Here in the U.S., we have our own home-grown Bahatis who incite violence against gays and other groups as well. For 30 years now, they've been brazenly building their nationwide falling-domino machine, inciting murder of certain U.S. citizens. And they've been exporting their hate speech to other countries through missionary work.
So far, the American people have let them get away with it.
Inciting the "Expendables"
By "hate speech," I mean that brand of rhetoric that goes beyond mere disagreement, to advocating injury and death for certain groups of people. Any religion is capable of hate speech, no matter what they believe in. But in the U.S. we have a specific problem with extremist Bible-based religion, because of the powerful missionary spirit that drives it.
Righters who incite murder usually deny their guilt to the face of the God in whom they say they believe. After all -- they have no blood on their personal hands! The purpose of their maneuver is to incite others -- nobody believers who are expendable, and passionate enough to do the dirty work for them. While the nobodies go to prison, or even death row, the inciters go free, so they can continue preaching their poison in freedom, power and wealth. It's one of the oldest political tricks on the planet.
The inciters don't even care when the "nobodies" are children -- like Brandon McInerney, who was 15 in 2008 when he executed classmate Lawrence King right in their classroom with a pistol shot to the head. As investigators later learned, McInerney's mind had been twisted by long-time family associations with white-supremacist groups. Three years later, McInerney's trial is still going on. If convicted, Nobody McInerney faces 53 years in prison for hate crime and first-degree murder. But the inciters who poisoned this kid's mind with religious hatred for gays will go scot free. McInerney was just another grunt in the Hate Brigade, who got the job done.
We've seen a whole range of local nobodies who were clearly given a cue by extremist church preaching -- notably the two bar flies who dragged Matthew Shepard out in a Wyoming field to his death on October 12, 1998. This happened in a West where Focus on the Family had just established its base in nearby Colorado, and had helped Colorado for Family Values do the propagandizing needed to pass that anti-gay Amendment 2 of the '90s. FOTF and its fellow orgs brought a new intensity of anti-gay hate to the West.
FBI hate-crime statistics for 1995-2008 tell us that, during those 13 years alone, over 20,000 Americans were victims of crimes against sexual orientation, including numerous community leaders besides Harvey Milk. Side by side with religious issues polarizing the country more and more, the stats show these crimes happening more and more in recent years. And those 20,000+ are just the crimes that got counted. Hundreds more violent assaults and murders of LGBT people have never been investigated as hate crimes.
Personally, I'm convinced that today's religious righters know exactly what they're doing when they scream for "death to gays" from the safety of the pulpit or the political podium, or even the TV media desk.
American inciters who violate their own commandment "Thou shalt not kill" are nothing new in the U.S. Throughout our history, they have made their dark presence felt. They stirred up violence against everyone from alleged witches in colonial New England, to blacks in the Jim Crow South, to suffragettes in the early 1900s and labor-union organizers in the '30s. But up until the '70s, ultraconservative churchgoing Americans had avoided a massively visible and direct participation in politics. Even during the 1950s, with their opposition to "godless communism and socialism" through organizations like the John Birch Society, they had kept a lower profile.
it was in the 1970s that today's inciter movement left its first visible tracks in America's trampled social mud.
Warning From a Conservative Author
For me, the first glimpses of that new inciting came after May 4, 1970, when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on anti-war protesters and innocent bystanders across the grassy lawns of Kent State campus.
On that day, four students were killed and 7 wounded, including several who weren't even involved in the protests. No Guardsman was ever charged. News reports left most Americans with the impression that the massacre was the result of a regrettable "oops" -- that no order to fire was actually given, that perhaps some Guardsman had simply panicked, touching off the deadly rain of fire on unarmed students. It would be 40 years before a student's old tape recording of the event surfaced, Forensically enhanced by experts, it appears to reveal that an order to fire was given.
On that day the Guardsmen pulled their triggers, the "radical religious right" still didn't officially exist yet.
Under President Nixon, a conservative administration had been keeping the country stirred up against the New Left -- notably Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and its radical offshoot, Weatherman. These organizations actually aimed to ignite a national youth revolution and overthrow the government by violence. Dissenting students who protested over any legitimate issue, like the Vietnam draft, free speech, etc. but who didn't go so far as to advocate overthrow of the government, were tarred by conservative authorities as being in league with SDS and Weatherman. This was how the Kent State students wound up that rain of bullets.
At the time, I was 34. I was about to publish my first novel, The Last Centennial, and was working as a Reader's Digest book editor.
During fall 1970, I found myself on the margins of the book department's newest project. The Digest had commissioned bestselling author James Michener to write a book titled Kent State: What Happened and Why. President Nixon had personally contacted Digest editors and asked them to get the book written. Its original intent, as dictated by the Nixon administration, was to "prove" that "outside agitators" like SDS and Weatherman had come onto the Kent State campus to unduly influence the demonstrating students. It was a not-too-subtle way of excusing the National Guard's violence. Michener had already spent several months interviewing people at the university and around the town.
One day that fall, the famous author came to a luncheon meeting with the RD Book Department to give us a progress report. We were struck by the perturbed and somber mood he was in. As a junior editor, I was expected to sit quietly at the table, amidst the clinking of fine china, and listen and learn. And I did that...with my hair standing on end. So did the other editors.
