Category Archives: License & Liberty

Nextdoor Eliminationism

In 1950, McCarthy gave a routine speech at an obscure forum in Wheeling, West Virginia, in which, according to audience members, he claimed:

I have here in my hand a list of 205 … a list of names that were made known to the secretary of state as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.

McCarthy possessed no such list and apparently made up the number 205, which changed with further iterations. But no matter. McCarthy had struck a match in a political climate that was saturated with the fumes of suspicion and fear, and in the media explosion that followed he became the most famous man in the country. Over the next several years, he falsely accused numerous people—government officials, journalists, Hollywood writers, lawyers, professors—of espionage and communist associations. McCarthy did not possess any solid information that any of them were communists, just rumor and innuendo that had long ago been checked out by the FBI and other government agencies. In a series of committee hearings, he and his colleagues bullied, smeared, and humiliated a long line of witnesses—none of whom was ever convicted of a crime in a court, but many of whom lost their jobs because of skittish employers. Hollywood screenwriters drawn into the net were blacklisted.

Posner (2020, 195-196) The Demagogue’s Playbook.

The social media site Nextdoor has implemented a Good Neighbor Pledge. The evidence above in which Nextdoor user Brandon Kask posts without a shred of evidence of who said what when and where accuses collectively the Black Lives Matter movement, protesters, his neighbors, and elected officials of being part of a “communist” conspiratorial plot to bring about a “coup” simply by changing the sheriff’s position from an elected position to an appointed position. As with all hate speech, it is meant to incite others to follow on and amplify the malicious hate rhetoric that is meant to result in elimination of those who are targeted. It is not meant to foster intelligent discussion of informed citizens, but merely to demonize the “other” through hate speech rooted in fear mongering, racist and eliminationist rhetoric exhibited in Scott Neiman’s response in which he refers to those who hold a different view on the issues as being followers of “leftism,” “extreme leftism,” “commie’s,” and advocating “authoritarianism.” These are examples, detailed below, of eliminationism and eliminationist rhetoric a form of hyper-partisan political hate speech.

It is clear that Nextdoor has no intention of fulfilling its phony Good Neighbor Pledge. This is evidenced in the fact that Nextdoor relies on volunteer moderators that are so incompetent that they remove Scott Neiman’s hateful eliminationist rhetoric but leave Brandon Kask’s original eliminationist hate speech that makes baseless accusations without a shred of evidence aimed at anyone who holds a view different from his own that they are communists part of a communist plot to bring about a coup. How ludicrous considering the issue would be voted on and only implemented if passed by a majority, a very democratic thing to do and which alone refutes this hateful rhetoric.

The fallacious absurdity of Brandon Kask’s claims is evidenced in the history of King County Council itself. The post of sheriff was changed from an elective position to an appointed position in 1968 and then back to an elective position in 1996 all by a democratic process of free and fair elections just as this initiative too will be decided. (See King County — Thumbnail History)

Brandon Kask and Scott Neiman are through their words revealing they are intellectual parrots of AM Hate Radio and the rhetoric of eliminationism that has been pumped into American minds over the last thirty years of a fratricidal culture war that eschews intellectual political discussions grounded in mutual respect of one’s neighbors and restrained by reason and logic and evidence. That Nextdoor allows such hate speech to pass as civil reveals how dangerous it is as a social media platform, not unlike Twitter or Facebook, in that it allows toxic hateful messages to pass as neighborly conduct when it is anything but neighborly to call, without evidence or proof, one’s neighbors, one’s elected officials, and entire groups of people “communist.”

