Remember back in the bad old days, when the Bush administration and its amen corner in the flag-lapel button-wearing media were riding high, and Andrew Sullivan was denouncing anyone who opposed Bush’s crazed foreign policy as being part of a pro-terrorist "fifth column"? The atmosphere of those times is something everyone — or practically everyone — would like to forget. Because that’s when all the brave "liberals" and their "progressive" and even "radical" brethren were cowering over the covers, and under the bed, silent as the few who dared to speak out — Susan Sontag, Michael Moore, Phil Donahue, and, of course, the writers for this web site — were pilloried as being accessories to the murder of those who died on 9/11.
Back then, it was the left that was being demonized, and the methodology of the War Party was pretty gruesome to behold: like a wolf pack on the rampage, they would glom on to some lone wacko, or marginal group of wackos, who would be held up as exemplars of a broader tendency within the anti-Bush anti-war opposition. I remember an account of an antiwar rally by Andrew Sullivan that homed in on the fact that someone was hawking the edges of the crowd with copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Aha! screeched the Inquisitor-in-chief, an office Sullivan appointed himself to before the smoke had cleared from the ruins of the World Trade Building — the antiwar movement is anti-Semitic!
As unreasonable and downright weird as this seems, in retrospect there was a method to this madness: the rhetoric of Sullivan and his fellow "war-bloggers" was rich with implications of treason. After all, what nation allows an "fifth column" to operate openly during wartime? Civil liberties are the first items to be thrown overboard when the ship of state starts listing, a fact easily borne out by the history of this country, from the Alien and Sedition Acts to the PATRIOT Act. The pro-war right-wing was clearly trying to create an atmosphere where no one would dare to speak out, for fear of the consequences — and, if anyone did speak out, they were intent on laying the political as well as the legal groundwork for shutting them up forthwith.
Times change, and so does the political landscape, but one universal principle always obtains: the guys in charge want to silence the opposition, or, at least, so cow them that they daren’t speak above a whisper. In that respect, in spite of the promise of "change" held out by the election of Barack Obama, the old pattern is rather quickly reasserting itself, this time with the ostensible "left" playing the inquisitor role and the right relegated to pariah status.
Ever since President Obama took the oath of office, his supporters have been characterizing attacks by Republicans — particularly the "shock jocks" of right-wing radio — as "hate speech." This was line of attack was going on for months, coming out of the collective maw of MSNBC’s Olbermann-Maddow-Matthews axis of "progressivism," and it was a calculated use of language. For "hate speech," so-called, is a legal term, at least in European jurisprudence, that defines language and views that are outlawed. In Britain, to question immigration policy — which is generous in the extreme — in language deemed "racist" by some blinkered bureaucrat is to earn a jail sentence.
For years, the "anti-racist" opponents of the racist, neo-fascist British National Party (BNP) harassed party members with regulations of this kind, shutting down their publications and arresting their members for violating laws against "hate speech." Instead of trying to answer the arguments put forth by the BNP, and stop them in the way one would in a free society, they simply sought to shut them up — and they wonder why the tide of popular resentment managed to overwhelm such "safeguards" and elect two BNP’ers to the European parliament. You made your bed, Brits, and now you’re forced to sleep in it!
Now, in recent weeks, the investment of the "progressives" in this "hate speech" concept is bearing a particularly ugly and vile-smelling fruit. The horrific murder of Dr. George Tiller, a provider of late-term abortions, by an anti-abortion nutso, and, more recently, the rampage of an 88-year-old white supremacist at the Holocaust Museum, in which one guard was killed and another person injured — has given the anti-"hate speech" progressives the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. Now that they’re in the driver’s seat, they are demonizing their political opponents with self-righteous fury, trying to link mainstream conservatives with the nuts that cheered the murder of Dr. Tiller and that museum guard — and not so subtly hinting that "hate speech" (as defined by themselves) needs to be "curbed." They’re yelling that a ridiculous-yet-sinister "report" [.pdf] issued by the Department of Homeland Security on "right-wing extremism" was "prescient," and that the "threat" from the "extremist" right must be met with more than mere argumentation. Here is Joan Walsh, the typical Bay Area liberal, in Salon, bloviating about the alleged question of "Can Right-Wing Hate Talk Lead to Murder?" Tooting her own horn about how she was on Chris Matthews the other day, she writes that she tried to choose her words carefully, however:
"It’s hard not to think about the extreme right-wing rhetoric, especially about Barack Obama, and whether it could conceivably lead to more right-wing violence…"
Well, yes, it’s hard — especially if you have a not-so-hidden agenda, but never mind:
"The range of crazy ideas about Obama is broad and wide: He’s a secret Muslim, he’s going to take our guns, he’s even the anti-Christ! James von Brunn just happened to be a u2018birther,’ one of the nuts who believe that Obama wasn’t born here, his birth certificate is fake, and he thus isn’t eligible to be president."
Notice how a legitimate fear — that the Second Amendment is not sacrosanct in the eyes of our present rulers — is thrown in there, alongside the "secret Muslim" meme, the anti-Christ meme, and "birther-ism" (a new bogeyman for leftists equivalent to 9/11 "truther-ism" in the neocon Index Librorum Prohibitorum).
Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.