Thursday, June 11, 2009

see white, right-wing terrorism as "isolated incidents"

Shepard Smith is a Fox News commentator who's currently being labeled an "undercover liberal" and a "traitor" on right-wing sites, to which I refuse to link, for occasionally calling out some of the extreme manifestations of right-wing ideology.

Thinking about Smith and what he says in the clip below, and what he doesn't say, helps me think about how whiteness works. It contributes to such terrorist incidents as James von Brunn's assault yesterday on the Holocaust Museum, by demonizing "Jews" and other minorities, but it also deflects our understanding of how more general and common white attitudes help to cause such incidents.

In the video clip below (a transcript appears at the end of this post), Smith talks about "scary" emails that he's been getting. He doesn't say that they're from right-wing extremists, even though that's clearly the case. In an effort to explain their hatred and their heightened frequency, Smith ends up blaming the blogosphere, rather than more proper targets, such as his own network and other corporate media outlets; conservative ideology; and America's more general white supremacist culture.

In terms of his own employer, Smith is overlooking or denying how the exaggerating blowhards on Fox News foment what he refuses to label "domestic terrorism." He also refuses to identify the political location of this extremism -- on the "Right," the conservative side, the side where Fox sits in all but name and slogan ("Fair and Balanced" -- Yeah, Right!). It seems to me that instead of denigrating the Right, Smith is serving more mainstream conservative interests, by trying to distance extremism "way out there on a limb," rather than within the Right Wing.

Nevertheless, some Fox fans have written on blogs and comment forums that Smith should "get his ass on over to CNN," or MSNBC, "where he belongs." But when it comes to race, and especially whiteness, other networks are nearly as bad as Fox. They too fail, not only by refusing to routinely call right-wing domestic terrorism what it is, but also by refusing to identify the overwhelming whiteness of that terrorism, and of their own blinkered perspective.

On Fox News and elsewhere in the corporate media, "terrorism" is what Arabs/Muslims do. Like most white people, corporate media workers see white people as individuals before they see them as "white." That tendency makes it less likely that they'll see violent white people who commit terrorism as members of a group, as people whose actions in any way represent that group.

Because corporate media workers view and depict the world through a white racial frame, they're more inclined to depict white people who commit what amounts to group-supported (and perhaps sponsored) terrorism as lone individuals. As "nutcases" whose horrendous acts are "isolated incidents."

But incidents of domestic terrorism are not isolated, and they're happening more frequently. As Alex Kingsbury writes,

In the past two weeks, the country has seen the bombing of a Starbucks coffee shop in New York City, the arrest of four men for allegedly plotting to blow up synagogues and shoot down planes, the shooting of two soldiers at an Army recruitment center in Arkansas, the assassination of a doctor inside a Kansas church, and the shooting at the Holocaust Museum. Although these are not all cases of right-wing extremism, each is an example of domestic terrorism.

Aside from their recent heightened frequency, these incidents are also not "isolated" in the sense that those who commit them are often informed by, or members of, right-wing groups that openly espouse hate, and even murder.

They're also not isolated in another sense. While the corporate media, and American culture in general, depict minorities in countless group-oriented and negative ways, white individuals are very rarely identified as white. And yet as a group, whites are implicitly identified as the ones who need to protect themselves from the supposedly encroaching and dangerous minorities. All of this promotes an "us versus them" mentality, which in turn encourages these supposedly lone actors to act.

It's easy to see that in glossing over the significance of the hateful email he receives, Shepard Smith is denying the complicity of his own, clearly conservative network in stoking the hatred of extremists.

But I think a bigger, and more crucial issue here is how the corporate media at large, and white Americans in general, fail to understand the common white tendency to view white individuals as merely individuals. That isolating perspective stops us from seeing the multiple pernicious forces that contribute to domestic terrorism by influencing those who commit it. Correcting that failure means focusing on and understanding all forms of whiteness that inspire violence, not just the extreme forms.

America itself is founded and grounded in white supremacist violence to all sorts of non-white people; Americans currently live in an empire (declining though it may be) that has long bolstered itself with the resources, sweat, and lives of non-white people. America's violently white foundations may be invisible to most of today's white people, but their influence continuously flows into all of us, and then out into our actions.


Video transcript:

Shepard Smith: I read a lot of email around here, and the email, to me, has become more and more frightening. It's not a new thing; it's been happening over the past few months. It's been happening, you know, to some degree since the election process went along. I mean, we had a woman, we had a black man, we had a lot going on. And there are people now who are way out there on a limb. And I think they're just way out there on a limb with the email that they send us, cuz I read it, and they are out there, I mean, out there in a scary place.

