Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stupid is, evil does

Remember all the hand-wringing over a pair of Department of Homeland Security documents highlighting threats posed by homegrown extremism?
It was a couple of months ago when conservatives, neo- and otherwise, were declaring the agency's attention to radical right-wing groups an attack on free speech and states' rights. They called for DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano's head on a plate.

Their mindless frothing wasn't terribly credible, but in this political climate you'll have that sort of thing.

Reasonable people -- and by that I mean people who actually have read the documents and aren't ideologically impaired -- can talk through the relevant constitutional issues, and we can agree or disagree about whether or not our government is treading where it doesn't belong.

We just can't be stupid about this.

Homegrown extremism is real and it's growing. I don't need to read a government report to see that, and neither do you.

It doesn't matter if it comes from the radical right or the loony left -- and yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as left-wing extremism. Just this morning, in fact, media are
reporting that Rev. Jeremiah Wright blames "them Jews" for blocking his access to Pres. Obama.

Wright is a racist idiot, sure, but that doesn't give us license to be stupid. We have to tell the truth, and the truth is that the most malevolent and widespread domestic extremism lives on the far right. DHS knows that. I do, too.

I mean, how many more clues do we need? For cryin' out loud, people, this ain't rocket science.

Extremists cower behind gods, birthrights and constitutions. Racists, anti-Semites and separatists inhabit the margins of both civilization and politics, and a free society allows for their existence. When Americans elected a black president with a foreign-sounding name, our laws granted extremists the right to spew paranoia and hate.

Our Constitution confers the right to speak, but our stupidity allows hate to thrive, walk among us and evolve inevitably into violence.

We get it all so horribly wrong because we misunderstand the First Amendment, which says,

"Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...."
In my own state, the Ohio Constitution instructs,

"Every citizen may freely speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of the right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech, or of the press."
So it is, and so it should be -- government may neither restrain nor abridge the right of The People to speak in advocacy of or opposition to any matter or cause.

You and I, however, aren't similarly constrained. Individual citizens are free to drive the proselytes of hate from our midst.

In this nation of laws, we have every right to make evil unwelcome in our homes, our communities, our conversations and our correspondence. Acting as independent citizens, and without the slightest risk of affronting the free-speech rights of others, we may stand up and assert, "Your hate is unacceptable to me. Say what you want, but not here."

That's individual liberty at work. It's also our responsibility.

When we shirk that responsibility, ignoring the clues that litter free-but-hateful speech, we create the space for a law-abiding physician to be murdered in the name of the killer's god, while the doctor worshipped the same god. We permit an addled old bigot to commit the last of his many atrocities in the lobby of a museum that stands against history's greatest atrocity.

We turn our backs and let the Murrah Building fall.

Day after day across this country, homegrown hate prospers and festers, it assaults and it kills because we believe that we have to allow its disciples to shout in our faces. We do not.

I will not.

Earlier post

The impotence of indignation

Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic & Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization & Recruitment (pdf)

Domestic Extremism Lexicon (pdf)