It took about 48 hours for my prediction that the right wing ravings about the Obama Threat would turn into a shootout with the feds before the first act of such violence occurred—hard right wingnut Richard Poplowski shot three Pittsburgh police who had shown up to his mother’s house after she asked them to come take him away because he was trespassing. The event was overshadowed in the media by the Binghamton shootings. What’s interesting about this particular crime is how it resembles and differs from the pattern I described. Right wing nuts in the Clinton administration would concoct some justification for why federal authority didn’t apply to them, then break some law that would cause the authorities to come out, exchange gunfire with the police instead of surrendering, and then become right wing martyrs when someone in their compound got shot. Instead of buying land and holing himself up there while declaring himself a sovereign nation or whatever, Poplowski took a shortcut and ambushed the police by going over to his mother’s house with an AK-47 and getting her to call the cops to get rid of him. He also didn’t martyr himself, and he had no children on hand as useful martyrs.
What’s startling about this is that it didn’t take long for a right wing nut to go off the deep end during the Obama administration. Because Obama offends the right in many more ways that Clinton ever could—being black, being urban, being a health nut, having a really tall wife, etc.—this shouldn’t come as a surprise. It took the right wing years to come up with enough paranoid theories about how evil the Clintons supposedly were before the proper air of non-stop paranoia had been established. But all the paranoid urban legends you could ask for about Obama were established during the campaign. Plus, you have something now that wasn’t around nearly as much during the Clinton administration—mainstream media collusion with the paranoid right.
Gary Kamiya at Salon has an article pointing out that no matter how off-the-radar Poplowski’s views were, the fact that they show up watered down in tone but steady in content in the mainstream media gives Poplowski and people like him reason to feel more self-assured about their paranoia. Add to that the oversized right wing media that most of us would probably just choose to ignore, and you have a powerhouse reflecting the worst lies of the paranoid right back into their faces.
Poplawski’s black-helicopter and anti-Semitic ravings put him at the outer edge of the right. But his paranoid fear that Obama was going to take away his AK-47 is mainstream among conservatives. That fear, fomented by the NRA and echoed by right-wing commentators from Lou Dobbs to Limbaugh, is ubiquitous online. A right-wing, pro-gun Web site I Googled at random, Theodore’s World (slogan: “The PC Free Zone Gazette is American first and Conservative second. It is never anti-American!”), highlights several stories about black men who killed police officers. Commenting on one incident in which the suspect was wounded by another policeman, someone posting as “Bob F” writes, “It’s too bad when the cop’s partner shot back, he only wounded him. Now the taxpayers are going to have to pay for medical treatment and prison. The cost of a bullet is probably only .50 cents. Unfortunately, it’s only going to get worse on the streets as Obama and his minions disarm law abiding citizens while criminals run rampant.”
Much of the responsibility for this paranoia lies with the NRA. During the presidential campaign, the NRA ran ads that falsely painted Obama as coming for Americans’ guns. Screaming that he had a “10-point plan to change the Second Amendment,” the powerful lobby claimed that Obama planned to “ban use of firearms for home self-defense” and “ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns.”
It’s incredibly tempting to imagine that the fetid swamp of right wing ravings is a minor thing that can safely be ignored, but unfortunately, much of what grows there blossoms into something that can be tidied up and mainstreamed, causing the paranoids to feel justified in their imaginings, and also giving them incentive to up the ante. During the Clinton years, the most they could hope for was to have their stuff legitimized by Jerry Falwell and Rush Limbaugh, but now there’s Fox News, and even news networks like MSNBC are giving paranoid rantings airtime. With just the crazy right/mainstream right feedback loop of the 90s, we had a situation that got so extreme we will have a hard time recovering. The mainstreaming of radical anti-choice views has created a situation where NPR is acting like crisis pregnancy centers are legitimate service providers and Democrats like Tim Kaine are giving these women-harassment centers money. The halls of Congress are filled with right wing paranoids who make speeches about god’s judgment and demand that it be given the same respect as real science- and evidence-based testimony. And the relationship of Blackwater, who has taken untold amounts of federal money to run a lawless mercenary organization (while funding the anti-choice movement, no less) to the paranoid right deserves a book of its own.
Right now, things are spiraling out of control, because the wingnuts toss a bunch of shit up against Obama and it doesn’t feel like it was sticking like it did during the Clinton years, even though they have the advantage of more mainstream media access than they did then. So they freak out and toss more and stinkier shit up. The result—right now, at least—is that most people ignore them even harder, and the true believers get a little crazier every day. But it hasn’t been that long into the administration. It took the wingnuts years of blowing smoke around Clinton before they were able to find enough fire to impeach him. They don’t even need to be patient to cause damage—they never seem to run out of energy when it comes to spinning paranoid bullshit. That it’s off the charts on the nutty scale right now just concerns me more, not less, because that means that paranoid theories that would have sounded crazy before will seem relatively moderate in comparison.