5 Right-Wing Media Narratives Attacking the ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement

Black Lives Matter protests have electrified the country—mobilizing a wide and multiracial grassroots movement challenging the killing of often unarmed Black Americans by police and the pervasive, systemic racism that continues to fundamentally shape American society. This marks the first time since the 1992 Los Angeles riots—ignited by the acquittal of four LAPD officers after they were videotaped beating Black motorist Rodney King—that the United States has seen a national movement challenging the most lethal outcropping of the many-headed hydra of structural racism: local police departments.

black lives matter

The Right has responded with its usual bag of tricks, as it tries to ensure that the U.S. racial hierarchy remains intact.

Since August of this year, Ferguson, Missouri’s African-American community has been in a state of upheaval over the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by White officer Darren Wilson—just the latest of numerous killings of unarmed African Americans by the police. But despite the broad media coverage, most protest efforts remained largely localized in Ferguson for several months afterwards.

Yet on November 24, when the grand jury announced its decision not to indict Officer Wilson, a national mass movement broke out almost overnight. The subsequent refusal, announced on December 3, of a New York City grand jury to indict an officer for the murder of another unarmed Black man, Eric Garner—who was choked to death by police while onlookers filmed the whole scene—together resulted in massive marches and demonstrations around the country, from Oakland to Boston, with tens of thousands of people marching in New York City alone on December 13.

But how is the Right responding to this outpouring of opposition to these clear-cut illustrations of structural oppression? The Right’s approaches include:

  1. Trying to make the conversation about anything but race;
  2. blaming the individuals themselves or African Americans as a group;
  3. exploiting racial fears;
  4. denying that systemic racism exists; and
  5. attempting to directly intimidate protesters.

Over the past 30 years, PRA has documented how these techniques are often part of the right-wing toolbox. By using these approaches, the Right props up the current system of profound racial disparities by blaming minority groups for their own oppression, and further fueling resentment against them.

The most popular right-wing response to the Black Lives Matter movement is to try to sidetrack the conversation into discussions of—literally—anything other than race. The most common tactic (and found not just on the Right), is to change the movement’s slogan “Black Lives Matter” into “All Lives Matter.” The change alters the focus from the police killings of African Americans, a pillar of structural racism, into a more general commentary on police brutality. While some argue this will broaden the appeal of the movement, the effect is to once again steer dialogue to “anything but race.”

Other examples include that of the National Review’s Rich Lowry, who took the opportunity in August to criticize the Ferguson police—not for committing horrific acts of state-sanctioned violence, but rather for not doing enough to stop the looting.

On Twitter, Fox News host Todd Starnes attacked President Obama for sending condolences to Michael Brown’s family, and not Darren Wilson’s.

Laurie Higgins, writing for the Illinois Family Institute, lays blame for the unrest on high school teachers, and their inclusion of liberal and left-wing authors such as Howard Zinn and Eric Foner in their curricula.

Conservative doctor and author, infamous racial revisionist, and possible Republican 2016 presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson blamed the killings of African-American men by police on a lack of subservience, which, according to Carson, is a by-product of feminism. Carson cites a lack of father figures, who supposedly teach men to relate to authority properly, and which, in turn, “had to do with the women’s lib movement.”

Conservative talk show host Mark Levin also blamed Brown for his own death. Levin says the national Black Lives Matter movement is the fault of the “reckless liberal media,” “the lawless administration (especially Eric Holder),” “phony civil rights demagogues, race-baiting politicians, and radical hate groups.” Sounding like a cross between Bull Connor and George Wallace, Levin goes on to say that “What we are witnessing now is the left’s war on the civil society. It’s time to speak out in defense of law enforcement and others trying to protect the community and uphold the rule of law.”

In December, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul blamed high cigarette taxes for the death of Eric Garner (who was stopped by police for selling loose cigarettes). This blatant deflection from the issues at hand stands at odds with his past statements about mass incarceration.

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani also trotted out decades-old racist tropes, including the “the family situation in black neighborhoods,” as the core of the problem. He also cited the lack of respect for police officers, “disproportionate rates of crime in the black community,” and even teachers’ unions—for rejecting the neoliberal charter school system.

Fox News senior correspondent Geraldo Rivera agreed that “too many young black men are being killed unnecessarily in encounters with police”—but then engaged in a bait-and-switch by claiming the real problem was “family dysfunction” among people of color. He attacked LeBron James for wearing a shirt with the words “I Can’t Breathe” and said that, instead, the slogan should be “We’re The Problem.”

