FRAMESHOP:FRAMESHOP: THE VIOLENCE FRAME

CONGRESSMAN USES FAKE QUOTE FROM LINCOLN TO SAY DEMOCRATS SHOULD BE "ARRESTED, EXILED OR HANGED" The normalcy with which Republicans now call for acts of violence against Democrats is alarming. Recently, individual Republicans taking matters into their own hands--not connected...

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 02/16/2007

CONGRESSMAN USES FAKE QUOTE FROM LINCOLN TO SAY DEMOCRATS SHOULD BE "ARRESTED, EXILED OR HANGED"

The normalcy with which Republicans now call for acts of violence against Democrats is alarming. 

Recently, individual Republicans taking matters into their own hands--not connected to, but seemingly inspired by, the Catholic League's smear campaign against John Edwards--sent hate mail calling for the sodomy, rape and murder of Democratic staffers.  On the heels of those disturbing death threats, Congressman Don Young (R-AK) used a fake quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln to argue that Democrats who criticized the President's Iraq policy deserved to be "arrested, exiled or hanged."

Glenn Greenwald does an excellent job showing how this quote attributed to Lincoln was in fact fabricated by J. Michael Waller in a 2003 Insight Magazine article, "Democrats Usher in an Age of Treason," and how--despite being disavowed by Waller--was still used by Frank Gaffney in his column this week for The Washington Times.  As Greenwald puts it so aptly:

This [fabricated] quote has become a favorite weapon for those who want to criminalize criticism of the Leader and the War.

While I agree with Greenwald (and appreciate him ferreting out the origins of the fake quote), I believe this quote being repeated in authoritarian conservative magazines and newspapers, and then on the floor of the House of Representatives is part of a much broader and much more disturbing trend amongst Republicans than just the belief that war criticism should be a criminal act.

What I see is a growing ease with which Republicans use the media to call for violence to be committed against Democrats.  And as far as I can tell, they have been allowed to do this without any consequences whatsoever.

Are these calls for violence harmless?  They are not.  In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that even the most poetic calls for violence by conservatives in the media put them on a path to violence--a path that starts with insults, leads to death threats, and then ultimately arrives at actual murder.

The problem is not just incitement, but the lack of consequences for this behavior.  In other words, while Democrats now enjoy a majority in the Congress, the culture of public discourse is still determined by almost a full decades of authoritarian conservative media dominance.

In a context where conservative media had the full backing of a political power on both sides of the federal government, calls for violence against Democrats existed, but were less noticeable because they were mixed in with a constant ribbing.  Fair enough.  Partisan media brings a heavy dose of gloating on occasion, and that seems reasonable enough to endure.  We can always switch the channel.

But in the wake of the 2006 elections, the humor and the gloating are being swapped out for threats of physical harm for those who disagree.

In this atmosphere, we are left with a serious moral question:  How seriously should we take these threats?

Offering an answer of sorts, Greenwald notes in his essay on Gaffney:

Shouldn't it be considered more notable when such a well-connected figure as Gaffney -- with close relations to some of the administration's most powerful figures -- expressly accuses Senators of treason and calls their criticism a "hanging offense"? Why does advocacy of ideas this extreme provoke so little reaction, and why are advocates of such measures treated as serious and respectable political figures? [...] All of the liberty-infringing radicalism of this administration -- its radical lawbreaking theories, its lawless and indefinite detention of U.S. citizens and "alien unlawful combatants," its use of torture both directly and via rendition, its secret and illegal surveillance programs -- all stem from the same neoconservative mindset which fuels its endless pursuit of wars. The latter is used as the pretext to justify the former.

From Greenwald's perspective, conservative media inventing historic quotes to justify accusations of treason against elected members of Congress is part of a broad "neoconservative mindset" that views the world through a lens of constant threats, fueling the need to endlessly start wars.

Again, I would argue that the implication is at once more simple than Greenwald allows and more dangerous.

What we are witnessing with these calls for violence is the radicalization of authoritarian conservatism as the prospects for electoral success diminish.

Just as the success of authoritarian conservatism in electoral politics led to the increase in foreign violence perpetrated by the Republican Party, the failure of authoritarian conservatism in electoral  politics will likely lead to an increase in domestic violence perpetrated by the Republican Party.

