Michelle Bachman’s “Superbowl of Freedom” (or “Bachmannalia”) was not the first protest with such attention grabbing signage, but merely the latest. September saw Glenn Beck’s 9/12 marchers descent upon Washington. Again, they brought their message-bearing signs and posters.
And their signs made their message and motivation clear.
On Saturday (9/12), thousands of protesters gathered in Washington to express their disdain for President Obama and his policies – particularly health care reform. The crowd was populated by white political conservatives – – organized by a loose-knit coalition of anti-tax, small-government proponents, and widely promoted by sympathetic voices in the blogosphere and on TV and talk radio. The protest was scheduled for 9/12 – the day after the anniversary of the terrorist attacks – as way to mark a point in time when Democrats and Republicans supposedly “shared a sense of purpose and unity and all Americans were patriotic.”
What few, if any, of the mainstream reports included in their coverage of the event was any discussion of the racial composition of the 912 crowd which was overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, white. According to The Washington Independent (the only news source I could find that was talking about this issue), the crowd was “99 percent white.” The reporter noted, “in my four-plus hours at the event, I’d only seen three African-American demonstrators.” When the reporter asked Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), one of the organizers of the event, about the lack of racial diversity in the crowd, DeMint blamed the event’s timing and the media coverage.
“If anyone does a fair analysis of the crowd, it’s a cross-section of the population. It’s probably just the time and organization and the media that promoted it,” DeMint said.
Now, just because it’s an exclusively white-folks event doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s fueled by racism, but it does give one pause. I certainly think it’s possible to oppose the policies of the Obama administration and not have those views fueled by racism. Yet, you can tell a good deal about a protest from the images and iconography that protesters choose to convey their message. And the signs people created and carried provide another kind of other evidence that the rhetorical and visual strategies of the protesters drew on a deeply embedded white racial frame.
More than that, the most controversial sign was clearly not the product of an activist’s spontaneous enthusiasm. It was ordered, printed, and distributed.
The sign said it all. It was not some last-minute message some meth addict scrawled in crayon on a scrap of cardboard. No, this sign was professionally printed. White block letters on a blue background, the four-word message was in all caps. Someone had to have thought this through. Someone wrote it, edited it, planned it, designed it, ordered it, paid for it. Someone approved it, printed it, distributed it. And then someone thought this was a message he or she wanted to convey to the world. Thank goodness someone had the courage to take a photo of it, and then Huffington Post had the guts to post it on its home page.
The sign made me nauseous, made me embarrassed, made me wonder if at long last there is no decency on the far right. The sign said:
“BURY OBAMACARE WITH KENNEDY”
..What would they have done if liberals had printed signs that equated Ronald Reagan’s burial with the hoped-for death of George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security? Or Bill Buckley’s painful passing with the GOP’s loss of the White House in 2008? Or the demise of my right-wing former colleague Bob Novak with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts? You can’t imagine that, can you? Because, while we progressives have our moments of frustration and our occasional lack of couth, there is nothing I can think of that compares to the sick, savage sign that the teabaggers were waving in Washington.
As someone who’s worked as a publications coordinator before, I can tell you that a having a sign like that at a protest of that size doesn’t happen overnight. It has to be planned for, budgeted, and requires someone to coordinate the process. It requires a concept that then goes to a designer who executes it. The designer produces proofs with various different versions the concept — with different colors, configurations, fonts, etc. — until a final selection is made. Then the designer produces a final proof. Probably a color proof, very close to how the finished product will look.
Then the designer sends all the files and artwork to a printer, who has been contacted earlier in the process in order to make sure the printer can take the job, plans for it, and puts it on their production calendar. That means by this point the printer already knows how what kind of paper is needed and how many copies will be printed. The printer will then produce a blueline, giving the customer one last chance to look at the printing job before the point-of-no-return: when the ink hits the paper. (Making changes at this point, however, will cost you considerably.)