For years, right-wing conspiracist Alex Jones has claimed that Obama has purposefully sought social disruptions as a pretext to seize privately held weapons and instigate a dictatorship. Jones is now peddling a particularly noxious variant of his conspiracy theory, saying the protests will lead to “the attempted takedown of the Republic” and an “attempt to start a civil war, playing the people off against the police and people off against each other racially.” Crooks and Liars’ David Neiwert says Jones and company “have whipped themselves into a frenzy over the prospect of a nationwide ‘race war,’ though it is difficult to tell whether they fear such a prospect or are actively hoping for it.”

The Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky wrote a classic right-wing response. He simply denied that there is any racism in the justice system; attacked Obama for refusing to acknowledge this; claimed “the anger on the street in Ferguson was being fueled by false stories that had no real basis in fact”; blamed Brown for his own death; and, finally, blamed Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for damaging the justice system and deepening racial divisions.

In an interview with the National Urban League’s president Marc Morial, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly covered similar territory. Kelly first claimed that the grand jury results were the product of media attention, then repeatedly asserted that there was no evidence of racism in any of the recent police shootings of African Americans, and ended by saying the focus of attention should be on so-called “Black-on-Black” crime.

There have also been multiple attempts to intimidate those speaking out against the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Ferguson’s Flood Christian Church, where Michael Brown Sr. attended, was burned down in November. The pastor—who was active in calling for justice in Brown’s killing—said he received 71 death threats before the arson.

The Oath Keepers also came to Ferguson. The group recruits current and former members of the military and law enforcement who swear to defend the Constitution by disobeying federal orders which they believe violate it, and are awash in right-wing conspiracy theories. Their leaders claimed to be there to protect businesses from looting. What their presence showed, however, was that a majority-White paramilitary group was able to brandish high-powered guns at protesters. Ferguson police initially forced them out as an unlicensed security company, but they returned the next day after arguing they were not operating in a commercial capacity. Having previously appeared at Occupy LA and the Bundy Ranch standoff, coming to Ferguson shows not only the Oath Keepers continuing penchant for publicity stunts, but marks another stage in their transformation into what is looking like a full-blown paramilitary.

Similar to Jones’s conspiracy theory, Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes said the government intentionally refused to suppress looting in Ferguson as part of a larger attempt “to justify a ratcheting up of police state power, and it will not end until all of our children have the boot of a totalitarian police state on the back of their necks.”

The NAACP held a seven-day march, starting in late November, from Ferguson to Jefferson City, Missouri; but in the town of Rosebud, the marchers were met by a crowd of 200. “A display of fried chicken, a melon, and a beer bottle had been placed in the street. A Confederate flag flew. Counter-protesters shouted racial epithets.” Even more ominous, the back window of one of the NAACP’s buses was shot out.

Last, in three different cities, cars plowed into the demonstrations. In Minneapolis, a teenager was taken to the hospital; in St. Louis, a driver also pulled a gun; and in Portland, Oregon, the police did not charge the driver—but did issue a ticket to the protestor whose foot was run over!

As various sectors of the U.S. Right continue their desperate attempts to convince White America that there is no racial divide in the country—and furthermore that the massive protests across the country are little more than the work of race-baiters deceiving local Black communities— it is critical that all social justice-minded individuals counter these damaging messages.

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Defending Justice: How Does Law & Order Play Out in Racial Terms?

In the United States, existing institutional, systemic, and individual racism magnify and reinforce this us/them dichotomy. Because the criminal justice system of every country serves as a means of control over some members of that society (and others who get caught up in it), it always reflects the need of the State for control, the political desire of leaders to stay in power, and the norms and mores of behavior favored by those leaders and usually supported by at least a portion of the society’s members. In a country with the racial history of the United States, we cannot be surprised that Whites have always controlled the criminal justice system and used it to control people of color, especially African Americans and increasingly all dark-skinned people, including those from the Middle East and South Asia.

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson.

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson.

In the ideological and political campaign to promote “law and order,” conservative strategists have been careful to avoid any mention of its agenda’s racial implications. After arguing for criminalizing certain behaviors, especially drug consumption and distribution, they never mentioned how this would disproportionately affect communities of color (where the State’s arrests for such behavior are higher than in White and suburban communities). Some of the academics who promote law-and-order arguments have even maintained an identity as liberals, and claim to be writing in the interests of “the community.” Through this sleight of hand, rightist policymakers have constructed law-and-order policies as a series of supposedly race-neutral policies, although the outcome of these policies has been to criminalize, to a vastly disproportionate extent, the behaviors of certain targeted groups, especially racial minorities. Whether or not these law-and-order policies were intentionally racist may be open to debate, but many people, especially people of color, connect the dots and see their outcome as both intentional and systemic.

