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Stephen Eric Bronner: "More pernicious is their integration not only of the Tea Party but those even further to the right. The approving winks that the Republican leadership casts at those whose resentment against 'the system' - or, better, progressives within the system - is impossible to ignore. Their irresponsibility is all the worse given the way in which resentment is now reaching a boiling point."

A child is fitted for a new Klan robe, 12/10/09. (photo: Anthony Karen)
A child is fitted for a new Klan robe, 12/10/09. (photo: Anthony Karen)

A Shameful Inheritance:
On the History of Political Violence in America

By Stephen Eric Bronner, Reader Supported News

20 January 11

Reader Supported News | Perspective

Petition: Congressional Action on Political Violence Advocacy

uch has already been written about the crazed gunman with anti-government views, Jared Loughner, whose attack in Tucson left 6 dead including Federal Court Judge John Roll, and 19 wounded including moderate Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Judge Roll was an opponent of conservative anti-immigrant policies and Rep. Giffords had voted for healthcare. That was apparently enough to induce payback. Right-wing media pundits were quick to note that this was an isolated incident. As usual, however, they made little reference to context: Arizona was the last state to treat the birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a holiday; its most important national politicians have been Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Senator John McCain, who served as arch-conservative presidential candidates for the Republican Party in 1964 and 2008; and its anti-immigration, anti-welfare and anti-union policies are notorious nation-wide. Arizona symbolizes the conservative mainstream that has been contaminated by the far right. Its politics also are heir to a long-standing reactionary tradition that is blossoming once more in the United States.

Establishmentarian thinking lies to present the United States as a non-ideological, pragmatic, society. Sometimes driven to the left, other times to the right, it always ultimately reaffirms its reliance on what the liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger termed the "vital center." Nothing could be further from the truth. Ideological divisions have always run deep - very deep - in the United States. Racist, anti-government and anti-union violence have either together or in combination been part of the country since its founding. Religious intolerance and genocidal eradication of Native Americans preceded slavery. Abolishing slavery required a civil war, the bloodiest of all our wars, which began with the Confederate attack in 1861 upon the federal government armory at Fort Sumter South in South Carolina. Organized terror maintained Jim Crow until people of color gained the vote in 1964 (!). Pitched battles between companies and unions, meanwhile, dotted the twentieth century, while the civil rights and poor people's movements were confronted with violence from their inception. Then, too, there is the tradition of political violence abroad that reaches back over Afghanistan and Iraq to El Salvador and Vietnam, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Philippines, the Spanish-American War of 1898, and the Monroe Doctrine of 1812 that justified countless US interventions in Latin America. For many, however, this is too abstract. Better to make political violence more "human" by fastening on the political assassinations of major figures like King and the Kennedys - and the attempted assassinations of Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

Not all of this can be blamed on the political right - but most of it can. The culture of political violence is part of the culture of America, and it has been poor people and people of color who have paid the highest price: notable is the extent to which the African-American community - the principal target of violence - has turned its back on political violence. Poverty is less the cause of political violence than the existential despair of those threatened by the most progressive tenets and possibilities of modernity. There is a reason why political violence has primarily (if not exclusively) flourished in the more traditional non-urban parts of the country like the South and the Midwest. What Richard Hofstadter once called the "paranoid style" has usually been directed against advocates of cosmopolitan values, democratic reform, and social equality. Liberals, socialists, free thinkers and - of course - intellectuals, are still seen as enemies of the "real" America: or, better, an imagined community composed of small towns whose citizens are white, straight, virtuous, friendly and - of course - Christian. That paranoid style has been expressed by the "know-nothings" of the 1840s, the Ku Klux Klan, the "America Firsters" who often preferred Hitler to Roosevelt, the partisans of Joseph McCarthy, as well as the "silent" majority of the 1960s and the "moral" majority of the 1980s. The paranoid style has been unrelenting in its appeal. It took hold once again with the anti-Muslim rhetoric that initially followed 9/11, simmered during the two terms of President George W. Bush, and then exploded with the right-wing populist upsurge that produced the new cult surrounding former Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin (who put Congresswoman Giffords in the crosshairs of a rifle sight on her Facebook page), a host of wildly successful hate-filled and neo-fascist media commentators of whom Glenn Beck and Michael Savage are only the crudest, and - of course - the Tea Party. The media fascists defend their racism in the name of civil liberties, which they always seek to deny their opponents, even as they call for "revolution" - though, naturally, always a revolution that will leave their own privileges intact. Explicit calls for violence by the political mainstream of the Republican Party are rare. More pernicious is their integration not only of the Tea Party, but those even further to the right. The approving winks that the Republican leadership casts at those whose resentment against "the system" - or, better, progressives within the system - is impossible to ignore. Their irresponsibility is all the worse given the way in which resentment is now reaching a boiling point.

