#1526 A History of Political Violence in the US (Transcript)

Air Date 11/15/2022

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast, in which we shall take a look at our extremely steady history of political violence from the Revolution through the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, into the Civil Rights era, the militia movement and domestic terrorism, and now to our current, once again, radicalized right-wing movement willing to use and tacitly condone violence as a political tactic. Clips today are from Inside Edition, Americast, The Thom Hartmann Program, System Check, The Gray Area, ABC News, and In the Thick, with an additional members-only clip from The Gray Area. And while I have your attention, please consider setting your pod-catching app to notify you when we release new episodes so you don't miss any.

Capitol Attack Wasn't the 1st Violent Incident in Congress - Inside Edition - Air Date 1-20-22

DEBORAH NORVILLE - ANCHOR, INSIDE EDITION: The January 6th Capitol assault was not the first violent incident at the U.S. Congress. [00:01:00] According to Yale historian Joanne Freeman...

JOANNE FREEMAN: Between 1830 and 1860, they were at least 70 violent incidents on the House and Senate floor. Guns being pulled, knives being pulled, fist fights, brawls, canings. The caning of Charles Sumner, which happened in 1856, is pretty much the most famous violent incident in the U.S. Congress. Basically, Charles Sumner, who was this very prominent Massachusetts abolitionist senator, gave a really aggressive speech about Kansas. This was the famous bleeding Kansas moment when they were debating, Was Kansas going to be a free state or a slave state?

Obviously, Sumner did not want it to be a slave state, but in the speech that he gave, he insulted a number of congressmen. He kind of insulted the South, and one of the kinsmen of one of the insulted congressmen, his name was Preston Brooks of South Carolina, and he was a representative, [00:02:00] he heard what happened, actually checked the newspaper to be sure that he had gotten the words right, and then decided that he was going to punish Sumner for what he had said.

It was a matter of honor. So he took a cane. He went to the Senate and then walked over to Sumner, who was seated at his desk, and Brooks basically said, You've insulted me. You've insulted my family. You've insulted South Carolina. And essentially you need to pay for that. And began just really bludgeoning him with the cane over the head.

The desks in the Senate were bolted to the ground, so Sumner in shock can't immediately get away because he can't sort of get from underneath the desk. So ultimately, in a panic to get away, he wrenched this bolted desk from the ground, with Brooks all the time continuing to really attack him.

WILLIAMJAMES HULL HOFFER: Sumner not only tore his desk from the floor, but also ended up at the front of the chamber, bleeding [00:03:00] profusely from the head and unconscious, shattering the cane in the process, incidentally,

JOANNE FREEMAN: It was at this moment when the slavery debate was really peaking, and what was so striking about it, it literally acted out the South seeming to cane the North into submission on the topic of the slavery.

WILLIAMJAMES HULL HOFFER: This is probably one of the incidents that led to the U.S. Civil War because it not only gears up the Republicans for their campaign in 1856, but it also inspires John Brown to commit what we would largely describe as a massacre in Kansas against the pro-slavery forces, which then, of course leads to him conducting a raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859.

JOANNE FREEMAN: What's important to know, it was not the only violent incident in Congress in this time period. And as a matter of fact, between 1830 and 1860, there were at least 70 violent [00:04:00] incidents on the House and Senate floor, often not reported on the record, so often not necessarily known about. But there.

There's one point, I think it's in the 1830s when someone rushes into the House has a gun, doesn't like the debate, and wants to shoot the congressman who's talking about what he doesn't like. Right? He, so he actually comes in wanting to murder a congressman. And I believe that in the sort of stamped that happens when a man with a gun runs into the House and tries to shoot somebody, the gun gets smacked out of his hand, but in the process it goes off and it goes through the door of the House and hits a Capitol Hill police officer in the leg. Congress generously gave that Capitol Hill police officer money to apologize for the fact that this happened.

DEBORAH NORVILLE - ANCHOR, INSIDE EDITION: Another violent incident happened in February of 1858.

JOANNE FREEMAN: So in this case, there's a Northerner by the name of Galusha Grow. Galusha Grow is standing amidst a group of his fellow [00:05:00] colleagues and saying something to them, and while he's there talking, he hears someone say something and he says, I object, from where he's standing. Now, Laurence Keitt from South Carolina had definitely been drinking over dinner. He hears Galusha grow, who's a Republican and an abolitionist, say, I object, from somewhere kind of near him and becomes upset. So first he says out loud, Object from over at your own side of the House, don't object near me. And Galusha Grow, who is a fighting kind of a man, says, I don't have to listen to a whip-holding slave driver. Okay, this is not good for what's going to happen next. Laurence Keitt supposedly mumbled out loud, I'll see about that, and strutted over to where Grow was, grabbed him by the collar to punch him, but Grow punched Keitt first and knocked him flat. End result is a mass brawl of scores of congressmen [00:06:00] physically fighting in front of the speaker's chair in the House. Went on for a little while. One congressman pulled another congressman's toupée off his head by mistake, and ...

WILLIAMJAMES HULL HOFFER: He shouts out, I scalped him, and everyone looks around and everyone laughs at the follicly challenged representative.

JOANNE FREEMAN: That was the end of the fight, right? Everyone laughed. But people who were watching said, and actually a reporter said, We just saw an armed group of Northerners and an armed group of Southerners run at each other on the floor of the House and engage in combat. That looks like a war.

DEBORAH NORVILLE - ANCHOR, INSIDE EDITION: The US Civil War began just three years later. There was one especially jarring incident of violence in Congress in the 20th century. In 1954, a quartet of Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on the floor of the House of Representatives from a visitor's gallery. Five representatives were injured.

EYEWITNESS: We're going inside. We [00:07:00] found Congressman Bentley of Michigan lying on the floor, bleeding extensively, very, very badly in the waist.

DEBORAH NORVILLE - ANCHOR, INSIDE EDITION: The shooters were apprehended, convicted, and sentenced to long terms in prison. In the late 1970s, President Carter commuted their sentences.

WILLIAMJAMES HULL HOFFER: If it makes us feel any better, relatively speaking, we're not nearly as violent as revolutionary France, Russia, Germany, Britain on occasion, et cetera, fought multiple civil wars and so forth and so on.

DEBORAH NORVILLE - ANCHOR, INSIDE EDITION: As an American society at large goes, so goes Congress.

WILLIAMJAMES HULL HOFFER: Our politicians and, of course, the people of Washington, D.C. are subject to violence just as much as anyone else is.

DEBORAH NORVILLE - ANCHOR, INSIDE EDITION: And so it means things like Congress are vulnerable and actually democracy is vulnerable in ways that I don't think Americans often think of.

A history of US political violence Part 1 - Americast - Air Date 11-2-22

JOSH ZEITZ: If you look at the full sweep of United States history, more often than not, violence was [00:08:00] endemic to political culture. This was certainly never true more than in the 1850s when the contest over slavery, and particularly over its expansion into the Western territories, became an all-consuming feature of American politics.

It really stepped up when Congress passed something called the Kansas Nebraska Act, which essentially abrogated a decades-old agreement that slavery would not be permitted in certain territories north of a certain demarcation line. The situation in Kansas and in Washington became increasingly fraught and violent.

Ultimately, of course, this concluded, as it almost seems in retrospect, it naturally would have in a civil war by 1861.

JUSTIN - BBC AMERICAST: And then Josh, it's Justin in London here, can I move us forward a hundred years? So to the 1950s and focus not actually on violence itself, but on violent speech and the kind of conspiracies that make people do violent things. Because it's fair to say, isn't it, and I'm thinking about the John Birch Society, [00:09:00] people who said Eisenhower was a communist, people who said all sorts of peculiar things about life in those days, long before social media. We did have conspiracies, didn't we, in the US?