You might imagine that an increased emphasis on law and order would result in increased attention to all forms of law-breaking. But addressing police brutality and other forms of State violence clearly is not the focus of law-and-order policies. Nor is it the focus of the ideological camp that promotes these policies. Such neglect of a whole class of “victims”-those victimized by police or military power-supports the assertion that illegitimate race-based practices are the single most salient feature of the contemporary criminal justice system. Rightists often blatantly deny statistical evidence of unequal rates of incarceration, arrest, and punishment by race or class for identical crimes, as well as evidence of police and criminal justice officials’ presumption of guilt according to the race of the accused. Rightist Professor John J. DiIulio, Jr., a prominent law-and-order proponent who inaccurately predicted a growing wave of “super-predator” children, stated that data on the administration of capital punishment “disclose no trace of racism..” But it is nearly impossible to study the discrepancies between incarceration rates for people of color and those of Whites for similar behaviors and not conclude that these policies, and those who defend them, are racially motivated.

Ideological Contradictions In Law-and-Order Policies

Each sector of the Right does not necessarily support the same policy solutions to the issues of crime and punishment. Various anti-crime policies create splits and disagreements within the Right. For example, rightist libertarians – who favor the most limited role possible for government – object to a punishment model that requires a huge investment of government funds, even when incarceration is privatized, and prisons eliminate training and treatment. The cost of building new prisons to house and police a swelling prison population increases government spending in both the long- and short-term. Between 1985 and 1995, states and the federal government opened one new prison a week to cope with the flood of inmates into the prison system. Much of this increase resulted from the increasing criminalization of non-violent offenders, through three-strikes laws, mandatory sentences, and drug laws. Referring to the many economic interests that now have a vested interest in maintaining high rates of incarceration, some critics, notably Angela Davis, have called this the emergence of a “prison-industrial complex.” Police departments, private prison corporations, unions of prison guards, rural communities eager for prison jobs, and businesses that provide prisons with food, security, and maintenance serve as pressure groups to assure the continuation of ever-increasing funding for prisons and to support tough on crime policies and drug laws that continually escalate rates of imprisonment.

Liberals have supported some of this growth in the role of federal courts. Because they hope, for instance, that hate crimes, abortion clinic bombings, and stalkings will often be prosecuted more vigorously at the federal level than at the state level. But, as both political parties compete to appear tough on crime, much of the federalization of the criminal justice system is directed at drug offenders and non-violent criminals. It thereby diminishes the role of the states in fighting even local crime. So much for states’ rights, a key principle of the Right’s ideology.

Widespread imposition of the death penalty also creates dissonance for some rightists. Between 1995 and 2003, prisoners in the United States were executed at an average rate of one per week. Although execution is a more expensive form of punishment than life-long imprisonment (due to the cost to the State of legal appeals), until recently its use has been steadily increasing, driven, in large part, by the Secular Right. Some conservatives are disconcerted by the revelation, as a result of DNA testing, that innocent prisoners have been executed. Others more critical of the criminal justice system, have not been surprised by these cases.

Finally, some rightists are uneasy with the growth of federal domination over state criminal justice systems. Despite the traditional conservative commitment to “states’ rights,” criminal prosecutions usually conducted at the state level have increasingly been taken over by the federal government, as the law-and-order crime model has grown in influence. For decades, crimes that involve crossing state lines have been classified as federal crimes and are prosecuted in federal courts. Organized crime cases and many drug and firearms crimes have swelled the number of federal cases. But journalist Ted Gest describes a “creeping federalization of criminal prosecutions” of crimes that occur at the local level. Liberals have supported some of this growth in the role of federal courts. Because they hope, for instance, that hate crimes, abortion clinic bombings, and stalkings will often be prosecuted more vigorously at the federal level than at the state level. But, as both political parties compete to appear tough on crime, much of the federalization of the criminal justice system is directed at drug offenders and non-violent criminals. It thereby diminishes the role of the states in fighting even local crime. So much for states’ rights, a key principle of the Right’s ideology.

Why would rightists persist in favoring these “big government” aspects of tough-on-crime policies? The prevention and rehabilitation model, which has largely been defunded, ultimately costs less in tax dollars because it addresses the causes of crime and the rehabilitation of prisoners. The answer lies in the ideological compatibility of apparently contradictory ideas when they are held within an overarching worldview that explains the contradictions. Two especially strongly held conservative beliefs are not subject to debate-criminals must be punished, and government should remain small. But “smallness” does not mean that the government should be weak. Thomas Hobbes’ admonition that States must establish a strong power that can exert control undergirds the idea that a massive program of incarceration is ideologically acceptable for conservatives who don’t believe in “big government.” In this case, many conservatives who believe that criminals are bad and must be punished in order to protect good, responsible (read White) people accept a strong role for government as appropriate and consistent with a conservative ideology. All sectors of the Right oppose the one policy solution that is most likely to solve the problem of crime in the long term-the creation of jobs, housing, economic opportunity, and universal health care that includes treatment for addictions.

