Wednesday, May 23, 2012

America's Fascism Problem 2: Concentration Camps For The Queers

Earlier this month, I kicked off this series of articles with a piece about a North Carolina "pastor" who, in the midst of that state's debate over an anti-gay ballot initiative, urged his followers to violently abuse their young children if said children show what his fevered brain regarded as early signs of homosexuality. His antics--and, more importantly, the uniform approval they received from his congregation--are a disturbing example of the ugly fascism that has, for years, gestated, across the U.S. in, among other places, reactionary fundamentalist churches.

A few weeks later, the same state birthed another example of it. "Pastor" Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church of Maiden, North Carlolina used his Mother's Day "sermon" as an opportunity to go on a rampage against homosexuals. In rhetoric that rather inescapably invokes an obvious historical precedent, he suggests "lesbians and queers" be rounded up, dropped into concentration camps behind electrified wire and left to die:

"I figured a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers... Build a great, big, large fence--50 or 100 mile long--put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified 'til they can't get out... And you know what? In a few years, they'll die out... They can't reproduce."

Worley was particularly upset about President Obama's recent endorsement of same-sex marriage and left no doubt about his own political affiliation, blatantly violating the tax-exempt status granted his church in railing against

"our president gettin' up and sayin' it was all right for two women to marry or two men to marry. I tell ya' right now, I was disappointed bad, and I tell ya' that right there is as sorry as you can get. The Bible's agin' it, God's agin' it, I'm agin' it and if you've got any sense, you're agin' it... Hey, I'll tell ya' right now, somebody said 'who you gonna' vote for?' I ain't gonna' vote for a baby killer and a homosexual lover!"

In the immediate aftermath of this, Worley essentially went into hiding and his church's website was taken down. CNN, in a sudden, uncharacteristic decision to practice journalism, uncovered an audio recording of an old Worley sermon from 30 April, 1978, one that suggests his poisonous preaching on this subject is far from a recent innovation:

"We're livin' in a day when, you know what, it saddens my heart to think that homosexuals can go around, bless God, and get the applause of a lot of people. Lesbians and all the rest of it. Bless God, 40 years ago, they'd a' hung 'em, bless God, from a white oak tree. Wouldn't they? Amen."

Those "strange fruits" left hanging from white oaks--and other trees--in the South 40 years before this remark were, of course, those unfortunate enough to be black and in the South at a time when Jim Crow was law and backed up by racist terrorism. In 1938--exactly 40 years before Worley's remarks--Southern Senators filibustered to death a major effort at an anti-lynching law to put a stop to this. Worley's nostalgia is telling.

His fantasies about the murder of homosexuals are hardly unique though. They've been a perpetual fixture on the reactionary fringe for decades. Like so many fringe views, these have been creeping into the "mainstream" for years.[1] North Carolina's anti-gay ballot initiative, like similar initiatives passed in about 30 states, are a reflection of the same impulses.



[1] Only a few days ago, Mississippi state Rep. Andy Gipson called for putting homosexuals to death. Responding to an effort to get him to apologize for this, he replied "To be clear, I want the world to know that I do not, cannot, and will not apologize for the inspired truth of God’s Word."

Friday, May 18, 2012

The "War On Women"

In the debased swamp that passes for political discourse in the U.S., a recurring fad is to dub everything a "War On" this-or-that. Ye humble editor isn't much of a fan of such fads but there does, at present, exist a phenomenon on the far right that liberal commentators have dubbed the "War On Women" and it's difficult to argue against this being an appropriate label for it.

For the last few years, reactionaries in both the federal and state governments (mostly Republicans) have, indeed, tried to make what could fairly be called a "war" on women. There are an infinity of ugly but relatively unsensational examples; Wyoming Republicans' efforts to pass legislation that would force the state to "emphasize nonmarital parenthood"--in and of itself--"as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect"; Wisconsin Republicans' recent repeal of a law regarding gender-based wage discrimination, which effectively closed the doors of that state's court to women trying to bring such cases against their employers; upon assuming the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives last year, Republicans passed legislation that would completely eliminate all federal funding of family planning for low-income Americans. The bill was aimed at eliminating funds for Planned Parenthood, one of the oldest, largest and most important U.S. providers of health care services to poor women. Because of Planned Parenthood's connection to abortion, the sponsors of the legislation falsely portrayed it as an anti-abortion measure; in reality, it's been a rule for decades that no federal funds can be spent on abortion. Republicans in state governments across the U.S. have launched similar anti-Planned Parenthood efforts.

It's when one gets to such sexy bits--or, more particularly, the bits having to do with sex and women having control over things related to it--that the particularly dark and ugly aspect of all of this becomes apparent.