With final approval, it’s printed and delivered either to a mailhouse or to directly to the customer for distribution. Given the quality of the signs, and assuming that at least several thousand were printed, I’d estimate that it took four to six weeks from concept and design to printing and delivery. And every step of this process requires sign off on the text, design, cost, etc. It means that someone — actually, several someones — at the American Life League, which distributed the posters, signed off on the design and the message over and over again. In other words, the far-right messaging graduated from the grassroots to the organizational level, just it’s now apparently graducated to the tacit approal of congressional conservative leadership.
But in truth, conservative leaders have never strongly disapproved, no matter how extreme the messaging gets.
It doesn’t take a psychic to predict this. It just takes a look at the escalating rhetoric. To anyone familiar with the tactics of terror, is clear where this is going. First there is the threat of violence. It may be spoken, or it may not. It may be as simple as a hanging noose. The intended effect is the same: to put the target on notice to shut up, stay in his or place, and don’t dare challenge the status quo.
It is delivered, often, with a smile that implies not merely a willingness to do harm, but perhaps even a desire to do so — “I will hurt you, and I will enjoy doing it.”
I glimpsed that familiar smile this week, in a photograph of a congressman in my own state being cheerfully hung in effigy, because of his support for health care reform.
If this is the face of anti-health care reform protest, the GOP has a serious problem.
This unidentified man decided he was doing the Tea Party-anti-reform effort a real solid by hanging freshman Maryland Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil in effigy [note the creepily expert knotted noose] with a placard “Congress Traitors The American [and a word that looks like “idol”].
The event — a rally in Salisbury, Md. on the Eastern Shore — was attended by members of the business-funded Americans for Prosperity, a group that includes James Miller, a Federal Trade Commission chairman and budget director during the Reagan administration.
UPDATE: The rally wasn’t officially sanctioned by AFP — but the group’s members attended the protest, which coincided with an AFP health care meeting, says a spokeswoman for the group.
Officially sanctioned or not, this is the face of health reform opposition. But the GOP doesn’t think it has a problem. In fact, GOP appears to be vaguely amused. At least, they’re amused enough to chuckle over lynching (basically, a variation on the familiar smile mentioned above).
Rep. Todd Akin, a conservative Republican from Missouri, held a town-hall event this week in his district, and reflected on right-wing mobs who are fighting against health care reform.
“This particular meeting, in a way is a little bit unique,” Akin said. “Different people from Washington, D.C., have come back to their districts and have town hall meetings, and they almost got lynched.”
The conservative crowd thought this was great. “I would assume you’re not approving lynchings, because we don’t want to do that,” Akin said, generating more laughs as he put his hand to his neck.
Look, I realize Akin wasn’t encouraging “lynchings” and he was probably trying to be funny. But Akin and other conservative leaders have whipped up the right-wing base with a combination of lies and rage, and the results have bordered on dangerous. One Democratic lawmaker has received death threats because he supports health care reform. Another Democratic lawmaker was “physically assaulted.” Far-right activists have registered their misguided, uninformed fury with everything from nooses to tombstones to signs with Nazi “SS” lettering.
The history of lynching in America is well documented.
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Well known enough for Akin to know both that a referencing it would get a rise out of his audience, and that he had to admonish his audience for its response, at the very least, before extending the joke himself. The crowds at townhalls across the country resemble nothing so much as lynch mobs, and the trend is moving towards that model rather than away from it.
The model is one of fear and intimidation employed to keep people from upsetting the status quo. In the South, decades ago, it was an effective terrorist tactic employed against African Americans even suspected of transgressing a status quo in which their “place” was strictly defined, by asserting their personhood and demanding recognition of their civil rights.
It was the tactic, fueled by anger and entitlement, employed when the escalation of fear failed to stop the momentum of movement toward justice. What those who employed it could not stop through persuasion or the democratic process, they sought to stop through violence and terror. What they could not defeat with reasoned argument, they sought to silence. The violence of those mobs was acknowledged with a wink, a nod and a chuckle by those in power, and sometimes excused outright — as in the first trial of the men accused of murdering civil rights workers James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. The presiding judge, who sentenced some of the men involved, was heard to say “They killed a nigger, one Jew, and one white man. I gave them all what I thought they deserved.” (Ronald Reagan would later launch his presidential campaign in the same town where the three young men were killed.)
