Right-wing talk show hosts like Glenn Beck are stirring up anger towards the government. (Photo: GQ)
After a night of drinking, followed by an early-morning argument with his mother, with whom he shared a Pittsburgh apartment, 22-year-old Richard Poplawski put on a bulletproof vest, grabbed his guns, including an AK-47 rifle, and waited for the police to respond to the domestic disturbance call his mother had placed. When two officers arrived at the front door, Poplawski shot them both in the head, and then killed another officer who tried to rescue his colleagues.
In the wake of the bloodbath, we learned that Poplawski was something of a conspiracy nut who embraced dark, radical rhetoric about America. He was convinced the government wanted to take away his guns, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Specifically, Poplawski, as one friend described it, feared "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" and "didn't like our rights being infringed upon." (FYI, there is no Obama gun ban in the works.) The same friend said the shooter feared America was "going to see the end of our times."
We learned that Poplawski hosted his own (failed) Internet radio show and that he visited the website of 9-11 conspiracy backer Alex Jones, who has been hyping the threat of a totalitarian world government for years. More recently, Jones has been warning listeners like Poplawski about The Obama Deception (that's the name of Jones' new documentary DVD) and how President Obama is bound to destroy America.
Who's Alex Jones? Even according to some conservative bloggers, the anti-government, anti-Obama talker is a "freak" who's popular with "the tin foil hat crowd." Like with Poplawski, apparently.
Jones might be a "freak," but he has recently been embraced -- and mainstreamed -- by Fox News, as part of the news channel's unprecedented drive to push radical propaganda warning of America's democratic demise under the new president.
During a March 18 webcast of FoxNews.com's proudly paranoid "Freedom Watch," Andrew Napolitano introduced a segment about "what the government has done to take your liberty and your property away." And with that, he welcomed onto the show "the one, the only, the great Alex Jones," who began ranting about "exposing" the New World Order and the threat posed by an emerging "global government."
"I appreciate what you're exposing," Napolitano assured his guest.
Waving around a copy of his Obama Deception, Jones warned Fox News webcast viewers about Obama's "agenda" for "gun confiscation" and the new president's plan to "bring in total police-state control" to America.
Jones also noted with excitement that Fox News' Glenn Beck had recently begun warning about the looming New World Order on his show, just like Jones had for years. "It is great!" cheered the conspiracist. (Like Jones, Beck recently warned viewers that "the Second Amendment is under fire.") Concluding the interview, Fox News' Napolitano announced "it's absolutely been a pleasure" listening to Jones' insights.
We don't know if Poplawski tuned in to watch Jones' star turn for Fox News last month. But is there any doubt that Fox News is playing an increasingly erratic and dangerous game by embracing the type of paranoid insurrection rhetoric that people like Poplawski are now acting on? By stoking dark fears about the ominous ruins that await an Obama America, by ratcheting up irresponsible back-to-the-wall scenarios, Fox News has waded into a territory that no other news organization has ever dared to exploit.
What Fox News is now programming on a daily (unhinged) basis is unprecedented in the history of American television, especially in the form of Beck's program. Night after night, week after week, Beck rails against the president while denouncing him or his actions, alternately, as Marxist, socialist, or fascist. He felt entirely comfortable pondering whether the federal government, under the auspices of FEMA, was building concentration camps to round up Americans in order to institute totalitarian rule. (It wasn't until this week that Beck was finally able to "debunk" the FEMA conspiracy theory.) And that's when Beck wasn't gaming out bloody scenarios for the coming civil war against Obama-led tyranny. In just a few shorts months, Beck raced to the head of Fox News' militia media movement.
Just prior to the Pittsburgh massacre, Beck's often bizarre on-air performances, in which his rants against the Obama administration's dark forces were mixed in with his tearful proclamations of love of country, had turned him into a highly rated laughingstock. "That is a shaky cat," Dennis Miller recently giggled while describing Beck. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough broke into hysterics after a montage of Beck's most weepy moments. And TV satirists have had a field day at the Fox News host's expense. (Stephen Colbert: "Crank up the crazy and rip off the knob!")
But I'm not sure people should be laughing.
The consequences of Fox News' doomsday programming now seem entirely predictable. As Jeffrey Jones, a professor of media and politics at Old Dominion University, recently explained to The New York Times in regard to Beck's rhetoric, "People hear their values are under attack and they get worried. It becomes an opportunity for them to stand up and do something."
People like Richard Poplawski? FYI, weeks before his deadline shooting spree, Poplawski uploaded a video clip of Beck ominously referencing the FEMA camps on Fox News.
