Thursday, June 11, 2009

Brief Theses on Holocaust Memorial Murderer

Yesterday, an elderly white supremacist and neo-Nazi named James von Brunn walked into the Holocaust Museum and shot a security guard before being wounded himself and subdued.

Some quick thoughts:

1. James von Brunn is a typical American time bomb. One characteristic of American life is the bad chemistry of explosive rage, the easy availability of guns, and social failure. The result is that there's thousands of potential mass murderers walking around burning with anger, armed to the teeth, and waiting for one last trigger before they go off. One of the things that James von Brunn has in common with Michael McLendon, Jiverly Wong, and Scott Roeder is that he is part of an extremely destructive pattern in American life.

2. Too extreme for the "extremist right." People on the left often think of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck as "the exteme right" and these guys as having an influence on shooters like James von Brunn and Scott Roeder. But they're wrong. Von Brunn is a long-time, neo-Nazi, white supremacist, anti-semite, and Obama conspiracy theorist who has already served time for an attack on the Federal Reserve Board. Members of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups are often cut off from their families, have few friends outside their groups, and live within the fantasy of their tight-knit circles. Von Brunn is so extreme that he might see Fox News as part of the "liberal media."

3. Who's Influencing Who? The problem with the right-wing media is that it appears that Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and some other members of the conservative media establishment are feeling their way toward fringe views. It's more likely that people like James von Brunn are exercising an influence on Beck and Limbaugh than the other way around.

4. Why Now? Why the explosion of mass murder within the first six months of the Obama administration? In a society as large as the U. S., it's likely that there's many causes coming together to cause this kind of wave of mass murder.

Here's three ideas.

First, the recession is significant. Michael McClendon, Rich Poplawski, and Jiverly Wong had all lost factory jobs before they went on their killing sprees.

Second, the Obama administration seems like the "end of days" to many on the far fringes of right-wing extremism. Obama is an African-American with an African father who was especially strong among college-educated, urban, whites and minority groups like blacks, hispanics, gays, and Jews. Given that the far fringes of the right are highly committed to their fantasies about all of these populations, the Obama administration represents an apolcalypse in which all of their hate targets have come to power. As Shepherd Smith said on Fox yesterday, some of them are responding by reaching for their guns.

Third, there's the fantasy of power. One of the primary fantasies on the fringe right is that they are strong and that everybody else is weak. One way to hang on to that fantasy in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is to plan a mass murder.

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