JOSH ZEITZ: We had them in the 1850s, we had them in the 1950s, certainly. And if you look at the years leading up to the Kennedy assassination in 1963, there was a very clear escalation of ultra-right rhetoric and incitement against John Kennedy, against his running mate Lyndon Johnson. There were famously the Birch Society put out posters, wanted posters that purported to basically be a law enforcement wanted poster for John F. Kennedy wanted for treason. So that sort of rhetoric, obviously heated the political environment and it would be hard to make a case that it didn't contribute to some of the violent political outcomes in the 1960s in the US from the Kennedy assassinations, plural, to Martin Luther King Jr's assassination.

WALTER CRONKITE - CBS NEWS: Good evening. Dr. Martin Luther King, the apostle of non-violence in the civil rights movement, has [00:10:00] been shot to death in Memphis, Tennessee. Police have issued an all points bulletin for a well-dressed young white man seen running from the scene.

JOSH ZEITZ: One point though that is worth making, and this brings us back to the 1850s, we can look at different decades and different periods when violence was a central component of American politics or when violence polluted American politics.

What was different about the 1850s and what makes it such an interesting parallel to today, is that militia violence was both sanctioned and in some cases egged on and led by elected political officials or party officials. So what we see today is increasingly much more like what we saw in the 1850s or the 1860s and seventies, where a political party has decided that it doesn't mind associating itself loosely with militia groups that are clearly seeking to bring violence into the political process. And that's something we haven't seen for some time.

JUSTIN - BBC AMERICAST: There are also, of course, let's be blunt about it, an awful lot of guns around in modern America and an awful lot of guns that can do a huge amount of [00:11:00] damage. When you look at what's going on at the moment, and you look at possibly a post next presidential election system where there is a real fight to be had, at least metaphorically, about whether the system has been fair and who the president is, et cetera, does it worry you, the simple access that people have to the ability to harm each other?

JOSH ZEITZ: I think people like me worry, generally speaking, about the simple access that Americans have to guns. We're a far more armed country than we were in the 1850s, which raises the stakes. I would argue that there are other countries in which violence is endemic to politics, but in the United States, you have a heavily armed citizenry, or at least a portion of the citizenry that's heavily armed. It's extremely worrying.

SARAH SMITH - EDITOR, AMERICAST: Now we're talking about violent threats and violent acts that are coming from the right wing of American politics and being excused or mocked and encouraged by politicians on the right. And then of course there are people saying, Oh, what about the left there? They're not blameless. There is violence that comes from the left as well. They'll [00:12:00] point to the shooting of Steve Scalise in 2017, 5 years ago, and that was a left wing attacker.

NEWS CLIP: Emergency crews rushed injured House majority whip Steve Scalise into a helicopter after a shooter opened fire during an early morning baseball practice for congressional Republicans.

Steve s Scalise was on second base, playing second base fielding balls, and all of a sudden we heard a very loud shot. Everybody thought that sounds like a gun. And the gunman...

SARAH SMITH - EDITOR, AMERICAST: Is there any real equivalence between the amount of violence we've seen driven by left-wing politics and those that are happening?

JOSH ZEITZ: In terms of volume, there's no equivalence whatsoever. There's certainly examples of left-wing violence or threats of violence. There's what happened to Steve Scalise several years ago. There was a left-wing protestor -- call him terrorist -- who threaten the safety, the life of Justice Brett Kavanaugh more recently.

And again, pointing back to the 1850s, I think the key question, is that violence being done in concert, coordination, or at least with the winking support of a major political party? And the fact of the matter is that you didn't have Democratic members of Congress [00:13:00] rushing to defend it or call it fake news or argue that there must have been some other reason that Steve Scalise was shot. And we just don't know what that is, but we could speculate wildly about it. That just didn't happen.

And what you have today is a whole complex of conservative media including new conservative media and a rising generation of Republican members of Congress and other elected officials at the state level -- the Marjorie Taylor Green, Lauren Bobert caucus -- who openly defend and support the actions of people on the right who've perpetrated violence in the political process.

There have been Republican members of Congress who've come out and called the January 6th rioters and insurrectionists heroes. There was one Republican congressman who gave one of them a flag. I just don't see the equivalency, and where I do see a really clear comparison is to the 1850s, 60s and 70s when a political party became increasingly comfortable in its coexistence with violent white militias.

Storm of White Right Wing Violence Isn't Coming... It's Here Featuring Luke Mogelson Part 1 - Thom Hartmann Program - Air Date 9-15-22

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: Welcome to the program. Uh, where, where does Trump fit into, you know, [00:14:00] I remember this right wing movement or variations on it back, you know, in the 1960s when I was, uh, 13 years old, I think, it was the year Barry Goldwater was running and my dad took me to a John Birch Society meeting just to introduce me to the crackpots in our neighborhood. So I know that some of these guys had been around for a long, long time. How much of this movement today, you were reporting, you know, on January 6th and all this, how much of this precedes Trump and how much has Trump contributed?

LUKE MOGELSON: Well, I think it's a combination of the two. As you said, you know, we've had these tendencies and elements for as long as the country has existed and certain political leaders and pundits have more or less explicitly exploited them for political or financial gain. And Trump, I think, has gone much farther than any of his predecessors and his willingness to engage openly with them. Goldwater's an interesting example and I think that there's a [00:15:00] useful parallel with the lead up to January 6th. Because that was, you know, you're talking about the sixties and...

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: Yeah, '64.

LUKE MOGELSON: Yeah. And so that was really a reactionary movement in the sense that it was galvanized in response to the Civil Rights Movement and the Civil Rights Act. And similarly what I saw on the ground with a lot of these groups in the summer of 2020, the same groups that would end up spearheading the Stop the Steal movement and the attack on the capitol was an intense electrification and boost in energy after the murder of George Floyd and the national uprising for police accountability and racial justice. So having that kind of counter movement to react against really spurred these groups, and Trump and his allies, you know, were well aware of that and the potential therein and did everything they [00:16:00] could to, you know, villainize the demands for racial justice and, but also, you know, by conflating those leftist activists with this kind of cartoonishly menacing villain that they called Antifa.

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: Yeah. It seems the, you know, I haven't done the research that you have, and that's why I want to toss this to you as a question, but it seems to me that a lot of this goes back to 2008-2009. In December of 2008, I was in Michigan for Christmas. And one of my three brothers is, now two brothers is a gun enthusiast, shall we say, and, you know, he shoots target practice. And he's pretty good at it. And he owns a bunch of guns. And so when we get together, we go to this shooting range in Mason, Michigan, and we've been doing this for years, you know, with sometimes with our kids, uh, typically the boys in the family. And we do, you know, we do competitive shooting and we showed up. This was Christmas of 2008. Obama had just been elected, but he had not yet taken [00:17:00] office. And we go into this shooting range and it's huge, you know, it's like a warehouse. And typically they have like just, you know, thousands of boxes of hundred-round ammunition each just lining the shelves. And most of their ammunition was gone. The guy would only sell me one box of 40-caliber ammunition for the gun that I had. And I said, Why? And he pulls out his smartphone and shows me this thing from the NRA about how Obama's gonna take away our guns on January 21st. And starts going off on this rant using the N-word about every third sentence. Maybe, you know, two or three times in a sentence. And I noticed that, and I've been shooting at this range for a lot of years, and I'm looking around, the paper targets that they had that you could shoot at. Suddenly I'm seeing paper targets that are clearly Black men. And that was, you know, and then you had Trump saying, you know, Obama's not a real American, you know, and all this kind of stuff.

LUKE MOGELSON: And a muslim.

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: Yeah. How much did the election of a Black man in the White House [00:18:00] feed this movement that Donald Trump kind of surfed into the White House, or you know, how are they all tangled together?

