Newsweek reports that membership in racist groups and the KKK are surging.
Fear of “the other” has long fueled hate crimes, from the torture and lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan beginning in the late 1800s, to the violence of the 1950s and ’60s, to the virulent anti-immigrant groups today. In 2008 the Census Bureau announced that whites will make up only half the U.S. population in 2050. “That was a big deal,” says the SPLC’s Potok. In recent years white-power groups mushroomed and the Klan reversed declining membership.
The Internet has made it easy to express hatred, and may act as a kind of safety valve. But the Internet can also abet twisted minds with vitriol and practical tips, like how to make a bomb.
Middle-aged guys sitting around their basements fantasizing are one thing; addled war veterans with weapons training are another. Timothy McVeigh was a Gulf War veteran who read white-supremacist literature and the sort of books that predict a takeover by one-world government agents flying black helicopters. He has, or had, some potential heirs apparent in a recently indicted group called the Hutaree, a Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio-based militia. According to the Hutaree Web site, the group ranked its followers with weird sci-fi titles like “Radok” and “Arkon.” The Hutaree militiamen speculate that the Antichrist is Javier Solana, a former NATO secretary-general and senior official of the European Union. The evidence? “There is a virtual media blackout on this man,” writes John Reynolds, author of a screed on Solana and the Antichrist on the Hutaree Web site. “I see Jacques Chirac and Silvio Burlusconi [sic], Tony Blair, and Prince Charles on the TV all of the time, yet not a word one regarding Solana. Why not?” (“Mr. Solana has now retired and is an elderly private gentleman. This is quite insane,” says a spokesman for the European Union’s Washington diplomatic mission.)
It is hard to know how much such grim fantasies are stirred by the steady stream of conspiracy theories pushed by talk-radio hosts. Rush Limbaugh talks about the Democrats planning to “kill you” with health-care reform and suggests (agreeing with black Muslim minister Louis Farrakhan, of all people) that it “seems perfectly within the realm of reality” that the H1N1 vaccine was “developed to kill people.” Like many talk-show hosts, he uses martial language to rouse the faithful: “The enemy camp is the White House right now,” he says. Former Alaska governor turned media star Sarah Palin posted on her Facebook page a list of House Democrats who voted for health-care reform with crosshairs aimed at their home districts, while tweeting to her followers, “Don’t Retreat, Instead—RELOAD!” She strongly denied any intent to incite violence. Other conservative talkers insist their foes are preparing violent attacks on them. Glenn Beck of Fox News is the master purveyor of this particular brand of sly paranoia. He suggests that he will be the victim of violence. “I’d better start wearing a [bulletproof] vest” to guard against White House attacks, he says, and warns that the Democrats will sic goons on him to break his kneecaps. Some talk-show hosts see the risk of going too far. Bill O’Reilly, the top-rated talker on Fox News, interviewed Stewart Rhodes of the Oath Keepers in February and treated him coolly. After the interview O’Reilly said to his audience, “We have a system to uphold the Constitution. It is called the judicial branch. The Supreme Court. The Oath Keepers are not the system.” Wise words, but it’s a sign of disturbing times that O’Reilly felt required to say them.
But how dare we suggest there’s any connection between what Mr. Limbaugh says on the radio and the gun-polishing fantasies of the Klan or that there’s any racism behind it.