Editor’s Note: This post is an excerpt of Political Research Associate’s 2005 Activist Resource Kit, “Defending Justice.” The full kit is available here.
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AUDIO: Officer Who Pushed CNN’s Don Lemon Claims There’s a Military Plot For One-World Government

 

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St. Louis County police officer Dan Page is best known for shoving CNN host Don Lemon while the journalist was covering the Michael Brown protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Page has since been suspended after video of his speech to a right-wing militia group, Oath Keepers of St. Louis and St. Charles, was brought to the attention of his superiors. In his speech Page claims to inside knowledge of a grand conspiracy against “Caucasian Christians.” However this is not the only time Page has expressed such views, as PRA has learned, he forcefully touted his claims on the TruNews radio show with Rick Wiles on July 10, 2014.

St. Louis County Officer Dan Page

St. Louis County Officer Dan Page

Wiles’ popular radio show is a combination of end-times prophecy and right-wing conspiracy theories. For example, this past week Wiles interviewed Walid Shoebat, who claimed, “Obama is destroying Christian America. That’s his assignment as a jihadist, it is to destroy Christian America.” Shoebat is a popular speaker on the end-times prophecy circuit, celebrated for his claimed inside knowledge of a Muslim jihadist infiltration of U.S. government. PRA has also reported extensively on Shoebat and his claims, including in our 2011 research report, “Manufacturing the Muslim Menace.”

According to a USA Today interview with St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, Dan Page joined the police force in 1979, but spent about nine of the last twelve to fifteen years deployed with the Army. Throughout the TruNews interview, embedded below, Wiles addresses Dan Page as Sgt. Major and discusses only his military career. Neither Wiles nor Page mentions Page’s tenure with the St. Louis County Police.

The TruNews radio show starts with a dramatic opening introducing, “Trunews, the only newscast reporting the countdown to the second coming of Jesus Christ, and now for the most powerful hour on radio, here is the end time newsman, Rick Wiles.” Following the introduction, Wiles launches into an introduction of Page as being in charge of U.S. Army special forces in Africa and having inside knowledge of a plot to create a global regime.

Page follows with an equally grandiose and unbelievable account of his military career, recounting military exploits including Vietnam, paratrooper training, training in Germany for psychological and asymmetric warfare, and a recent assignment as the senior enlisted adviser to the commanding officer of Africom. Page mispronounces the names of places and countries with which he is supposedly familiar, while claiming that his military experience has provided him with inside knowledge of a grand worldwide plot to end American sovereignty and a one-world government and military takeover.

Here are a few clips of the interview (the full and unedited version is at the bottom of this article):

Page claims (at about 21 minutes in) that the definition of terrorism has been changed by Homeland Security. Page states:

“It is a Caucasian male 18-65, one who supports the second amendment, one who believes in the second coming of Jesus Christ, one that is against illegal immigration and is against homosexuality and has a definition of traditional marriage. That is their definition of a terrorist.”

Wiles responds, “It has appeared for several years that the Obamanistas are purging the military of the patriots. Is that the case?”

Page then responds, “Yes, that’s absolutely true.” He also gives an account of “four-star generals and above” who he claims were removed by the Obama administration because “of their refusal to support military involvement in domestic affairs.” When Wiles asks Page why none of these generals have spoken out, he implies it is because they don’t want to lose their pensions. Wiles then asks if something significant is in the works for the year 2015. Page claims that he sat in on briefings from very high sources and learned that there is a timeline for orchestrated events that will create havoc worldwide and allow for the supposed globalist takeover.

Wiles also brings up the current influx of refugee children from South America into the United States, and asks Page if it is one of those orchestrated events. Page says it is, and that the wider scenario includes nuclear suitcase bombs, a planned North American Union, and, of course, further “demonization of Caucasian Christians.” Page expresses his belief that the flood of immigrant children is a clandestine operation with the purpose of programming American citizens for the eventual rounding up and imprisonment of their own children. In terms of the timeline for this conspiratorial takeover, Page states that he believes the takeover will be completed by 2017.