Brandon Kask and Scott Neiman (and since it is allowed to pass as “neighborly” discussion, Nextdoor too) are no different than the Nazis who used hateful and malicious false labels of those they viewed as the “enemy” and didn’t agree with politically to demonize them and thereby make them the target of group hate. This is exactly how the Nazi’s used anti-Semitism:

The Nazis equated all opposition movements—socialist, liberal, communist, humanitarian, cosmopolitan, individualist, democratic—to the Jewish cabal. (Tsesis 2002, 24)

The truth and facts have absolutely no place in Kask’s and Neiman’s rhetoric. Its purpose is to incite hatred and nothing more. And Nextdoor as a social media platform amplifies such hateful rhetoric and undermines our neighborhood’s social fabric by treating such as good neighborly forms of communication when it is anything but good for our social well being. Such rhetoric as Kask and Neiman post is a form of prejudice and scapegoating perpetrated through hateful stereotypes.

Stereotypes may be words specially formulated for disparaging a particular group or may simply be natural language expressions that channel hatred against an outgroup. These communications are geared toward representing the victims as objects of derision and designating a course of action against them—be it judicial unfairness or job discrimination. In Kantian terms, stereotypes are schemas for memory, retrieval, evaluation, and understanding. Concepts assigned to outgroups, such as lasciviousness, greed, immorality, and infidelity, become integral parts of vernacular descriptions and imaginings about them. Stereotyping eases the processing of information because it furnishes an already established scheme for compartmentalizing sense stimuli. After having been exposed to negative images of blacks, people are more likely to anticipate that blacks are dangerous. Completely innocuous events—for example, a black man approaching in the middle of the street at night—are often interpreted as perilous even when no factual reason for fear or added anxiety exists. The event may be recorded in the memory as having been a hazardous situation even though no evidence substantiates such a conclusion. (Tsesis 2002, 87-88)

Prejudices are means for convincing oneself why it is appropriate to act in ways that contradict basic ethical standards against inflicting harm. They are instrumental for excusing behavior that undermines the underlying structure of well-ordered society. Supremacism has profound consequences both when opportunities to discriminate are present and in conditioning sentiments that can be conducive for later unfairness. Ethnocentric people recognize that oppressive acts are not humane. So, derogatory images portraying outgroups as inferiors help them dismiss the notion that the others are by nature worthy of compassionate treatment, too. A violation of ethical norms is easier to explain away if the victims belong to an outgroup and are widely portrayed as demonic adversaries who are purportedly menacing to the population. (Tsesis 2002, 91)

In July of 2008, a graying, mustachioed man from the Knoxville suburb of Powell, Tennessee, sat down and wrote out by hand a four-page manifesto describing his hatred of all things liberal and his belief that “all liberals should be killed.” (Neiwert 2016, 1)

When he was done, Jim David Adkisson drove his little Ford Escape to the parking lot of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville. A few days before, the church had attracted media attention for its efforts to open a local coffee shop for gays and lesbians. Leaving the manifesto on the seat of the car, he walked inside the church carrying a guitar case stuffed with a shotgun and 76 rounds of ammunition. (Neiwert 2016, 1)

The congregants were enjoying the opening scene from the church’s production of the musical Annie Jr. when Adkisson, in a hallway outside the sanctuary, abruptly opened the guitar case, pulled out the shotgun, fired off a harmless round that startled everyone, then walked into the sanctuary and began firing indiscriminately. Witnesses report he was saying “hateful things.” An unsuspecting 61-year-old grandmother and retired schoolteacher named Linda Kraeger was hit in the face with a shotgun blast. A 60-year-old foster father named Greg McKendry got up to shield others from the attack and was hit in the chest. (Neiwert 2016, 1-2)

(….) A detective who interviewed Adkisson and examined his four-page manifesto reported to his superiors that Adkisson targeted the church “because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets.” (Neiwert 2016, 2)

When the detective interviewed Adkisson, he said he’d decided that since “he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them in to office.” (Neiwert 2016, 2)

Knoxville’s police chief told reporters the next day that Adkisson was motivated by his “hatred of the liberal movement” and “liberals in general, as well as gays.” He was also frustrated by his inability to get a job, a problem he also blamed on liberals. His neighbors in Powell described Adkisson as “a Confederate” and a “believer in the Old South.” (Neiwert 2016, 2-3)

