Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I'm concerned that conspiracy is becoming a political movement

In 2001 sometime, I experienced a guy on the uptown 4,5,6 platform in Manhattan shouting, "Do you understand that if you have a square R with a 5-R configuration, flickering back and forth, you will be shot dead by federal agents. You understand that, right?" (I mentioned this here too.) Right! It was kind of an amusing moment in subway-nut conspiracy think. And I kept an eye out for that 5-R configuration for years, to no avail.

Then a few weeks ago I came across this Xerox of a Wall Street Journal article, scotch-taped to a lamppost in Santa Monica:

Conspiracy jibberish I found taped to a lamppost in Santa Monica
This little clipping of colored-pen conspiracy scratch rivals the subway caveat above, in that none of it makes a shred of sense. The underlined text makes no sense; the circled words around it make no sense; and the thread of logic from "Catholic Church" to "Roman Monster" to "chess" to "Berlin Nazi" also, makes no sense. Though I must give this conspiracist props for his flags: they're quite compelling.

I'd typically write this off as another bit of isolated lunacy, but there's a disturbing context for this disjointed bit of crazy. Thomas Friedman might've put it best in an editorial today, in which he opines the "poisonous political environment" being created by conservatives, who seek to delegitimize the president by any means possible. The wanton Hitler comparisons, the interchangeable cries of fascist/communist/socialist, the shouting of "you lie" by a congressman during a presidential address — it was just this kind of environment that emboldened a right-wing Jewish nationalist to assassinate Yitzhak Rabin.

For RNC chairman Michael Steel to call Friedman a "nut job" reveals that conservative leadership is in denial of the toxic stew they're fomenting. "[They're] saying, because you disagree with the president on policy," Steel said, "that all of the sudden we're going to make this leap into, you know, assassinations and all this other stuff." No, Mr. Steel — what Friedman is saying that your rhetoric is whipping up an uninformed fringe to take that action. And the facts point to that possibility.

A credible white supremacist assassination plot was already foiled last year; death threats against the president are up 400% this year; Fox-inspired protesters proudly carry signs saying, "We came unarmed — this time." Just yesterday, a conservative editor wrote an article outlining the possibility of a military coup to dethrone the president, suggesting it was better than letting the president achieve his goals: "A coup is not an ideal option," the editor wrote, "but Obama’s radical ideal is not acceptable."

If these aren't signs that the heated rhetoric is having a dangerous influence, I don't know what would be. It's well time the conservative movement — Fox and all — dissociated itself from this lunatic fringe. If they want to lead this democracy in a different direction, they need to assume a responsible leadership role that doesn't score points by slurs, smears, and disinformation. Until then, they are stoking the indiscriminate anger of a volatile minority, and their base will continue to evolve into something like this guy:

And yikes! — who knows what he's capable of?

No comments: