‘Right-Wing’ Rhetoric on Hold After Museum Shooting

By
Thursday, June 11, 2009 at 6:48 pm
A protester at the Washington, D.C. tea party on April 15 (Photo by: Aaron Wiener)

A protester at the Washington, D.C. tea party references a Department of Homeland Security report on "rightwing extremism" that sparked criticism from conservatives. (Photo by: Aaron Wiener)

Two months ago, Republicans talked as if they had Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on the ropes. The news that Napolitano’s agency had drafted and distributed an assessment of “rightwing extremist activity,” sparked two months of attacks, denunciations, and outright mockery from GOP members of Congress and conservative activists. From his perch in the House, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Napolitano had “a lot of explaining to do.” On Twitter, Newt Ginrgrich demanded that the author of the report tender his resignation. At anti-tax Tea Parties, T-shirts and signs mocking the agency — “I am a rightwing extremist,” or “Are you on Janet’s List?” — were as visible as boxes of Earl Grey.

Image by: Matt Mahurin

Image by: Matt Mahurin

Then, on Wednesday, an 88-year-old retiree named James von Brunn was arrested after a shootout inside the Holocaust Museum that left security guard Stephen Johns mortally wounded. The details of von Brunn’s life and views spilled out across the airwaves and across the Internet, revealing ties to neo-nazi groups, virulent anti-semitism a belief in the racially charged conspiracy theory that President Obama was born in Africa. Notes found in his car and years of chat board and blog comments turned into a quick portrayal of Von Brunn as a right-wing, violent extremist.

The conservative criticism of DHS, which had been waning, became much quieter. TWI contacted many of the members of Congress who had either demanded Napolitano’s resignation or signed on to a resolution — which passed the House Homeland Security Committee unanimously — but none chose to address the “rightwing extremism” report or on the ongoing investigation into von Brunn. The only official comment any member of the Republican leadership came from Boehner to Brian Beutler of TPMDC, a harshly-worded warning that “trying to exploit this awful tragedy to score political points — from the right or the left — is simply grotesque.”

Coming only ten days after the murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller and only nine days after the murder of Pvt. William Long, a military recruiter in Arkansas, the Holocaust Museum shooting has propped open a door on the complicated politics of extremism. Republican politicians, who have flirted with the rhetoric of “revolution” and attacks on the president’s “fascism,” are hesitant to push the envelope for fear of the sort of political backlash that hit them in the 1990s. Conservative activists and pundits are taking a more pro-active stance, attempting to debunk any idea of a wave of extremist violence or, failing that, to define extremists like von Brunn as lone wackos or leftists.

Republicans have reason to worry about being tied to extremists who commit crimes influence by fringe, right-wing, or eliminationist ideology. One week after the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, Dick Morris — then an adviser to President Bill Clinton, now a commentator for Fox News — sketched out the political effects of what was that the largest terrorist attack on American soil. “Temporary gain: Boost in [approval] ratings,” wrote Morris. “Permanent possible gain: sets up Extremist Issue vs. Republicans.”

Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.), who led a one-hour April 21 floor debate to attack Napolitano and the “rightwing extremism” report, used this very example to explain why the report was so dangerous. “Those of us who have a little age on us,” said Carter, “like I do, can think back to the Clinton administration and can remember how many times when anybody ever criticized the Clinton administration you would hear the First Lady then and now Secretary of State say, ‘Well, it’s all a plot by those right-wing extremists, those right-wing extremist organizations.’ President Bill Clinton would say, ‘Well, they don’t agree with my party and with what we’re saying here, but it’s really the people you’re hearing from who are right-wing extremists.’ They label talk show hosts as right-wing extremists. All this fear was generated about right-wing extremists.”

Carter did not immediately comment on the von Braun case or the DHS report to TWI, although Republican staffers handling the issue said that he had been “leading the charge.” There were other signs that enthusiasm about this — whether or not Republicans view it as being unfairly stoked by liberals — has simmered down on the Hill. On May 6, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) submitted a resolution to the House Homeland Security Committee demanding that the DHS produce “all source materials used in the drafting of that Intelligence Assessment” as well as the roles that administration officials had in disseminating the report. The resolution sailed through committee and was referred to the House calender on June 4, four days after the Tiller murder, when it also picked up co-sponsorships from Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). But it has stalled since then, and Bachus and Young did not respond to calls on the bill after the museum shooting. Republican staffers who did talk about the resolution explained that no one had signed on thinking that it would pass, and that it was “pretty much dead already.”