It was effective, serving its purpose well. So it was tolerated, accepted, even encouraged by those in authority, rather than condemned. It remains to be seen if the thundering storm of fear, anger and violence will be enough to hold back progress. But no one from among Republican leadership has stepped forward to clearly and forcefully condemn the increasing venom now veering into threats and violence.
In Tampa, a townhall meeting degenerated into “cat calls, jeering and shoving,” amid shouted slogans (of no more than three or four words) that have taken the place of honest debate.
At least one freshman Democrat has been physically assaulted. Another, Tim Bishop (D,NY), needed a police escort to his car.
The Secret Service may investigate a fax sent to a Democratic lawmaker that depicts President Barack Obama as the Joker and warns of “death to all Marxists.”
The black-and-white fax portrays Obama in makeup similar to that worn by actor Heath Ledger in his portrayal of the Joker in last summer’s “The Dark Knight.”
On Obama’s forehead is a communist hammer-and-sickle insignia, and beneath the image is the text: “Death to All Marxists! Foreign and Domestic!”
Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) received the fax and passed it along to U.S. Capitol Police.
The Secret Service investigates threats made against the president. Ed Donovan, of Secret Service Public Affairs, said that the fax was “potentially an investigative intelligence matter.”
Rep. David Scott (D,GA) had his district office vandalized with a spray-painted swastika.
The debate over health care took an ugly turn Tuesday morning after a swastika was found painted outside of Congressman David Scott’s Smyrna office.
The incident follows national coverage of Scott’s encounter with a citizen opposed to heath care reform at a recent town hall in Douglasville. That forum’s topic was not health care, but reconstruction of Ga. 92.
Since then the 13th district representative’s two local offices have been flooded with angry phone calls, faxes and e-mails.
“We’ve received a lot of ugly and threatening phone calls,” said Scott aide Isaac Dodoo.
Scott also received a version of the fax sent to Rep. Baird.
One health reform opponent has encouraged physical violence and the use of firearms. (Note the full embrace of the “mob” meme.)
Based on the news that health care events are edging into violence, an anti-health care reform protester in New Mexico named Scott Oskay is calling on his hundreds of online followers to bring firearms to town halls, and to ‘badly hurt’ SEIU and ACORN counter protesters.
Popularized in part by conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, the hashtag symbol he’s using, #iamthemob, has gone viral on twitter, appearing several times a minute according to a recent search.
And health reform opponents have brought guns to townhalls.
One, near the president’s townhall meeting, brought a gun with him.
There is a man with a gun near an Obama rally. Here is the video. This is insane!
Did you see his sign? “It Is Time to Water the Tree of Liberty.” That is from this Jefferson quote:
And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.
This is the same exact quote Tim McVeigh was referencing in a shirt he wore… before bombing the Oklahoma City federal building.
This is the same GOP that turned the Sotomayor confirmation hearings into an opportunity to appeal to the basest of their base, without seeming to care how it would play to the rest of the country — to such a degree that they no longer, if they ever did, reserve their racist comments for the president insead of attacking his daughters, and they elect a young republican leader who only seems to confirm the worst suspicions about the GOP regarding race.
The sentiments expressed by the GOP supporters in those videos aren’t still simmering below the surface. They’re bubbling right on top of surface. Occasionally the boil over, most recently on the conservative online community Free Republic, where — in an incident that suggests why the Obamas take care to shelter their daughters from politics and the media — pictures of Malia Obama wearing a peace symbol t-shirt received comments laden with racial slurs from the site’s users.
“A typical street whore.” “A bunch of ghetto thugs.” “Ghetto street trash.” “Wonder when she will get her first abortion.”
These are a small selection of some of the racially-charged comments posted to the conservative ‘Free Republic’ blog Thursday, aimed at U.S. President Barack Obama’s 11-year-old daughter Malia after she was photographed wearing a t-shirt with a peace sign on the front.
