January 11, 2011

Perfectly legal

Back in the 1990s, when militias were making headlines and the Oklahoma City bombing shocked the nation, I did a lot of reading about extremist groups and how they operate. I was particularly interested because the home base of white supremacist William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, which inspired Timothy McVeigh's terrorist attack, was located in West Virginia.

The Pierce/McVeigh case provides an example of how such things could happen. The elders of the movement, i.e. people like Pierce, would put out ideas but never get their hands dirty with any specific act of violence. Instead, individuals and small groups, often composed of disturbed, angry and aggrieved people, would act on the hate message without leaving any trail traceable back to movement leaders. This approach was called "leaderless resistance."

From what I can gather, a lot of terrorist groups around the world, including those based on religious fanaticism, operate in a similar way. Ideas, images and techniques are put out on the web and via other means and autonomous groups and individuals do the killing. Again, the leaders who inspire such actions are often not directly involved in carrying them out.

One thing that has changed between the 1990s and today is that inflammatory speech and rhetoric has gone pretty much mainstream and conspiracy theories are telecast, tweeted, and otherwise communicated to millions of Americans every day. And when some angry, disturbed and aggrieved person acts out, those who fanned the flames can claim no involvement.

As the saying goes, for the leaders at least, it's perfectly legal.

I'm not saying anyone intended the recent eruption of violence to happen. Nor am I trying to shut down anyone's First Amendment rights. Obviously, the shooter has mental issues and there are plenty of holes in our mental health system. But people have been playing with fire and when that happens somebody is likely to get burned.


HERE TOO. Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo makes a good point in this post about the need to tone down the rhetoric in coalfield controversies as well.

CLIMATE CHANGE. The CIA is concerned about it. Too bad congress isn't.

THE NOT SO SECRET WORD. When my kids were little, we used to enjoy watching Pee-wee's Playhouse. (For that matter, I still think his movie was a classic.) One regular feature of the show was the secret word. Whenever it came up, everybody was supposed to scream real loud. The not so secret word at the WV legislature is OPEB, which stand for "other post-employment benefits." Some politicians think it's the Big Bad Wolf, but a recent report by the WV Center on Budget and Policy suggests it might not be too big a threat. We'll see if the screaming continues.




Elizabeth Gaucher said...

It's important to be aware of this kind of thing. I keep wondering how do we reduce the supply side of the equation - why are so many young men vulnerable to this kind of madness? I keep thinking about how this kind of violence is nearly exclusively male, yet people seem to just accept that as a phenom vs. wrestling with what is going on. Women have violent tendencies to be sure, but with us it's personal. You broke my heart, hurt my kid, took my job so I'll get you. This blanket attack of strangers is a different thing. Why are young men so susceptible to this kind of baiting do you think?

hollowdweller said...

What Elizabeth said:

It's also mostly white too.