When detectives went to Adkisson’s home in Powell, they found—scattered among the ammunition, guns, and brass knuckles—books written by leading conservative pundits: Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder by Michael Savage, Let Freedom Ring by Sean Hannity, and The O’Reilly Factor by Bill O’Reilly, among others. Adkisson’s manifesto, released some months later to the public, was largely a distillation of these works, ranting about how “Liberals have attack’d every major institution that made America great. … Liberals are evil, they embrace the tenets of Karl Marx, they’re Marxist, socialist, communists.” (Neiwert 2016, 3)

(….) The events that sunny Sunday left the church’s pastor, Rev. Chris Buice, with a shattered congregation. “People were killed in the sanctuary of my church, which should be the holy place, the safe place. People were injured,” he told PBS’s Rick Karr a couple of weeks later. “A man came in here, totally dehumanized us—members of our church were not human to him. Where did he get that? Where did he get that sense that we were not human?” (Neiwert 2016, 4)

Such incidents—the nasty personal encounters, the ugliness at campaign rallies, the violent acts of “lone wolf” gunmen—are anything but rare. If you’re a liberal in America—or for that matter, anyone who happens to have run afoul of the conservative movement and its followers—you probably have similar tales to tell about unexpected and brutal viciousness from otherwise ordinary, everyday people, nearly all of them political conservatives, nearly all directed at their various enemies: liberals, Latinos, Muslims, and just about anyone who disagrees with them.

What motivates this kind of talk and behavior is called eliminationism: a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through suppression, exile, and ejection, or extermination.

Rhetorically, eliminationism takes on certain distinctive shapes. It always depicts its opposition as beyond the pale, the embodiment of evil itself, unfit for participation in their vision of society, and thus worthy of elimination. It often further depicts its designated Enemy as vermin (especially rats and cockroaches) or diseases, and disease-like cancers on the body politic. A close corollary—but not as nakedly eliminationist—is the claim that opponents are traitors or criminals and that they pose a threat to our national security.

Eliminationism is often voiced as crude “jokes,” a sense of humor inevitably predicated on venomous hatred. And such rhetoric—we know as surely as we know that night follows day—eventually begets action, with inevitably tragic results.

Two key factors distinguish eliminationist rhetoric from other political hyperbole:

1. It is focused on an enemy within, people who constitute entire blocs of the citizen populace.
2. It advocates the excision and extermination of those entire blocs by violent or civil means.

(….) Eliminationism—including the rhetoric that precedes it and fuels it—expresses a kind of self-hatred. In an American culture that advertises itself as predicated on equal opportunity, eliminationism runs precisely counter to those ideals. Eliminationists, at heart, hate the very idea of an inclusive America.

— David Neiwert (2009, 11-12) The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right. Routledge.

In Guns We Trust

This extremist right-wing evangelical fundamentalist religion is on full display in many glossy gun magazines. Next to a picture of a wooden cross and Charlie Daniels standing between Marty and Cindy Daniel proudly displaying their Daniel’s Defense AR-15, is written, “Faith, family and firearms—the important things in life (Marty & Cindy Daniel. The Fiddler’s Firearm. USA: Guns & Ammo; 2017 Mar.).” As writer Warren Cassidy of the NRA told Osha Gray Davidson,

You would get a better understanding if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world. — Bellesiles 2000, 7, In Davidson, Under Fire, 44; Guns & Ammo, November 1998, 64-78

The further away we get from God, the worse off we get. Raise up a child the way it should go, and when he is older he won’t depart from it. There is no discipline today…. A child is very blessed to have a disciplinarian family. I was raised in a disciplinarian home. My mama could use a switch like an Olympic fencer. Charlie Daniels Interview, The Fiddler’s Firearm, Guns & Ammo, March 30, 2017.

