Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hopelessness and Patriotism.

"I've always wondered why I was put on this earth. ... I've been feeling helpless on the war on Terrorism but I realized I could engage the terrorist allies here in America."

"I thought I would do something good for the country. Kill Democrats until the cops kill me."
It was a simple plan, constructed out of the primary ingredients of fascism: hopelessness, patriotism and a desire to follow orders.

On July 27, 2008, a middle-aged man walked into a children's performance of Annie at the Tennesee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church with a 12-gauge shotgun, 78 rounds of multi-shot ammunition, and an intent to kill as many people before being killed himself. Through some extraordinary actions by the entire congregation, he managed to kill only 2 people before he was held down and arrested a few minutes later. The American equivalent of a suicide bombing, his action that day represented an act of pure terrorism.

I have no doubt that if Jim David Adkisson's name was Mohammed Zibakalam and the religion of his youth was Islam instead of Christianity, then virtually all of the news media -- mainstream and extremist -- would have been on this action as an example of the necessity of our "war on terror", much would have been written and broadcast about whether or not the shooter deserves a trial-free sentence of indefinite length in Guantanamo, or whether he should be summarily executed.

But Adkisson was raised in a Christian household. And he is not of middle eastern descent. And he reads and recites the words of O'Reilly, Hannity and Savage, not bin Laden. So, outside of UU circles and and local coverage in the Knoxville area, his actions that day have been largely forgotten in the six months since his attack. As of today, Adkisson has no Wikipedia entry, and the whole shooting event has a fairly short page devoted to it. Most Americans have no idea that the event even happened.

Last week Adkisson pled guilty to all charges. He had left a 4 page suicide note/manifesto on the seat of his truck, and the local paper just posted it. Here's a copy (.pdf), in Adkisson's own writing. The writing is both chilling and incredibly sad. Each time I read it, I cry. I'm crying now as I write this. The opening quotes on this posting is from this note, as are these pieces of "wisdom", under the "Know This If Nothing Else" section:
  1. "This was a hate crime"
  2. "This was a political protest"
  3. "This was a symbolic killing"
And of course, there is a page all about the Unitarian Universalist Church itself, which he summarizes up in this statement: "They embrace every pervert that comes down the pike but if they find out that you're a conservative, they absolutely Hate you. I know, I experienced it".

Some people will read Jim David Adkisson's manifesto and see the rantings of a madman. I do not. I read the manifesto and see the writings of a soldier who understands orders and wants to demonstrate his willingness to follow them. I see someone who desperately wants to be part of a larger movement and to show the people whom he admires that their words do make a difference. And make no mistake. The people whose books he read and whose voices he heard understand his motivations, and will never denounce them. The Goldbergs, Coulters and Savages will continue to write books and to speak words of division. And IF they denounce him or his actions (and that's a big 'if' -- more likely they'll pretend he never existed), they will never denounce Adkisson's motivations. In fact, his manifesto could have been written by any number of conservative voices whom we hear on mainstream radio and television. Every. Single. Day.

In 1994, thousands of Hutu extremists listened to radio stations that encouraged a cleansing of the countryside of all those citizens who would not think the right way. Those people were soldiers, willing to fight, to kill and to die for a movement based in racial and ideological cleansing. They listened to the Interahamwe voices of authority on their radios and they followed orders. Jim David Adkisson also listened to the "conservative" voices of authority on the radio as they promoted a movement based in racial and ideological cleansing. He read their books, and educated himself in their movement and understood his role in that movement. He would follow orders. Like the thousands of Rwandans who killed everyone for an ideology of hate, Adkisson became a person whose life now had meaning.

"I'd like to encourage other like minded people to do what I've done. If life ain't worth living any more don't just kill yourself do something for your country before your go. Go Kill Liberals!"

The Interahamwe would be proud.

Note: All items in italics come directly from Adkisson's manifesto (pdf link).

Liberal Hatred

I originally wrote and posted this on 29-July-2008 on my older (now inactive) blog. As I write an update based on recent news, called "Hopelessness and Patriotism", I felt it was time to repost this note from 6 months ago. It remains here, unchanged from that July day of writing.