It's true that Beck, in response to mounting criticism, made this statement on his show:
BECK: Let me be clear on one thing. If someone tries to harm another person in the name of the Constitution or the truth behind 9-11 or anything else, they are just as dangerous and crazy as those people we don't seem to recognize anymore -- you know, the ones who kill in the name of Allah.
But look at the very next two lines of his monologue: "There are enemies both foreign and domestic in America tonight. Call it fearmongering or call it the truth." That doesn't sound like Beck was backing away from his rhetorical call to arms to fend off the Marxist -- no, wait -- fascist Obama administration.
And let's drop the idea -- pushed hard by Beck himself -- that he's simply a modern-day Howard Beale, from the classic film Network, just an angry, I'm-mad-as-hell everyman lashing out at the hypocrisies of our time. Nonsense. Beale's unvarnished on-air rants from Network targeted conformity, corporate conglomerates, and the propaganda power of television. ("This tube," he called it.) Beck, by contrast, unleashes his anger against, and whips up dark scenarios about, the new president of the United States. Big difference.
Here's a sampling of what Beck's been drumming into the heads of viewers, a portion of whom likely (and logically) hear his rhetoric as a call to action. That the government is a "heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state." That it's indoctrinating our children; that we have "come to a very dangerous point in our country's long, storied history." Beck's concerned that the "Big Brother" government will soon dictate what its citizens can eat, at what temperature their house can be set, and what kind of cars they're allowed to drive.
Beck's sure "[d]epression and revolution" are what await America under Obama, and fears moving "towards a totalitarian state." The country today sometimes reminds Beck of "the early days of Adolf Hitler." Beck thinks that Obama, who has "surrounded himself by Marxists his whole life," is now "addicting this country to heroin -- the heroin that is government slavery."
And it's not just Beck. Appearing on Fox News, Dick Morris recently made a wildly irresponsible comment that looks even worse in light of the Pittsburgh law-enforcement slayings: "Those crazies in Montana who say, 'We're going to kill ATF agents because the UN's going to take over' -- well, they're beginning to have a case."
And it's not just Fox News. Radio nut Michael Savage recently claimed that "we have a naked Marxist for president." And high-profile conservative blogger Erick Erickson contemplated the beating of politicians: "At what point do [people] get off the couch, march down to their state legislator's house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?"
Of course, the right-wingers at Free Republic are way ahead of Erickson as they fantasize about Obama's assassination: "And let's face it: all the speculation about Obama being the actual Antichrist will either be confirmed or denied if someone gets off a lucky shot at the SOB."
"Go Kill Liberals!"
I wonder if Glenn Beck knows who Jim Adkisson is. Adkisson made headlines on July 28, 2008, when he brought his sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and, after whipping it out of a guitar case, opened fire on parishioners while a group of schoolchildren performed songs up by the altar. Adkisson killed two people and wounded several others.
Adkisson, a 58-year-old unemployed truck driver, brought 70 shotgun shells with him to the church and assumed he'd keep killing until the police arrived on the scene and shot him dead as well. Instead, some members of the congregation were able to wrestle him to the ground and hold him for police.
When investigators went to Adkisson's home in search of a motive, as well as evidence for the pending trial, they found copies of Savage's Liberalism is a Mental Disorder, Let Freedom Ring by Sean Hannity, and The O'Reilly Factor, by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. They also came across what was supposed to have been Adkisson's suicide note: a handwritten, four-page manifesto explaining his murderous actions. The one-word answer for his deed? Hate. The three-word answer? He hated liberals.
The only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is kill them in the streets. Kill them where they gather. I'd like to encourage other like minded people to do what I've done. If life aint worth living anymore don't just Kill yourself. Do something for your Country before you go. Go Kill Liberals!
What Adkisson especially hated about liberals ("this cancer, this pestilence") and what he hated about candidate "Osama Hussein Obama" was that they were marching America toward ruin: "Liberals are evil, they embrace the tenets of Karl Marx, they're Marxist, socialist, communists." Adkisson seethed over the way liberals were "trying to turn this country into a communist state" and couldn't comprehend why they would "embrace Marxism."
Sound familiar, Glenn?
John Bohstedt was one of the Unitarian church members who tackled Adkisson
"There are a lot of people who hate liberals, and if we stir that around in the pot and on the airwaves, eventually there will be people (like Adkisson) ... who get infected by the violent rhetoric and put it into violent action," Bohstedt said.
He remained worried about future violence: "Do you think there are other Jim Adkissons out there listening to hate speech? I do."