With a few exceptions, such as Beliefnet.com founder Steven Waldman, conservative activists and writers have welcomed the GOP’s radio silence while rejecting the idea that the DHS report has any relevance to the rash of extremist attacks. They’ve pointed out the report seemed to lump in returning Iraq War veterans and hardcore federalists with anti-Semites, and that the agency did not stand by its wording. “The DHS report is a sideshow,” said one McCain campaign veteran who spoke under condition of anonymity. “People beat them up because that report was full of politically stupid language. Napolitano apologized for it, and she had to, because it was tone deaf and stupid.”

At a press conference originally called to comment on how the Tiller murder would affect the battle over Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination, Randall Terry, whose Operation Rescue became identified with the hardcore abortion clinic protesters of the 1990s, attacked the DHS report and said that the agency had no right to monitor anti-abortion rights movement “Let me pre-empt all the bloggers in the world,” Terry said. “Here’s where the bloggers are going to head: the white supremacists and the pro-lifers really are terrorists, just like the paper from Homeland Security said… they’re going to go ‘See, she was right! Pro-lifers and these white militiamen from Idaho, they’re all terrorists!’” Anti-abortion activists, said Terry, already assume that the agency is abusing their civil liberties.

Other conservatives spent Wednesday explaining that von Brunn was not actually right-wing, and that his anti-Semitism and his conspiracy theories about the attacks of 9/11 pegged him as a left-winger. Leon Wolf of the conservative RedState.com wrote that the media’s treatment of the story — “because von Brunn is a racist, he must be a right-winger” was wildly off-base. “Von Brunn would have been banned within his first three comments of posting at RedState, but would likely have enjoyed a long career as a recommended diarist at DailyKos.” Michelle Malkin, a conservative columnist who spent several days asking why President Obama did not immediately respond to the murder of Pvt. William Long, pointed to von Brunn’s hatred of neoconservatives and cited an FBI visit to the offices of the Weekly Standard as proof that he was an “equal opportunity hater.”

“From what I can tell,” explained Jonah Goldberg, the author of the 2008 bestseller “Liberal Fascism” and a writer for National Review, “his hatreds echoed the kind of stuff we hear from the Kos crowd, Chris Matthews, Andrew Sullivan et al.” Goldberg called Von Brunn “objectively crazy,” but argued that “his hatreds would be easier to find at an ANSWER rally than at CPAC.”

The responses to von Brunn from some of the far-flung groups who attacked or appropriated the “rightwing extremist” report was not quite so definitive. The Thomas More Law Center, which filed a suit against the DHS on behalf of a veteran offended by the report, did not comment and warned that chief counsel Richard Thompson “would not be comfortable commenting at this point.” A spokeswoman for the Liberty Counsel, a legal group that offered its members “Right Wing Extremist” business cards, simply said that the cards were “not going to change” after the events at the Holocaust Museum.

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Comments

22 Comments

Don
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

Janet Napolitano: A footnote in the report, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” said that while there is no specific information that domestic right-wing terrorists are planning acts of violence, such acts could come from unnamed “rightwing extremists” concerned about illegal immigration, abortion, increasing federal power and restrictions on firearms — and singled out returning war veterans as susceptible to recruitment.

When is Napolitano going to come out with a statement warning America about the WWII veterans?


Right-wing extremists and the GOP grows silent « Later On
Pingback posted June 11, 2009 @ 8:26 pm

[...] in Daily life, GOP at 5:26 pm by LeisureGuy Really excellent report by David Weigel in the Washington Independent: Two months ago, Republicans talked as if they had [...]


proudconservative95020
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 8:47 pm

The media has totally ignored the Muslim who shot and killed an unarmed hometown recruiter assistant program (HRAP) member. But they are quick to tie the abortion doctor murderer and the holocaust museum killer to the right with tons of media coverage.

In a sense, the one that killed the partial birth abortion doctor should have did it the same way he kills all those babies. The gruesome act done on a child barely gets a mention. If the killer had done the same to the doctor, the media would have been forced to cover the “gruesome” way someone killed the doctor. Then the pro life people could say, “That is what he does to babies.” Only then would America wake up to the viscousness of late term abortion. Sickening actually.