Centrist Democrats have not been as hard on those legitimating the far right as they should have been. Reactionaries were undoubtedly emboldened by their politics of consensus and compromise that have come under withering attack from the radical left. Blaming these centrist-liberals for the current cultural state of the nation, however, is as misguided as blaming Social Democrats rather than Nazis for the collapse of the Weimar Republic. Communists in 1928 termed them "twin brothers." Trotsky responded if there are two enemies, one with a knife and one with a gun, then first take out the guy with the gun. There is something to be learned here. Critique of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party is warranted on a number of grounds. But there is also the need for a broad form of solidarity. Not all those who oppose a more radical commitment to the poor and working people are the same. The proper tone - or progressive style - that expresses critical solidarity is necessary for dealing with Obama. Politics calls for setting priorities. It also calls for drawing distinctions not only between political policies, but cultural styles and values. There has been too much, if not sympathy, then, "understanding" for right-wing rage by elements of the left. Violence against doctors performing abortions, against homosexuals, against minorities, and now against liberal politicians has become a fact of life. Too often, it goes unreported. Such violence must be understood in conjunction with ever more acceptable anti-immigrant, racist and homophobic rhetoric. Neo-fascist ranting about alien, socialist and communist infiltration has also so deeply insinuated itself into our cultural and political life that one would need to be a fool to ignore it. Paranoia has become almost acceptable. Death threats have proliferated against leading left-wing intellectuals like Frances Fox Piven, Cornel West and others. There is too much talk of "understanding" the rage on the right by elements of the radical left. It would be nice if the political and media representatives of the political right evinced a bit of responsibility with respect to the rhetoric that they employ. It also would be nice if those on the far left emerged from the cloudy twilight in which all cats are gray. Until that happens, however, it is time to withdraw that fashionable sympathy and understanding from the proponents of what is actually an old-fashioned paranoid and provincial reaction. Even more contempt, however, should be shown to the hypocritical establishment of the Republican Party. The influence of their words on the violence of our time may be indirect: but it is undeniable. There is such a thing as indirect influence. What one reaps is, indeed, what one sows. The real enemy of liberty, civility and democracy is never hard to find.