Is this what Jim David Adkisson carried as he drove up to the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday with a shotgun and 76 rounds of ammunition? After all, any person with an Internet connection can buy this bumper sticker and proudly place it on their vehicle of choice.

There is some denial amongst conservative blog commenters (I haven't read much from more "official" conservative columnists regarding this, but I'm sure we'll hear from them in the next few days) regarding Mr. Adkisson. To them, he is simply a deranged person, and the rhetoric promoted by conservative commentators had nothing to do with his actions on Sunday. When and if the Coulters, Hannitys and O'Reillys (and their many "second string" talk radio surrogates) refer to the shooting, I'm sure that they will be shocked -- SHOCKED -- to learn that their writings and broadcasts were part of Adkisson's motivation to "visit" the UU church. In fact, they will take offense at any one who could think or say such a thing.

I wish those commenters were correct. I wish that conservative writings and broadcasts have no bearing on an attempted massacre at the church. But the widespread rhetoric against "liberals" as enemies in a culture war -- much of it quite incendiary -- leads me to believe otherwise.

A little over a year ago, David Neiwart (of the Orcinus blog) posted an appendix to his outstanding (and long) series called "Eliminationism in America", where he documents many quotes by best-selling conservative authors (like Ann Coulter and Michael Savage) and mainstream conservative broadcasters (like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly). Rather than reprint much of the statements made by these very powerful people, I recommend that you visit that site now -- Click here right now -- even if it means you never read the rest of this blog entry.

In fact, even if all you read are the book titles (and they're all bestsellers), you can easily guess the poison contained within them:
  • Ann Coulter: Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism
  • Sean Hannity: Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism and Liberalism
  • Michael Savage: Liberalism is a Mental Disorder
and most recently:
  • Jonah Goldberg: Liberal Fascism (complete with a cute picture on the cover)
It seems that Mr. Adkisson read (or owned, anyway) at least 2 of these books. His sense that he is a soldier in a larger culture war against an insidious and treacherous enemy are -- it seems -- widely promoted amongst these authors and repeated endlessly amongst conservative broadcasters.

I find it especially interesting that this politically motivated attempt at mass murder is not called "terrorism" in the mainstream media. Part of the problem is that the term "terrorism" has no simple definition, and that the use of the term itself connotes a politically-motivated action which is based on misguided political principles. In other words, if the action is based on honorable principles, then it is -- by definition -- not terrorism. And to the conservative media outlets, violent elimination of "America's enemies" is one of the highest principles to which a soldier can adhere. The moment we label an action as "terrorist", we impugn both the action itself as well as the political motivation behind that action.

It is for that reason -- good motives but bad actions -- that conservative commentators will not label Mr. Adkisson's actions as "terrorist". On the other hand, I have no doubt that if Mr. Adkisson had spent time reading bin Laden's writings before walking into the TVUUC, then the very same action would be so labeled -- repeatedly -- by every media outlet in the country.

So while conservatives will agree that Mr Adkisson's entry into the church and shooting up the congregants was bad action, they basically agree with much of his beliefs behind that action. In the eyes of many conservative broadcasters and writers, we are in a culture war and the enemies of the good consist not only of the people who wish to kill Americans, but also those who will refuse to view people

Almost 7 years ago, G. W. Bush spoke these words "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror". Since that time, conservative authors, commentators and even administration officials have said that liberals and terrorists are -- essentially -- on the same side in this "war" (yes, Karl Rove said that in front of a applauding audience of several hundred in 2005).

Mr. Adkisson's actions on Sunday were those of a domestic terrorist. He acted as if he were under orders, and those orders were to eliminate liberals. It's not hard to find statements by many prominent people -- repeated over and over -- that in our "culture wars", liberals are the "true enemies of America", and that the responsibility of every "freedom-loving citizen" doesn't stop at the elimination of their leaders. It means "taking out some of their supporters too".

But what is truly sad about the whole incident is this. Because the beliefs and principles of UUs lie at the core of our liberal religious tradition, Mr. Adkisson will probably receive more kindness and compassion by the congregants of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church -- the people he considered "enemies of America" -- in the coming months and years than he will by any conservative columnist, author or broadcaster -- the people he probably considered his "friends" only 3 days ago.