LaLee
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 11:53 pm

You said: “The media has totally ignored the Muslim who shot and killed an unarmed hometown recruiter assistant program (HRAP) member.”

Hmm, one muslim compared to FIVE (Pitssburg, Oakland, Binghamton, Tiller's Kansas and now Holocaust Museum) shootings done by non muslim in 2009 so far.

Gee why would anyone “ignored the Muslim who shot and killed an unarmed hometown recruiter assistant program (HRAP) member” indeed? /Sarcasm.


24AheadDotCom
Comment posted June 12, 2009 @ 8:36 am

If only I was as obsessed with me as Weigel obviously is! My former domain name is lonewacko.com, and I suspect the use of “lone wacko” above was an attempt to smear or just a deep psychological issue.

Weigel also attempts to smear those who correctly point out that we still don't have definitive proof of where BHO was born; here's what David Weigel doesn't want you to see; see the summary link for the actual facts about that issue.

Note also that in the report above, Weigel doesn't tell you, among other things, that the DHS report was condemned by a leading Democrat.


Tony Buser
Comment posted June 12, 2009 @ 10:11 am

Wow, he should have killed the doctor in the same way he performs abortions? I'll ignore the fact that you just agreed with killing a doctor. So, he should have turned him into a fetus with extreme abnormalities and inserted him into a a woman's womb where his birth would risk the life of himself or the woman and then… abort him? That is sickening.


Tony Buser
Comment posted June 12, 2009 @ 10:13 am

Except for the fact that the media hasn't totally ignored the Muslim who shot and killed an unarmed hometown recruiter assistant program (HRAP) member.


Chucky Sly
Comment posted June 12, 2009 @ 2:16 pm

The Right Wing has definitely become exponentially more vitriolic and sickening in their rhetoric since their percieved “disenfranchisement” in the last two elections. 24AheadDotCom and the “birthers” (still!) going on about the birth certificate thing (long debunked now), and proudconservative95020 actually advocating the murder of a doctor who performed what is still a legal procedure is proof positive that Napolitano and the HSA are looking like Nostradamus right now. Napolitano should retract her apology and the HSA should reissue the full Right Wing Loony-Tune document – this time in bold-print typeface.


The return of Liberal Fascism « Call of the Mild
Pingback posted June 13, 2009 @ 4:10 am

[...] Weigel reports, “From what I can tell,” explained Jonah Goldberg, the author of the 2008 bestseller “Liberal [...]


davemartin7777
Comment posted June 13, 2009 @ 10:26 am

Von Brunn was a frequent poster on the far-rightwing hate site “Free Republic”.

His postings were well accepted by the “Freepers”.

His hateful screed “Obama is Missing” is signed by him, IN HIS FULL NAME, James W. von Brunn, on December 02, 2008 It is still up on that site… check it out before it's removed.

His Free Republic nick was “wannabegeek”… read his other rightwing hate posts.

Google “Obama is Missing” Type in user, wannabegeek if the link below is broken and read von Brunn's racist rants as well as the “Freepers” hateful, SUPPORTIVE responses.

This is irrefutable proof von Brunn was a racist, murdering rightwinger.

http://www.freerepublic.com/tag/by:wannabegeek/…


Left-Wing, Right-Wing, Chicken-Wing, Paul McCartney and Wings « Around The Sphere
Pingback posted June 13, 2009 @ 11:51 am

[...] David Weigel in Washington Independent: Other conservatives spent Wednesday explaining that von Brunn was not actually right-wing, and that his anti-Semitism and his conspiracy theories about the attacks of 9/11 pegged him as a left-winger. Leon Wolf of the conservative RedState.com wrote that the media’s treatment of the story — “because von Brunn is a racist, he must be a right-winger” was wildly off-base. “Von Brunn would have been banned within his first three comments of posting at RedState, but would likely have enjoyed a long career as a recommended diarist at DailyKos.” Michelle Malkin, a conservative columnist who spent several days asking why President Obama did not immediately respond to the murder of Pvt. William Long, pointed to von Brunn’s hatred of neoconservatives and cited an FBI visit to the offices of the Weekly Standard as proof that he was an “equal opportunity hater.” [...]


