One of the reasons that the talking heads can continue to play the “both sides” card and pretend that political violence isn’t (yet) a problem in our culture is through carefully ignoring the unpleasant evidence that the atmosphere of conspiratorial thinking and old-fashioned misogyny–both issues in terms of partisan politics, as only one side really goes out of its way to cater to these kinds of thinking—played a role in Jared Loughner’s choice to shoot up a Democratic congressperson’s constituent meeting. But the other reason they can play ignorant is even more sobering, because they’re exploiting an otherwise good situation. And that reason is that law enforcement is doing a really good job of preventing right wing nuts from attacking large numbers of people.
A lot of the time, it’s because they’re working off good information, even though nasty pieces of work like Michelle Malkin overtly tried to pressure the FBI away from devoting resources to monitoring domestic terrorists. A lot of the time, it’s because they’ve put a lot of resources into rapid response, which involves doing what the Villagers are trying to make taboo, which is admitting right wing cranks who turn violent are out there, and using that willingness to believe to deal with them when they’re right in front of you. If you look at this list Digby put together of recent right wing violence, you’ll see how much credit for prevention goes to law enforcement. Unfortunately, some officers have lost their lives doing the valuable work of fighting back against extremists that the talking heads are blithely trying to pretend don’t exist.
And sometimes, law enforcement just gets lucky, which is why, thankfully, many lives were potentially saved on Monday, when three parade workers for an MLK Day parade in Spokane, Washington spotted a pipe bomb in a backpack, and law enforcement was able to disable it without anyone getting killed.
There’s an interesting double standard in play. When international terrorists try and fail, due to bad luck or skilled law enforcement, to attack and kill large numbers of people, it gets breathless minute by minute coverage on the cable news. I remember when there was some poison being smuggled in by Al Qaeda from Yemen in some office equipment, and it was thankfully and swiftly intercepted by law enforcement. It’s a great story, and I think it should be covered, but I also recall being at the gym and spending the entire 40 minutes of my run watching footage of some trucks moving around a parking lot, interlaced with breathless news anchors trying to wring more coverage out of a story that was important but not especially lengthy in its narrative arc. This act of potential domestic terrorism is similar in most ways, and yet it went straight into the memory hole immediately. You know, even though the networks were already using MLK Day as a news hook.
What’s especially frustrating is that the viewer at home is probably more empowered to do something about domestic terrorism. The FBI, for instance, is offering a reward, and if the news doesn’t give this thorough coverage, that incentive might not get out to the right ears.
Being uncomfortable with admitting that terrorists aren’t easy to spot is part of this, but the other part, I believe, is that admitting that shit like this happens leads you down a path of talking about things that we as a society pretend aren’t going on. In this case, ongoing racism is the issue that is being strenuously ignored. In order to perpetuate the myth that civil rights and anti-racism are universally accepted in our culture and that MLK Day is uncontroversial, we have to put all the disingenuous opposition to it in an SEP field. Everyone who opposed the creation of the holiday was handily given the chance to stuff that right down the memory hole. Every year, a cadre of conservatives who go out of their way to destroy King’s legacy by lying about who he was and what he stood for, but there’s a veneer of pretending that they do this to honor him, and so we all just pretend not to grasp the ugly implications. “Jokes” That Are Kept In The Company Of White People are something hidden behind the social fiction that they aren’t happening or that people don’t mean it, as if it were pot smoking instead of, you know, hating entire groups of people based on race. And then someone puts a pipe bomb on a parade route for MLK Day and admitting that it happened means that you might have to admit that all this other stuff is happening, and so let’s just not go there. It makes D.C. cocktail parties so uncomfortable, when you’ve considered how many people at them have pandered to racists to get votes.
The news did break late yesterday, and so maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there will be wall-to-wall coverage of this pipe bomb that could have been really dangerous. I hope that my cynicism in this is proven wrong.
I just want to note that the picture above features a T-shirt that was stuck inside the backpack. I want to highlight that it appears the T-shirt is an anti-abortion T-shirt. Upon further investigation, I believe it’s actually a cancer foundation relay. Which, if the bomber was smart, probably means he (or, though unlikely, she) just grabbed a bunch of shirts from the dollar bin at Goodwill, because using your own is really dumb.