Friday, December 4, 2015

Rhetoric and Radicalization - Controlling the Terror Meme

Even as many (especially Reeps) have already rushed to judgment on the origin of the San Bernardino mass shooting, former CIA security specialist Michael Morrell - as well as columnist David Ignatius - have warned about getting ahead of the story. Morrell on CBS Early Show observed, while admitting the couple may have been "radicalized":

"They may not have been planning this particular event. They may have gone to this party, got angry and decided to do this event based on that anger rather than a series of plots they were actually planning"

Which would explain the huge store of weapons left in their home, including 4500 bullets and 12 pipe bombs.  It also discloses the case may not as be as simple as labeling it "Islamic terrorism' when a workplace anger issue could have been the proximate trigger. Indeed, one of the victims - a 52 year old health inspector - Nicholas Thalasinos was one of the victims and a "Messianic Jew" who also "wasn't afraid to give his political and religious opinions" according to reports on MSNBC yesterday afternoon. One can then easily imagine him getting into a ferocious argument with Syed Farooq leading to him rushing out in a fit of anger then returning with a hell-bent Pakistani wife (who indeed may have radicalized him as some co-workers believe). The argument scenario is backed up by this report from The Times of Israel:

The piece notes "a heated argument weeks before the attack" but it may well have been revived at the party before Farooq "lost it" and decided to respond with violence. This also may be a lesson for us all, when we gather with family at Christmas to leave out politics and religion as topics for discussion! Because it turns out close family members are the prime murderers though you wouldn't know it from the media reports.

Morrell added one of the most salient points of all and Reepos ought to take note:

"Although they may have been (radicalized) terrorists, this may not have been a terrorist event. It depends on their motivation."

Morrell isn't being cute but simply separating proximate from distal causes. If in fact Farooq was enraged by what Nicholas Thalasinos said weeks earlier or at the party, say that he also "needed to be saved"  - then the motive wasn't explicitly a terrorist one, to sow fear in a community. It was to get even with Thalasinos and any perceived as backing his views.

As for David Ignatius, he warned on 'Morning Joe' that it is unwise to jump to conclusions (as the Reeps have done) just based on the names of this pair, and also added that Obama is wise not to move too far ahead of the actual facts.

What worries many of us, as Charlie Pierce framed it on Chris Hayes last night, is how hateful rhetoric may stir the pot even more - leading to brutal attacks on peaceful Muslims just trying to live their lives - and who condemn this recent attack as vigorously as any white Anglo.  This take recognizes how hateful rhetoric can prey on weak minds and lead to tragedies such as we've seen lately,

While the GOP candidates' histrionics is now forming a convenient political prop for exploitation, they forget that the actual nature of the shooters is not so critical as their access to mass destruction weapons and the rhetoric that triggered their radicalization. This is where "the bear sits with the buckwheat".  Whether lone wolf killers infected by right wing memes (Robert Lewis Dear), or garden variety lone nuts (Jared Loughner, James Holmes, Adam Lanza), or right wing terrorists (Dylan Roof, Tim McVeigh)   or Muslim terrorists (Nidal Hasan) - none could have wrought the slaughter they did without: a) access to lethal weapons, and b) having brains triggered by hateful rhetoric.

In the case of (a) irrespective of who or what group, none of the mass slaughters and mass shootings would have transpired if this nation had serious gun laws such as Australia's. (See the end of yesterday's post for details). Nattering gun lobby nabobs always insist "guns don't kill people, people kill people" but that trope got demolished when the first doggie that accidentally plopped on a loaded shotgun (resting on a couch) killed its human owner.  One exception disproves the rule, or the trope.

The unholy truth is that most shootings are  NOT ideological or random but rather domestic (in people's homes) - either suicides or one spouse (usually male) killing the other after a fiery argument.   Assaying all mass shootings between 2009 and 2015, the Huffington Post found that 70 percent occurred in the home. Of these, 57 percent involved a family member or current or former intimate partner. 81 percent of the victims were women and children. These killings were not done by 'crazies' but usually normal people who simply lost it in the midst of a heated argument and reached for the weapon nearest and dearest - a gun.

The true fact here is that over the past several decades, the U.S., which once scrutinized the use and ownership of guns, has now been gutted by the crazies and their lobbies, mainly the NRA. Meanwhile, craven politicos genuflect to them at every turn and even yesterday the Repukes didn't even have the balls to vote for a sane law to close the terrorist watch list loophole (allowing those on the terrorist watch list to buy guns).

In respect of the hateful rhetoric issue (b), no, it doesn't have to be ISIS that creates the rhetoric to turn people into murderous zombies. In the case of Robert Lewis Dear, even in the wake of his butchery at the Planned Parenthood clinic here in the Springs, politicos were making excuses and blaming the target. The Denver Post in its Dec. 2nd Editorial ('Disgraceful Talk After The Shootings'), noted the vile words from Rep. JoAnn Windholz (R-Commerce City)   even as the victims' bodies were laid to rest:

"Violence is never the answer but we must start pointing out who is the real culprit. The true instigator of this violence and all violence at any Planned Parenthood facility is Planned Parenthood themselves"

Which is nearly as disgusting as Hitler blaming the Jews for being gassed in his Auschwitz death chambers because they should have been sensible enough "to leave when they could".  (cf. 'The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler', Robert Payne) . As the Post put it, the words:

"are almost chilling in their implicit acceptance"

Not only that, but many of us understand those  words as a cue for other weak minds, or frustrated, angry ones - to take violent action.

On the same page, an article ('The Moral Blame for Violence in Colorado Springs')  by the WaPo's Ruth Marcus makes this very point and ties the despicable rhetoric of the Right and Repubs in the months leading up to Dear's violent act. As she writes:

"If initial reports of alleged gunman's Robert Lewis Dear's comments about 'no baby parts' prove true - and logic suggests it was no coincidence, the Republican politicians who fueled the overwrought and unsupported controversy over selling baby parts bear some measure of responsibility"

Indeed, and as reported on the front page of the same edition, Colorado Dem Diana DeGette - on the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives- reported that in the course of the hearings eight Republican member used the phrase "baby parts" no less than 33 times. Did they not realize what they were seeding with their rhetoric? I have to believe they knew as much as ISIS does when it seeds the social media landscape with its own PR, hateful rhetoric and propaganda.

The ultimate source of the anti-PP rhetoric is encapsulated again by Marcus:

"The current effort to demonize Planned a manufactured issue, cobbled together from doctored videotapes and overheated accusations. The organization has been so mischaracterized, and the practice of providing fetal tissue so overblown and manipulated by lawmakers and politicians that blame for the ensuing violence falls more heavily on them."

This again, re--introduces the issue of the limits of "free speech" and whether it can be prosecuted when it veers into hate speech or terrorist instigation. If we can prosecute ISIS renegades for spreading ISIS crap (like making homemade bombs) then surely we can go after right wingers for sowing mental bombs in the febrile minds of too many of our fellow citizens..

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