain comes to mind – the stones calling out at the shedding of innocent blood. Murderers are bloodguilty, and also “whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). When I was a Jehovah’s Witness I was taught that leaders have a great spiritual responsibility, and if they lead others astray God will hold them responsible – bloodguilty. Perhaps that’s just their interpretation.

Proverbs 6:16-19
16 There are six things the LORD hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

It’s not ok to imply or to call for elimination of others, or to invoke a system of eliminationist ideology. If you do, expect to get called on it. Insulting language is simply uncivil, eliminationist discourse is hate speech and functions as incitement, invocation, call to what? Violence. Rabble-rousers can’t expect to be held immune from criticism, no matter how successful rage may be for their agendas. Yes, Ms. Palin, there *has* been a substantial increase in this kind of hatefulness and the incidents related to it, and you were right there egging it on and winking. No, Ms. Palin, we don’t want to go back to settling disputes with pistols. That’s the whole point.

Let there be no confusion: A criticism of eliminationist rhetoric (and imagery) is not some sort of infringement on the right to free speech. You are free to say whatever you want to say, but you are also subject to criticism for it. In this case, I hope that appeals to the better nature of Americans will cause shame, even guilt.

Eliminationism is the belief that one’s political opponents are “a cancer on the body politic that must be excised — either by separation from the public at large, through censorship or by outright extermination — in order to protect the purity of the nation”. The term was coined by American political scientist Daniel Goldhagen in his 1996 book Hitler’s Willing Executioners in which he posits that ordinary Germans not only knew about, but also supported, the Holocaust because of a unique and virulent “eliminationist antisemitism” in the German identity, which had developed in the preceding centuries. In his 2009 book Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity (English and German Edition), Goldhagen argues that eliminationism is the root cause of every mass murder perpetrated in the 20th and 21st centuries, including:

* War rape in Darfur
* Suicide attacks by Islamic terrorists
* Rwandan Genocide
* Ethnic cleansing during the Yugoslav Wars
* Cambodian Genocide
* Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
* Death marches from the Auschwitz concentration camp
* British concentration camps for the Mau Mau following their uprising in Kenya, and during the Boer Wars

American journalist David Neiwert (note: see The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right) argues that eliminationist rhetoric is becoming increasingly mainstream within the American right wing, fueled in large part by the extremist discourse found on conservative blogs and talk radio, which may provoke a resurgence of lone wolf terrorism.

The statements about it being the same on the left and the right are simply wrong, at least in this context. George Packer lays it out nicely in “Arguing Tucson” at The New Yorker:

But it won’t do to dig up stray comments by Obama, Allen Grayson, or any other Democrat who used metaphors of combat over the past few years, and then try to claim some balance of responsibility in the implied violence of current American politics. (Most of the Obama quotes that appear in the comments were lame attempts to reassure his base that he can get mad and fight back, i.e., signs that he’s practically incapable of personal aggression in politics.) In fact, there is no balance—none whatsoever. Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side’s activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can’t stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous. .. At a minimum, human decency should have led Sarah Palin to express regret for the dog whistle she directed against Gabrielle Giffords, among others. Instead, in Palinland and across the right, the attitude has been: Never apologize. But this has been the right’s attitude throughout the Obama era, with considerable political success, and I don’t expect this tragedy to bring a change.

An example of this confusion can be seen in the projection of many on the far the right, who draw false equivalencies – either as a projection, or as a strategic flipping. Here’s one:

Martin Knight at the RedState blog
Sunday, January 9th at 6:45PM EST Are Liberal Journalists And Bloggers Trying To Have Sarah Palin Assassinated? In A Word, Yes.
By Their Own Standard, Liberals Are Deliberately Trying To Get Sarah Palin Killed (the initial link says “assasinated” – hover to see).

I would certainly hope that this is not what Michael Daly, Markos Moulitsas, Paul Krugman, Jane Fonda, etc. are hoping for deep down. But given their own presumably sincere belief that “reckless” political speech leads to violence, and given the unseemly speed with which they have recklessly decided to heap responsibility on Sarah Palin with no facts to back them up and many to count against them, I am forced to conclude that they are, at best, neutral, and at worst, desirous of Sarah Palin being subjected to serious (even fatal) bodily harm.

There is no call for violence against Sarah Palin, and the argument is specious. He doesn’t link to any articles by any of these people to substantiate or put into context the singular blame (direct cause and effect) accusation, but I would agree that reckless political speech is being criticized, and that this is a good moment to call out on this. There is some strong feeling that the environment created by paranoid and eliminationist ideology and rhetoric is certainly condusive to violence. Even in this specific instance, I think it’s fair to say that the right-wing fanatics have been egged on in their harassment and threats to Gifford and others by radio shockjocks, pseudo-Christian leaders, Fox operatives, candidates for office, and even sitting Congresspeople. That they rely on disinformation and emotional fear-mongering rather than facts and ideas and real arguments is reprehensible. The propaganda, the whisper campaigns, the gun talk and the gun appearances, the reframing of our nation in terms of a new war of independence (or succession), the victimization claims from dominionist and reconstructive “Christians” -all of these demonize our representative, elected government and rationalize bad behavior.

