Saturday, October 16, 2010

Threats against liberal Democrats keep bubbling up -- and it's not just the 'nutcases'

-- by Dave

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It turns out that the right-wing crazy who was threatening Patty Murray supporters with a cleaver in Spokane on Thursday is a man with a history of mental illness:

Friends and family of Sieler told KREM 2 News he is psychotic and needs help.

"He has no control of what he's doing," Sieler's ex girlfriend Theresa Stapleton said. "He's made death threats on people."

Stapleton is the mother of Sieler's child, and says she speaks to him regularly. Stapleton says Sieler has been off his medication and has dangerous psychotic episodes.

Recently, Stapleton says he's been obsessed with politicians who he thinks they are out to get him.

Interestingly, this incident is only the latest in a string of violent threats at Democrats -- and particularly President Obama -- cropping up very recently, and in all of them mental illness appears to be playing a significant role. Here are the most recent cases:

Sept. 22:

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — An Army veteran arrested after a seven-hour standoff was charged Wednesday with threatening to kill President Barack Obama as part of what authorities said was his plan to ignite a war between Muslims and Christians and "start an apocalypse."

Federal agents arrested Roman Otto Conaway, 50, when he surrendered early Wednesday at his home after the confrontation, in which he insisted a bulky belt he wore and three storage containers on his Fairview Heights property were packed with explosives.

The FBI and the criminal complaint say the belt turned out to carry only inert putty-like material — similar to children's molding clay — made to look like high-grade explosives, with wires attached to a curling iron Conaway claimed was a triggering device. Nothing dangerous was found in the storage drums.

Oct. 15:

PEORIA — While acknowledging years of mental health problems, a federal judge nevertheless sentenced a Bloomington man to nearly two years in federal prison Friday for repeatedly threatening the life of President Barack Obama.

Oct. 15:

BRATTLEBORO -- A 43-year-old Vermont man who threatened to kill the president via his Twitter account and blog will receive a mental health evaluation Monday.

At a detention hearing Thursday, Christopher King, of Rockingham, was permitted temporary release to get an in-person mental health evaluation at the request of the defense.

King was indicted and pleaded innocent on one count of knowingly threatening to kill President Barack Obama, Wednesday, in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

We already know what this means: The right-wing pundits who have been throwing gasoline on these people's fundamentally irrational fires will insist they have nothing to do with this -- this is just crazy people.

Of course, as we've observed on many occasions, this is simply a cop-out:

Part of the problem is that we actually have seen this happen time after time after time: A mentally unstable person is inspired by hateful right-wing rhetoric to act out violently -- and yet because of that mental state, the matter is dismissed as idiosyncratic, just another "isolated incident." And over the months and years, these "isolated incidents" mount one after another.

But simply ascribing these acts to mental illness is a cop-out. It fails to account for the gross irresponsibility of the people who employed the rhetoric that inspired the violent action in the first place, and their resulting moral culpability.

These claims also brush over the nature of mental illness. Of course, schizophrenics will often pick out the focuses of their obsessions purely at random -- from, say, Beatles or Metallica lyrics, artistic works by never intended to inspire any kind of action, let alone violent ones. However, rhetoric intended to inspire action -- particularly scapegoating rhetoric that simultaneously invokes fear and paranoia, most notably if it purports to represent secret, hidden, and suppressed information -- has a far greater potential power to affect mentally ill people, because it has an acute appeal to their particular worldviews.

As I've explained:

Accusing Beck and O'Reilly of validating right-wing violence isn't like connecting Marilyn Manson to Columbine -- which is to say, connecting something that only tenuously could be said to actually inspire or advocate violence. It's much more like connecting radical imams to 9/11.

Ideologues who inspire violent action through radicalizing propaganda have been with us for many decades, even centuries. The fact that, in recent years, the more action-prone of the people who violently respond to these exhortations are increasingly confined to the fringes of American politics doesn't mean there isn't still serious culpability on the part of those who indulge rhetoric that winds up unhinging people.

The example of Patty Murray's 2010 campaign has actually been a casebook illustration of this. First we had the speaker at Tea Party event announcing that Sen. Murray needed to "get hung":

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Then there was the Yakima Tea Partier who was arrested and charged with threatening to kill Sen. Murray.

Then there was the woman who showed up at a business roundtable featuring Dino Rossi who wanted Sen. Murray shot:

The partisan anger that Didier has tapped was heard at a business round-table lunch in Spokane.