LUKE MOGELSON: Yeah, it was huge. And that was a pivotal moment and that was really, Obama's election precipitated the birth of what we now call the Patriot movement with a capital P. That includes groups like The Proud Boys, sorry, The Proud Boys came later, but the Oathkeepers and the Three Percenters, all that arose and started mobilizing and organizing in a paramilitary fashion subsequent to Obama's election because they viewed him as a national security threat, as an illegitimate president in the White House. And you know those same fears and paranoias and kind of nativist worldview were just reprised [00:19:00] in 2020 after George Floyd, and then with the rejection of legitimacy of Biden's election by the very same groups.

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: Yeah. Well, I mean, if you go back to, and I'm thinking back to '64 now, really the John Birch Society got a major boost with the 1954 Brown v. Board. You know, the forced integration of schools was how they called it back in the day. And again, it was the White reaction to the requirement that White kids go to school with Black kids. It seems, maybe I'm being myopic here, but it seems to me like the core issue, the germ of all of this, you know, certainly it was for the Confederacy, has been race pretty much all along.

LUKE MOGELSON: Yeah, well, certainly there's always been a contingent of White Christian Americans that view any advancement or progress among other demographics in the country as a personal loss and deprivation.

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: But I'm talking about like in 1955, '56, '57, you know, I'm an old guy, I remember those [00:20:00] years, there were these billboards all over the country, we had them Michigan, they said "Impeach Earl Warren". Why? Because of the Brown v. Board decision, I mean, you know, Earl Warren was...

LUKE MOGELSON: ...but you can go back to Reconstruction, you can go back to the White vigilante groups that arose in the wake of the Civil War precisely because of the abolition of slavery, or in the 1970s with the Posse Comitatus movement. Again, yeah, it's this view or this feeling that advance by Black Americans, Muslim Americans, Hispanic Americans, is a threat to White Americans.

Political Violence Is No Anomaly in American History - System Check with Melissa Harris-Perry and Dorian Warren - Air Date 1-8-21

HASAN KWAME JEFFRIES: What we saw yesterday, the insurrection, the rioting at the Capitol, political violence was not an anomaly, it was very American. Look, we gotta begin with the American Revolution. That is political violence —rebelling against the King of England. The Civil War—political violence. But if we look at the more recent history, the last 150 years, you look at the moment after reconstruction. Reconstruction itself is political violence how it [00:21:00] unravels. I think specifically 1873 in Colfax, Louisiana, there's a thing called a Colfax massacre, in which Democrats at the time refused to accept that African Americans had a right to vote.

Now here are the parallels. What's different, what's unique? When you have Trump contesting, saying what ballots are legal and what ballots are illegal, and he's focusing on Atlanta and Philadelphia and Milwaukee, all these Black communities, he's tapping into something that is very familiar. That Black people don't have a right to vote. People of color don't have a right to vote. And so, go back 150 years, 1873, you literally have white men armed who are part of a new organization called a Ku Klux Klan, but then other terrorist organizations like the Whites of Chameleon, who literally are storming a county courthouse to throw out a dually elected government that was Republican cuz they didn't feel that it was legitimate.

And so what we saw yesterday literally [00:22:00] was an extension. Not just like, "Oh, this happened before and history is repeating," no, we never stopped. We've been using political violence to keep African Americans from voting in various ways for a hundred years after reconstruction. We saw it in Colfax we saw it in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. I mean time and time and time again. And so what we saw yesterday, what we saw at the Capitol, is very much a part of the American political tradition, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it. Now, it looks a little, but it's absolutely a part of that tradition and we just saw it manifest. Not surprising at all. I think the only thing that's surprising to me and many other people is that it took this long within this four years, but clearly it's been building.

DORIAN WARREN - CO-HOST, SYSTEM CHECK: Can I ask a question just to follow up on that, cuz it wasn't lost to me that the Confederate flag was inside the capital yesterday, and so I want you to [00:23:00] help us make meaning of that. But what you've just described were successful coups of duly elected, democratically elected governments. One way to read yesterday was a failed coup attempt. We can debate if that's what it was, but I'm just struck, similar to Melissa, in thinking about the history that you just outlined, professor Jeffries, of all of these [inaudible] in state houses at the rise of Southern redemption, those were successful political coups, and so help us make sense of, given the Confederate flag was flown at the capital yesterday, was walking through the halls of the Capitol, how do we make sense of that?

HASAN KWAME JEFFRIES: Well, white supremacists also have a very long history of losing. I mean, the Civil War is just one big ass loss, so they're okay with losing. They lost yesterday, at least in the moment, but it's a mix. This is the thing that I think is one of the lessons that we need to take out of the last four years—the fragility of this democracy.

And so part of what saved the nation after the Civil War was the [00:24:00] sacrifice of Black rights. I mean, that's what redemption was. They were like, "look, we're not gonna have another civil war, we barely got through that, so if y'all wanna get rid of Black votes, y'all wanna suppress, but y'all wanna control Black labor, we're okay with that." So the sacrifice of Black votes in part allows for this white democracy to play out, to avoid another civil war. So the success that we saw, or that we see in that sort of late 19th century period, is really about suppressing Black political activism and suppressing Black voices. And if there were some white allies that got sacrificed in it, well then so be it, but it was really about white supremacy.

And so when we fast forward, I think, to what we've been seeing the last four years. Culminating in this attack on the Capitol, I think part of the important connective tissue is this idea of legitimate and illegitimate. And so what Trump has been doing, certainly after the election, but even building up toward, was this idea of illegitimacy, [00:25:00] and spinning that these government officials, this government is illegitimate. And that's always the danger. I mean, this was the danger when Barack Obama was in office and the whole birther thing, because you're saying that he's illegitimate. And when you get this notion of illegitimacy in the minds of people, they then will take it upon themselves to say, "hey, if they're illegitimate, then they need to be removed, and I can use violence," very American, the American default for political expression, "to remove them from office."

And so that's what we just saw. You've been saying it's illegitimate, you've been saying it's illegitimate, and you've been giving people license to use violence to do what they think is patriotic. The Confederacy, you ask them, what was that about? "Oh, that was patriotism. The ultimate patriotism." Really? That's what you got outta that. And so you can see them waving this flag now. The Confederate flag never made it into the capital during the Civil War, and yet it's walking through the halls there. It's an extension of white supremacy. We didn't hear enough about that either yesterday, because that's who it was.

Today's Republicans were made in the 1990s - The Gray Area with Sean Illing - Air Date 11-7-22

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: Talk radio was very obviously a [00:26:00] thing before the 90s, but it really blossoms with the rise of Rush Limbaugh. How important is he in this evolution of conservatism? My sense is that it's hard, maybe impossible, to overstate his significance, but maybe I'm giving him too much credit.

NICOLE HEMMER: I don't think you are. I mean, Limbaugh is hugely important as an innovator in the field of talk radio. You're right, it had existed before. It had largely been either local or not call in programming. So to have a national program where people could call in where you were live for three hours a day, that was something that was new.

But also that when you had that show for three hours a day that millions of people would tune in was something America just hadn't seen before. It was a new phenomenon in US Politics

RUSH LIMBAUGH: Greetings to you conversationalists, all across the fruited plain, Rush Limbaugh with talons on loan from God. The election day in 1992, an [00:27:00] EIV exit poll in process...

NICOLE HEMMER: By the early 1990s, Rush Limbaugh not only has millions of listeners, but he is treated as a genuine media and political phenomenon. He has bestselling books. He has a new television show in 1992 that Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News, helps produce. But he also is directly talking about politics every single day, and politics from a conservative perspective.

