The Virtue of Being Vindictive

Morning reading left me stunned with this observation about the way Americans understand recent terrorist acts:

When Muslim Americans commit acts of terrorism, we hold ISIS and Hezbollah and “radical Islam” accountable for their actions, even if they are mentally unstable, and even if there is no direct connection between them and the groups that inspired them. We call these terrorists “self-radicalized.” It is how we see Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013; and Omar Mateen, who went on a murderous rampage at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando last June; and Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, who killed 86 people and injured 434 at a celebration in Nice on Bastille Day. They did not go to a terrorist training camp, or join an organized cell, or attend an anti-Western madrassa. They learned to hate from a network of web sites and magazines and videotapes. Their madrassa was the media….

[Robert] Dear became radicalized in precisely the same way. But because the media he listened to advocated war in the name of a Christian god, and argued for an ideology considered “conservative,” he is portrayed as no one’s responsibility. In fact, as I learned from hours of speaking with Dear, the narratives he learned from Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and Bill O’Reilly and countless far-right web sites meshed perfectly with his paranoid delusions, misogynist beliefs, and violent fantasies. The right-wing media didn’t just tell him what he wanted to hear. They brought authority and detail to a world he was convinced was tormenting him. They were his shelter and his inspiration, his only real community.

The point of Amanda Robb’s piece, coincidental that it comes in New Republic’s issue on President Obama’s legacy, seems to be that right-wing media is evil (just like the party they support). The Planned Parenthood shooter received lots of ideas from radio preachers even more obscure than Jen Hatmaker:

In those days, thanks to the Fairness Doctrine, major broadcast outlets were forbidden from running partisan content without providing equal time to opposing views. But on shortwave channels, right-wing broadcasts were proliferating. Dear tuned in as often as possible. “That’s what turned me on to the conspiracies and the Bible prophecies,” he recalled. His favorites included Brother Stair, a Pentecostal minister who has predicted the end of the world; William Cooper, who preached that aids was a man-made disease; Pete Peters, whom the Anti-Defamation League has called a “leading anti-Jewish, anti-minority, and anti-gay propagandist”; and Texe Marrs, leader of the Power of Prophecy Ministries, who claimed that the federal government committed the Oklahoma City bombing and framed Timothy McVeigh.

Dear also became fixated on small magazines devoted to right-wing conspiracies. He spent hours at Barnes & Noble poring over magazines like The Prophecy Club, The Spotlight, and Paranoia, obsessing over their brand of crackpot theorizing: how the Robert Bork confirmation battle was connected to the JFK assassination, how the World Trade Organization ran a secret “Codex Alimentarius,” how the government operated a series of Deep Underground Military Bases, how it was planning an “American Hiroshima.”

But you know, the Fairness Doctrine paved the way for Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly’s John the Bapist:

Those in the right-wing media who traffic in hate and conspiracy theories are quick to deny that they should be held responsible for the consequences of their words. After Waco, Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves to predict that “the second violent American revolution” was imminent. Yet two weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing, he published an op-ed in Newsweek entitled “Why I’m Not to Blame.” After running 29 shows attacking George Tiller as “Tiller the Baby Killer” and saying there was “a special place in hell” for him, Bill O’Reilly dismissed any accountability for inciting the doctor’s murder: “I reported extensively on Tiller and after he was assassinated by a man named Scott Roeder, some far-left loons blamed me.”

So, if we blame ISIS for random acts of mass murder, why not the right-wing media? Possibly because POTUS and the Department of Justice and mainstream media have warned us from jumping to conclusions about Islam or Islamic organizations.

Here’s how the New York Times handled the Boston bombers’ religion:

While Dzhokhar’s adjustment seemed to be going smoothly as he reached his teens, Tamerlan’s disillusionment with their adopted country grew as he got older, as did his influence on his younger brother.

Baudy Mazaev, a Chechen friend of the Tsarnaevs, said that Tamerlan and his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, “had a deep religious epiphany” involving Islam a few years before the bombing.

Initially, according to friends, Tamerlan’s new religious devotion seemed to only irritate Dzhokhar: Mr. Mazaev said that on one of his visits to the Tsarnaev house during that period, Tamerlan ordered him and Dzhokhar to read a book about the fundamentals of Islam and prayer. After that, Mr. Mazaev said, they began avoiding the apartment.

But the family’s relationship to Islam, and one another, evolved. In February 2011, roughly when the boys’ mother embraced Islam, she separated from her husband, Anzor, a tough man trained in the law in Russia who in Cambridge was reduced to fixing cars in a parking lot. The two divorced that September, and Anzor returned to Russia; his ex-wife followed later.

Tamerlan filled the void as head of the family’s American branch. On Twitter, Dzhokhar wrote that he missed his father. Days before his citizenship ceremony — on Sept. 11, 2012 — he expressed wonder at why more people did not realize that the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center “was an inside job.”