The thread was accompanied by a photo of Michelle Obama speaking to Malia that featured the caption, “To entertain her daughter, Michelle Obama loves to make monkey sounds.”
Though this may sound like the sort of thing one might read on an Aryan Nation or white power website, they actually appeared on what is commonly considered one of the prime online locations for U.S. Conservative grassroots political discussion and organizing – and for a short time, the comments seemed to have the okay of site administrators.
One shudders to think what the Freepers’ reaction might have been if young Miss Obama had been photographed in any of the unfortunate circumstances that the Bush twins found themselves in — or, at least one of them — when the camera happened to turn on them. If she’d been falling down drunk, or caught trying to buy a drink while underage, conservatives would almost certainly have howled for DCS to raid the White House, for the Obama’s to be investigated for child neglect, and even for Obama to follow Sarah Palin’s selfless example and resign for the sake of his family.
And they would have howled as nearly as loudly that the children of politicians ought to be “off limits” as they did went the Bush twins were charged with underage drinking (Jenna’s second charge), and when Bristol Palin became the newest face of unwed teenage motherhood. But at least they didn’t do it while wearing t-shirts with peace symbols on them. Unfortunately, it’s too early for Miss Obama to be rehabbed by writing a children’s book and getting married, since she’s, like, eleven.
The thread was left up by site administrators until a writer doing research on the conservative movement lodged a complaint, removed, then re-posted, placed under review following criticism from other blogs, reposted with the original complaint included and the writer’s email address revealed, and finally removed again.
However, it is not lost. It can be seen via this screen capture.
But it’s not just the base. As the timeline below suggests, it’s also the leadership, both in the party and in the conservative movement itself.
(Note: I know this timeline is by no means comprehensive. Incidents were left out in the interest of publishing this post sooner. But I will continue to update it, and re-post it one of the other posts in this series.)
The most recent example took place just as Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings began, when Audra Shay handily won the election to chair the Young Republicans, after a Facebook flap involving “Mad Coons.”
Note to Republicans: Racist “humor,” the Internet, and political ambitions don’t mix. Audra Shay, vice chairman of the Young Republicans and the leading candidate to be elected its chairman on Saturday, is now the latest in a growing list of GOP officials learning this lesson the hard way, based on pictures of a now-deleted Facebook page obtained by The Daily Beast.
On Wednesday, Shay—a 38-year-old Army veteran, mother, and event planner from Louisiana who has been endorsed by her governor, Bobby Jindal—was holding court on her Facebook page, initiating a political conversation by posting that “WalMart just signed a death warrant” by “endorsing Obama’s healthcare plan.” At 1:52, a friend named listed as Eric S. Piker, but whose personal page says his actual name is Eric Pike, wrote “It’s the government making us commies… can’t even smoke in my damn car… whats next they going to issue toilet paper once a month… tell us how to wipe our asses…”
Two minutes later, Piker posted again saying “Obama Bin Lauden [sic] is the new terrorist… Muslim is on there side [sic]… need to take this country back from all of these mad coons… and illegals.”
Eight minutes after that, at 2:02, Shay weighed in on Piker’s comments: “You tell em Eric! lol.”
A screenshot of the Facebook page (before scrubbing) is available here.
Shay admonished commenters (once the comments went public), but it appeared to do little good.
For her part, Shay responded to the flap — weakly, though — saying that she’d been responding to Piker’s earlier comments. But as John Avlon noted, that Shays response came just 8 minutes after Piker’s “mad coons” comment “strains the credibility of this defense. After all, why would Shay response to Piker’s earlier comment on a completely different thread? And why, if that’s the case, wouldn’t she quote the earlier response, so people would know what she was responding to?
Perhaps she doesn’t know how to use Facebook. That at least would fit in with the apparent ineptitude of conservatives who air their racism via email and social networks — they just made a stupid mistake, and sent the email to the “wrong” list (though that doesn’t answer which list is the right one to send a picture of president Obama as a “spook” or a White House lawn transformed into a watermelon patch), or commented on the “wrong” thread.