One woman, the owner of two gyms and a temporary-employment agency, was venting about a pro-union bill supported by Murray when she blurted out: "She ought to be shot. Murray and (Sen. Maria) Cantwell ought to be shot."

Rossi quickly pointed out a reporter in the room, and then said, "That's not really what you meant." The businesswoman quickly agreed: "I didn't mean that."

As Joan McCarter observed astutely;
Interesting response from Rossi. Not "that's unacceptable, there's no place for violence in politics" or a similar rebuke, but to point out that's not something you say when there's a reporter in the room.

None of these people, as far as anyone could determine, had histories of mental illness. Indeed, there are plenty of angry, unstable and violent people out there who have never been treated for mental-illness issues -- and a lot of them have been showing up at Tea Parties and related events.

Many of them are now tamping down their inner feelings because their know it will harm their cause right now to voice them -- something that is far more difficult for people with real mental illnesses. So they're acting out right now.

However, you have to wonder what will happen if they wake up on the morning after Election Day and discover that their planned takeover of Congress has failed. Because then, it won't just be the diagnostically insane who will be acting out.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars].

The right-wing threats keep mounting: In Florida, 'sovereign citizens' threaten law enforcement, neighbors

-- by Dave

There's certainly plenty of reason for police officers to worry about far-right-wing nutcases gunning them down in a confrontation. Just ask the families of the two officers who tried to ticket Jerry and Joe Kane.

So down in Tampa, the cops took no chances when a "sovereign citizen" began announcing threats to law enforcement officers:

Over the summer, authorities arrested Josiah Fornof of Hudson. According to the criminal complaint, Fornof, 30, threatened to "bear arms against" two deputies with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office who were trying to serve a warrant.

... According to the affidavit, he told law enforcement they had no right to be at the home where he lives with his mother and he yelled, "Sir, if you come back, we may bear arms against you."

Fornof is being held at the Pinellas County Jail at the request of federal marshals. He is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The FBI is not commenting since the criminal case against him is still open, but threats and actions spelled out in his arrest affidavit certainly fit the criteria the FBI uses to define a sovereign citizen extremist.

"We are seeing a growth in the movement” Special Agent Michael McPherson told investigative reporter Doug Smith. "We are concerned with the sovereign citizen extremist."

McPherson is a supervisor for the FBI's Domestic Terrorism Task Force who is based in Tampa and responsible for 18 counties in Florida. He told Smith the agency uses a three-prong test to define a sovereign citizen extremist.

"The threat of force or violence, a violation of a federal law and a political, social agenda -- that's when we'd get involved."

We went to Hudson to visit the property where Fornof was arrested. Careful not to trespass, we were met out front by Nathan Fornof, who defended his brother's actions.

"We were expecting them to come in here and murder us Nathan told FOX 13. "We've been having them come up and threaten us on our grandfather's property. Next thing we know we get a visit from the FBI dragging him off saying you don't have the right to defend yourselves."

Agent McPherson is concerned about threats against law enforcement.

"The anti-government rhetoric can quickly turn to action," he said.

Gee, we wonder where they're getting [koffFoxkoff] that from. Guess we could always ask Byron Williams.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Friday, October 15, 2010

Brian Kilmeade sez: 'Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.' Oh really?

-- by Dave

Brian Kilmeade, defending Lord Bill O'Reilly from the nefarious Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar, gives voice to the basic Fox News view of the world:

Kilmeade: They can't handle the give and take of the debate. They were outraged that somebody was saying, uh, there's a reason, there was a certain group of people that attacked us on 9/11. It wasn't just one person, it was one religion.

Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.

Oh really, Brian.

Well, just as we had to do for Sarah Palin back in 2008, let's do a little reminder session for Kilmeade et. al.:


Eric Rudolph:

Eric Robert Rudolph (born September 19, 1966), also known as the Olympic Park Bomber, is an American radical described by the FBI as a terrorist who committed a series of bombings across the southern United States which killed two people and injured at least 150 others.

Rudolph declared that his bombings were part of a guerrilla campaign against abortion and what he describes as "the homosexual agenda." He spent years as the FBI's most wanted criminal fugitive, but was eventually caught. In 2005 Rudolph pleaded guilty to numerous federal and state homicide charges and accepted five consecutive life sentences in exchange for avoiding a trial and the death penalty. Rudolph was connected with the white supremacist Christian Identity movement. Although he has denied that his crimes were religiously or racially motivated, Rudolph has also called himself a Roman Catholic in "the war to end this holocaust" (of abortion).