Stephen Eric Bronner is the Senior Editor of Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture as well as Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Director of Global Relations at the Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution and Human Rights at Rutgers University. He is a Contributing Editor for Una Citta.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+25 # Todd Williams 2011-01-20 12:23
That about covers it all. Makes perfect sense. Will we never understand that histroy repeats itself. I love the great photo of the little KKKer and his genius mother. WTF!
-39 # Tom M 2011-01-20 12:42
Looks like a traditional democrat suiting up.
+2 # EMcCoy 2011-01-20 13:30
Hardly 'traditional'.. . Bronner is better.
+14 # DaveW. 2011-01-20 15:07
Tom M "Looks like a traditional Democrat suiting up." Actually, the picture accompanying the article "looks" like a "future" Republican suiting up. How "proud" his parents must be to know that are assisting and enabling a boy to climb to the lofty goal of becoming a "hooded coward." The "Confederate Flag Patch" on the boy's arm was "thoughtfully" provided to assure the boy that the brutalities and insanity of enslaving another person, whose only "crime" was one of having a darker colored skin, were still resonating amongst many of the intolerant, ignorant, imbeciles who still walk amongst us. Please...feel "free" to join them. But of course, ideologically, you undoubtedly already have.
+3 # kalpal 2011-01-21 13:56
Ah yes, one of those far left liberal; Democrats who just love lynchings and white sheets. I wonder if that was in Maine or possibly in the far left liberal southern USA known for its nonsense liberalism by displaying teh CSA flag on all their statehouses and swearing that it was never about slavery but states' rights and the need to terrorize African Americans to insure cheap labor? Yes, we can all see that this is definitely modern day far left liberalism dressing up in Conservative wolf's clothing out steal whitey's birthright to be bigot.
-9 # Todd Williams 2011-01-20 13:11
+9 # EMcCoy 2011-01-20 13:29
Yes! "Existential despair" is, indeed, a CONSTRUCTED mindset intended to alienate active dissent and silence the voice of the oppressed. The more we all speak 'out loud' the greater our rebuttal to this contemporary national tragedy.
+13 # maddy 2011-01-20 13:52
It was the old southern Baptist KKK who practiced hiterian policies that they blamed FDR for,& the Far Right Skinheads who followed,- promoted, and dressed up their kids as KKK,--encourage d the hate. If not for immigrants they would not be here, unless sprouted up from a corn field.
+6 # Richard Schmidt 2011-01-20 13:59
Sounds exactly right. Republicans have taken on the mantle of an anti-American potentially terrorist crowd.
+5 # richard seeley 2011-01-20 14:15
Just a correction!The 1898 War you mention in your second paragraph is the Spanish American War not the Spanish Civil War! That happened in 1936.
+11 # restore2america 2011-01-20 14:38
I am old enough to remember the "left wing extremists" who had (OMG) long hair, wore raggy clothing, smoked pot and listened to "too much" rock music in the 60s - you know, the people we call Boomers today. I remember calls for the government to redirect their misguided energies, and fears that their violence, or simply their rebellion, would be the end of America.

I remember that Goldwater lived long enough to unlearn prejudices that made him "ultra conservative." And that out of the murders of people like King and Kennedy grew social change.

Today, as back then, I think it is the institutions that corrupt and are corrupted - or more properly, the people who want to "get in" and control the institutions. Those outside are identified as violent or "unpatriotic" when they fight "the system", but those within the institutions are treated differently when they use "official" violence.

Yes, we repeat our history.
+9 # Procyon_Lotor 2011-01-20 14:43
My own "understanding for right-wing rage" makes it easy to imagine the ghost of Timothy McVeigh chuckling to itself and high-fiving the likes of Sarah Palin and Jared Loughner. Whether or not they would approve of McVeigh, he would certainly approve whole-heartedly of them.
+5 # Diane Taylor 2011-01-20 14:49
Today when I was taking my morning walk by the river in Exeter, NH, I found a ice fishing shack on the frozen river with a new Confederate flag flying. This is new for NH, and Maine, where I live. It symbolizes all that is said in this disturbing article.
-2 # Elmont 2011-01-20 14:54
Geez--no reason to ever subscribe to The Nation--just check out Reader Supported News once in a while. One can get the full monologue--I dare not call it a rant--right here on my computer. Here we have it all--all the way back to the Civil War or something. Or earlier--Monroe Doctrine, at least.
I'm beginning to feel like the guy Phil Ochs derided in his song "Love Me, I'm a Liberal."
Of course, we begin with the presumption that the crazy in Arizona follows Sarah Palin's blog or something--he'd have to be crazy to do that--and listened to her instead of other voices in his head. Like this guy might read anything at all. Reminds me of when JFK was shot--I'm old enough to remember it vividly--everyo ne immediately assumed it was some rascist who did it, only to learn is was a Marxist, attacking from the left, who did the deed. Well, who knows what voices the Arizona shooter heard, but we can at least enjoy the holier-than-tho u satisfaction of pointing fingers at the entire state of Arizona. That'll cheer our progressive hearts, right? Gosh, aren't we just the best? Heaven forbid we might ever get past name-calling (racist, homophobic, neo-fascist, yada yada) and start taking steps to fix this mess. Like by maybe doing all in our power to vote these Republican me-too-ers out of office? Just a thought.
+5 # maddy 2011-01-20 18:50
The supposed Marxist was on the CIA's, payroll, and do research you may find out who really was the assassins.
+1 # othermother 2011-01-21 06:11
Oswald wandered back and forth between 'right' and 'left' political values. Confused, not too bright, used and thrown away.
+1 # genierae 2011-01-21 10:03
Elmont: "the crazy in Arizona" was a very disturbed, mentally ill human being, who deserves our compassion. According to his former friends, he was a normal, decent, intelligent teen, who was very gentlemanly with the girls. About two years ago, they said that he began to change (schizophrenia? ), and they dropped him when he became too interested in guns. One girl broke down in tears saying that she now wishes that she had remained his friend. What a tragedy that no one was there for him when he needed them.
+5 # Terry Mehaffey 2011-01-20 15:33
Most of the article is right-on. Even during the Civil War period the southern slavers had supporters in the northern states, especially Indiana, the only state to elect an openly KKK governor.