Beating one’s children is considered discipline within this twisted culture of biblicist evangelical Christian fundamentalism. It is important that we understand the true nature and extent of the religious right’s culture war. This is not just an extremist movement preaching a gun-rights theology, but it’s intricately bound up with both religious fundamentalism, market fundamentalism, and political extremism. Racism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia, White Supremacist and Christian Nationalism go hand in hand with this twisted gospel of paranoid fear based evangelical fundamentalism. Within this fundamentalist culture black lives simply don’t matter:

The problems people have with police could be avoided if they would just do what the officer told them to do. If the officer says put your hands on the hood, then put your hands on the hood. If the officer tells ya to get out of the car, then get out of the car. [If an] officer tells you he wants to see your driver’s license and registration card, very gingerly take them out. That is all you have to do. And, basically, all they are going to do is their job…. People escalate these things into problems, and it ends up being a shooting match. You cannot blame a policeman for protecting his life.

— Charlie Daniels Interview, The Fiddler’s Firearm, Guns & Ammo, March 30, 2017.

It is hard to see how a black man lying on the ground with a police officer’s knee on his neck is a “shooting match.” It is hard to see how a black man when asked to show his license and registration by a police officer and is then shot to death while trying to comply with the officer’s request is a “shooting match.” It is even harder to imagine how Daniels can view a police officer shooting in the back a fleeing black man as a “shooting match” without recognizing the blatant racism. Charlie Daniels reveals the callousness of white racism in that he is deaf, dumb, and blind to the fundamental problem of racism in America. Instead, he blames the victims excusing any and all behavior and accountability of the police brutality regardless of how negligent or out right racist and malicious the violence perpetrated against blacks. Charlie Daniels words are witness to the depth of racism in America today and the entire world sees what Charlie Daniels is a willfully ignorant racist when he turns a deaf, dumb, and blind eye to police brutality against black men, women, and children while blaming the many victims.

License Neither Freedom Nor Loyalty

Americans enjoyed personal freedom and, generally, the nineteenth century was marked by a high degree of mutual trust. Or, one might also say, the nineteenth century was marked by a high degree of mutual trust and therefore Americans enjoyed personal freedom. When people trust one another, there can be personal freedom; when people do not trust one another, there is not likely to be personal freedom; when there is good reason not to trust one another, there should not be unlimited personal freedom. (Berns 1956, 17)

(….) [D]uring the period of the first World War, and for a few years thereafter, not all Americans were trusted by the community. However unjustified this distrust, it is a fact that many of the distrusted were jailed and two were put to death; it was at this time that Congress made its first law abridging the freedom of speech and press since the Alien and Sedition Acts, and made it in the face of a First Amendment that absolutely forbids Congress to make such laws. And it was at this time that the Supreme Court laid down the “clear and present danger” principle, designed to permit Congress to send people to jail despite the words of the First Amendment. Many people protested in Justice Holmes’ words, “There was a lot of jaw about free speech” but the federal government never lost a case. In fact, the federal government, despite its increasing demands for loyalty in speech and deed, was destined never to lose a case. (Berns 1956, 17)

In fact, one of the best treatments of American politics, and an inquiry that began in wonder de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America recognizes a dimension to the political problem that illustrate, what cannot be recognized, let alone understood, in terms of the conflict between the state and the individual:

There is, and I cannot repeat it too often, there is here matter for profound reflection to those who look on freedom of thought as a holy thing and who hate not only the despot, but despotism. For myself, when I feel the hand of power lie heavy on my brow, I care but little to know who oppresses me; and I am not the more disposed to pass beneath the yoke because it is held out to me by the arms of a million men. (Berns 1956, 19)

We must certainly guard against tyrants in the older sense (but no reasonable man today believes that this is the danger we face), but it would be foolhardy to be defenseless against other dangers.

(….) [F]or it would permit wicked men the freedom to undermine the virtue of citizens (those of you who are familiar with Winters v. New York will know what I mean), while preventing the government from promoting the virtue of citizens, a primary task of government according to an older view. That it is not the role of government to habituate citizens to virtue is expressed in the words of Justice Jackson, writing for the Court in the second flag salute case:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion . . .

The idea expressed here is certainly the orthodox American view on the subject; any other view would permit a deprivation of political and religious freedom in the name of someone’s view of orthodoxy; any other view would seem to violate the First Amendment.

