Rightwing smears and ‘both sides’ lies

These lies lead ill-informed people to believe that the progressive left, rather than fighting for healthcare for all or a higher minimum wage, somehow threatens their ‘freedoms’ and perhaps their very lives.

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When covering the excesses of the far right, it’s common for cable news pundits to lump them together with what they usually call the ‘radical’ or ‘hard’ left, arguing that these are issues ‘both sides’ need to deal with. Those most often compared to armed groups of ‘patriots’ like the Oathkeepers, who have members accused of involvement in the January 6th siege of the U.S. Capitol. are self described anti-fascists, who do at times confront far right groups, and Black Lives Matter protesters, who, as a general rule, do not.

Rightwing news sources go much further than more centrist outlets in their comparisons, seeing the sinister hands of ‘socialism’ and ‘Marxism’ behind every Democratic policy and politician, even right leaning corporatists like Joe Biden. These lies lead ill-informed people to believe that the progressive left, rather than fighting for healthcare for all or a higher minimum wage, somehow threatens their ‘freedoms’ and perhaps their very lives.

Defending the former president, who called on his supporters to march on the Congress that early January day, where many filmed themselves breaking into the building, vandalizing offices and fighting with police, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida said, “You can moan and groan, but he was far more explicit about his calls for peace than some of the BLM and left-wing rioters were this summer when we saw violence sweep across this nation.”

While there were reports of some property destruction and a few violent incidents at demonstrations after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, they mostly seemed to have been provoked by authorities, who often looked like they were the ones who came to riot. A study from September of last year by The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) backs this reading up, showing that of thousands of protests and other actions throughout the United States last summer, more than 93% were wholly peaceful.

Further, a more recent study from the right leaning Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) found that 67% of “terrorist plots and attacks” in the United States in 2020 were undertaken by far right extremists, with 20% blamed on a very widely defined ‘left’, including animal rights activists alongside anarchists and social democrats.

The danger represented by these far right ideologies was reiterated in a story about the arrest in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida of a 32 year old white supremacist, Paul Miller, in the Washington Post.

The already convicted felon from New Jersey, who is barred from owning firearms, was found to have stockpiled over 800 rounds of ammunition and was building his own rifle in preparation for what he is said to have viewed as an inevitable civil war against ‘antifa’ and of course, BLM.

When he appeared in court this past Tuesday over Zoom, Miller’s online followers filled the chat with racist and anti-Semitic comments like those he had been spewing online for several years, which included him once asking a group of teenage boys if they should, “gas the Jews”.

At the same time, it’s also almost never noted, even by supposedly liberal media, that BLM is a social movement rather than a political ideology and those protesting for Black lives likely include many with opinions ranging across the political spectrum, and of course, large numbers of people who are apolitical and simply concerned about racially targeted police violence.

Lately, the entire rightwing spectrum has pivoted from pearl clutching about ‘cancel culture’ to melting down about ‘critical race theory’, with Republican controlled state legislatures are trying to ban from K-12 curriculums in 22 U.S. states. CRT is a complicated legal theory developed over time by a number of scholars to explain the systemic injustices created by racism in the country and not something that is taught to children, which might explain why so many pundits on the right have a difficult time actually defining it.

One claim that’s being made is that those who teach this legal theory in colleges and universities are fomenting a cult, a neat bit of projection considering that large numbers of people in the English speaking world believe the bizarre theories of Qanon, which is much closer to what we think of when we use the term.

Worse, the arguments being made by these so-called conservatives seem to wholly conflate ‘critical theory’, a bedrock of post-modernism associated with the Frankfurt School and CRT. The Frankfurt school, which was in the main composed of Jewish intellectuals who found refuge in New York City during the rise of fascism in Europe are central to another conspiracy theory on the right, that the ‘cultural Marxism’ they introduced to America is the cause of an ideology built around it as ‘wokeness’, a catchall phrase for the established victories of feminism, anti-racism, LGBTQ+ rights or any other calls social change they oppose.

The smart commentators on the left, who seem to be a dwindling constituency as so many abandon their principles to fight culture wars funded by the right on platforms like Substack, understand that the issues facing marginalized communities are existential and need to be the first priority of activist movements dedicated to the interests of all working people.

Which brings us to recent kerfuffles involving the heir to a multi million dollar fortune who pretends to be a populist champion of working people, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Minnesota Representative, Ilhan Omar that demonstrates how the ‘both sides’ argument often works.

In late May, Georgia representative Taylor Greene compared a requirement for proof of vaccination from serving members of the House of Representatives in order to end a mask mandate in the body to the treatment of Jewish people in Nazi Germany prior to the Holocaust, writing, “Vaccinated employees get a vaccination logo just like the Nazi’s forced Jewish people to wear a gold star. Vaccine passports & mask mandates create discrimination against unvaxxed people who trust their immune systems to a virus that is 99% survivable.”

After at first refusing to apologize and even doubling down on the comparison, Tayolor Greene made a heavily publicized visit to the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC on June 14th, where she made a speech after her tour noting that not just Jews but also Black people, Christians and others were murdered by the Nazis and that this might be different from askng people to wear an article of clothing in order to protect others.

The outrage around earlier remarks and initial defense of them quickly faded away.

The cynicism of Taylor Greene and her staff is shown by the timing of her apology as an arguably even bigger firestorm swept up Rep. Omar shortly after a series of questions about the U.S. and Israeli refusal to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed by their soldiers during conflicts during a June 7th budget meeting with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

Later that same day, Omar’s Twitter feed provided video of the exchange and added, “We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban. I asked @SecBlinken where people are supposed to go for justice.”

This led to condemnation by many of her Democratic colleagues and calls for her to be censured and removed from her committee assignments (as Taylor Greene already had been for earlier comments about ‘Rothschild space lasers’) by Republicans. In an interesting twist, Hamas also criticized the congressperson for comparing them to the U.S. and Israel, demonstrating her neutrality in terms of wanting all parties to these conflicts accountable and not an attack on democratic governance.

Although we can expect the disingenuous attacks on Omar and other progressives in government to continue, one silver lining to what occurred is that many of her colleagues and even some in the press came quickly to her defense.

As one of the newest progressives in Congress, Jamaal Bowman, put it, “[Omar’s] lived through human-rights atrocities, so she’s going to call that out when she sees it. And we as a party have to support her and we have to also call it out when we see it — whether it’s Israel or another part of the world.”

While it will take time for progressives to become a large enough force federally to push popular policies into laws and that they will have to fight not only Republicans but their own party and much of the media in the process, having someone like Ilhan Omar in government is something that should fill the American left with pride.

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