Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Basic Accounting

What sends people like Richard Poplawski out into the streets armed to the teeth and ending up killing three cops? Gary Kamiya at Salon looks into it.

It would be convenient to pretend that Richard Poplawski, who killed three Pittsburgh policemen on Saturday with an AK-47, was just a right-wing nutcase. A devotee of the white supremacist Web site Stormfront, Poplawski believed that the United States was controlled by a secret Jewish cabal that had a master plan to abrogate freedom of speech and use the U.S. military to police Americans.

It would be easy for us to cordon Poplawski off, pretend that his ugly and paranoid worldview had nothing to do with the Obama hatred spouted by the American right. But the truth is that Poplawski’s hateful views cannot be separated from the increasingly extreme ideology and rhetoric that characterize the contemporary American conservative movement. As his friend, Edward Perkovic, told the Associated Press, Poplawski feared “the Obama gun ban that’s on the way” and “didn’t like our rights being infringed upon.”

Such obsessions don’t come out of a vacuum. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the GOP have been whipping up hatred and fear of Obama and “liberal Democrats” for years. Joined by the National Rifle Association, which has run false and irresponsible ads claiming that Obama is planning to take away Americans’ guns, they have encouraged and helped to create a pathological right-wing subculture in which free-floating hatred of “the government” mixes with a maniacal fetish for guns. Poplawski is the diseased fruit of that ugly tree.

The solution is not to take the guns away or try to muzzle the loud mouths and fear-mongers. There are reasons we have those fundamental rights in the Constitution, though at times like these you wonder why. I’m not in favor of repealing either the First or Second Amendments; that would be a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and since the beginning of this country we have had clowns and charlatans like Glenn Beck and the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre who knowingly exploit the fear and loathing of the foolish and the weak. Neither of them — nor can anyone — actually prove what they say about President Obama’s “secret plans” to take away their guns, but that’s not really the issue anyway; the truth doesn’t matter to these people. All they care about is getting the attention and making money off of their pigeons.

The most tragic element of this story is that the exploiters don’t care about people like Richard Poplawski; they are nothing to them but tools of the trade. The NRA won’t be there to defend him in court, and if his defense team tries to call them into court to make them accountable for sending Mr. Poplawski over the edge, they will throw up their hands and say that all they did was exercise their right of free speech and deny any responsibility for the actions of people who listen to them.

So what do we do about them? Simple: call them out for what they are; shameless exploiters with no more scruples than the most heartless con artist out there. Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Wayne LaPierre, and Michele Bachmann may actually believe the bullshit that they spout but that doesn’t mean we have to nod our heads or scratch our chins and say, “Well, they say what they believe,” and just let it go. The conventional wisdom is that if we pay attention to them or respond to them we are giving them the attention they crave and the credence that they need to keep talking. Well, that ship has sailed, and it’s obvious that they’re getting the attention of some people in this country who are off the deep end. So it’s long past time to keep playing nice with these people. Make them accountable; after all, as Rush Limbaugh is fond of saying, “words matter,” and he should know; he’s built his considerable fortune on his words. So he and the rest of the crowd, along with the NRA and the GOP noise machine, shouldn’t be allowed to just walk away from their demagoguery and lies.

Mr. Kamiya concludes, “If the right wing keeps whipping its troops into a frenzy by accusing Obama of being a fascist, gun-hating dictator, America may have a new group of outlaws to fear: freedom-loving, gun-worshipping ‘patriots’ like Poplawski.” And where will the right wing be if that happens? Cowering under their beds and screaming for somebody else to do something.