He does it in almost kind of a morning zoo kind of way. He has a lot of parodies and skits and gags, but clearly people are responding to it in a way that makes him seem like more than a media force. So for instance, listeners to Rush start to set up Rush rooms, which are sections of restaurants where they will go and all gather together for the three hours a day of his program in between breakfast and lunch, and just sit and listen to his show.

It was something that was so dynamic and so entertaining and that people just hadn't experienced [00:28:00] before, and he came out in 1992 for Pat Buchanan, and when he did, the Bush administration freaked out, because, again, he wasn't somebody who had demonstrated any kind of sway on electoral politics, but he seemed like too big a force to ignore.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: And Bush invites him to stay at the White House, correct?

NICOLE HEMMER: It's wild. He invites him to stay at the White House. When Rush arrives at the White House, the president being, kind of blue blood Yankee, carries his bags. Rush Limbaugh sees this as a sign of deference, that the president of the United States is carrying his bags. He talks about it on his show the next day, but he also talks about it on his show for the next 30 years, because he recognizes that something has shifted. He has become a player in electoral politics. There wasn't a real precedent for it.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: Wait, I forgot. Or maybe I just never knew that Rush had endorsed Buchanan in '92, [00:29:00] which tells you he can not only see where conservatism was headed, but he also knew that's where the heat was. That's where the business was. I have a hard time believing he did that out of any sincere ideological conviction one way or the other, I think it was just an entrepreneurial choice to follow the winds where they were blowing.

NICOLE HEMMER: There's a great book by Brian Rosenwald called Talk Radio's America, that gets more into the behind the scenes on this, but Limbaugh was pretty honest about his decision to pursue political talk after years spent as a sportscaster and as a kind of shock jock, and he was like, "money, it makes me money. The thing that I think about when I'm programming is money." So he doesn't hide that he has that as his motive.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: I think Rush is an odious person with an odious legacy, but I can admit that he was an enormously gifted broadcaster, but that doesn't seem quite enough to explain [00:30:00] what he became and what was it about him that broke through? What was different about it? Why did he become what he became?

NICOLE HEMMER: It's a great question because part of it is his connection with the formal structures of politics, that he is talking to people like Roger Ailes, that he is talking to people like Bush later on when New Gingrich becomes speaker of the house, the two of them are talking all the time. By the 1994 elections, the New York Times calls him the precinct captain for the Republican Revolution. He wasn't just an entertainer.

And so why does he become that person? Why is it that people are so connected to him? And part of it is a media story. It's the ability of people to call into his show to feel like they're participating and helping to co-create this show. So part of his rise is often credited to the end of the fairness doctrine, a piece of radio regulation that had required balanced reporting and controversial issues, that he is the voice for all of these people, and that he is saying things [00:31:00] that they've never heard on radio before, that they don't hear in media.

And it's not just his conservative politics, but it is this kind of over the top, outrageous offensive material that he's able to wrap in entertaining jokes and laughs and skits and parodies. It's hard to really zero in on, but it's some combination of that entertainment and power and populism that gives him so much power.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: Yes, and you're speaking to some of the blurriness of the lines here that I think is really dangerous. During this time in the early and mid 90s we have a spike in anti-government violence. There's Ruby Ridge and there's Waco, and there's the Oklahoma City bombing. You could argue that this was a precursor for what was coming, but also that it was early evidence that there were real world consequences to going on the air every day, and stoking paranoia and [00:32:00] hatred that it may be a grift for someone like Limbaugh, but it sure as hell isn't for Timothy McVeigh.

I just don't think we can overstate the role of these political entrepreneurs in creating a more dangerous environment that eventually spills into the streets, and I think Limbaugh is especially noteworthy in this respect.

NICOLE HEMMER: I think that's right in that he really heightens. The "us vs them" politics on the right, and leans into conspiracy theories. I mean, he's somebody who's talking about Vince Foster, who was an aide to the Clintons who died by suicide, that the right, for decades, has argued, was actually murdered by the Clintons or on the orders of the Clintons. He leaned into conspiracy theories and anti-government politics in such a way that it wasn't just run of the mill conservatives who felt heard.

You're very right that the militia movement gathered [00:33:00] steam in the early 1990s, and while there were certainly more radical voices they were listening to, there is a tradition of radical white power and radical anti-government programming on radio.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: Yeah, that's what I'm saying. Someone like Rush Limbaugh doesn't have to get on the air and say, Hey, I'm a white supremacist and we should burn down the government, but by, buttressing and justifying some of these underlying grievances, and exaggerating them for political effect cuz it's good for business, he does, in a very real way, give cover to those movements and that's where it gets, I think, really morally murky.

NICOLE HEMMER: Yeah, and turns the temperature up on politics in a way...

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: It's raising the stakes constantly. Yeah.

NICOLE HEMMER: And in a hit dog will yelp kind of moment when the Oklahoma City bombing happens and President Clinton is speaking out after he talks about the voices of ranker and division in the country on the airwaves.

BILL CLINTON: I'm sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the [00:34:00] airwaves in America today. They leave the impression, by their very words, that violence is acceptable.

NICOLE HEMMER: He doesn't explicitly mention Rush Limbaugh, but Rush Limbaugh goes on air and says, President Clinton has just accused me of being behind the Oklahoma City bombing. Again, exaggerating what Clinton said, but also feeling hit by that particular criticism.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: This is 1995. Bill Clinton blamed this program for the Oklahoma City bombing folks. There is no Fox News yet, and he blames me for the Oklahoma City bombing. And the media loved it cuz they hated me then like they hate me now. They just ate it up.

Storm of White Right Wing Violence Isn't Coming... It's Here Featuring Luke Mogelson Part 2 - Thom Hartmann Program - Air Date 9-15-22

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: So, we're talking with Luke Mogelson, the author of The Storm is Here: An American Crucible. Brilliant reporting. Would you say that, you know, you did a deep dive on the Proud Boys, the Oathkeepers, the Three Percenters, and these far right groups. Um, I know assigning percentages is a tough thing, to what extent is this really just all about race and to what extent [00:35:00] is there some other sense, I mean, there's clearly a tribal identity that has formed and kind of organized around these groups and to some extent around the GOP as well. How much of that has to do with race and what other issues impinge on that, or are a part of that, and to what extent?

LUKE MOGELSON: Well, I think it's really for me the animating principle for a lot of these groups is a sense of victimhood and a belief that they're victims of persecution. And because they're not oftentimes, they have to invent, you know, antagonists and adversaries. And oftentimes that's where race comes in. It's easy to identify others, you know, whether they're immigrants, Muslims, or Black Americans as those kind of phantom villains in order to rationalize your own sense [00:36:00] of victimhood and persecution. And then you....

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: So to trigger this... I'm sorry, go ahead.

LUKE MOGELSON: Yeah, so, and I don't think that that necessarily arises naturally among people on the right, but it's shoved down their throats, you know, on a daily basis by their leaders and by their pundits and by the media that they watch and by people, by their president.

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: Yeah. We have about a minute and a half here before we're gonna hit a break that I can't control. We're seeing right now, you know, Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott shipping brown people up north, and I, you know, I was watching CNN here in the studio, and they were just all over this story, just like Fox News is, so I switched to MSNBC. But um, you know, they're still using race it seems to activate that tribal sense among White people.

LUKE MOGELSON: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, there have been moments throughout the history of the Republican Party when the party has seemed to recognize that that's not a strategy that's going to work forever. As, [00:37:00] you know, the demographics evolve in the country, but Trump, you know, rejected that recognition and decided...

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: Yeah. You ask in the book, Can the center hold? Let me ask you that question. Can the center hold?

LUKE MOGELSON: I don't really have an answer to that question. I think, you know, time will tell. In the midterms and going into 2024 we'll probably have a much better sense of whether or not...