The interview closes with the following exchange (at 56:13 in the audio) about the inevitability of the coming one-world government takeover and loss of American sovereignty:

Dan Page: You have to put that [fear] aside] and make some decisions. God put the man in charge of his household to do two things—provide and protect his family. The males in this country are not doing that, they’ve abrogated that to the police department and somebody else to take care of it. It really grieves me to say, no, it can’t be stopped.

If we could get the men mobilized, to get politically active and hold the local and state officials responsible, we could change this. But I would give you some suggestions on this. Focus your attention at the county and state level, such as the sheriff’s office and things like that. Do not give any support to any federal, career politician. Do not donate to the Republican faction or the Democratic faction of the socialist party that we have in charge. Do not contribute anything to them. Stay at the state and local level. Then I think we have a chance.

Rick Wiles: The bottom line is Jesus Christ is our only hope.

Dan Page: I agree with that.

Rick Wiles: Unless this nation turns to Jesus Christ, nothing we do is is going to work.

Dan Page: Absolutely.

The St. Louis/St. Charles, Missouri Chapter of Oath Keepers has tried to distance the organization from the video of Page’s speech to them now that it has received national attention. However, the video rant, as well as the above interview, is compatible with the ideology voiced by leadership in the organization as well as a spin off of the group called the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association or CSPOA. Both groups have a mission of organizing their members to refuse to enforce federal laws that they believe are unconstitutional.

The St. Louis County Police department is one of the few county-controlled police departments in the nation. Most county departments are headed by elected sheriffs, who are viewed by the Oath Keepers and CSPOA as the supreme law of the land, with a constitutional mandate to counter the federal government, particularly concerning gun laws. Oath Keeper Richard Mack, the head of CSPOA, has described his organization of county sheriffs as the “army to set our nation free,” and claims to have about 500 county sheriffs who have signed on in agreement with their mandate .

Click here for the profile on CSPOA

Click here for the profile on CSPOA

Mack himself is a former sheriff, as well as a former lobbyist for Gun Owners of America  (GOA). The CSPOA 2013 convention was held in St. Charles, the county seat of St. Charles County, Missouri. Over an hour of the highlights of that convention can be watched at their website.

These highlights and other media of the Oath Keepers and CSPOA focus on the role of county sheriffs to stand against “executive orders to derail the Second Amendment,” as described in a letter sent to sheriffs around the country by the the Liberty Group Coalition (comprised of the CSPOA, Oath Keepers, GOA, John Birch Society, and the Tenth Amendment Center).

I have written previously about the CSPOA as part of the national movement promoting nullification and secession in a profile of the organization and in a longer article titled Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right. As I wrote in the profile, the May, 2013, CSPOA conference featured religion-infused rhetoric against “tyranny” of the federal government. Speakers included former Constitution Party leader Michael Peroutka, GOA’s Larry Pratt, Joe Wolverton of the John Birch Society, U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), and Mike Zullo.

Zullo is Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s chief “birther” investigator. Part of the conference was dedicated to his latest revelations in this ongoing pursuit. Conference speakers also included several county sheriffs and Tea Party leaders. The highlight video opens with one of the few people of color in the movement, Sheriff David Clark of Milwaukee County.

PRA Fellow Frederick Clarkson has also written extensively about one of the speakers at the St. Charles CSPOA event, neo-Confederate leader and 2004 Constitution Party candidate for president, Michael Peroutka, who switched parties (presumably to gain credibility) and is currently a Republican nominee for the County Council in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Peroutka is joined on the ticket by longtime ally and graduate of Peroutka’s course on the Constitution, Joseph Delimater, who is running for county sheriff.

Peroutka’s race for county council has already drawn national attention. Paul Rosenberg, writing at Salon, casts the Peroutka race in terms of the Republican Party’s race problem, as racist outbursts undermine the party’s efforts to become more diverse.

My article on nullification and Clarkson’s articles on Peroutka go into greater detail on the religious background of the philosophy behind organizing local and county leaders to lead a revolution against the federal government.

Unedited full version of Dan Page’s interview:

Update: 

Dan Page was also interviewed on May 12, 2014 on the John Moore Radio Show.  At about 24:50 in this interview, Dan Page states, “You’ve got Sen. Claire McCaskill right now beating the podium about assaults in the military and probably 99.9% of these things are bogus.  One only need to look at a woman in a way she feels uncomfortable and that’s considered sexual assault in the military.” 

UPDATE #2:

On May 29th of this year, Officer Page appeared on the Caravan to Midnight radio program, and claimed that the public education system is full of Caucasian female school teachers who are teaching young Black males to hate White men. According to Page, those young Black men grow up to be willing to violently disarm White men.

 

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