It’s been less than a month since the Arizona massacre. We’ve seen elected officials and pundits across the political spectrum come together in grief and (with the exception of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck) express a commitment to a more “civil” discourse. Incredibly, though not a surprise, calls for civility during the past month have gone ignored by Beck and his Fox News friends. Indeed, they seem to have responded to the shifting rhetorical climate by renewing their passion for vitriol.
Threats hurled at acclaimed scholar Frances Fox Piven and, recently, hateful comments directed at former Colorlines editor Daisy Hernandez over an NPR commentary, have hit especially close to home. If January 2011 is indicative of the climate in store for engaged progressives, we can expect more hostility, harassment and efforts to derail our important movement building. And that means, for our own protection, we must constantly denounce the misinformation and political theater the right has used to destabilize organizations, communities and individuals.
Beck has branded CUNY professor Francis Fox Piven, a long-time champion of poor people, along with her husband, the late Richard Cloward, an “enemy of the Constitution.” He’s charged Piven and Cloward with conspiring to collapse our economic system—because, he muses, that collapse would justify the growth of governmnet—and he’s accused Piven of encouraging violent protests. He’s whipped up a multiplatform hate campaign that has resulted in threats to the 78-year-old professor’s life.
The toxicity and danger of Beck’s incessant campaign can easily be measured by quick reviews of anonymous reader comments online. The Center for Constitutional Rights cites those comments in a recent letter to Fox News President Roger Ailes, asking him to investigate and stop Beck’s harassment campaign. The letter points to comments from Beck’s website, The Blaze, that make clear the connection between his rhetoric and violence, including:
“Maybe they should burst through the front door of this arrogant elitist and slit the hateful cow’s throat,” “We should blow up Piven’s office and home,” and “I am all for violence and change Frances: Where do your loved ones live?”
Also in January, The Blaze, Fox News and others made an issue over writer Daisy Hernadez’s use of the term “gringo” in an “All Things Considered” commentary that noted anti-immigrant policy making would have ratcheted up if the Tucson shooter had been Latino. Unrestrained bigotry and violent rhetoric directed personally at Hernandez quickly erupted around the Web, including in Colorlines’ inbox. A user-generated video emerged on YouTube with a large image of Hernandez next to a redone NPR logo—with cross hairs over it. Predictably, Fox commentators also used the moment in their campaign to discredit NPR.
Without doubt, Beck and Fox News understand that their rhetoric activates fear and hate amongst members of their base. Why else would they need to instruct followers not to bring hateful signs to their D.C. rally last year? (“Leave your signs at home guys we really don’t want anything to deter from the peaceful message we’re trying to bring to Washington, okay?”)
Harassment and slander of racial and social justice activists is nothing new, but intimidation of progressives has become an acceptable stand-in for meaningful debate and criticism. We can’t wait to find out if repetitive threats will turn into baseless defunding of organizations or, worse, physical attacks on our truth-tellers. As Colorlines publisher Rinku Sen pointed out last year, the concerted effort to take down ACORN, held a broader message:
… destroy organizing capacity among progressives and quiet voices for real change … We are fundamentally about changing the dominant way society is set up, and that will always make us a more likely target of attack than those working merely to maintain the status quo.
The Nation magazine’s recent editorial on Piven offers a reminder of yet another incident that ties Beck to a dangerous nutcase. In July 2010, Byron Williams armed himself and set out to massacre staff at the Tides Foundation, which Beck often includes alongside Piven in his tirades. Williams later said: “I would have never started watching Fox News if it wasn’t for the fact that Beck was on there. And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed that blew my mind.”
Last year in February, activist @StopBeck received death threats via Twitter. When the matter was addressed by a blogger at the Political Carnival, the blogger became the target of harassment as well. But that blogger had sound advice for @StopBeck:
I’ve had some degree of success by calling these nutcases out, exposing them, and letting as many people as possible see what and who they are. If we turn our backs, they will continue their despicable behavior unabated.
That’s exactly correct. Instead of getting pulled into nonsensical arguments and baseless accusations, we should feel free to step out of the frames set up by Beck and friends and call out the attacks for what they really are: strategy. The right’s personalized threats are meant to chill our activism at a time when there are so many consequential debates unfolding.
We are following the lead of inspiring people with the Drop the I-Word campaign and we understand that we win when we set the frame of our own conversations. Reclaiming dignity and recognizing that we are showing up in these difficult times is powerful. The Freedom from Fear Award honors everyday people that have “overcome significant fear and/or risk to confront injustice on behalf of immigrants and/or refugees in the United States.” Honor those who inspire you with their courage in the face of menacing rhetoric by nominating them. Nominations are open until February 28.
After the tragedy in Arizona, Roger Ailes told hip hop mogul Russel Simmons, “I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually. You don’t have to do it with bombast.” Apparently Beck didn’t get the message. Let’s all send it to him again.