Right Wing Working the Refs Through Victimization After Tucson Shooting
By: David Dayen Tuesday January 11

This actually fits into the conservative worldview. They embrace victimization as fully as they embrace tax cuts. No matter the words of the political opponent, a conservative will take them to mean an affront, telling their followers that liberals “look down on you, presume they’re better than you, and think you shouldn’t have the rights that they have.” It’s a classic technique and it has held throughout this incident. Everyone’s just being terribly unfair to them, even those making utterly generic statements about coming together in a time of tragedy.

We have real problems, and we need the participation of reality-based people to help solve them. Evidently, the priority is to condemn those who point out hatred and bigotry, rather than addressing the reality of intensified hatred and bigotry. No-one is using eliminationist rhetoric against Sarah Palin (or if they are, tell me and I’ll be happy to criticize them for it too!). The people who are criticizing her and others don’t set up shooting events in a political arena, like this one by Gifford’s opponent in the last election:

Jesse Kelly, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to be bothered in the least by the Sarah Palin controversy earlier this year, when she released a list of targeted races in crosshairs, urging followers to “reload” and “aim” for Democrats. Critics said she was inciting violence. He seems to be embracing his fellow tea partier’s idea. Kelly’s campaign event website has a stern-looking photo of the former Marine in military garb holding his weapon. It includes the headline: “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.” The event costs $50.

Right Wing Hopping Mad Over Culture of Violence They Have Wrought
By: David Dayen Tuesday January 11, 2011

Right now, the public isn’t ready to believe an argument that Jared Loughner was motivated by right-wing rhetoric. Fortunately, nobody has said that, because it’s the wrong claim to make. Nobody has claimed that crosshairs on a map or talk of “Second Amendment remedies” is specifically to blame (some on the right have blamed heavy metal music and a skull in his backyard, and that’s just as silly). The main claim is that the toxic stew of noxious rhetoric, particularly in Loughner’s home district and home state of Arizona, creates an environment that amps up a lunatic fringe. Loughner couldn’t help but trip over that, and indeed his writings do have a cockeyed resonance to some of the really far-right groups like Posse Comitatus and the Patriot movement. That doesn’t make those practitioners of angry rhetoric culpable, but it sure doesn’t mean what they’re doing helped, either.

But even if you throw all of that away – and mind you, I think Loughner bears more resemblance to a Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris and Cho Seung-Hui than anyone else – I don’t think that the trend on the right is particularly deniable. Consider that, in the wake of the shooting, the feds arrested someone threatening Sen. Michael Bennet, Rep. Danny Davis received an email over the weekend saying he was next, and a leader of the Minutemen responded to the Tucson shooting by writing “Too bad Traitor Raul Grijalva wasn’t with her! He won’t be missed!” All three of these politicians are Democrats.

When Clarence Dupnik gained national attention by spotlighting the role of violent rhetoric (“We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry”… “pretty soon we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office”), he didn’t actually mention any political party or movement in his statement. The fact that conservatives moved swiftly to marginalize and demonize him and his words, that was a tell. They didn’t like what Dupnik said because they’re afraid people would get the idea that he’s right. And right-wing talk radio hosts, for whom bile and anger is the coin of the realm, they felt the need to rebut Dupnik right away:

What does it say about the paranoid, dangerously volatile environment built and stoked by the right, that gun sales went up immediately and substantially in Arizona? Oh, and it wasn’t only guns in general.

“Arizona gun dealers say that among the biggest sellers in the past few days is the Glock 19 made by privately held Glock GmbH, based in Deutsch-Wagram, Austria, the model used in the shootings.”

And what say you to the Joe Wilson guns inscribed with “You Lie“?

“People tend to poo-poo this business about all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American people by people who make a living off doing that. That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.” ~ Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik

Some in Congress are proposing some baby steps, such as limiting the number of rounds in a single magazine for assault rifles – for this, vilification ensues. The NRA is activated. Sigh.

Turn Back, O Man, forswear thy foolish ways. Look at the history of the last year.
Go back, with fresh, open eyes.
It’s long past time to stop this.

Listen to our court jesters. Lately, it seems they have a better handle on things than the general population.

Be blessed and blessed be.

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) – The Fox News Channel today attempted to bust what it called a “mainstream media myth” by reporting that there was no link between matches, gasoline and fire.

Jon Stewart’s take:

I do think it is important for us to watch our rhetoric. I do think it is a worthwhile goal not to conflate our political opponents with enemies. If for no other reason than to draw a better distinction between the manifestos of paranoid madmen and what passes for acceptable political and pundit speak. You know, it would really be nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn’t in anyway resemble how we actually talk to each other on TV.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
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