But even more, after the devastation of the Civil War, tens of thousands of southerners left the south and migrated west (including my great grandparents). They took their culture, racism, hatreds, and the old southern religion of slavery with them.

In as much as cultures develop a cultural genetic code, much like the human one, those past inherited cultural evils remain as alive today deep in the cultural consciousness of too many people.

That is also why there are so many efforts to revise the historical story, deferring those evils into the other. Perhaps it won't be long before owning slaves will be considered modern liberalism. Already, Beck has suggested that the Nazi SS troops were really modern American liberals.
-7 # pirugenia 2011-01-20 16:45
The face of a "KKK" child in the picture you show is a shameful way to promote violence against him. RE "A Shameful Inheritance: On the History of Political Violence in America"
+6 # God Dont Like Ugly 2011-01-20 20:10
Look again please pirugenia,

Might it be that the picture of the child is to show that our precious children are being taught hate and intolerance at a frighteningly early age? And not to promote violence against him or her, but to help educate us as to how deeply ingrained the poison is in our society?

I have lived where the Klan is a highly visible, widely-accepted , and in some cases - welcome - presence, and sadly, the picture is not staged, "dress-up" or Halloween, it is real. The indoctrination of young children into the Klan and other such societies that nurture hate and breed violence is as commonplace as passing on Grandma's "secret" apple pie recipe would be to you or me.
+3 # genierae 2011-01-21 10:17
GDLU: Children trust adults to do right by them, especially their parents, and so they are easy to indoctrinate. "They've got to be carefully taught." I grew up in Appalachia, with racist, sexist parents, but I saw through this at a young age, and so, thanks be to God, I was spared the awful abomination of being like them. It goes against the natural instincts of children, to be so hate-filled, but they want to please daddy, and so a new generation of the Klan is born.
+3 # Wendy Fisher 2011-01-20 16:51
Thank you Richard, for your important correction, distinguishing between the Spanish American War of 1898 and the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Two very different wars -- and two very different rationales. The former was an inexcusable media-fed affair that in many ways marked the beginning of U.S. imperialism and the latter a heart-rending attempt by people from every part of the globe to throw off fascism before western democracies were willing to make the effort.
+7 # maddy 2011-01-20 18:15
One seems to forgets it was some very wealthy Conservatives like the duPonts, Prescott Bush, Fred Koch, to name a few who backed the American Liberty League to overthrow our government, -- oust FDR and Implement the HITERIAN POLICIES in 1934. The Tea Party is now the same back by Fred's sons the Koch brothers.
+2 # Ellen Cantarow 2011-01-20 19:11
Good article. Unfortunate about that Spanish Civil War mistake, which is a big one. Particularly unfortunate since this is about the best short article I've seen on the Tucson shootings.
+3 # bronner 2011-01-20 21:08
Sloppy mistake regarding the Spanish American War of 1898: It has now been corrected. For those interested: See my discussion on the Popular Front and the Spanish Civil War in Stephen Eric Bronner, Moments of Decision: Political History and the Crises of Radicalism
+2 # othermother 2011-01-21 06:02
Thank you for this useful review of political violence in America. Saving it as required reading.
+2 # genierae 2011-01-21 10:30
I thank you too, Mr. Bronner. I just saw on Democracy Now, that Patrice Lumumba, a democratically elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo, was also a target of a CIA assassination attempt, and they backed those who did murder him. I keep getting the feeling that the CIA is a rogue element in our government, and no one seems to have any control over them. Is this the shadow government that everyone talks about?
-5 # 2011-01-21 07:12
It would be good if we were all more civil while indulging in political discourse. Just yesterday a democrat compared anti-health-car e-reform advocates to Nazis and the SEIU published a rally poster with their target's home location marked with a distinct bullseye.