James Kopp:

James Charles Kopp (born August 2, 1954) is an American citizen who was convicted in 2003 for the 1998 sniper-style murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian, an Amherst, New York physician who performed abortions. Prior to his capture, Kopp was on the FBI's list of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. On June 7, 1999 he had become the 455th fugitive placed on the list by the FBI. He was affiliated with anti-abortion group "The Lambs of Christ." He has been referred to as a terrorist by the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.

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The Phineas Priesthood:

Letters left at the scene of an April 1996 bank robbery/clinic bombing in Spokane, Washington, contained Identity propaganda, diatribes against the banking system and were signed with the symbol of the "Phineas Priesthood." [At the time of the robbery, a bomb was set off at a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic as a diversion, with death threats toward abortion providers contained in the note left with that bomb.] The three men arrested, Charles Barbee, Robert Berry and Jay Merrell, were linked to white supremacist and "Identity" groups and were also charged with setting off bombs at a newspaper office and a Planned Parenthood clinic. All three were convicted.

[More here.]


Tim McVeigh:

Timothy James McVeigh (April 23, 1968 – June 11, 2001) was a United States Army veteran and security guard who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on the second anniversary of the Waco Siege, as revenge against what he considered to be a tyrannical federal government. The bombing killed 168 people, and was the deadliest act of terrorism within the United States prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks.


Buford Furrow:

Buford O'Neal Furrow, Jr. (born November 25, 1961) perpetrated the August 1999 Los Angeles Jewish Community Center shooting on August 10, 1999, when he attacked a day care center at the North Valley Jewish Community Center. The shooting injured three children, and a receptionist. He also shot dead US Postal Service carrier Joseph Ileto who was Filipino American. Furrow was a member of the white-supremacist group Aryan Nations in 1995.

On January 24, 2001 Furrow pleaded guilty all of the counts against him. In exchange for pleading guilty, Furrow avoided a possible death sentence, but was instead sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. According to the indictment, Furrow expressed no regrets for any of his crimes.

This is just a sampling. There were many more such cases in which clinics were bombed, government officials and offices threatened or attacked.

These activities slowed considerably in the past eight years, but continue to bubble along. There was, for instance, the case of Demetrius "Van" Crocker, who was caught trying to buy explosives he planned to bomb Congress with. Or William Krar, who put together a cyanide bomb he planned to set off in a public venue. Or Chad Castagana, the self-described Coulter/Malkin worshipper who sent various liberal figures fake anthrax threats. There have been many others.

Indeed, as we recently reported, there has in fact been an uptick in domestic terrorism cases in the past couple of years. Here's the rundown:

-- July 2008: A gunman named Jim David Adkisson, agitated at how "liberals" are "destroying America," walks into a Unitarian Church and opens fire, killing two churchgoers and wounding four others.

-- October 2008: Two neo-Nazis are arrested in Tennessee in a plot to murder dozens of African-Americans, culminating in the assassination of President Obama.

-- December 2008: In Belfast, Maine, police discover the makings of a nuclear "dirty bomb" in the basement of a white supremacist shot dead by his wife. The man, who was independently wealthy, reportedly was agitated about the election of President Obama and was crafting a plan to set off the bomb.

-- January 2009: A white supremacist named Keith Luke embarks on a killing rampage in Brockton, Mass., raping and wounding a black woman and killing her sister, then killing a homeless man before being captured by police as he is en route to a Jewish community center.

-- February 2009: A Marine named Kody Brittingham is arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate President Obama. Brittingham also collected white-supremacist material.

-- April 2009: A white supremacist named Richard Poplawski opens fire on three Pittsburgh police officers who come to his house on a domestic-violence call and kills all three, because he believed President Obama intended to take away the guns of white citizens like himself. Poplawski is currently awaiting trial.

-- April 2009: Another gunman in Okaloosa County, Florida, similarly fearful of Obama's purported gun-grabbing plans, kills two deputies when they come to arrest him in a domestic-violence matter, then is killed himself in a shootout with police.

-- May 2009: A "sovereign citizen" named Scott Roeder walks into a church in Topeka, Kansas, and assassinates abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

-- June 2009: James Von Brunn opens fire at the Holocaust Museum, killing a security guard.

-- February 2010: An angry tax protester named Joseph Ray Stack flies an airplane into the building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas. (Media are reluctant to label this one "domestic terrorism" too.)

-- March 2010: Seven militiamen from the Hutaree Militia in Michigan and Ohio are arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate local police officers with the intent of sparking a new civil war.