It was on the basis of the definition of loyalty as patriotism that certain Germans, later designated as war criminals, committed the most hideous crimes, while their prosecution at Nuremberg was based on the proposition that there is a cause beyond Fatherland to which a man should be loyal. At Nuremberg this cause was said to be humanity. Loyalty as blind patriotism is obviously not enough; the reasonable man will insist that his country be worthy of his loyalty by representing a cause with which he can agree. (Berns 1956, 21)

Justice Douglas said:

Full and free discussion has . . . been the first article of our faith. We have founded our political system on it. It has been the safe guard of every religious, political, philosophical, economic, and racial group amongst us. . . . This has been the one single outstanding tenet that has made our institutions the symbol of freedom and equality. . . . We have wanted a land where our people can be exposed to all the diverse creeds and cultures of the world.

A reasonable man would withhold his loyalty from a Marxist regime even if Marxism became the popular doctrine in a fair market-place competition; he would behave in a similar fashion if McCarthysim became the popular doctrine and McCarthy were elected President. It would be no comfort to him if McCarthy were elected in a free and honest election; in fact, it would be a source of more discomfort than if he seized power, because the possibility of a change for the better would be more remote.

The conclusion is that just as loyalty cannot be defined as patriotism, neither can freedom be the cause to which we pledge our allegiance. In fact, loyalty can be defined reasonably only in terms of moral principle.

As with so many other problems, this problem of loyalty was stated most clearly by Aristotle in the third book of the Politics. Here, in the context of examining the nature of the polis, he is forced to raise various questions concerning the citizen, one of which is, as everyone knows, whether the “goodness of a good man is the same as that of a good citizen.” Aristotle answers, not necessarily; the goodness of a good man is the same as that of a good citizen only in a good society. The good citizen of Nazi Germany, Himmler, is a bad man. The good Englishman, Churchill, is a good man.

It is obvious then that disloyalty is so far from being an evil thing in itself that it becomes a moral necessity at times; conversely, loyalty is so far from being a good thing in itself that it is an indication of moral depravity at certain times and places.

It is equally obvious that that principle to which one gives his loyalty, that cause, cannot be the fatherland loyalty cannot be patriotism but must be something which makes the fatherland what it is, something which gives the fatherland its character. For Aristotle this was the regime, sometimes translated as constitution; and this discussion of citizenship occurs in the context of a discussion of the various kinds of regimes, or constitutions, which are seen to differ from one another by the goals they pursue, or we may say, by the principles by which they are guided. Citizenship is relative to the regime; the good man is a good citizen in a good regime.

In Aristotle’s terms, the just regime must possess virtue.

Loyalty is seen to be related to the regime, to the way of life of a country, and the difference between regimes is a moral difference: the good citizen of a bad regime, Himmler, is a bad man. Thus the question of loyalty is a moral question not to be avoided by an unthinking waving of the flag, on the one hand, or by denying the existence of a regime with a purpose on the other.

The problem of freedom and loyalty cannot be severed from the political problem. The political problem is how to get consent to wise political decisions or wise leadership, leaders in Hamilton’s words, with the “wisdom to discern and the virtue to pursue the common good.” In a democracy this means how to educate, how to form the character of citizens so that they will give their consent to wise leadership and withhold it from bigots and demagogues…. For if the citizens vote for bigots and demagogues, there will be no free speech: we can be certain that demagogues will censor. To avoid demagogues and the totalitarianism of society that de Tocqueville feared, it may be necessary to censor it will certainly be necessary for the law to promote virtue, to train citizens in virtuous ways, to foster loyalty to moral principle.

They do not consider the possibility that freedom unguided by moral principle may lead to the destruction of everything that makes American citizenship a possession valued by good men and loyalty to America a virtuous commitment.