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: Do you think this extreme faction of Trumpism, the, you know, that embraces Russia, you know, Rand Paul calling for the end of the Espionage Act, for example. Do you see that as an aberration? Do you think that that's gonna, you know, dilute itself or go away?

LUKE MOGELSON: Well, you know, something I've noticed, reporting overseas, in war zones overseas is that the way extremism works is by eliminating the possibility of moderate participation. So they attack, you know, people on their own side as viciously as they do their adversaries to reduce [00:38:00] people's options to a choice between the radical flank of their own party and an intolerable enemy. And that's kind of where the Republican Party is at today.

THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: Yeah. Brilliant analysis, Luke Mogelson. And the book is The Storm is Here: An American Crucible. Luke, thanks a lot for dropping by today.

Some Democrats call on McCarthy to resign after comment 'hard not to hit' Pelosi with speaker's gavel - ABC News - Air Date 8-2-21

DORIAN WARREN - CO-HOST, SYSTEM CHECK: House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is facing calls from Democrats to apologize or even resign after telling GOP donors it would be "hard not to hit House speaker Nancy Pelosi with a gavel." An aide says McCarthy was just joking.

KEVIN MCCARTHY: I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. (cheers) It'll be hard not to hit her with it, but I'll (unintelligible).

DORIAN WARREN - CO-HOST, SYSTEM CHECK: In response to McCarthy's new comment, a Pelosi spokesperson slammed what he called McCarthy's, quote, "threat of violence."

Paul Pelosi attacked with hammer in his home - ABC News - Air Date 10-29-22

HOST 1: The investigation into the attack on House speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband. Paul Pelosi undergoing surgery for a fractured skull and arm injuries after a break-in early Friday morning [00:39:00] at their San Francisco home.

JOURNALIST: The 42-year-old suspect in custody arrested, police say, in the act of assaulting Paul Pelosi with a hammer. The alleged attacker to face felony charges, including attempted murder.

HOST 2: Investigators say the House speaker was the target of the attack, but she was in Washington, DC at the time. Law enforcement officials telling ABC News the investigation is being treated with great urgency because authorities have already been extremely concerned about a surge in threats against federal officials.

A history of US political violence Part 2 - Americast - Air Date 11-2-22

JOSH ZEITZ: The point that we find ourselves at is interesting, isn't it? And not necessarily in a cheerful way. So just ahead of the midterms, we've got Paul Pelosi, the husband of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, attacked in his home. He seems to have fractured his skull. This is an elderly man. And Pelosi, Paul Pelosi's had to have surgery for his injuries. And in the same week, Elon Musk buying Twitter.

SARAH SMITH - EDITOR, AMERICAST: It was a really awful attack, but it spawns so many interesting developments, not least showing us a [00:40:00] little bit possibly of what Twitter is going to be like now Elon Musk has taken it over, especially in terms of disinformation, because he himself -- and obviously he has a very bully pulpit, he had a lot of followers anyway, but now he is "Chief Twit" as he says, now he is the owner of Twitter -- he himself tweeting out conspiracy theories, completely unfounded, completely untrue conspiracy theories about this attack. What does this tell us about how Twitter under his ownership is going to deal with disinformation and voters/ people being told things that aren't true, spread enough until people start believing them.

JOSH ZEITZ: Let's turn to Mariana for her view on all of this. She's here in the studio with me. As I say, she's very happily back from her van, and I'd like to have a bit of jolly banter about that van, and we'll actually get to the van a bit later on, but this is such a grim subject, isn't it? Where do the events of the last week leave us?

MARIANNA SPRING: I think it's a really important reminder of the real world consequences of online disinformation and conspiracy theories. [00:41:00] The attacker entered the home, there's evidence that he had shared conspiracies, disinformation, for example, about the election being rigged, and also some quite nasty memes about female politicians online. And, it's impossible to look at what happened and not think about the correlation between what's going on on our social media feeds, and what goes on in the real world. And I think it's crucial that this has happened in the week where Musk bought Twitter, because we were all asking that question, What's gonna happen now after that attack on Pelosi?

There was a moment where Musk could have chosen to say, Okay, hold on a second. I believe in freedom of speech, but I really don't think it's okay that someone's gone to someone's house and attacked them. But that is not what happened. What happened was Musk shared a tweet, promoting an unfounded, untrue conspiracy theory about what had happened, a conspiracy theory that's contrary to the evidence, the facts. And there were lots of conspiracy theories, just as Mark explained in his voice note about what had really happened, seeking to undermine the reality and the truth, and that's how this works. There's never one, [00:42:00] there's always multiple different threads that looked to deny and undermine and distort the reality, the evidence, what we know is in front of us, and to change the narrative. And the conspiracy that Musk tweeted and then later deleted did just that, it cast doubt on what had really happened. And I think that tells us a lot about the tone that's gonna be set, that there's a gateway for disinformation and conspiracies or rather a, a condoning of them, that post-January the sixth, we sort of thought had gone away a little bit.

JOSH ZEITZ: Well explain once again who the undercover voters are and the extent to which this stuff is now playing big with them in, as you say, this crucial few days before they vote.

MARIANNA SPRING: Absolutely. This is a moment to remind people about our undercover voters. They are five characters that I've created based on research from the Pew Research Center. They are different people with different views. They sit across the political spectrum. They have opinions, they have different names, and they have social media profiles on the five main sites. And what I do is take a look at what they [00:43:00] recommended, what they're targeted with, how their social media feeds compare in the build up to the midterms.

JOSH ZEITZ: Before you do that, just, we've got breaking news.

MARIANNA SPRING: We do!

JOSH ZEITZ: Because you showed me your phone. So just tell everyone what you've just seen.

MARIANNA SPRING: So we have a new person who's interested in the undercover voters, and that person is Donald Trump Jr. And he has tweeted out our undercover voters and he has said, "And some still question if fake news exists, the BBC just admited it, created fake profiles across social media."

And in response to him, I would like to say, we have creative fake profiles, but those fake profiles are made to investigate what's happening on people's social media feeds is the only way we're able to do it, because there's not transparency from the companies to know what people are recommended and how they're targeted. Our fake voters don't have any friends except for me, and they certainly don't interact with anyone. They don't comment on posts. They're not affecting what other people are seeing on their feeds. They are a tool by which we can interrogate and observe subjective social media worlds that play a role in what's [00:44:00] happening.

JOSH ZEITZ: When you explain it so cogently, I'm just thinking Donald Trump Jr. is gonna say, actually Mariana, I fully understand what you just said, and I'm so sorry I tweeted with a huge picture of you.

But anyway, okay, turn us on now to what the voters that you have created so scandalously in inverted comments, what they're seeing.

As we might expect, we've been seeing quite a lot about Pelosi and this attack on the social media feeds of the undercover voters when it comes to Populous Right Britney, she has been recommended not just recently, but over the past few weeks, memes and images and quite violent rhetoric directed at female politicians in particular, people like Nancy Pelosi, but also people like Hillary Clinton or Kamala Harris.

As we always say, our undercover voters is not a scientific experiment. It's a way of us getting some insight into what people could be seeing. But when we compare it with one of our social media characters from the left, one of our undercover voters, Progressive Left Emma, she does have some violent rhetoric, but it tends to be much more general. It tends to focus [00:45:00] on donald Trump supporters or racists or those kinds of catchall terms, as opposed to specific individuals. And so I think it's important to think about how that hate is characterized in a different way.

It's also interesting that someone like Populous Right Britney has been exposed to conspiracy theories, including those about Pelosi, including the one that Musk tweeted and that came up on Britney's feed pretty prominently before it was taken down.

SARAH SMITH - EDITOR, AMERICAST: Marianne, I'm really interested to ask you about what they're seeing that's not mis- and disinformation because of course some things on the internet are true. And one of them is that respectable Republican politicians who haven't been forwarding these conspiracy theories, have had some slightly odd things to say about this attack. Some of them have been mocking, making fun, trying to make political points, including Kari Lake, who's running for the governor in Arizona.

