Stoking The Flames of Extremist Violence

The shootings at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has raised more attention towards the problem of right wing extremism and has verified the legitimacy of a recent report from the Department of Homeland Security on the problem. Judith Warner has summarized the problem. The actual violence is committed by extremists who are correctly described as outliers. The line is often blurred with extremist radio and television personalities of the right who are considered part of the mainstream conservative movement while stoking the flames which contribute to the problem. Warner writes:

And though he’s an outlier — disturbed, deranged, disavowed now by many who share his core views — his actions really can’t be viewed in isolation. As was the case with Tiller’s murder, which followed months of escalating harassment and intimidation at abortion clinics, von Brunn’s attack on the Holocaust museum has to be viewed as an extreme manifestation of a moment when racist, anti-Semitic agitation is rapidly percolating. White supremacist groups are vastly expanding. And right-wing TV rhetoric, thoughtless in its cruelty and ratings-hungry demagoguery, is helping feed the paranoia and rage that for some Americans now bubbles just beneath the surface.

Hate group membership had been expanding steadily over the course of the past decade — fueled largely by anti-immigrant sentiment. But after Barack Obama’s election, it spiked. The day after the election, the computer servers of two major white supremacist groups crashed, because their traffic went through the roof, Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks right-wing extremists and hate groups, told me this week.

As the former Klansman and Louisiana state representative David Duke predicted last June, the face of the first black man in the White House was a “visual aid” for white supremacists, spurring a rapid rise in recruitment and radicalization.

“Rightwing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported this past April.

I wrote last week about the rising threats to and vandalism at abortion clinics that followed the election of our first pro-choice president in eight years. A similar increase in intimidating activism has been observed over the past seven months among hate groups — and simply hateful individuals. In November, a predominantly black church under construction in Springfield, Mass. was burned to the ground by three men who bragged of doing so in protest of the election. A cross was burned outside the home of a family of Obama supporters in Hardwick, N.J.

As was the case with increasing clinic vandalism and verbally violent protest, it was only a matter of time before this racially motivated destruction and intimidation turned to physical violence. And there’s one additional, highly disturbing parallel between von Brunn’s intended white supremacist shooting rampage and Scott Roeder’s “pro-life” killing of George Tiller: In both cases, at least some of the core beliefs of extremists were echoed, albeit in more socially acceptable language, by right wing news commentators.

Bill O’Reilly had routinely talked in recent years about “Tiller the baby killer.” Other right-wing talk show hosts like Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh have similarly tapped into — in somewhat coded form — some of the key concerns of extremist hate groups: that the economy has been destroyed by government-proffered “bad” loans to illegal immigrants, for example, or that FEMA may or may not — Beck equivocated for an awfully long time — be running “concentration camps” for U.S. citizens, or that the Obama administration is declaring war on decent Americans by labeling them as “extremists.”

(“So you have a report from Janet Napolitano and Barack Obama, Department of Homeland Security, portraying standard, ordinary, everyday conservatives as posing a bigger threat to this country than Al-Qaeda terrorists or genuine enemies of this country like Kim Jong Il,” is what Limbaugh had to say about Homeland Security’s April report.)

The result of this wink-wink anti-immigrant and anti-government rhetoric has been “a kind of mainstreaming of hate propaganda,” Potok said. “The white supremacist propaganda agenda is being expressed by pundits, politicians, and preachers. Criminal violence by members of this movement is a tiny danger to most Americans. The larger danger is the mainstreaming of these very vile and provably false ideas that do lead to violence.”

You can’t accuse Beck or Limbaugh of inciting violence. But they almost certainly do stoke the flames. They may give people who are just about to go over the edge — the sort of “guy that could not take it anymore” as one poster on the white supremacist forum, described von Brunn — some sort of validation for their rage.

“The pot in America is boiling,” Beck said this week, in the wake of the Holocaust museum killing. “And this is just yet another warning to all Americans of things to come.”

That creepy schadenfreude just about says it all.