Congressional Republicans have tried to enact legislation that would allow employers to deny insurance coverage for birth control if said employer claimed to have a moral objection to it. In Arizona, the original state Republicans' variation on this would have allowed such objecting employers to demand, of their female employees who were prescribed contraception, private medical records proving they weren't using the contraceptives merely for contraception and would have allowed those who failed to comply to be fired. For many reactionaries waging this "war," the privacy of women doesn't even register as a concern. Tennessee Republicans have pressed for a law requiring the Dept. of Health to collect and publish detailed information from the private medical records of every woman who has an abortion in the state and also to publish the names of the doctors who performed the procedures. Georgia has contemplated similar legislation.

The premise of a lot of the misogynistic law-making is that women are simply incapable of making decisions on their own. They need male legislators to require them to endure onerous waiting periods before they can obtain abortions, since, being stupid children, they just rush into such things. In South Dakota, Republicans passed legislation requiring that women seeking abortions first attend a "consultation" at a "crisis pregnancy center," noxious facilities staffed by anti-abortion zealots who aren't medical professionals of any stripe and whose M.O. is to attempt to frighten and guilt women out of abortions using an astonishing array of lies and misinformation--assertions that abortions lead to, among other things, cancer, infertility, mental illness and suicide, none of which have any basis in reality. Republicans in 27 states have crafted (and, in most of those states, passed) laws requiring medically unnecessary ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, the idea being to show these stupid women the "baby" they're looking to "kill." As most abortions occur in the earliest stages of pregnancy when no image can be obtained via a standard ultrasound (because the developing tissue characterized as no different than a fully developed human being is too small to be seen by the equipment), this requires ultrasounds via vaginal probe--essentially state-ordered rape.

Some reactionaries seem to believe rape is just something women made up anyway. In Georgia, state Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta) decided he didn't like the word "victim" being used in statutes regarding rape, stalking, domestic violence and other laws with a gender component; he introduced legislation to remove the word from said statutes in connection with those crimes and replace it with "accuser." Like far too many reactionaries, Franklin showed a contempt for women that seemed to border on mental illness. For 9 years, he repeatedly introduced legislation that would completely ban abortion in Georgia and would require a criminal investigation of every known miscarriage, with those who have suffered them having to prove they had no part in it or face life in prison or even the death penalty. Mercifully, Franklin, last summer, suffered a massive heart-attack and died, leaving the world no poorer by his absence from it.

If Franklin's miscarriage rule sounds particularly extreme, it is, in fact, a view endorsed by every contender in this year's Republican presidential race, all of whom have expressed support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution itself that would define a human egg, from the moment a sperm hits it, as a human being with full rights. Among other things, this would completely ban abortion; it would ban embryonic stem-cell research; it would, in effect, ban in vetro procedures for the infertile; given the fantasy reading its authors insist upon, it would ban hormonal birth control (which is to say, most birth control); and it would require a federal murder investigation of every known miscarriage, all as constitutional requirements. As I said, every Republican campaign, including the eventual candidate Mitt Romney, endorsed this insane proposal.

When it comes to legal assaults on women, it seems no proposal is considered too extreme to be tried. Last year, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) introduced the Orwellian monikered "Protect Life Act" which would have legally allowed hospitals, when faced with a woman whose pregnancy has suddenly gone crisis, to simply let her die rather than performing an abortion to save her life or facilitating her transfer to a facility that would perform the procedure. Republicans in the U.S. House just launched a full-bore assault on the previously uncontroversial Violence Against Women Act. In South Dakota, Republicans tried to pass legislation that would legalize the murder of doctors who perform abortions. The measure was eventually shelved but within days, Republicans in Nebraska tried to enact it in that state.

Earlier this month, New York state Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx) unleashed a brainless anti-abortion tirade in an email to his supporters, in which he essentially asserted that black is white and up is down:

"Hitler was pro-choice. He chose to send the Jews to Auschwitz. That was not their choice that was Hitler’s choice. Murderers, assassins and criminals are pro-choice. They choose to put a gun to your head and take your life. That is not your choice. That is their choice."

These sorts of comparisons, of abortion to the Holocaust and of the pro-choice faction to Nazism, are omnipresent in U.S. anti-abortion rhetoric. History, of course, tells a very different story. In Nazi Germany, all family planning clinics were closed with guns in the immediate aftermath of the Enabling Act, advertising or even displaying contraceptives was banned and abortion was made, in the words of historian Richard Grunberger, "one of the most heinous crimes in the Nazi statute book." Doctors who performed the procedure were initially sentenced to 6-to-15-years in prison; later, this was upped to the death penalty. Hitler preferred his enemies practice abortion and when in a position to dictate, often gave them as little choice in the matter as would the the anti-choice crowd in the U.S.. This reflects the legal state of affairs under every other major fascist movement as well. In fascist Italy, contraception was banned and existing laws against abortion, which had been treated as essentially dead letters before il Duce, were reinforced and penalties significantly stiffened. In Spain, the liberalized abortion approach of the Republican era was stamped out; women who had abortions were subject to up to six years in prison and their medical records and sexual histories--real or fabricated--would be publicized by the state. Fascists have ever been advocates of the misogynistic activities I've been describing throughout this article. When it comes to these issues, life under such regimes was exactly as it would be under the rule of the U.S. reactionaries waging the present "War On Women."