I'm gonna read to you a little bit from one -- and I'm not gonna read the name -- but this is, I promise, a representative sample of the kinds of things we get here:

Shepard, How dare you tell us to get over Obama not being a US citizen? Where is the birth certificate, where? He won't show it. So why are you so trumped up to believe it. I cannot stand Hussein, he is a socialist Marxist who is at fast rate destroying our country.

If you're one who believes that abortion is murder, at one point do you go out and kill someone who is performing abortions? Well, I think we just learned, for [sic] the murder of Dr. Tiller.

If you are one who believes these sorts of things about the president of the United States, and I could read a hundred of them like this, I mean, from today, people who are so amped up and so angry, for reasons that absolutely wrong, ridiculous, preposterous. Yet they are mad, and they're very mad that I just called it preposterous.

Other Guy: Well, if anybody wants to know the level of anger, or whatever you wanna call it, crazy, just take a spin around the blogs out there, on the Internet. Just take half an hour and go on through and randomly see what is being said out there. It is, it's frightening on a lot of different levels, and part of the problem is that they're feeding each other. People are not going out there --

SS: They are! They're on web sites, feeding each other, the same bunch of hate that's not based in fact. And it's ginning itself up, and I guess if that's what you want to do with your time, maybe that's what you do. But more and more, it seems that people are taking the extra step and getting the gun out.


  1. So clear to me the immense lack of information prevalent in the minds of bigoted Americans. That a person would even openly speculate about Obama's legitimacy as a US citizen. How insanely absurd. The focus on the Hussein aspect of his name is so reflective of white America's intense fear of the Middle-Eastern terrorist "threat". Yet it is in their very 'heartland' in which hate is spawned daily and made public in the form of shooting such as yesterday's attack on the Holocaust Museum.

  2. Yes, yes, yes! Fox News is the meeting ground for these crazies and then they carry it over to more wingnut websites.
    Macon, please post a link to this article on a Fox News contest asking commenters what "funny" messages would they send to President Obama's blackberry.

  3. Yes Miss Sheeba, it's amazing that so many people believe so strongly that myth about Obama's legitimacy as a US citizen. I send such people to a site that some of them have sent me to -- -- which thoroughly debunks such claims.

    Thanks for the Foxy URL, Blanche Devereaux -- here's a more direct link to it. Scary stuff there.

  4. This is very dangerous stuff.

    Right wing terrorism has been growing in this country unchecked for quite some time -- since the KKK began as a frat boy prank, if I'm not mistaken -- and Fox News is fanning some treacherous flames. They're going to burn their own house down with this one.

    The thing is, I'm not sure what horrible thing is going to have to happen before (white) America begins to wash its own dirty laundry.

  5. So much yes to this post. I've seen a ton of this exact rhetoric.

  6. Isn't it amazing how the negative attributes placed on the oppressed always found in the oppressors? For example, violent, lazy, non-intelligent.


  7. I'm sorry. I pushed published before adding this comment: Macon, did you hear about Rush Limbaugh's assertion that such behavior is found in left-wing behavior (i.e., Left-wingers are the source of such thoughts).

  8. I can't remember the details, but I'm sure I watched a documentary on a set of domestic terrorists who encouraged their people to embody the "lone nut" stereotype when committing terrorist acts, so everyone in the group didn't go down with them.

    And yeah, who is Smith fooling? Those "crazy bloggers" keep Fox News on the air. My mother, who has voted Republican at least since Goldwater, was finally moved to vote Democratic in the last Presidential election. At about the same time, she stopped watching FOX and started watching CNN. The fact that she has her limits gives me hope.

  9. Thanks for the post, it says a lot of what I have been thinking. The article on the front page of the Washington Post today talks about how those from where he lived weren't surprised by this, because he spewed so much hate all the time. I just kept thinking as I read the article, if he had been anything but a white man, he would have been arrested and thrown in jail (especially if he was Arab and/or Muslim) for the threats he was making.

  10. This has bothered me for years. As a child growing up in Oklahoma, my first encounter with terrorism on a mass scale was the Murrow Building bombing. For an entire generation of OK kids, the first terrorist with a face was an angry, militant, middle-class white guy. All I can figure is that, in a post-9/11 world, most white people (disclaimer: I am white) not only view terrorism in racial terms--it’s only terrorism if they’re brown--but also based on scale. It’s only terrorism if you kill more than X number of people at one time. Actually, it’s only terrorism if you deem those X victims as “innocent.” The rhetoric spewed by McVeigh is scarily similar to that professed by the Holocaust Museum shooter and not completely independent of Dr. Tiller’s murdered (though less overtly religious). I’m still trying to figure out how to translate this when watching the news and discussing said “isolated incidents” with (other white) people here in OK.