-- March 2010: An anti-government extremist named John Patrick Bedell walks into the Pentagon and opens fire, wounding two officers before he is himself shot dead.

-- May 2010: A "sovereign citizen" from Georgia is arrested in Tennessee and charged with plotting the violent takeover of a local county courthouse.

-- May 2010: A still-unidentified white man walks into a Jacksonville, Fla., mosque and sets it afire, simultaneously setting off a pipe bomb.

-- May 2010: Two "sovereign citizens" named Jerry and Joe Kane gun down two police officers who pull them over for a traffic violation, and then wound two more officers in a shootout in which both of them are eventually killed.

-- July 2010: An agitated right-winger and convict named Byron Williams loads up on weapons and drives to the Bay Area intent on attacking the offices of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU, but is intercepted by state patrolmen and engages them in a shootout and armed standoff in which two officers and Williams are wounded.

That's sixteen major incidents in a two-year period -- significantly more than we've seen over the same timespan from domestic radical Muslims. The BPC's report enumerates a total of seven incidents in 2009 -- two attacks and five serious plots (not to mention four attempts to join terrorist organizations). We've had the same number of right-wing extremist-related incidents of domestic terrorism in 2010 so far -- and the year isn't even over yet.

This has in fact been quite predictable, especially considering that both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ADL have reported a significant increase in recruitment by right-wing extremists, particularly white-supremacist and radical "Patriot" groups, in the wake of President Obama's election. These two factions, after all, have been responsible for the overwhelming majority of domestic-terrorism cases of the past thirty years and more. Indeed, the problem is serious enough that the Pentagon has finally begun to clamp down on the far-right extremists who have been infiltrating the ranks of U.S. troops in recent years.

But right-wingers are always eager to dismiss the reality of right-wing extremists -- even in the face of overwhelming data. So this means, evidently, that when we now assess terrorism on a "bipartisan" basis, we must omit them altogether.

Finally, perhaps the more important point: We were not attacked by one religion. We were attacked by fringe fanatics from that religion, not the religion en masse. Some of our important allies in this fight, as it happens, are Muslim.

Just remember: Every time idiots like Kilmeade say crap like this, Osama bin Laden -- who envisioned 9/11 as a way to create a war between Islam and the West -- pops a champagne cork.

Oh, and Brian? Just remember: Not all right-wingers are racists. But all racists are right-wingers.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bill O'Reilly inspires walkout on The View: 'Muslims killed us on 9/11'

-- by Dave

Bill O'Reilly was in prime "We'll do it live!" form this morning on ABC's The View -- launching into a bigoted tirade, claiming that "Muslims killed us on 9/11!" It so infuriated co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar -- who just a little earlier had been given the O'Reilly "shut up and listen you stupid bimbo" treatment -- that they walked off the stage together.

It was entertaining, if nothing else:

The Fox commentator was a guest on ABC's talk show Thursday to promote his new "Pinheads and Patriots" book. The discussion got increasingly heated over the "Ground Zero Mosque" debate and he later went on to say "Muslims killed us On 9/11."

Co-Host Whoopi Goldberg disputed O'Reilly's claims that the mosque was inappropriate. "There were 70 families who are muslim who also died in that building," she said.

"Seventy percent of Americans don't want that mosque down there, so don't give me the 'we' business," said O'Reilly to co-host Joy Behar; the studio audience applauded.

Afterward, when pressed by Goldberg and Behar to explain why the "Ground Zero mosque" was somehow "inappropriate," O'Reilly leaned over and pointed at Goldberg saying, "Muslims killed us on 9/11."

Goldberg exclaimed , "That is such bullsh*t," in the midst of a cacophony of back-and-forth yelling. Goldberg shouted that "Timothy McVeigh [the convicted American-born terrorist who blew up the Oklahoma City Building in 1995] was Christian" before she and Behar walked off the set in protest. They later came back to finish the show.

Barbara Walters criticized her co-hosts for walking off stage during the live show. But she said O'Reilly should make the distinction that extremists committed the terrorist act.

Behar and Goldberg returned after O'Reilly said that "if anyone felt that I was demeaning all Muslims, I apologize."

"If anyone felt that"? Gee, I couldn't imagine why they would "feel" something as plain on the nose on your face, Bill.

O'Reilly simply can't escape a simple fact: His position on the "Ground Zero mosque" controversy is innately bigoted, because it is founded on conflating all Muslims with a tiny fringe of violent radicals.

