By Dr. Elwood Watson
Last month, I wrote a column discussing the racial hostility, paranoia and potential violence that was increasing in America. A month earlier in April, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report that attempted to inform Americans about a potential upsurge in right wing extremist violence. While there are some who may continue to deny that such violent acts are occurring, the evidence, it seems, demonstrates otherwise. Once DHS made their memo known to the public, the immediate reaction among many conservative talk show hosts and commentators was one of ridicule, self-righteousness and defensiveness. Some on the political right went as far as to accuse the memo as being misguided, slanderous, and outlandish. It appears that such “supposed overreaction” by the Department of Homeland Security was well-founded.
By now, most Americans are aware of the horrific, outrageous murder of Black security guard Richard Johns by James Von Brunn. Brunn is an 88 year-old White supremacist who, according to a number of media outlets, was deeply involved with right wing organizations. He had spent several years in a federal prison for his violent activities and was no stranger to such fringe activity. In short, he was a dangerous person.
Immediately after the identity of octogenarian Brunn was known, various segments of the conservative right, rather than acknowledge that the seething, hostile, xenophobic, bigoted rhetoric that many of them have espoused was likely contributing to an upsurge in right wing violence, went on the offensive. Unabashed loudmouth and supposed current leader of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh and other right wing talk radio hosts made the foolish suggestion that James Von Brunn was a liberal and a “lone wolf.” Limbaugh’s insane accusation was supported by National Review online columnist and occasional USA Today contributor Jonah Goldberg. A number of other conservatives such as conservative pundit Monica Crowley and perennial, possibility self–hating, right wing cheerleader Michelle Malkin also attempted to deflect blame from the political right for the actions of Von Brunn and rather ascribed his irrational violence as the result of the political left. Such behavior by conservative pundits is the epitome of intellectual dishonesty at is worst.
It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that racist, anti-Semitic, and other forms of religious and cultural intolerance have become more commonplace in America. Anyone who has taken the time to peruse a number of political-oriented blogs and websites should be astute to this fact. I, myself, received a scathing, racist, hate-filled, paranoid e-mail from a conservative blogger based on a rational comment I had made last year with a reporter from ABC News.com in regards as to why Oprah Winfrey had decided not to interview to Alaska governor and then vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential election season. While the e-mail did not threaten violence, the searing, irrational, venomous hatred directed toward me and Black people in general was alarming.
Things have become so emotionally charged that even some conservative media pundits have began to take notice. FOX News anchor Shepard Smith, host of the Fox Report, has decried the level of hatred that emanating from a number of people on the right. Earlier this week, Smith went so far as to read some of the letters and e-mails (the ones that were suitable for public airwaves) to give the public an idea of the level of intolerance, especially the anti-Obama rhetoric that is brewing in various circles. As a result of his laudable efforts, Mr. Smith has become the target of hate mail and rallying calls from a number of FOX viewers calling for his firing. The fact is that Smith has the second highest rated show on the network, thus it is highly unlikely he will be terminated anytime soon. For the time being, he is a thorn in the side of FOX’s intense Obama haters.
To be fair, not all the vehement hatred that is happening is coming from the right of the political spectrum. There are certain segments of the left that are just as deranged in some of the so-called rhetoric they promote to their followers and listeners. They should be denounced as well. Dishonest hate speech is atrocious regardless of who is spouting it.
The murder at the Holocaust museum should not be forgotten. It is the symptom of a more ominous cancer that has slowly but surely affected an increasing segment of a public that is being manipulated by some opportunistic media personalities to believe that they are being increasingly marginalized – educationally, economically, socially, religiously and in other ways. We all must be at the forefront of suppressing and if possible, indeed, prohibiting such a troubling trend.
Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008).