KARI LAKE - REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR AZ GOVERNOR: Nancy Pelosi, well, she's got protection when she's in DC. Apparently her house doesn't have a lot of protection (laughter).

SARAH SMITH - EDITOR, AMERICAST: So that sort of tone, it's minimizing violence. [00:46:00] It is laughing at the victim of an attack that was inspired by these crazy conspiracy theories. It doesn't speak very well to the idea that we're ever going to return to respectable or, frankly, nonviolent politics. So away from the disinformation, what are your voters seeing in terms of commentary about these attacks?

MARIANNA SPRING: They absolutely have seen a lot of those comments being made by prominent figures that, as you say, seek to minimize or undermine what really happened. I think what's crucial is that that tone is being mimicked. And it's impossible often to prove what comes first. It's a bit of a chicken and egg situation. I can't ever definitively prove, Oh, that Instagram account is absolutely copying the tone and the attitude of that politician. But it's definitely fair to say that those accounts that have been promoting disinformation so far appear to be taking their cues from the public figures who are now condoning that more mocking rhetoric and/or even just entertaining the disinformation and not saying this is wrong, [00:47:00] this is bad, and that's why. And that sends out a very concerning signal ahead of the midterms, and it's got a lot of these accounts much more active than they've been up until now.

Political Violence - In the Thick - Air Date 11-4-22

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: We wanna talk about the violent attack on House speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband. Last Friday, Paul Pelosi was attacked by an intruder with a hammer and zip ties.

The suspect, David DePape, had posted a variety of conspiracy theories online, posts about voter fraud, interestingly. In the aftermath of the attack, Republicans were amplifying lies and misinformation about the attack. And this is where it gets really ugly. Some Republican candidates for office, like Kari Lake -- she's running for governor in Arizona -- and in Virginia, the Republican governor Glenn Youngkin. They actually made fun of the attack at campaign events, which is disgusting. Again, in the world's greatest democracy, okay. Barbara Rodriguez, who's a reporter for 19th News, put this into context about [00:48:00] how experts talk about this attack as, quote, "pointing to a form of violent misogyny that is part and parcel of larger threats to our American democracy."

Our producer, Nour Saudi, spoke with Barbara. So let's go to the tape.

BARBARA RODRIGUEZ: I spoke with experts who talked about the ways in which we have seen political violence emerging over several election cycles and how that can have an impact on civic engagement from women who have been gradually increasing their political power in terms of elected office.

And so it raises questions because there are reports that indicate that this was a targeted attack. What message does this send to people, women in particular, who may be interested in political office in the future? That has ripple effects for an inclusive democracy where different [00:49:00] folks are running for office and have more of a say on policy decisions.

NOUR SAUDI - PRODUCER, IN THE THICK: Yeah, it's kind of scary.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: Maria, I got takes, but I want to get yours first.

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: You know, I think that, I mean, it is Nancy Pelosi's husband, after all. It's not a man member of Congress. It's her husband. The importance being her. So this is misogyny and I think in general, this is one of the things that is keeping me a little bit blue these days. I mean blue in the --

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: You mean like sad blue?

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: Yeah, not like democratic. Like is that there does feel like there is this general misogyny in news media. I just kind of get this tinge of it throughout, and you can't really put your finger on it.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: Say more? I'm curious.

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: Well, I don't know. The thing is it's not very overt, but I'm kind of feeling it. It's like this story just kind of happened and it got, not buried in some ways, but you know, it's normalizing this. I mean, imagine if this had happened a decade ago.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: Yeah. [00:50:00] There's no complete condemnation. That's probably what you're getting at.

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: I think that's what it is, is that there's --

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: You know, it's like this joke like Kari Lake, which is really a fucking awful joke, I'm sorry. It's not even a joke. It's just an insult. Nancy Pelosi, well, she's got protection when she's in DC, apparently her house doesn't have a lot of protection, and people laughed.

What's interesting too is like people laughed. There was no one in the room who was like, That's disgusting.

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: Yeah, it's just disgusting.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: I mean, whatever you wanna say, right? You know, Nancy Pelosi is public figure. Paul Pelosi is the spouse of Nancy Pelosi. But there is a line that you never cross. And I think about, Paul Pelosi is a dad, a grandfather.

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: He's 82 years old. 82!

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: You know what I mean? That's the part where I'm kind of like, more class. I mean, I'm still stuck at what Eugene Robinson said on Morning Joe this week: when you act that way, you're just being mean. Like you're a mean person. Like you're an asshole.

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: And so the politics of [00:51:00] meanness, right? And that's what's become normalized.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: Right. And Republicans are all in, like I said, it's like the Roman Empire with them. It's all about the power. It's a scorch earth type idea. But Maria, can I just say something about the pap?

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: I know what you're gonna say.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: These guys from Canada coming in with conspiracy theories, he's overstayed his temporary visit to the US. Do you know when he came to the US? 2008, from Canada.

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: And I like the way that people are like, he might be deported. It's like --

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: I mean, let's just be real. If it was Jose Rodriguez from from El Salvador, it would just be a different story, but these Canadians, I don't know. It doesn't fit the narrative.

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: So when people say they use that derogatory term, "illegal" or "undocumented immigrant," everyone immediately thinks of people who are brown and speak Spanish or black and from Africa, or from Haiti. But you don't necessarily think about all of the Europeans or the [00:52:00] Canadians, in this case, who are here without papers.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: I know. Well, listen, it was a violent attack. We wanted to talk about it. I'm not necessarily sure how will impact the midterms because Republicans are being so ridiculously disgusting.

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: It's the normalization of violence. I mean it's just, it's horrible. It cannot be normalized. But political violence in our country is nothing new.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: Listen, so moving on to our second topic, which is somewhat related, speaking of political violence, there is voter intimidation that we've been seeing in multiple states across, what'd you say, the world's greatest democracy? You know, question mark, question mark. A federal judge in Arizona imposed new restrictions on Tuesday, saying that these armed members of a right wing group who have been monitoring -- you know, have you seen these pictures, Maria? They've been monitoring these ballot boxes.

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: I actually haven't seen the pictures.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: No, they're literally by the ballot boxes armed. In [00:53:00] Maricopa County. So think about that.

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: Because you can do open carry.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: Yeah. And Maricopa County is, you know, Latino. But now the judge said on Tuesday that they have to stay at least 250 feet away.

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: But you still have to pass them.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: That's what I said. And I'm like, Whoa, okay. Similar incidents were reported in Pennsylvania, no surprise. We're also seeing a rise in misinformation. And then in Texas, precinct chair for the Travis County Republican Party was going door to door accusing people of illegally voting by mail.

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: Okay. So instead of going door to door to register people to vote, you're going door to door to terrorize people against voting.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: You know, I wish he knocked on my mom's door. That would be over in a second.

Anyway, we've already seen a large number of election workers resign over the past couple of years because of the increase in threats to their lives. So think about that, Maria.

MARIA HINOJOSA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: That was a big takeaway from January 6th.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA - CO-HOST, IN THE THICK: You're a democracy geek and people who are working elections are like, I'm [00:54:00] quitting because I fear for my life.

Today's Republicans were made in the 1990s Part 2 - The Gray Area with Sean Illing - Air Date 11-7-22

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: And this gets us to the 90s and this political vacuum that opens up in conservative politics, and one of the early figures to recognize it and fill it is Pat Buchanan and his 1992 presidential campaign. Was that, from our perch today in the year of our Lord 2022, was that campaign the real canary in the coal mine in terms of where we were going?

