Dangerous hatred in the US?

Mainstream media begins to debate whether racism has been fueling the healthcare debate.

Obama’s healthcare reform proposals have been met with such vitriol that some fringe groups have compared him to Hitler and the Antichrist [GALLO/GETTY]

Michelle Bachmann, the US Republican Representative for Minnesota, tells a radio interviewer she believes Barack Obama, the US president, plans to set up mandatory “re-education camps” to indoctrinate young Americans.

Glenn Beck, a television personality working at the Fox news network, says on the air that Obama is a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people”.

Comparing Obama to Adolf Hitler, an Iowa man named Tom Eisenhower speaks up at a town hall meeting held by Republican Senator Charles Grassley, and says “The president of the United States, that’s who you should be concerned about.”

“I’d take a gun to Washington if enough of you would go with me.”

Retired FBI agent Ted Gunderson, a prolific writer and speaker about conspiracy theories involving devilish sex cults and the Illuminati, tells a gathering of right-wing “Patriots” in Florida that the federal government has set up 10,000 internment camps across the country and is storing thousands of guillotines for mass executions. 

Mel Sanger, a self-described “political researcher”, offers visitors to his website a $24.97-report full of “cutting edge evidence” that Obama is the biblical Antichrist.

Tens of thousands of right-wing demonstrators march on the US Capitol waving signs reading “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy” and calling Obama a “bloodsucking Muslim alien”.

Steven Anderson, the pastor of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Arizona, preached a sermon last month entitled “Why I hate Barack Obama”, in which he declared, “I’m going to pray he dies and goes to hell”. 

Old-fashioned racism

On August 22, I posted an article on this website (Fear, racism at town hall meetings) about the element of old-fashioned retrograde racism running through the outpouring of venom and hatred for Obama in town hall style meetings, ostensibly over his healthcare reform plans.

I received a lot of feedback from you, the readers – the overwhelming majority of which was positive, with a few obscenity-laced screeds thrown in.

The mainstream media in the US have been slow to catch up on the story of white racial hatred for Obama. But now the debate over the racist roots of the anti-Obama upwelling is out in the open, discussed on television networks and in newspapers.

“Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it,” writes The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

“There’s something loose in the land, an ugliness and hatred directed toward Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president, that takes the breath away,” offered Colbert King in the Washington Post.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre, an essential US institution that researches and exposes hate groups, notes “… unmistakable signs of a revival of what in the 1990’s was called the militia movement,” adding that “… the fact that the president is an African-American has injected a strong racial element” into the radical right. 

The rage from the right has nothing to do with healthcare reform or any other factual policy issue. It is a concerted effort to de-legitimise Obama as president. Former President Jimmy Carter summed it up concisely in an interview with NBC News: 

“I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man,” Carter said.

“I live in the South, and I’ve seen the South come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that share the South’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans.

“And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.”

Fearful times

Some believe the healthcare debate has re-ignited the racial debate [AFP]

Abominable – and dangerous. The simmering potential for political violence underlies the ugly jeers and insults.

They are a motley group: white supremacists, Patriots, Sovereign Citizens, anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers, Neo-Confederates, Skinheads, Teabaggers, end-times prophecy adherents, birthers, Minutemen, New World Order conspiracists, Oath Keepers – the list is long and depressing.

Thousands of videos posted to YouTube show white militia members playing soldier – with real guns.

What they have in common – besides hatred for non-whites – is their worship of firearms and their intense paranoia about the government. They are continually encouraged in their outrage by right wing media and radio talk show hosts.

In several recent instances, right wing rage has exploded in bloodshed.  In April, Richard Poplawski, who frequented anti-government and white supremacist websites and feared Obama would take away his guns, allegedly ambushed three Pittsburgh police officers, killing them with a hail of bullets from his rifle, pistol and AK-47.

The same month, Joshua Cartwright of Okaloosa County, Florida, got fired from his job, beat up his wife and headed down to the local gun club. When two sheriff’s deputies arrived to arrest him for assault, he pulled out a gun and shot both men dead.

Cartwright’s wife said he feared the government was out to get him and was “severely disturbed that Barack Obama had been elected president.”

Last July, Jim David Adkisson of Knoxville, Tennessee wrote a vitriolic suicide note denouncing liberals, democrats, blacks, and Obama, then allegedly marched into a Unitarian church and opened fire, killing two churchgoers and seriously wounding six. 

Here in Washington in June, an elderly neo-Nazi named James von Brunn allegedly opened fire with a rifle at the US Holocaust Museum, killing an African American security guard. Police found a note in his car. “You want my guns, this is how you’ll get them,” von Brunn wrote. 

“The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews.”

America, the sorry truth

Obama, centre front, was heckled during a speech to a joint session of congress [EPA]

While Republican spokespeople and elected officials scoff at the notion that racism is behind their protests, the spectacle of a white, Republican Congressman from the Deep South state of South Carolina shouting “You lie!” at the president from the floor of the House of Representatives blatantly revealed the sorry truth that this country has not entered a “post-racial” period, as some liberals like to believe.

We would like to believe that the racist right-wingers are just the leftover dregs of hate in a society steadily becoming more enlightened.

After all, Obama won the election last November by nine million votes. That means an awful lot of white people voted for him.

But while their numbers may be relatively small, the right-wing radicals – and the media bomb-throwers who fire them up – can do a lot of damage. 

A few armed lunatics can alter the course of history. Think of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber.

Think of James Earl Ray, who murdered Martin Luther King. Or think of John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

Those last two examples were not chosen at random.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source : Al Jazeera

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