Not exactly a slam dunk link to ISIS or Hezbollah.

What about this treatment of Omar Mateen?

Other hints of a disturbed mind continued to emerge. In 2013, G4S removed Mr. Mateen from his security post at the St. Lucie County Courthouse after he had made “inflammatory comments” about being involved somehow in terrorism. Though far-fetched and even contradictory — he claimed connections to Al Qaeda, the Sunni extremist group, and ties to its near opposite, the Shiite Hezbollah — his comments were troubling enough for the county sheriff’s office to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The bureau’s subsequent inquiry was inconclusive.

The next year, Mr. Mateen again attracted federal scrutiny, after an acquaintance from his mosque, the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, carried out a suicide bombing in Syria. According to F.B.I. Director James B. Comey, federal investigators concluded that Mr. Mateen knew the bomber only casually.

The mosque’s imam, Syed Shafeeq Rahman, insisted that Mr. Mateen had never heard teachings at the mosque that would have radicalized him. “There is nothing that he is hearing from me to do killing, to do bloodshed, to do anything, because we never talk like that,” the imam said.

But if you can link an attack on Planned Parenthood to the media that opposed President Obama, well, why not?

And this was an issue of New Republic that celebrated the President’s decency, centrism, and dignity. According to Andrew Sullivan:

People will see the sheer caliber of this man [President Obama]. The grace and poise with which he conducted himself in unbelievably difficult circumstances; the way he withstood abuse and disrespect with extraordinary calm and goodwill. He will in his post-presidency become a symbol, maybe somebody we need more than when he was president, to remind us of what it is to be dignified in public life. Especially if this hideous monster who’s succeeding him continues to despoil the public culture.

So why exactly did the editors include a piece so out of sync with the President’s virtues? Maybe because they only want the other side to be virtuous?

9 thoughts on “The Virtue of Being Vindictive

  1. Is Robb’s point really that “right-wing media is evil”? When the BBs have a deacon rampage a PP clinic, the criticism against the BBs isn’t that they’re evil but that they’ve so embraced the spirit of activism that they inevitably stoke the fires needed to produce their misguided deacon. The point is similar: keep your convictions but dial down (some might say eliminate but let’s demonstrate the point) your activism, because like it or not you do live in connection to others which brings some degree of responsibility. So I sympathize with Robb’s point toward right-wing media. Instead of looking for as many trap doors as possible, sack up.


  2. Zrim, mainstream media has yet to establish or talk about connections between recent shooters of Islamic backgrounds in U.S. and Europe and Islam. The media tells us not to make that connection. So now the mainstream media tells us to blame one shooter on Rush and O’Reilly?


  3. Does Bill Maher count as mainstream? He makes the connection and seems to want us to follow him. He’s also the guy who wanted a religious test on Presidential candidates in 2008 (as in, do you really want a kook who gets demons exorcised by a Pentie pastor with her finger on the button?).

    But is the point actually to blame one shooter on Rush and O’Reilly (like Maher would likely do because all religion is toxic, not sure the rest of MSM would follow that lead), or to wonder why so much demand is put on Islam’s adherents for its kooks and so little of Christianity’s? It looks selective.


  4. Zrim, are you arguing for an equivalency between current activities of armed xian terrorists and jihadists? It seems even the MSM when it starts on the track of ‘disturbed loner’ is rather quickly overrun with evidence of jihadist radicalization, though they struggle to keep the consideration to a singular event, unwilling often to point to a pattern. What’s the tipping point for a distinction and recognition of a movement and for particularization(certain forms of Islam)?


  5. Zrim, selective indeed. Had Clinton won, I don’t think Robb’s piece would have flown. Plus, the equivalence of kooks in the context of ISIS and Islamic terrorism for — count it — four decades seems disproportionate.

    I’m no fan of people gunning down abortionists or those seeking abortions. But by my count, the numbers are not equal. Nor is the press’s (Maher doesn’t count) equivalence of O’Reilly and ISIS. I bet you agree.


  6. Sean, no, not an equivalency of kooks. But it’s also not clear that pure arithmetic is everything. Even with disproportionately fewer kooks, why aren’t Christian activists expected take more stock, or at least the sort of stock Muslims are expected to take? Perhaps because it makes more sense to draw straight lines from Islam to kookery, like Robertson does (to the cheers of Christians)?

    Right, because the Crusades never happened.


  7. Zrim, I think volume raises the stakes and demands a greater urgency of examination. Seems a reasonable and measured reaction. If the Crusades crank up again, then we can bring xianity under greater scrutiny.


  8. zrim, you’re never Trump is showing. You can’t distinguish between Rush Limbaugh and Hezbollah? If you can’t, then you must think that trannies have it as bad as blacks in Birmingham circa 1950.

    I’m with you on the Crusades. But it’s hard to equate Robert Dear with Islam inspired terrorism. We haven’t spent trillions the last fifteen years fighting Kevin Swanson.


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