NICOLE HEMMER: It wasn't necessarily seen as such at the time, because Pat Buchanan is going to run for president in 1992, in 1996, in 2000, so he becomes a perennial candidate. So he's one of those "losers" of American political history. He's somebody who most Americans knew, not because he had served in the Nixon administration or the Reagan administration, but because he was a television pundit. He was somebody that millions of people watched on PBS, on the McLaughlin Group...

NEWS CLIP: From Washington, the McLaughlin Group, the [00:55:00] American Original

NICOLE HEMMER: ...which was this kind of sparring show on public television. Or on Crossfire, on CNN, which you Buchanan had hosted since it had debuted in 1982...

NEWS CLIP: Tonight from Washington, Crossfire. Pat Buchanan. Join us tomorrow night for another edition of Crossfire.

NICOLE HEMMER: ...and he uses that platform to run for president in 1992, but he brings with him a whole host of issues that were novel for a post Cold War conservatism, which the Republican party would come to adopt over time. So even though he doesn't win, he's able to change the politics of the party.

And one quick example that I think is pretty telling, Buchanan in May of 1992, he goes down to the US Mexico border and he holds a press conference where he inveighs against illegal immigration and the way that it is not just harming the US economy, but also represents a danger to [00:56:00] American culture. And he calls during that campaign for a Buchanan Fence, which was a series of trenches and walls at the US Mexico border.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: Boy, this all sounds familiar, doesn't it?

NICOLE HEMMER: Well, and it has a real effect because it had been clear for months that he wasn't going to win this nomination, but when it comes to the convention that year and the Republican platform for the very first time in history, it calls for structures on the US Mexico border. It's the first call for a border wall in the Republican platforms.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: I mean, it's not just the anti-immigration stuff, he's also anti interventionist, he's anti-free trade, there's the added contempt for feminism and gay rights. He really shows that there's real potential here. I don't remember the exact quote, but he says something to the effect of like, the greatest political vacuum in the country is to the right of Reagan. Like he sees it, and even though he doesn't win, it really shows what's possible.

NICOLE HEMMER: And he attracted in part because of his policies, but in part because [00:57:00] of his purism, in part because he is throwing all of those objectives during his campaign, he attracts the most loyal and the most vocal and the most visible supporters. And when he goes to the convention and gives his primetime speech in 1992, that's the speech that everyone remembers.

PAT BUCHANAN: There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America, and in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton and Clinton are on the other side, and George Bush is on our side.

NICOLE HEMMER: It is a rousing speech. It's an emotional speech. He calls for a culture war in America, or at least acknowledges then there is a cultural war in America, and that these people, the feminist, the homosexuals, the liberals, they're all coming for [00:58:00] you. And that there needs to be a revolution to overthrow those forces. But actually maybe there needs to be a revolution in the Republican party as well.

And that kind of revolutionary spirit, which he quite often and quite explicitly evokes, is an important part of the right wing politics of the 1990s. It is radical and revolutionary in a way that reaganism maybe wasn't.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: And this is part of the critique of the Republican establishment, that they're too weak, that their obsession with compromise and getting things done, which is liberal democracy, is part of the problem because they're compromising with enemies or with people who hate the country, who hate you. That is the stuff that leads to a very anti-democratic, a liberal place.

NICOLE HEMMER: And that's the big break from Ronald Reagan. In 1990, which is this moment of real democratic triumphalism in the US and across the western world because of the collapse of the Soviet Union, in that moment, [00:59:00] Buchanan is writing in his column about how the American press is obsessed with this idea of democracy, and he puts democracy in scare quotes. And he goes on to write that now that we are freed of the constraints of the Cold War, maybe it's time to rethink some of these assumptions. Democracy seems to be a pretty inefficient form of government. What about autocracy? We could get a lot more done. And that is something you were not hearing in mainstream spaces on the right during the Cold War.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: The fact that he was someone who did not have any actual governing experience, at all, that he had built his political brand entirely through the media and showed how successful that could be and how much that worked in a more visual, more imagistic media economy, where people are watching TV and sound bites and all that stuff. That, I think that's an understated part of the power of his example and what he foreshadowed.

NICOLE HEMMER: And I think that it's an interesting divergence from Reagan there as well, because [01:00:00] Reagan too was a media figure. He was somebody who was in the movies, he was an actor. But, he was an actor and he had laundered his reputation through actual governing, which Buchanan had not.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: I'm thinking out loud here. I'm thinking about how to understand the evolution of the left and how that may have fueled or altered this trajectory of conservatism, as opposed to just focusing on the internal dynamics. In some ways it's impossible to make causal claims about big sweeping ideological shifts, but I do think it's notable that for many years the right was radicalizing more and more despite the left moderating.

And now it feels like we're in a kind of spiral. The reality is that the polarization is intensifying and the stakes keep escalating, and somehow it feels like we're at a point where the most consequential divide between the parties is that one supports small D democracy and the other doesn't. And I don't really know where to go.

NICOLE HEMMER: Oh, it's not good. And yet [01:01:00] at the same time, I'd like to take that idea of democracy and play with that a little bit, because you've probably seen these polls that showed that almost an equivalent number of Republicans and Democrats are afraid for the future of democracy, and their fears are driven by very different things.

I think that in addition to the liberal anti-democratic movement on the right, you also have a definition of democracy on the right that is in conflict with the left definition. The left embraces this idea of an inclusive, multiracial democracy in a way that the right doesn't. And so those ideas are in conflict. So even the folks who think that they're defending democracy on the right are defending a very different vision of democracy than folks on the left are.

But I do take seriously that significant portions of the right, even when they think they're defending democracy, no longer support small democratic institutions, including the right for voter's votes to be counted, the right for [01:02:00] elections, not to be overthrown, the right for the Capitol, not to be sacked the right for Nancy Pelosi's house not to be attacked. There is just not an agreement on those things anymore, and that is incredibly dangerous.

Part of it does require thinking through why is it that support for democracy in the US is so weak? What are the institutional failures that have weakened that support, in addition to the political entrepreneurs and actors who have helped to degrade support for democracy? Those are worthwhile questions to think about. To think about where people's frustrations have come from, how they have been exploited, but that difference between pro-democracy and anti-democracy, they make politics existential, and that's really worrisome.

At the same time, as a historian, like we've only been a functional, multiracial democracy in the US for like 50 or 60 years. Even though we claim to be the world's oldest [01:03:00] democracy, the kind of democracy that we have is fairly new and fragile, and I don't think that Democrats, Americans more broadly, have done enough to make the case for why this new form of democracy deserves defending and deserves protection.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: I know you do history, not prophecy, but as the center collapses, all the political energy moves further outward to the extremes. And I guess that raises the question, what's the next iteration here? Where are we going? I mean, I wanted to ask you where you think the conservative movement in particular, and by extension, the Republican party, is headed, but I have to say, I think we've probably already said it—all the energy is with the anti-democratic, illiberal right.

The problem with the political movement rooted in grievance and negation is that as we've been saying, you have to keep upping the stakes to drive engagement, you have to keep dialing up the threat from the enemy. And so it just keeps spiraling until almost [01:04:00] half of one of our parties rejects the results of an election.

NICOLE HEMMER: So the question is, can you change the political incentives that exist, the social incentives that exist, the cultural incentives that exist, the economic incentives that exist that are pushing the right in that direction? Right now, it doesn't seem like anything has changed that would move the party in a dramatically different direction. But, either that needs to happen, which is to say that the right needs to lose a whole bunch of money and lose a whole bunch of elections in order to change their approach to politics, or we face a kind of institutional collapse. And it's hard to see a third way through that.

Or you reach a kind of illiberal stasis where the country swings between small periods of ineffective governing and periods of institutional revolution, and none of those are good things. So I can't predict the future, but I can say that we continue to be on a very bad road, and we've seen [01:05:00] so many benchmarks along the way, of which the election of Donald Trump was only one.