In its greatest moments of political success, in other words, authoritarian conservatism in American uses the military to enforce its will abroad.  In its greatest moments of political failure, that same authoritarian conservatism uses its its fists to enforce its will home.

Whether conservatives reframed the debate in terms of violence before they lost control of the Congress or whether they are in the process of reframing the debate in terms of violence now, the violence frame has real consequences. But all too often, we mistake a tone of hatred as the danger, rather than seeing the frame of violence as the real threat.

Consider, for example, this letter written by Timothy McVeigh and received to FOX News on April 26, 2001. Having committed mass murder against what he saw as a threat to his particular authoritarian conservative view of America, McVeigh explains his reasoning without passion, but through the violence frame:

I explain herein why I bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I explain this not for publicity, nor seeking to win an argument of right or wrong. I explain so that the record is clear as to my thinking and motivations in bombing a government installation.

I chose to bomb a federal building because such an action served more purposes than other options. Foremost, the bombing was a retaliatory strike; a counter attack, for the cumulative raids (and subsequent violence and damage) that federal agents had participated in over the preceding years (including, but not limited to, Waco.) From the formation of such units as the FBI's "Hostage Rescue" and other assault teams amongst federal agencies during the '80's; culminating in the Waco incident, federal actions grew increasingly militaristic and violent, to the point where at Waco, our government - like the Chinese - was deploying tanks against its own citizens.

Knowledge of these multiple and ever-more aggressive raids across the country constituted an identifiable pattern of conduct within and by the federal government and amongst its various agencies. (see enclosed) For all intents and purposes, federal agents had become "soldiers" (using military training, tactics, techniques, equipment, language, dress, organization, and mindset) and they were escalating their behavior. Therefore, this bombing was also meant as a pre-emptive (or pro-active) strike against these forces and their command and control centers within the federal building. When an aggressor force continually launches attacks from a particular base of operation, it is sound military strategy to take the fight to the enemy.

Additionally, borrowing a page from U.S. foreign policy, I decided to send a message to a government that was becoming increasingly hostile, by bombing a government building and the government employees within that building who represent that government. Bombing the Murrah Federal Building was morally and strategically equivalent to the U.S. hitting a government building in Serbia, Iraq, or other nations. (see enclosed) Based on observations of the policies of my own government, I viewed this action as an acceptable option. From this perspective, what occurred in Oklahoma City was no different than what Americans rain on the heads of others all the time, and subsequently, my mindset was and is one of clinical detachment. (The bombing of the Murrah building was not personal , no more than when Air Force, Army, Navy, or Marine personnel bomb or launch cruise missiles against government installations and their personnel.)

 

I hope that this clarification amply addresses your question.

     

Sincerely,
Timothy J. McVeigh
USP Terre Haute (IN)

In this letter McVeigh matter of factly frames U.S. law enforcement agencies and elected officials as enemies deserving of military action against them, presenting his decision to commit an act of domestic terrorism with the calm detachment of a Pentagon analyst making the case of military intervention abroad.  The angry photos that often accompany stories about McVeigh do not do justice to the complex logic of war and violence that structures his thinking in this letter.  We see here that the anguish of the Oklahoma City bombing  goes far beyond the senselessness of the murders.  The true horror of McVeigh's action lies in absolute clarity through which he understood mass murder as a rational, legal and American solution to a political problem.

It is a disturbing reality that we all must live with in America that at any given time there are hundreds if not thousands more Timothy McVeigh's percolating amongst us.  But it is an even more disturbing fact that 99 out of 100 of them vote for Republicans if they vote at all.

The violence frame, invoked with regularity and increasing boldness by leading voices of the Republican elite, should serve as a constant reminder that this latent authoritarianism has lashed out at our own from time to time in American culture.  It has been a while since we have had a season of burning crosses, assassin's bullets, truck bombs, or clinic murders.   But as new political alignments rise to the surface, I fear we may be heading for the rapids of domestic violence yet again.

In this respect, we must waste no time acknowledging that the authoritarian conservative violence frame is already far too prominent in the media and in government.  We risk far too much by letting even one Congressman's call for violence go unanswered.

©  2007 Jeffrey Feldman, Frameshop

© Jeffrey Feldman 2007, Frameshop

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