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  1. 1
    Mike says:

    In your opinion, what might push an Islamic radical over the edge?  If I were to limit it to say:  What was done at Gitmo or left wingers talking about what was done at Gitmo? Would you recommend silencing the left so they don’t stir up trouble? (I say that being fully aware that the right has done just that, saying in effect: “Don’t talk about this or that” because it could support or stoke the enemy.) Now you say the same things, don’t talk about bad loans to illegals.  Don’t talk about blaming the government for doing major damage to the economy by backing massive amounts of absurd loans.  You call these things lies?  I know this is merely anecdotal, but last week I saw one that was so bad it was laughable.  Age was listed as 01/01/1900 (this loan was two years old so I guess the person was only 107 when they took out the loan and is now 109 years in age.  Income was listed as ranging between 38k to 85k with monthly take home pay at $9500. The range is almost laughable in itself but theoretically possible, but the monthly exceeds even the highest end of the annual.  The fly by night, really criminal in my mind, loan generation company sells it to fannie/freddy then we (the bank) service the loan.  The loan goes bad , the tax payers pay for the loss,  we (the bank) get the bad press for being greedy, and the voices that call out the bad practices get blamed by you for stoking violence.  Oh, let me take it another step, then people like me start arguing with people like you which distracts us from people like Chris Dodd continuing to do things that mess us up like his AIG fiasco.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    I would not draw an equivalency as you  seem to be doing between exposing mistreatment such as at Gitmo and the hate-filled talk which has become so common on talk radio.

  3. 3
    Mike says:

    This has indeed been most educational. Since starting to read and talk on a liberal run blog, I’ve learned to be much more skeptical of the information that I receive from the right. I always “assumed” for example that the radio people I listened to were slanted to one side but Fox news was as billed: balanced. Now I see their slant to the right. Attacks against individuals on the left by the right, while sounding quite credible, tended to not be as strong in fact when examined closely. Now too, I see that left may not be any worse, but really no better. Glenn Beck, IMO totally refuted all the latest claims against him like the “Fema detention camp” claim. He started from a position that these stories of Fema detention camps were false, but made from a left wing perspective the “error” of taking the time to debunk the existance of these imaginary camps. It seems debunking a falsehood is considered giving that falsehood credibility by some. Well, I’ll try not to waste anymore time debunking all the other falsehoods being said against those on the right. I still plan to read this blog and others but now I plan to keep my comments to a minimum.

  4. 4
    A Nonny Mooose says:

    Mike instead of making obnoxious generalizations that are besides the point, why don’t you just come to terms that Ron makes a valid arguement concerning the rerurgence of violent activity from the far right and it’s possible link with the irresponsible bantor coming from talk radio and cable news commentators.  I’m conservative on many issues and even I see the patern here.

  5. 5
    Mike says:

    To answer why I make generalizations at a particular time has to do with my target audence at the time I’m writing the post. In previous posts some on this blog I have talked at length and in detail. Now to address your specific issue of violent activity. Mark Levine, Rush, and Glenn Beck are constantly complaining about how Obama is too friendly with the Arabs and too against and unfriendly towards our friend Isreal. When I hear myself, over a long period of time, these people making Pro-Jewish remarks being accused of promoting Jewish hate, the accusations are false.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:


    The accusation isn’t that they are “promoting Jewish hate” so their comments with regards to Israel aren’t relevant to this.

  7. 7
    Mike says:

    At a Holocaust museum and anti-Semite commits an act of violence. The Post stoking the flames of Extreme violence has nothing to do with the afore mentioned event? Or the act has nothing to do with Jewish hatred? Or what the talk show people in my previous post say and have said have nothing to do with that Jewish hatred? Well, the last statement is correct, it doesn’t, and it is this article of stoking flames of extreme violence that tries to falsely connect the two. That is all, if history for some reason demands that this terrorist be labeled right wing, fine. I do affirm that I agree people can label the sick, horrific act of the anti-Semite an act of right wing terrorism if they have a burden to label it as such. That being said, you aren’t being honest if you don’t admit you are trying to link the so called “hate speech” of talk show hosted to anti-Semitism

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:


    See what was actually written as opposed to arguing based upon your misconception as to what was written.