Incidentally, I'm not so sure Tim McVeigh is the best comparison to make to the 9/11 fanatics when it comes to domestic terrorists, other than that he was such a successful mass murderer -- mainly because McVeigh was only nominally a Christian and really was not motivated by religion so much as ideology. A better comparison, frankly, would be with Eric Rudolph, who was decidedly Christian and decidedly motivated by religion.

Or how about Scott Roeder? That's a comparison O'Reilly knows all about. And it just might sting a bit harder.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

'Oath Keepers' up in arms about NH officials taking baby away from activist -- but even his father says he's a child abuser

-- by Dave

The Oath Keepers, I've explained, are not just your ordinary Tea Party support group -- they're a disturbing and potentially very dangerous organization, built around radicalizing members of the military, veterans, and police officers.

Now they're planning to protest in New Hampshire in defense of one of their associates -- a sometime Oath Keepers activist who, along with his fiance, claims the state came in to their hospital room and removed their newborn baby, all supposedly because he's an Oath Keeper:

The director of a self-described anti-totalitarian group is urging supporters to rally outside a New Hampshire courthouse this week in support of an Epsom couple whose newborn was taken last week by state social workers.

Johnathon Irish and Stephanie Taylor say their baby was seized because of Irish's association with the Oath Keepers. Court documents, however, charge Irish with a history of violence toward Taylor and her children.

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, told his group's members yesterday that the rally, scheduled for Thursday outside the Rochester Family Division Court, would be "in support of the First Amendment-protected right of freedom of association."

... "The fact that the political association of the father with Oath Keepers, and his gun ownership, were even among the reasons given for the taking of this baby takes this case beyond the realm of your mundane family court matter and turns it into something that could affect the rights of us all, nationwide," Rhodes wrote on the Oath Keepers website yesterday.

What's really happened, as is so often the case with bizarre stories like this, is that this has been ginned up for the past couple of weeks by Alex Jones and his conspiracy-theory operation, which has been hitting the story constantly with its broadcasts and videos, and dozens of would-be "libertarians" have been jumping on the bandwagon. And so already there have been small clusters of protesters outside all of Irish's subsequent court hearings.

Hopefully, none of the kooks out protesting in defense of this child abuser will do what kooks often do, hurt other people (and themselves) by acting out violently. After all, we've already seen an Oath Keeper planning to take over a county courthouse. Crazier things have happened -- and with this bunch, are likely to.

The video above (compiled from couple of YouTube reports gives you a look at the couple in question as they're interviewed about the claims against them. The second half is a phone interview with Stephanie's ex-husband, who points to reports about Johnathon Irish being investigated for child abuse of Stephanie's two children.

Daniel Barrick of the Concord Monitor, who has been doing stellar work reporting this story, has more on that:

But according to an affidavit provided to Irish by the state Division for Children, Youth and Families, state officials took the child because of Irish's long record of violence and abuse. According to the affidavit, a judge determined that Irish abused Taylor's two other children. She is still married to the father of those children, though Taylor said yesterday that her husband has refused to accept her divorce petition for the past two years.

The affidavit also says that the police in Rochester report a "lengthy history of domestic violence" between Taylor and Irish, and that she accused him of choking and hitting her on more than one occasion. According to the document, Irish failed to complete a domestic violence course as ordered by the state, and that a hearing was held last month to terminate Taylor's parental rights over her two older children.

Taylor "has failed to recognize the impact of domestic violence in her life and the potential danger it poses to a newborn baby," the affidavit reads. "Mr. Irish has not acknowledged any responsibility to date and remains a significant safety risk to an infant in his care. . . . Without the intervention of the court, the infant will be at risk of harm."

All this is corroborated by an unlikely by probably authoritative source: Johnathon Irish's father, John Irish. Here's an interview Irish had on a self-described "Christian Patriot" radio show, "A Call to Action," hosted by Pastor Butch Paugh. It took place on Tuesday:

It's an incredibly damning interview. John Irish describes his son as not just a child abuser but a wife abuser as well, a violent man with a vicious temper and an obsession with guns. Moreover, he is someone who lives off the government dole and yet belongs to one of the most noxious anti-government Patriot groups in the business. The key quote:

Irish: The reason they are concerned with Oath Keepers is that Johnathon has a fanatical attitude that Oath Keepers is an organization that is planning to overthrow the present government, and bring us back into strict accordance with the Constitution. And Johnathon's feeling on that is he needs to be acquiring weapons to be ready for that overthrow.