24AheadDotCom
Comment posted June 13, 2009 @ 10:52 am

In Kindergarten Court – with Judge Weigel presiding – that's “irrefutable proof”. Elsewhere, it's fail. Where someone has an account doesn't indicate their ideology. For instance, I posted to BHO's site both under a made-up name and under one of my domain names. I also have a crypto account at DailyKos and non-crypto accounts at MyDD, TPMCafe, and other sites.

And, if he'd posted some of his more interesting thoughts there he would have been banned. Note also this thread, where he raises issues with people dissing Filipinos:

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/191094…


rushthefatf***
Comment posted June 13, 2009 @ 11:46 am

The people who are acting defensive and going on the attack seem to be seem to be doing so for a reason (Malkin, Goldberg, Rush, Levin & al). They contribute to an atmosphere of hatred and polarization. That's how they make money. They don't care about our country. They care about their ratings and their power and that's it. They don't even care about their listeners. They know that some of their most ardent followers are a little unhinged. They know this and they continue w/ the angry spew, whipping the nutjobs into a frenzy. They feel, so what if someone gets killed? They are sick people, just like the Operation Rescue people.
None of them are for building anything……they are just for tearing things down and demonizing people for no legitimate reason at all. And they incite violent acts by their words.
Karma.


Palin Pushing for Victim Sainthood, Walsh Out Classes O’Reilly, The Right’s Lame Attempt to Paint Brunn as a Liberal « The Long Goodbye
Pingback posted June 13, 2009 @ 2:08 pm

[...] a neo-nazi white supremacist as a liberal would make for a good skit on the Stephen Colbert Show, ‘Right-Wing’ Rhetoric on Hold After Museum Shooting , Conservatives Reject Association With Jame… “Von Brunn would have been banned within his first three comments of posting at RedState, but [...]


anna perez
Comment posted June 13, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

This is probably an insult to the memory or Mr. Marx, but right wing conservatives, elected and otherwise, seem to think most Americans are as dumb as Groucho Marx's long time comic foil, Margaret Dumont, to whom Groucho once said so memorably, “who are going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” On issue after issue, in their alternate reality, we are all Margaret Dumont.


davemartin7777
Comment posted June 13, 2009 @ 8:18 pm

Way to ingnore reality pal.

Free Republic is rightwing site.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Republic

Look at the “Freeper” thread on “Obama is Missing” again, signed by his name with his Freeper nick… “wannabegeek” on December 02, 2008

251 pages of rightwing crazy Freeper comments… on “Obama is Missing” not one call distention or call of extremism.

As a matter of fact, he was quite welcome on the Free Republic community.

Then look at dozens of his personal comment… you must be f'n blind not to see the connection to rightwing extremism.

http://www.freerepublic.com/tag/by:wannabegeek/…


LaurieR
Comment posted June 14, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

From Jonah Goldberg's column:

Never mind that von Brunn isn’t a member of the far right. Nor is he a member of the far left, as some on the right are claiming. He’s not a member of anything other than the crazy caucus. Von Brunn’s True North is conspiratorial anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. He’s not a member of the Christian Right. In fact, he denounces Christianity — just as Hitler did — as a Jewish plot against paganism and Western vigor. Nor is he a capitalist. Again, just as Hitler did, he hails socialism as the solution to the West’s problems.


Alferd
Comment posted June 15, 2009 @ 7:35 am

24 is a dyed in the woll birther. Just like von Brunn


proudconservative95020
Comment posted June 17, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

You got it all wrong. I am for killing NEITHER the doctor or the full term fetus. That is the point of the abortion (especially partial birth abortion) debate in the first place. Thus the rason it is called pro-LIFE. I was saying that if the killer did it to the doctor in the same gruesome manner as the doctor does to innocent babies who feel intesne pain and suffering, then the media would have a hay day with how “gruesome” of a death he died.


proudconservative95020
Comment posted June 17, 2009 @ 10:57 pm

You got it all wrong. I am for killing NEITHER the doctor or the full term fetus. That is the point of the abortion (especially partial birth abortion) debate in the first place. Thus the rason it is called pro-LIFE. I was saying that if the killer did it to the doctor in the same gruesome manner as the doctor does to innocent babies who feel intesne pain and suffering, then the media would have a hay day with how “gruesome” of a death he died.


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