    The post quoted discusses other forms of violence promoted by the right wing talk show hosts. While this specific act was primarily anti-Semitic, she was discussing the promotion of hate in general. Those on the extreme right who engage in violence hold a number of far right views, and their general anger is fueled by the amount of hatred promoted on right wing talk radio and Fox. Her post is more directly relevant to the shooting of an abortion doctor but is also relevant to all cases of extreme right wing hatred. Supporting Israel does not negate all the other hatred they promote.

  9. 9
    Fritz says:

    Some of the examples in the article of “hatred” seem more like standard fear of government — for example, concerns that FEMA has plans to incarcerate dissidents in an event of civil strife.  You and I may well differ on whether that is a reasonable concern to have, but it is not really hatred.
    Is there a real statistical upswing in violence against abortion providers?  Back a couple of decades ago, I organized escorts for clinincs in San Diego, and we had 2 firebombings in a year.  That was pretty lively.

  10. 10
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “The result of this wink-wink anti-immigrant and anti-government rhetoric has been “a kind of mainstreaming of hate propaganda,” Potok said. “The white supremacist propaganda agenda is being expressed by pundits, politicians, and preachers. Criminal violence by members of this movement is a tiny danger to most Americans. The larger danger is the mainstreaming of these very vile and provably false ideas that do lead to violence.””
    Well if “false ideas” are causing violence, it’s a very short step indeed to the idea that just saying such words are “violence.”
    You’re putting yourself on a very slippery slope here because Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a leading Islamic scholar would agree with Judith Warner.
    From Islam and Enlightenment (
    “I was appalled to hear Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a leading Islamic scholar, declare on an NPR interview show on Tuesday that the Pope’s statements “themselves are acts of violence.”
    Interviewer Diane Rehm wanted to make sure what she’d heard. She asked him, “You’re saying that the language itself is an act of violence?” “Of course it is,” Nasr replied. Discussing the violent reaction to the Pope’s quotation, he declared, “He who uses the sword shall perish by the sword.”
    Later in the show, Rehm read a quotation from a column by Anne Applebaum, who wrote that westerners of all political stripes “can all unite in our support for freedom of speech – surely the Pope is allowed to quote from medieval texts – and of the press. And we can also unite, loudly, in our condemnation of violent, unprovoked attacks on churches, embassies and elderly nuns.”
    Asked for his reaction, Nasr said that such violence was “not unprovoked–it is provoked.” “Because words are violence?” asked Rehm. “Of course,” replied Nasr, “of course.
    But Nasr is not so obscure. He’s a distinguished professor at a leading American university. He holds a Ph.D. in the history of science and philosophy from Harvard and is the author of more than 20 books, from publishers including Oxford University Press. His university held a conference honoring him, titled Beacon of Knowledge. The website of the Seyyed Hossein Nasr Foundation declares him “one of the most important and foremost scholars of Islamic, religious and comparative studies in the world today.” So it seems fair to say that Nasr is not an oddity; he’s a recognized Islamic scholar.
    And that’s why it’s so shocking to hear the claim that words “are acts of violence” from such a distinguished scholar. A scholar, we might note, who teaches at George Washington University, named in honor of the great Enlightenment statesman. But if Islamic scholars who teach at great American universities believe that violent attacks “on churches, embassies and elderly nuns” are “provoked” by the words of a religious leader in a university speech a thousand miles away, then we certainly have a clash of world views.
    We who live in Enlightenment societies should not apologize for the fact that freedom of thought and freedom of speech sometimes lead to hurtful words.”
    In the end, blaming right-wing talk radio for “causing” or leading to violence is ridiculous.  This is a completely inappropriate way to frame the issue.  Right-wing talk radio is protected speech. You can argue with the ideas but to equal viewpoints that do not explicitly or implicitly advocate violence as leading to violence  is B.S.  Period.
    Dr. Eric Pianka, of the Texas Academy of Science, gave a speech at Lamar University recommending that two thirds of humanity be exterminated in a man-made plague because there are too many humans on the planet (
    If Dr. Eric Pianka were to attempt or partake in such a scheme, should we hold radical environmental and global warming alarmists responsible in some way?  Can we say their “talk” caused or somehow lead Dr. Eric Pianka to advocate this?
    Dr. Eric Pianka, of his own volition, advocates this. No one made or “caused” Dr. Eric Pianka to hold these beliefs, and I’m assuming if a way could be found to realize this dream of Dr. Eric Pianka, he’d help put it into motion.  Only Dr. Eric Pianka would be responsible. Only if someone explicitely advocated a similar idea or the viewpoint of Dr. Eric Pianka could you say they helped “cause” such a act.
    There’s many ways to counter the right-wing nuttery on talk radio, but unless someone is explictly advocating violance, this isn’t the way.