Paugh: Has he been using the Oath Keepers as a means of threatening people?

Irish: At times he has gone around telling people that if they don't back off and leave him alone, that he's going to have the Oath Keepers come after them, that they're violating his constitutional rights.

As for the claim that the decision to remove the child from its mother's custody had anything to do with Johnathon Irish's OathKeeperhood, well, that doesn't hold much water either:

The head of the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families said allegations that the state seized a newborn girl over her father's political affiliations don't reflect the division's policies.

"That's what people seem to be focusing on, but it's not what I'm focusing on," said Maggie Bishop, director of DCYF. "To think that we would remove a child because of a person's affiliation with a club - that's not what we do."

Bishop said confidentiality requirements prevent her from discussing the specifics in the case of Johnathon Irish and Stephanie Taylor, the Epsom couple whose daughter was taken from their custody a day after her birth at Concord Hospital last week.

An affidavit spelling out the state's reason for taking the child included Irish's affiliation with the Oath Keepers, a group that pledges to defend the Constitution and to oppose government tyranny. But Bishop said such affiliations rarely play a role in child custody matters unless they are connected with safety issues.

"The Oath Keepers piece is the most insignificant part of that," Bishop said. "An affiliation is only as relevant as it relates to the safety concerns of a child."

Child custody matters are normally private affairs, but Irish and Taylor's publicity has shined intense attention on their case. The affidavit supporting the state's seizure of the newborn cited allegations of violence by Irish, including a report by the Rochester police of a "lengthy history of domestic violence" between him and Taylor.

"Without the intervention of the court, the infant will be at risk of harm," the affidavit reads.

Of course, we also remember that this is not the first time someone involved with the Oath Keepers has been involved in child-abuse charges. What are they putting in their Oaths?

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Monday, October 11, 2010

Would-be Tides shooter: 'It was the things [Glenn Beck] did, it was the things he exposed, that blew my mind'

-- by Dave

John Hamilton, an enterprising young Bay Area radio journalist, freelancing for Media Matters, recently committed a simple act of journalism -- you know, interviewing the subject of an important story -- and came away with the most amazing scoop:

Two weeks later, I'm back at the Santa Rita Jail, speaking with Byron Williams through the reinforced glass window that separates Housing Unit 8 from the outside world. This time, I press Byron on his media influences.

[image display="original" link="source" align="right" alt="williams-20101004-mugshot.jpg" width="240" height="312" id="6275"][/image] "I considered all of the news agencies to be censored," Byron says. "So perhaps Fox has broken away from the mold."

"There's only one conservative channel," he adds. "That's Fox. All the other ones are all liberal channels."
At one point, I ask Byron if he thinks Fox is worthwhile.

"I'm not gonna say anyone is worthwhile," he replies. "I would have never started watching Fox News if it wasn't for the fact that Beck was on there. And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed that blew my mind. I said, well, nobody does this."

Throughout the interview -- and in a letter I would receive later -- Byron tells me I need to watch Beck's programs from June if I want to learn about the Soros-Obama-Petrobras conspiracy he heatedly described in our earlier conversation.


"Think like a conspiracy theorist," Byron tells me during the interview. "Except don't use the word 'theory.' Because the conspiracies are not theories. The official report is the lie; the conspiracy is the truth."
Byron says he thinks Beck has improved in recent months. "I don't think he's a natural newscaster, you know what I mean?" he says. "I look at it more like a schoolteacher on TV, you know? He's got that big chalkboard and those little stickers, the decals. I like the way he does it."


Back at the Santa Rita Jail, Byron again weighs in on Beck. "You know, I'll tell you," he says, "Beck is gonna deny everything about violent approach and deny everything about conspiracies, but he'll give you every reason to believe it. He's protecting himself, and you can't blame him for that. So, I understand what he's doing."

I ask Byron if he thinks Beck has a political movement. After all, I say, hundreds of thousands of people came out to hear him speak at his "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington, D.C.

"I think so," says Byron. "If there's hundreds of thousands of us, yes. Yeah, it's coming down to the line, you know, and these controllers are not backing off. They want total control, and they're gonna try to get it. And more and more people are waking up."

I ask Byron, are you a revolutionary, a criminal, a terrorist, a patriot?

"I'm a revolutionary," he responds. "I believe in the Constitution. I do not like crime."

"You have to have a society that is pure and clean," he says. "And you have to keep it that way. We have to go back to our original principles."

Byron tells me his name came up on Beck's show.

Yeah, I heard that, I say.