An ugly protofascism is seeping into our politics everywhere, to the point that "mainstream" presidential candidates are now entirely comfortable and even enthusiastic about embracing measures so extreme that, only a few years ago, they would have marked these candidates as marginal clowns unworthy of serious national consideration (as, indeed, should be the case today and would if the corporate press didn't act as an enabler of this poison). This really is a "War On Women." And it needs to stop.


Friday, May 4, 2012

America's Fascism Problem, part 1

A most damnable habit of the national corporate press is to obsessively follow real-life soap operas. The Media Monopoly will randomly pick up on some sensational local story--guys who kill their wives or girlfriends and missing children are particularly popular--and launch a saturation-coverage feeding frenzy. Suddenly, it's all the national press can talk about. For weeks and sometimes months, news of great national importance is left on the cutting-room floor in favor of hours upon hours devoted to these stories, which, regardless of their outcome, are of absolutely no consequence to the lives of anyone, other than those directly involved.

One story that made a few national headlines this week structurally falls into this category, but it actually does have a larger national significance, which probably accounts for the relatively sparse coverage it has received--certainly no feeding frenzy, here. On the surface, it's about an evil preacher in North Carolina who raved at his congregation about how, if they had young children who were displaying any characteristic that may be interpreted as homosexual, they should violently abuse said children. The greater significance of the story is that it gives a little glimpse into the reeking sewer of blackest fascism that has, for years, gestated in right-wing fundamentalist churches across the U.S. America has a serious fascism problem. These sorts of churches, like a lot of religious radio and television, are one of its incubators.

North Carolina is on the verge of voting on one of those anti-gay-marriage ballot initiatives that have become so painfully common in recent years, and it stirred the soul of Sean Harris, the putrid pastor of the Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina. His inadvertent public service is that, in his Sunday sermon, he elected to give us all a look at the abyss of hatred that lurks behind such initiatives. Have a 4-year-old that acts "a little girlish"? The good pastor Harris says you should be "squashing that like a cockroach." If the boy has a limp wrist, "Dads,... walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch, o.k.?" And so on. A mere transcript doesn't do his performance justice. Listen to it here.

What you're hearing, there, isn't just some mouthy, mentally deranged asswipe in North Carolina. What you're hearing is the voice that puts human beings in ovens. It's a voice that, in various degrees of extremity, is so often reflected in the larger body of Republican party politics today. Sometimes, it's helpful to hear it in its unvarnished, not-cleaned-up-for-public-consumption form. When the story became news, Harris offered up an "apology" in which he revealed even more of his character:
"I did not say that children should be squashed. I have never suggested children or those in the LGBT lifestyle should be beaten, punched, abused (physically or psychologically) in any form or fashion. The gospel is the only source of power sufficient to deliver anyone from the power, penalty, and presence of all forms of sin, including but not limited to, all forms of sexual immorality, including homosexuality."
But apparently not extended to either advocating the violent abuse of children or lying about having done so. Having absolved himself of these, he goes on to say he may have "unintentionally offended" some, and chosen his words poorly. And he can't resist claiming this became a story because "various blogs" have engaged in "the intentional framing of my words without the context of the entire sermon." He's the victim, you see? He doesn't explicitly say "the liberal media" or "homosexual activists" were behind misrepresenting him, but that's the only part of the standard litany he leaves out.

Earlier this week, Lawrence O'Donnell, on MSNBC, offered a razor-sharp takedown of this cretin and his "apology."

Where he fell short is the same place most of the rest of the coverage fell short: O'Donnell focused on Harris himself.

Harris's behavior brought this to public attention, but he's not the real story, here. The real story, which is far more horrible, is the reaction of the assembled churchgoers while Harris raves on. He's saying things any human being with even a trace of decency in them would find utterly appalling, infuriating, and absolutely unacceptable, yet no one--not a one of them--offers even a single word in objection to it. No one gets up and leaves. Instead, it's all "amens" and "hallelujahs" and "yeahs" and laughter and applause. In his non-apology, Harris writes "I have received nothing but notes of appreciation and support from the people within the church." If there's one thing Harris has said throughout all of this that can be believed, that's it.

That's the real story.

And that's the real horror.

North Carolina votes on that anti-gay amendment Tuesday.