  11. 11
    Ron Chusid says:


    I suspect you could show an upswing or not show an upswing depending upon which acts you count as violence. I would prefer to at least wait until the end of a full year before saying abortion violence is up since the election of Obama.

  12. 12
    Ron Chusid says:


    Right wing talk radio is certianly protected speech. Warner is also right in arging that it stokes the flames (as opposed to her saying it is actually causing the violence.) Warner’s condemnation of right wing talk radio is also protected speech.

    There is not necessarily a slippery slope. Criticism of right wing talk radio is fine. Censoring it is not.  There is no need to go down a slope from criticism to censorship.

  13. 13
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “There is no need to go down a slope from criticism to censorship.”
    yes, that’s the danger, albeit a remote one. It’s interesting how easy it is to equate speech, thoughts, with actions — because, of course, they’re a precursor to action. This is why speech, text, and even thought, is so strongly controlled in totalitarian governments. It’s the very reason for the 2nd amendment. Think about that — you actually have to have an amendment in the Constitution to protect speech, that’s how much, historically, it’s been under assault.
    So, you just gotta put up with crazy speech, and yes — it’ll probably inspire crazy people — but what can you really do about that?
    I’m glad you titled the post “stoking” rather than “causing” or “leading,” but I’d argue that “stoking” too close to implying an encouragement or urging, and encouraging and urging violent acts is NOT protected speech and is a crime — but right-wing talk radio isn’t doing that.
    Far better to attack the ideas than accuse them of doing something they’re really not doing (think of the recent Lettterman controversy).

  14. 14
    Fritz says:

    Christopher — Speech is first, guns are second.  Both are important.
    And it’s not that remote a possibility.  Canada bans “hate speech”.  Holocaust denial is a crime in Canada also.  Britain also bans hate speech.

  15. 15
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “The shootings at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has raised more attention towards the problem of right wing extremism and has verified the legitimacy of a recent report from the Department of Homeland Security on the problem.”
    I’m still not convinced about the legitimacy of this report.  Violence from “right-wing” groups is up, but violence as a whole, across the nation, is up. In short, increase violence from “right-wing” groups could be simply correlated with a general increase in violence, i.e.,  there’s nothing really special about them that they should be singled out.  For example,
    Report: Gay bias killings highest since 1999
    Incidents increased by 28 percent in 2008 compared to 2007


    Gays aren’t the only group or sector the country getting pounded with increased violence — it’s happening all over the place:  Statistics point to increase in crime during recessions
    So one would have to ask:  can the increase in right-wing violence be separated from the general increasing trend in violence?  Perhaps, but it would take some serious statistical testing to try to answer this, and as far as I know, that hasn’t been done or reported.
    If would be like if I made the claim that women drivers have gotten worse over the past few years because more and more have been involved in accidents.    While the “fact” of more and more may be true, the claim itself fails because it failed to take into account a more general trend, e.g., in the past few years, the total number of drivers has increased and because of increased congestion, overburdened traffic systems, etc., the overall number of accidents has gone up — for everyone.
    On the bright side, a study out of Harvard tells us that perhaps the best thing we can all do, to reduce violent crime, is arm ourselves:
    The study, which just appeared in Volume 30, Number 2 of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy (pp. 649-694), set out to answer the question in its title: “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? A Review of International and Some Domestic Evidence.” Contrary to conventional wisdom, and the sniffs of our more sophisticated and generally anti-gun counterparts across the pond, the answer is “no.” And not just no, as in there is no correlation between gun ownership and violent crime, but an emphatic no, showing a negative correlation: as gun ownership increases, murder and suicide decreases.

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