Byron says: "Yeah, I didn't know it went that far. I thought maybe, OK, I hit the local news, that's great. You know, not something I really wanted to happen. But I didn't know it all went all the way across the country. They were trying to -- I guess -- it wasn't good, you know? They were trying to say that it was a thing that now that the left would use it against us, right? And an act of violence."

He continues.

"And I'd say, well, you know, that's the thing. It's that anything you do is going to be considered promoting terror attacks or promoting violence. So now they've got Beck labeled as this guy that is trying to incite violence. And what I say is that if the truth incites violence, it means that we've been living too long in the lies.

"Because it's gonna be too many -- it's gonna be more and more people that are, you know -- when you become unemployed, desperate, you can no longer pay your bills, when your society has come to a standstill, and cannot grow anymore, you're becoming socialized, everything, you know -- companies are moving overseas, what do you think is gonna happen? You know, for crying out loud. It's gonna get worse. And more and more people are gonna get desperate."

Go read the whole thing. Hamilton and the Media Matters team did a great job putting this report together.

Dana Milbank did some early reporting on this for the WaPo on Sunday, including some coverage of the Washington Examiner's interview with Williams:

The Examiner, in an article published this week, exonerated Beck by pointing to Williams's statement that "I know Beck continuously talks about peaceful resolution but I have constantly disagreed." This, however, misses the point. It's not that Beck is directly advocating violence (he might be in Santa Rita himself if he did that) but he's giving voice and legitimacy to the violent fringe.

As we've explained, it's irrelevant if Beck has accompanied his fearmongering with warnings against violence -- that's akin to warning people that, since he's sprinkling them with kerosene, they shouldn't light any matches.

Ideologues who inspire violent action through radicalizing propaganda have been with us for many decades, even centuries. The fact that, in recent years, the more action-prone of the people who violently respond to these exhortations are increasingly confined to the fringes of American politics doesn't mean there isn't still serious culpability on the part of those who indulge rhetoric that winds up unhinging people.


The critical components that distinguish irresponsible free speech from responsible are interworking pieces: whether it is intended to harm by scapegoating or demonizing, and whether or not it is provably false. ... [Demonizing rhetoric more often than not comprises] things that are simply not true -- though the tellers wished ardently that they were, they are purely concoctions of their fevered imaginations.

This is true of so much far-right wingnuttery -- the "Birther" conspiracy theories, the FEMA-camp claims, the "constitutionalist" theories about taxation and the Federal Reserve, to list just a few examples -- and yet people believe them anyway.

This rhetoric also acts as a kind of wedge between the people who absorb it and the real world. There is always a kind of cognitive dissonance that arises from believing things that are provably untrue, and people who begin to fanatically cling to beliefs that do not comport with reality find themselves increasingly willing to buy into other similarly unhinged beliefs. For those who are already unhinged, the effects are particularly toxic.

All of these theories, you'll observe, serve the explicit purpose of supporting a scapegoating narrative. And a number of them have been featured in some shape, form, or fashion, in the mainstream public discourse because they have been presented seriously for discussion by various right-wing talking heads, most notably Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs.

But pointing out their ethical and moral culpability inevitably means that they immediately blame it on the "crazy" people, and who can take responsibility for "crazy" people?

Indeed, now it's unmistakable -- Howard Kurtz's "isn't that guilt by association" wankery a couple Sundays ago notwithstanding -- that what we've been saying all along is taking place: Glenn Beck's (and Fox News') reckless and profoundly irresponsible style of broadcast "news" is in fact inspiring acts of violence.

Beck has tried to pretend he has nothing, nothing to do with this violence. He's even run segments desperately pleading with his audience not to resort to violence. Of course, he's also qualified that: If violence does break out, it will be because President Obama provoked it.

Beck also combines his warnings with long screeds demonizing progressives. As Milbank pointed out in the sidebar to his excellent (if belated) deconstruction of Beck's misbegotten twisting of history: "One of Glenn Beck's cleverest ways to float a good conspiracy theory without fear of facts getting in the way is to say he is "not saying" that which he is saying."

Actually, this tendency goes beyond just Beck's proclivity for conspiracism: He uses the same "I'm not saying, I'm just saying" dodge whenever he wants to float an idea that is vile and outrageous and create controversy and thus boost his ratings -- but he doesn't want to face any accountability for floating it.

