Recent media reports quoted sources close to the US Secret Service that the number of death threats made against President Barack Obama has increased by an incomprehensible 400 percent since the inauguration. This staggering increase “In this environment goes far beyond anything the Secret Service has seen with any other president” reported CNN’s Rick Sanchez.
Further, a 28-year-old man was arrested by U.S. Capitol Police during the president’s recent speech to Congress on heath care reform after he tried to drive into a secure area near the Capitol with a shotgun and rifle in his car. And there were two incidents of people wearing strapped assault weapons near Obama led town halls on health care.
This disturbing news comes seven months after the Department of Homeland Security released a highly criticized report titled Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment. The report clearly stated that “Rightwing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African-American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda.”
The report goes on to explain that although these groups have not begun “attack planning” it warns that a prolonged economic downturn could create a “fertile recruiting environment” with confrontations with government authorities. Although quite alarming, could there also be an additional element at work helping to fuel and to ramp up the fear, fervor, and angst among fringe Americans?
The answer is seemingly yes as a combination of conservative media and “political hate talk” is being generated and directed towards the Obama administration allowing extremist groups to receive their cues and direction.
“I think there is clearly a fringe of people who are economically vulnerable and who are susceptible to the alarmist rhetoric being spewed about the president. I do worry about violence” explains Joan Walsh, Editor in Chief of the award-winning online news magazine Salon.com.
NAACP President Ben Jealous adds that “The charged language reminds people of a time in America’s history characterized in the eyes of many as disgraceful, a time when our nation was much more pessimistic about race relations, and a time when it was not uncommon for efforts to change existing perspectives on race and ethnicity to be met with violence.”
From hot button issues dealing with health care reform, national security to the appointment of Supreme Court Justice, Sonja Sotomayor, there is a hyper conservative political rhetoric being spewed across radio and television airwaves and community forums across the nation. Much of this talk is violent in nature with comparisons made between Pres. Obama and Adolph Hitler.
So where exactly should the line be drawn between having a healthy, public political debate versus deliberately creating agitating talk which could prompt an individual further over the edge? And what is the role of republicans in moderating this line versus crossing it?
“The responsibility is broader than just conservatives. Moderate republicans must step forward and reclaim their place as the voices of moderation in their party. Not just over opposition to President Obama. They don't have to and shouldn't agree with him on everything. Leadership is when the power of the voices of the many keep the shrill, attention-getting voices of the few in check -- on both sides of the aisle” explains Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post Editorial Writer.
However, David Wilson, Managing Editor of theGrio.com believes that “Conservatives have every right to dissent, to raise their objections but I think they should also be culturally sensitive given the history of assassinations of black leaders such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers. It only takes one crazy person to have an opportunity to do something and they need to be mindful of that.”
When Words Incite Violence
“We're teetering on the edge of incitement -- the [political] right is instilling a kill or be killed mindset in some of the violent loonies who exist on the fringes of their party. If Obama isn't a citizen, he's an illegitimate president, a usurper. If he's coming to pull the plug on grandma, or seeking to kill children born alive... then it's going to fall to some patriot to man up and take him out” explains author and activist, Dan Savage.
In fact some of the worst offenders of this type language have been republican pundits, politicians and most recently a minister whose searing words have been recorded as follows:
Pastor Steven Anderson: In a sermon posted on YouTube stated “I hate Barack Obama,” “I hate the person,” “I hate him” and “I’d like to see Barack Obama melt like a snail.” In an interview with a television station, Anderson stated “I hope that God strikes Obama with brain cancer so he can die like Ted Kennedy.”
Glenn Beck: Pres. Obama “has a deep seated hatred for white people. This guy I believe is a racist.” Obama’s healthcare is driven by “reparations.” Obama is trying to “settle old racial scores.”
Rush Limbaugh: “I hope Obama fails.” “Adolph Hitler, like Barack Obama also ruled by dictate” “The Obama healthcare logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo.”
US Senator Jim Demint: “If we're able to stop Obama on [health care reform], it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”
US Rep. Michelle Bauchman: Referring to Obama’s cap-and-trade plans, “I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on
this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back.”
Referring to Obama’s healthcare reform “Right now, we are looking at reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom. And we may never be able to restore it if we don’t man up and take this one on.” Referring to Obama’s economic recovery plans, she stated that America needs an “orderly revolution.” Bauchman has also inferred that Pres. Obama was “anti-American.”
Former Gov. Sarah Palin: Referred to Obama’s healthcare reform as “downright evil” and inferred that his policies would force her youngest son who has Down Syndrome “to stand in front of Obama's death panel.”
Former Vice President Dick Cheney: Obama’s polices “raise the risk” of a US terror attack.
During a recent telecast of MSNBC’s Keith Olberman Show, Savage stated “I really do think that the Michelle Bauchmans of the world and Glenn Becks of the world are actively and consciously or subconsciously …trying to get the president killed. This kind of rhetoric, this paranoid style of the religious right from birchers to birthers doesn’t usually end well and someone’s got to put the brakes on it.”
NAACP President Ben Jealous summarizes it best. “Conservatives and liberals alike have the right to speak and engage with media in a tone that reflects their passion for their political beliefs.”
He added that “The NAACP defends the First Amendment rights of all Americans. Within that right to free speech, however, we expect the tone of political conversation to uphold the basic principles of civility and accuracy, particularly those held within the public forum provided by the media. We urge all media personalities to adhere to journalistic standards and assure that the stories perpetuated are based in fact.”
Herndon Davis is a media consultant based in L.A. he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org