Perhaps less remarkable than the outcome–new Young Republicans Chairman Audra Shay bragged on her Facebook page that she had pledges from the majority of delegate going in–was how the vote played out. Yesterday’s election was closed to members of the press, but The Daily Beast has pulled together an account of the vote, and the runup to it, and the details are shocking. Some highlights:
- Shay’s opponent, Rachel Hoff, was the subject of an ugly sexual innuendo whisper campaign that questioned her reasons for supporting civil unions.
- Shay’s electoral slate, dubbed Team Renewal, battled desperately — some likened it to intimidation — and ultimately, successfully to block a motion that would have allowed delegates to cast their votes by secret ballot, for fear they’d lose.
- Near-fistfights on the floor, and finally something of a boycott, as some of Hoff’s slate of candidates lower on the ticket chose to remove their names from the ballot after her defeat.
“They just took a vote that may have set the party back 30 years,” said the co-founder of HipHopRepublican.com, Lenny McAllister, speaking from the floor of the Hyatt convention hall. “They just voted for a candidate who has a demonstrated tolerance for racial intolerance. She has joked about lynching and then claimed to be a victim. As a black man, I still don’t see what’s funny about that.”
Lenny McAllister’s words may be more prescient than Shays and her supporters — or many Republicans — know or care to know.
This is the same GOP that anointed as its main media spokesperson a man whose own words regarding race are cause for concern.
This is already being done by plenty of other people, but I can’t help myself. When a guy who just a month ago said “We need segregated buses,” takes umbrage at the notion that people think he’s a racist… Well, it’s just too hard to resist.
They are the ones with prejudice and bigotry coursing through their vanes [sic], through their hearts, and through their souls. They are consumed with jealousy and rage. They are all liberals–and make no mistake: That’s what this is about. It is about ideology. It isn’t about race. It’s about their being jealous and attempting to discredit me, and they’ve now sunk to the low of repeating fabricated quotes that they cannot source…. These people are scum.
Yeah. Sure, Rush.
Ladies and Gentlemen. This is Rush Limbaugh.
(For your listening pleasure, enjoy “Barack the Magic Negro” while you’re reading the quotes below.)
LIMBAUGH: It’s not reasonable that you should understand the insanity that local and state and federal bureaucracies are doing. It’s perfectly normal and understandable that none of what they do would make sense to you. My question — OK, a 1 cent sales tax to fight gang violence. What do you spend the money on to fight gang violence? Afterschool program — don’t we already have afterschool programs? Don’t we already have — what do you call it, extracurricular events? Midnight basketball — I mean, we’ve done it all. We’ve taken the favorite sport of gangs, and we put it at midnight to get them on the basketball court. We had 100,000 new cops with Clinton — we’ve done it all. And the problem still is out of control. Liberalism doesn’t work.
I’m gonna tell you what. If they’re gonna raise the sales tax in this little — Salinas, California, wherever you’re talking about — if they’re gonna raise 1 cent sales tax to handle gang violence, then the money oughta go to the purchase of bulletproof vests for the law-abiding citizens when they leave their home.
Potential NFL owner Limbaugh declares basketball “the favorite sport of gangs,” Media Matters, October 7, 2009.
“I think the guy’s wrong. I think not only it was racism, it was justifiable racism. I mean, that’s the lesson we’re being taught here today. Kid shouldn’t have been on the bus anyway. We need segregated buses – it was invading space and stuff. This is Obama’s America.”
“…White Americans are racists who have created what they call free markets that really just enslave the rest of America and her trading partners,” Limbaugh also mocked. “I mean, it was white Americans that ran off Van Jones. No, look, let’s just follow Eric Holder’s advice and not be cowards about all this. Let’s have an open conversation, an honest conversation about all of our typical white grandmothers. You had one, I had one. Obama had one. They’re racists just like our students are. ACORN – hey, nothing but racism fueling the pursuit of ACORN.”
“…If homosexuality being inborn is what makes it acceptable, why does racism being inborn not make racism acceptable?” the talk show host asked. “I’m sorry – I mean, this is the way my mind works. But apparently now we don’t choose racism, we just are racists. We are born that way. We don’t choose it. So shouldn’t it be acceptable, excuse – this is according to the way the left thinks about things.”