Williams is right: Beck knows what he's doing. As we've said:

Make no mistake: Glenn Beck has been inciting acts of terrorist violence, and the Byron Williams case clearly establishes it -- even though it is far from the first such case. It in fact was preceded by several similar cases in which the dehumanizing rhetoric, scapegoating and conspiracist smears promoted by Fox clearly played a powerful role in the violence that ensued:

-- Jim David Adkisson's shooting attack on a Knoxville Unitarian church. Adkisson left behind a manifesto that repeated numerous right-wing talking points generated by Fox commentators and specifically cited a Bernard Goldberg book. His library at home was stocked with books by Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage.

-- Richard Poplawski's shooting of three Pittsburgh police officers, because he believed a conspiracy theory that President Obama intended to take Americans' guns away from them, and he reportedly believed the cops had arrived to carry it out. Poplawski, a white supremacist, liked to post Beck videos about FEMA concentration camps to the Stormfront comments board.

-- Scott Roeder's assassination of Dr. George Tiller. Roeder was heavily involved in Operation Rescue and avidly read its newsletters -- which featured weekly pieces from Bill O'Reilly, including several attacking Tiller as a "baby killer" -- and its website, which liked to feature O'Reilly videos attacking Dr. Tiller. Indeed, O'Reilly had indulged a high-profile and unusually obsessive (not to mention vicious) jihad against Tiller, resulting in 42 such attacks on Tiller, 24 of which referred to him generically as a "baby killer."

The Byron Williams case was functionally a shot across Fox News' bow: a warning that it is playing with extreme fire by allowing Beck to recklessly demonize specific targets and to inflame his audience against them by imputing the most extreme and nefarious motives to them. In the case of Tides, Beck has been claiming all along that they are trying to "brainwash your children" -- a charge that always raises extremely visceral reactions.

If Fox allows this continue, then eventually someone -- someone who eats, breathes and lives Fox News, as so many right-wingers do these days -- is going to succeed. Eventually, someone is going to walk into (or drive up to) the offices of some group that Beck has singled out as being part of a nefarious progressive "cancer" that is "destroying America" -- whether it is the Tides Foundation, or the ACLU, or the SEIU, someone at MSNBC, or from ACORN -- and shoot the place up or set off a bomb.

And then not just Glenn Beck, but Fox News and all its affiliates, are going to have blood on their hands. And there will not be any hiding it or pretending otherwise.

Beck wants to pretend that all he's done is "discuss" the Tides Foundation -- but in fact he's consistently portrayed them as nefarious key players in the progressive "conspiracy" to "destroy America from within", and he's cast them in a particularly slimy role: propagandizing your unsuspecting children. Is it any wonder someone decided to "take them out"?

That's how this kind of rhetoric works. As I explain in The Eliminationists:

The history of eliminationism in America, and elsewhere, shows that rhetoric plays a significant role in the travesties that follow. It creates permission for people to act out in ways they might not otherwise. It allows them to abrogate their own humanity by denying the humanity of people deemed undesirable or a cultural contaminant.

At every turn in American history—from Juan GinĂ©s de SepĂșlveda’s characterization of the New World “barbarians” as “these pitiful men … in whom you will scarcely find any vestiges of humanness,” to Colonel Chivington’s admonition that “Nits make lice!,” to the declarations that “white womanhood” stood imperiled by oversexed black rapists, to James Phelan’s declaration that Japanese immigrants were like “rats in the granary”—rhetoric has conditioned Americans to think of those different from themselves as less than human. Indeed, their elimination is not just acceptable, but devoutly to be wished and actively sought.

And here:

It's one thing if a mentally unstable person acts out violently because of some perception or belief they obtained on their own -- when, for instance, someone shoots up a classroom or school because they heard voices telling them to do it, or from reading hidden messages into Metallica lyrics.

It's quite another if a person acts violently out of rhetoric specifically intended to inspire action, particularly radicalizing rhetoric. There are two specific kinds of rhetoric in this category that become profoundly irresponsible in this context: eliminationist rhetoric -- that is, words that demonize and dehumanize their subjects by characterizing them as toxic objects fit only for elimination -- and conspiracist rhetoric, which creates a state of paranoia and a feeling of helplessness among those who believe it. A final factor -- provable falsity -- often exponentially raises the effects of these kinds of rhetoric, because it has the real-world effect of driving a wedge between the believer and objective reality: people are far more likely to act out violently if they are disconnected from the real world.

Thanks to John Hamilton's fine journalism, Byron Williams has functionally confirmed what we've seen building in slow motion: a media outlet capable of launching an eliminationist crusade. It's time Americans woke up to the very real danger this represents.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]