29 April 2009

A New "Brown Scare?"

Listen to some Republicans and other reactionaries, and you might believe that stories like this one from the current issue of Newsweek are part of the liberal establishment's attempt to demonize all opposition to the Obama administration. Ever since the appearance of a Homeland Security report this month discussing the possibility of veterans taking up with militia groups, right-wingers have sounded alarms against a new version of what some call a "Brown Scare." While the idea of a "Red Scare" is well known, a "Brown Scare" is less familiar, yet nearly as common, according to some historians. The original Brown Scare took place just before America's entry into World War II, and involved the demonization of anyone who opposed U.S. intervention in the European conflict. Such dissidents, best known now as "isolationists," were accused of being Nazi sympathizers, as some probably were. Other alleged instances of Brown Scares were during the Kennedy administration, when the media supposedly overhyped the menace of entities like the John Birch Society and still more radical groups, and during the Clinton years, when the threat of militias was supposedly blown out of proportion at the expense of more appropriate attention to Muslim groups. These episodes are called "Brown Scares" because they involve right-wing dissidents being equated with Nazis ("brown shirts.")

Sure enough, Newsweek puts white supremacists at the forefront of elements likely to be opposed to the Obama presidency. If anything, there's more emphasis on Klansmen and Nazis, or spinoffs of either, than on the militia bogeymen of the 1990s. You could argue that the article has too narrow a focus because of its concentration on racists, but the other groups will probably see it differently. Because Newsweek emphasizes white supremacists as the face of radical anti-Obamaism, others elements will complain that people will take them to be racists if they oppose Obama just as strongly on anti-liberal or anti-"New World Order" grounds. People like this probably expect to be demonized from the start and are perfectly capable of making any report fit into that scenario.

More conventional rightists have also complained about such reports, as if any attention to right-wing or racist extremism means taking the government's eye off the Islamic ball. A competent government ought to be capable of keeping track of more than one threat, however, and it must be remembered that the worst act of home-grown terrorism in this country's history was the work of a single extremist who was influenced by white supremacism and anti-statist beliefs. If some Americans want to make every Muslim an object of suspicion because the Qur'an supposedly mandates terrorism, then Timothy McVeigh is proof enough to justify close and constant scrutiny of the ideological milieu from which he came, especially at a time in American history when people like him might be most inclined to think that the country has gone to Hell. If right-wingers don't like this, then at least they know how left-wingers have felt for more than a century. If they want people to make more careful distinctions between ideas and violent intentions, they should practice what they now preach.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It all comes down to hype and propaganda. If it is a fact that veterans returning from Iraq are more likely to join up with militant right-wingers, then the warning is justified. If it is based on a credible study, then the Obama administration should make the study (or at least on what basis the warning was issued) and be willing to fight the right-wingers in the public eye. NO administration should be cowed from doing what they believe is in the public interest by special interest groups, but they SHOULD be willing to back them selves up publicly with reason and facts.