Things like Charlottesville, things like January 6th, things like the current campaigns of folks who are running on an election denial platform, who are running to overturn the next election in a legal rather than a violent way, and every time something like this happens, there are people who are like, "this has to be the turning point," and none of those things has been a turning point. So we can't have a optimistic faith that things are going to work out on their own.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: No, despite all those things you just cataloged, including, and most notably perhaps January 6th, the Republican party seems poised, I hesitate to say likely, but there's certainly a more than reasonable chance of winning the next two major elections in the country.

I'm ideologically on the left, although I have some conservative instincts, and the Democratic party annoys the hell out of me quite often, [01:06:00] but they are on the side of small D democracy at this point. And a good chunk of the Republican party is not, and that does not seem to be a political impediment for them.

NICOLE HEMMER: It does not at all.

SEAN ILLING - HOST, THE GRAY AREA: And that's a really dispiriting fact.

NICOLE HEMMER: It's really worrisome. And it does make you realize that the Democratic Party has a responsibility to find a way to not just embrace popular policies, which many of the main policies of the Democratic Party are popular, but figure out ways to enact them, even in this counter majoritarian set of institutions. Because if the Democratic party can't deliver for people, and if people can't recognize that the Democratic Party is delivering for them, and that's a media question in some ways, then you are going to see elections where Republicans win, where they strengthen counter majoritarian institutions, which makes it harder for Democrats to win.

Summary 11-15-22

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today starting with Inside Edition, laying out several stories of violence that have broken out on the floor of [01:07:00] Congress. Americast looked at the history of political violence in the U.S. and the parallels between our present and the time before the Civil War. The Tom Hartmann Program, in two parts, explored the violence of the Trump era in the context of the racial resentment and violence that came. System Check discussed the long history of white supremacy fighting and losing before turning to de-legitimizing our political system as a last resort. The Gray Area looked at the role of Rush Limbaugh and talk radio in stoking anger and violence in the 90s. I played two ABC clips, the first from a year ago of Kevin McCarthy joking that he'd like to hit Nancy Pelosi with the speaker's gavel, and the second being a report of the break-in and hammer attack on Paul Pelosi. Americast discussed the attack on Pelosi in the context of Elon Musk buying Twitter and helping to spread conspiracy theories himself. And In the Thick also discussed the Pelosi attack and tied in misogyny, [01:08:00] the normalization of political violence, and the intimidation of voters.

That's what everybody heard, but members also heard a bonus clip from The Gray Area, looking back to the role of Pat Buchanan in helping to normalize anti-democratic tendencies on the Right.

To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information. And now we'll hear from you.

Not just winning, defeating - V from Central New York

VOICEMAILER: V FROM CENTRAL NEW YORK: Hello, Jay, This is V from central New York. I am calling you the morning after the elections. The Democrats obviously performed much better than many people thought, including, I must admit, myself. Granted nothing has been settled. Even the Senate is still up in the air, [01:09:00] but that does not matter, 'cause no matter how everything falls into place this year, I need your audience, who I know are very engaged, or very forward thinking, who are constantly trying to strategize the next moves, which will take this darkness which has befallen this country, and crack it with light. I need to give them a point of optimism, because you're fighting these people and you're winning. But not only are you winning, you are defeating them, and there's a difference in that. There's a difference in winning and defeating. Winning means that the enemy can still come back. Defeating means they have no pathway back. And many of your listeners [01:10:00] know the difference, and they have their mind set not on winning, but on once and for all defeating these negative forces.

Now, I didn't just call for that. There are going to be individuals who listen to your show, who possibly know people who listen to your show, who are going to be running for offices in the next six years. Remember what I said in 2018: we need to be really concentrated on the next six to 10 years, a strategy which will bring about a real political change in this country.

To those folks who are going to be running, I wanted to offer them some resources. As you know, Jay!, I read a lot, so I wanted to drop in this message some books for people who are really seriously considering running for office and possibly even participating in campaigns over the coming six years.

The first book that[01:11:00] I want to encourage people to get, to buy is called Legislative Strategy by Edward Schneier. The second book is called Democracy, Inc. By Sheldon Wolin. The third book is The Legislative Drafter's Desk Reference by Lawrence E. Filson. The fourth book: In the Shadows of the American Century, by Alfred McCoy. And then finally -- oh, I apologize, one last one, and then I have kind of a dual: The Capitol Hill Playbook [by] Nicholas Balthazar. The Capitol Hill Playbook should be studied because I believe this is what [01:12:00] many right wingers have been using, kind of as a backdrop to how they've been playing politics. And then finally, two books that are rather older, the first one has just been reprinted, or it was reprinted two years ago, called The Mandate for Leadership. If you want to understand how this country got to the point that it's at, you want to check out The Mandate for Leadership. This is a Heritage Foundation tome. There's five volumes to it. If you can't really purchase the first volume, which again, it was republished -- actually it's online for free now -- back in 2020. If you can't find it though, just purchase the fourth one, which came out in the 1990s. And then finally, The Cato Handbook for Congress. There's a newer one and then there's several editions back. I think they're up to the seventh or eighth edition now.

Purchase those books. Prepare [01:13:00] yourself for running for office. And ladies and gentlemen, keep up the great work.

Jay!, as always, man, you're doing fantastic work, you and the team. Thank you so very much. Peace.

Final comments on the bipartisan uses of Rules for Radicals

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Thanks to all those who called into the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at 202-999-3991 or write me a message to [email protected].

Thanks to VE for that encouragement and all of his book recommendations, which are always fantastic, he actually inspired me to finally get a book that's been on my list for over a decade because V was recommending books written by and for right-wing organizing, which I think is great. You know, good ideas for acquiring legitimate political power are nonpartisan, really, and we should look for good strategies wherever we can find them. Not to mention reading right-wing books helps you know what the other side is planning.[01:14:00]

But that got me thinking about the book Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky, which is a fascinating example of an organizing manual. My first encounter with it was having it recommended to me by a grassroots climate organizer. My second encounter with it was there was a whole period of time where I was constantly hearing the right wing name this book and the author who is Jewish and so there's a little antisemitism thrown in there as well, naming the book and the author as a source of, you know, vaguely evil left wing socialism in the context of attacking Obama for having been a neighborhood organizer. But after that, criticism of the book sort of died away, and then I began to hear rumblings that some extremists on the right had actually picked up the book for themselves and started using it to develop their own strategies.

Fascinating. So honestly, it's a bit shameful that I haven't gotten around to it till now. [01:15:00] And just so you know, it was written back in the 70s, so obviously some of it's gonna be out of date, but I still think it's gonna be worth a read. And so I just bought it today. And you know, if that's of interest to you, and I don't mean for this to turn into a surprise advertisement, but this is just simply the truth, that the audiobook, cuz you know, I prefer audio books, of Rules for Radicals is not cheap. But I was able to get it at a, you know, extremely deep discount using my Libro membership. And Libro an affiliate partner of ours because I sincerely believe that they're the best place to buy audiobooks. So if you wanna check 'em out, go to bestoftheleft.com/libro so they know we sent you.

And if you read Rules for Radicals. Please chime in and let me know what you thought about it. As always, keep the comments coming in at 202-999-3991 or by emailing me to [email protected].

That is going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. [01:16:00] Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show, and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic, Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken and Brian, for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support through our Patreon page or inside the Apple Podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content and no ads in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. And if you wanna continue the discussion, join our Best of the Left Discord community to talk about the show or the news or the elections or whatever you like. Links to join are in the show notes.

So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, D.C., my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the [01:17:00] Left podcast coming to you twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.


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  • Jay Tomlinson
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