Limbaugh: We need segregated buses, RawStory, September 17, 2009.
We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this is the first black president.
Limbaugh Claims He’s Being Told ‘To Bend Over, Grab The Ankles’ Because Obama’s ‘Father Was Black’, ThinkProgress, January 22, 2009.
Secretary Powell says his endorsement is not about race,” Limbaugh wrote. “OK, fine. I am now researching his past endorsements to see if I can find all the inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates he has endorsed. I’ll let you know what I come up with.
Racism and Rush: Limbaugh’s Response to Colin Powell, Geoffrey Dunn, The Huffington Post, October 20, 2008.
“NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons”
From the January 19, 2007, edition (subscription required) of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show
LIMBAUGH: Yeah. This is — you’re not going to believe this, but it’s very simple. And the sooner you believe it, and the sooner you let this truth permeate the boundaries you have that tell you this is just simply not possible, the better you will understand Democrats in everything. You are right. They want to get us out of Iraq, but they can’t wait to get us into Darfur.
LIMBAUGH: There are two reasons. What color is the skin of the people in Darfur?
CALLER: Uh, yeah.
LIMBAUGH: It’s black. And who do the Democrats really need to keep voting for them? If they lose a significant percentage of this voting bloc, they’re in trouble.
CALLER: Yes. Yes. The black population.
LIMBAUGH: Right. So you go into Darfur and you go into South Africa, you get rid of the white government there. You put sanctions on them. You stand behind Nelson Mandela — who was bankrolled by communists for a time, had the support of certain communist leaders. You go to Ethiopia. You do the same thing.
On the August 21, 2007 broadcast of the nationally syndicated Rush Limbaugh Show.
“Sorry to say this, I don’t think he’s been that good from the get-go,” Limbaugh said. “I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.”
Limbaugh’s comments touch off controversy, ESPN.COM, October 1, 2003.
These are just the ones I could track down this afternoon. I’ll add more if I find them. And it’s worth noting that I’ve only grabbed the quotes I found at reliable sources. Honestly, even if the one quote that’s being attributed to him can’t be verified because comes from a book that doesn’t offer a source for the quote, the stuff that can be verified as coming out of his mouth are bad enough.
This is the same Republican Party that gave us an endless parade of racist imagery during the campaign. This is the same Republican party that didn’t get then and doesn’t get now that in many ways the election wasn’t just about choosing a president, but choosing what kind of country we want to be. And what we don’t want to be
It was this. I don’t know when it happened, and it’s probably impossible to tell. But at some point during the campaign, the election shifted towards being about more than just choosing a president. Maybe it was the candidacies of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — made possible by the progressive movements that have worked to extend America’s promise to more Americans, often against the will of a great many of their fellow citizens. Maybe it was Obama’s speech, openly addressing the race issue that had bubbled (barely) below the surface of the campaign up to them. Maybe it was the cumulative effect of never ending wars, a collapsed economy, and rising inequality. Maybe it was the fact that where the 2006 had its “Macacca Moment,” this election had a million of them.
Whenever it happened, and whatever the catalyst was. At some point, we weren’t just choosing a president anymore. We were choosing what kind of country we want to be.
The New York Post’s cartoon, in that context, is just a reminder that we’re not there yet, not all of us want to get there, and some of us will keep pulling in the opposite direction.
This is the Republican party that doesn’t get that we’re still choosing what kind of country we want to be, and that — albeit more slowly than I and other progressives would like — away from their GOP’s old, outdated model. As Republican David Frum said in Newsweek in March, “the GOP is trying to govern a country that doesn’t exist anymore.” The longer they chose that path, and rely on an increasingly extreme fringe to keep them in the game politically, the further they will fall — or actually get left behind.
Thus far it looks like this is the path they’ve chosen, and continue to chose. And they appear — to borrow a term conservatives used so often during the George W. Bush administration — to be disturbingly “resolute” in “staying the course.”