My argument may be summarized as follows. Loyalty to a bad regime is an indication of moral depravity the case of Himmler and Nazi Germany. Loyalty to one’s country is justified only if one’s country deserves that loyalty: loyalty in itself is not a virtue. In order that a country deserve the loyalty of a good man, it is necessary that it promote virtue, which necessarily means that it must limit freedom. Freedom cannot be defined as license. Such a limiting of freedom is justified if it is done in the name of moral principle. The problem is complicated by the fact that the man loyal to moral principle, de Tocqueville for example, requires personal freedom to resist the demands of the Fatherland as Fatherland and the demands of society as society. Such a man knows that the absence of official censorship does not guarantee a solution to the problem of freedom.

The libertarian conception of freedom as the greatest good grants to freedom the place once occupied by virtue; whereas the purpose of the law was once to promote virtue as a precondition for the attainment of the good social order, the social order in which freedom is both possible and desirable, it now became the protection of freedom, a guarantee of natural rights rights possessed by everyone, including Eugene Dennis, the Communist, Murray Winters, the purveyor of corrupt magazines, and Arthur Terminiello, the foul-mouthed vilifier of the innocent. As I said in the beginning, such an approach to the problem of freedom and loyalty is blind to decisive aspects of the political situation.

License and Liberty

The idea of reviving the militia as a revolutionary institution gained currency on the far right as early as the 1980s and it took several different forms. In 1984 William Potter Gale envisioned the “unorganized militia” as a county-based military force that would enforce the mandates of the Committee of the United States. (Churchill 2009, 212-213)

In 1992, white supremacist Louis Beam wrote as essay entitled “Leaderless Resistance” in which he argued that “those who love our race” should form leaderless cells for the purpose of resisting a government whose corruption he measured by its enforcement of civil rights and equal protection for minorities. He suggested that such cells would strike proactively at government in a manner impossible to predict: “Those idealists truly committed to the cause of freedom will act when they feel the time is ripe, or will take their cue from others who precede them.” When white supremacists gathered in Estes Park in 1992 to formulate their response to Ruby Ridge, Beam offered his essay as the organizational model for a new militia movement. (Churchill 2009, 212-213)

These far-right conceptions of a revived militia would not, however, serve as the intellectual inspiration for the movement. The final necessary factor in the emergence of the militia movement was the recovery of the libertarian memory of the American by the gun rights movement. In the mid-1970s, the National Rifle Association adopted a much more militant stance in its political lobbying, arguing that all forms of gun control violated basic constitutional principles. To make its case more persuasive, the NRA promoted legal scholarship to support the thesis that private gun ownership was constitutionally protected under the Second Amendment. This individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment, though common in nineteenth century, has fallen out of favor with judges and most legal scholars in the twentieth century. (Churchill 2009, 213)

Together these ideas became a fundamental part of the collective memory of the gun rights movement, and gun rights activists carried this memory into the Christian Patriot public sphere and into the militia movement. (Churchill 2009, 215)

~ ~ ~

The NRA is an extremist organization shown to have colluded with Russia in undermining our democracy that arms domestic terrorists and is their propaganda arm. The NRA has promoted pseudo-scholarship similar to the way the tobacco industry funded fake scholarship to mislead the public about the link between smoking and cancer or the way the climate denial industry funds pseudo-scholarship to deny climate change. Patrick J. Charlessenior historian for United States Special Operationsdocuments the history of the NRA’s involvement in distorting the history of the Second Amendment and how the Supreme Court relied on NRA propaganda in Supreme Court’s decisions in McDonald v. City of Chicago and District of Columbia v. Heller. He shows how history proves that the Second Amendment wasn’t about the personal right to own a firearm because that was never the issue nor was this right ever questioned by the Founders as English Common Law already addressed that issue.

Standard Model writers will undoubtedly continue to claim that an “armed citizenry” is what Jefferson meant as the constitutional “protection against standing armies.” The intellectual and ideological origins of a well-regulated militia do not support this conclusion. The historical record, including legal works of early eighteenth century commentators, is clear that an armed rabble or unorganized militiai.e., a mere “armed citizenry”was a danger to republican liberty, not an advancement of it.

Patrick J. Charles (2013) The Second Amendment in Historiographical Crisis