But absent civility, we should all remember that colorful political speech does not incite violence. Comparing violence statistics to freedom of speech around the world, we need to consider that the most violent nations on earth are often those that most stringently attempt to stifle free speech.

Lee Nason
New Bedford, Massachusetts
+3 # fredboy 2011-01-21 09:42
The wake up calls are approaching.
First will be the moment the nut cases realize the GOP and their Tea Party has been using them while despising them.
Next will be the day we as a nation realize we must stand together or lose it all.
I sense both days are approaching.
-5 # 2011-01-21 18:50
It is not clear that "most" of the overheated political rhetoric is emanating from the right. In the last 24 hours, the two incidents that I am aware of both came from the left: (1) SEIU beseiging an oppoent at his family home and advertising the protest with a poster showing a bullseye over the guy's home location and (2) Congressman Cohen's comparison of Republican tactics to Nazi tactics which resulted in the "holocaust".

Limbaugh and Coulter are often "over the top" but are at least usually trying to be funny. No one could interpret Cohen's or SEIU's rhetorical flourishes as anything other than uncalled for exaggerations designed to demonize the opposition.

Lee Nason
+1 # Rara Avis 2011-01-21 21:59
I choose to love and not hate, to extend help to those whithout hope, to value that which is different from me and to continue to believe that these kinds of values and the bare knuckle truth will in the end win out. In Psalm 73 of the Judeo-Christian scripture it is written that these kinds of people who employ political violence with such arrogance have been placed "in slippery places" by an entity greater them themselves. They are destined to fall. A New Testament Christian writing in 1 Peter 5:5 advises humility so I will not pretend to have all the answers or to exclude myself from the possibility of finding myself as well in one of those "slippery places."
+2 # Herb R 2011-01-22 22:04
I'm willing to express a note of caution about all that violence, the advocacy of it and the hesitation to "do something about it".
Is it not true that domestic violence is one of our culture's most distinctive traits, and separates us from so-called "civilized" nations ?
And this trait has historic antecedents reaching back to the 17th century.
It includes slavery and what went with it, including the treatment of its victims down to the present. How can we narrate the displacement of Native Americans without noting their continued victimhood by invading Europeans from the beginning of "our" history ?
Rather that continuing this narrative by adding the horrifying stories of current mayhem, the question is whether we can pacify or civilize our way of life ? The culturally rooted impulses to resort to violence of all kinds in all kinds of circumstances and for all kinds of "reasons" seem be rooted so deeply in our way of life that one must doubt our collective will or capacity to even moderate them.
One doubts practically every measure presently being considered to accomplish such a goal. Even the appeal to moderate our political discourse seems to be falling on deaf ears, to say nothing about controlling weaponry of all kinds when the advocacy of measures is greeted as tantamount to treason.
I sign as a "neo-pessimist" .
+1 # vladzo 2011-04-13 13:07
to all ::::::::::::::::

i would say that this article points to the possibility of a pentagon activist takeover.


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