  11. Hi. First time reader, first time commenter. So, when I had a TV, I tuned into Fox sometimes. I noticed Shepard Smith peeling away from the rabid pack during the election coverage. Right-wing anger against Smith has been a long time coming. I'm sure rumors (?) that he's gay don't help either. I don't excuse anyone for working at FOX News, but by continuing to work at FOX, he's risking his ass.

    Anyway, I don't interpret the clip of Smith going off cynically. Yeah, he doesn't just say "right-wing nuts", but he makes it clear that crazy talk is representative of the mail he gets, and that's good enough for me. Especially since his next statement is superb, and identical to the reaction of many liberals to Dr. Tiller's death: "If you're one who believes that abortion is murder, at one point do you go out and kill someone who is performing abortions? Well, I think we just learned, for [sic] the murder of Dr. Tiller." Many pro-choicers say that pro-lifers need to be confronted with that awkward question, and Shepard Smith went ahead and asked it to the largest conservative audience in America. It doesn't get much better than that in mainstream cable news, let alone Fox News.

  12. This is sightly off topic, but I wanted to share some quotes by or about right-wing extremists. I don't think I'm being melodramatic when I say that the language and issues of persons formerly considered right-wing "extremists" seems eerily familiar to the language we've been hearing from fairly mainstream right-wing media. So, here are the quotes:

    Timothy McVeigh:

    "The government is afraid of the guns people have because they have to have control of the people...I believe we are slowly turning into a socialist government."

    "He began changing his answering machine greeting every couple of weeks to various quotes by Patrick Henry such as "Give me liberty or give me death."

    "I know in my heart that I am right in my struggle...Blood will flow in the streets...Free Men vs. Socialist Wannabe Slaves..."

    Eric Rudolph:

    "The purpose of the attack on July 27th (1996) was to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand."

    John Wilkes Booth:

    "This country was formed for the white and not the black man."

    "But dearest Mother...there is
    another duty. A noble duty for the sake of liberty and humanity due my Country. For four years
    I have lived a slave in the north (a favored slave it’s true, but no less hateful to me on that
    account). Not daring to express my thoughts or sentiments..."

    Political goals as stated in the KKK's Present-Day Party Platform:

    "The recognition that America was founded as a Christian nation"

    "The recognition that America was founded as a White nation"

    "Abolish ALL discriminatory affirmative action programs.--The federal government has enacted programs and laws designed for the exclusive discrimination against those of White European ancestry."

    "Put American troops on our border to STOP the flood of illegal aliens.--America is being over run by illegal immigrants mostly from nonwhite countries who do not share the Christian European values of our nation's founders. Immigration should remain open to all White Christians throughout the world."

    "We support a national law against the practice of homosexuality."

    In my opinion, these sort of statements are not that far from those made by people like Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Pat Buchanan, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Michelle Bachmann, and a host of others.

  13. The kind of intellectual dishonesty required to maintain the myth that white Americans who practice domestic terrorism are not 'Terrorists' makes me fearful for the mental health for many of my fellow Americans.

    The level of insanity to maintain this kind of delusion boggles the mind.

  14. The Minutemen and Racist Murder against Latino Children :

    Videos : The Demagoguery of a Child Murderer - Shawna Forde, Minutemen Founder and Prominent Member of FAIR, speaks in FAIR meeting

    America's Voice TV Posted this Video ( Conservative Anti Immigration ). America's Voice TV posts Videos of Child Murderers and Racists in YouTube. America's Voice TV and FAIR are promoting this lowest scum of child murderers and racists, and the Minutemen too !!

    See the video before they erase it from YouTube. Can they do that ??

    June 15, 2009
    Shawna Forde, arrested as a suspect in a deadly home invasion in Arizona, has ties to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an anti-immigrant group classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

    Suspected Minuteman Killer Shawna Forde: Member of FAIR

    Please see the Videos of Shawna Forde before they kill them too !!

    Some People master the art of "Guilt by Association", they have always applied it to Mr. Obama, even if Reverend Wright has not killed any child.

    See the videos here :

    Vicente Duque

  15. It's funny I'm reading this after being on nbc.chicago's website and seeing the ENORMOUS level of hate,bigotry,stupidity,and genralizations made toward 2 black males who were accosted by police because bank tellers thought they 'looked supspicious' and called the cops. Some dummies even had the nerve to say they were justified because one guy said to the other 'tap me 3 times when you're ready to leave' what the F##K is 'threatening' about that?!!


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