Feelingly, Michener described his shock at hearing conservative parents of Kent State students say things like, "They should have shot them all." According to Michener, some parents were even calling for death to their own children -- for hippie transgressions as trifling as a girl not wearing a bra, or a boy going barefoot and smoking pot. Michener quoted a number of parents word for word from his research notes.
Suddenly, with Kent State, the national issue was no longer "defeating the radical revolutionary left." There was a new issue in town. The first bloodthirsty voices had been heard, loud and clear, from right-wing Americans who felt that America was no longer "their America" -- who were eager that violence be done to others, on behalf of their religious beliefs and their "moral values." They were even okay with their own children being murdered. And it was okay with them if somebody else pulled the trigger.
The Digest decision-makers had hoped that Michener would take a solidly conservative tack on the Kent State events. And he did. But the famous author also told my bosses point-blank that the book was going to include these bloodthirsty snarls from fathers and mothers who were supposedly such devout and law-abiding people. The Digest had to go along.
Looking back on it now, I remember Kent State as my own first look at that ugly face of "shoot them all." It was the same contorted face that we see today on the Ugandan parliamentarians, clergy and media writers who clamor for "death to all gays" in Uganda. Here in the U.S., we see that same look on the faces of Tea-Partiers and other radical-right groups emerging across the country who advocate open violence against anybody they hate.
How the Radical Right Got Started
Like a flash of lightning on a dark night, Kent State revealed a seismic shift happening in our social landscape. It was the beginning of a ferocious church-organized resistance to what was viewed as a broad liberal/leftist/socialist/Marxist attack on "American values." In certain Americans' minds, all these things were lumped together -- if you were a liberal, you were also a Marxist and an atheist, hence an evil person.
This pushback by the far right had started in the '60s with their attempts to justify the Vietnam War as a "crusade against godless communism." It had boiled more deeply into fulminations against sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Now, with Kent State -- the first-ever shootings of students right on a campus by armed military personnel -- these ultra-rightists were not in the least embarrassed or troubled by the National Guard's overreaction. To Americans accustomed to thinking of Biblical Protestantism as the sole foundation of our history, "socialism" was a foreign and secular heresy invented by bad guys in Europe. In their view, "socialism" was brought here from Europe in order to promote anti-religious changes.
So, as Bill Gordon (author of Four Dead in Ohio) put it, the Kent State shootings were "the most popular murders ever committed in the United States."
Through the 1970s, this new churchism -- which was equally unembarrassed by the Watergate scandal and Republicans' fall from grace for a while -- got more traction. It gelled around three issues that were outraging ultra-conservatives more than peaceniks and pot -- namely, the legalizing of abortion, the feminist movement, and that LGBT-rights movement sparked by the 1969 Stonewall riot in New York City. As justification for their extreme attitude, these radical righters cited the Old Testament, which -- in their opinion -- gave them permission to call for violent divinely-mandated punishments on the "transgressors." So the grim refrain "they should have shot them all" would now be echoed against any person of whom ultraconservatives morally disapproved.
By 1972, I started moving towards coming out and writing a novel (The Front Runner) about conservative opposition to out athletes in American sports. I had no trouble figuring out what sort of man would try to stop my fictional gay track coach and his gay runner from competing at the Olympic Games.
So I created the character of Richard Mech. He was a right-wing Bible-believing shooter who saw himself as an avenging angel sent to rid the world of flagrant "sodomist" relationships. The Front Runner was published in 1974.
Those Early Incitings
Meanwhile, the religious righters were organizing. At key meetings in the late 1970s, early figures like Pat Robertson and Anita Bryant openly declared war on abortion, feminism and gays. A number of the movement's more shadowy figures financed and launched the Moral Majority. For those Bilerico readers who are too young to remember, this was the first church-based activist nonprofit organization of its kind, headed by a young radio preacher named Jerry Falwell.
By 1979, the formal anti-gay incitings had started. Falwell's fundraising literature included a a "Declaration of War" on homosexuality. "War" means killing your enemy. Indeed, Falwell would cite Bible passages and make the stunning statement, "God is pro-war." By 1985, as the AIDS epidemic got under way, Paul Cameron spoke at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference and announced that "the extermination of homosexuals" might become necessary. It was clear that this new movement wasn't talking in metaphors.
Soon there was a whole phalanx of these organizations -- all aiming at not only restrictive new federal and state legislation that favored Catholic and Protestant church teachings, but also at stirring up violent feelings. Through the '80s and '90s, the extremists were also building their base with distribution of voter guides and open political talk from pulpits and getting their own candidates into office or onto the bench -- all in defiance of IRS strictures on political activity by churches.
Among the Protestant extremists, evangelicals and Pentecostals started coalescing under an international umbrella that has become known as the New Apostolic Reformation, aka Joel's Army. These all share a belief that they have a Biblical mandate to battle demon powers everywhere and establish new governments in the name of Jesus -- by violence and force of arms, if necessary. They are convinced that they battle the Anti-Christ as they fight our present style of government and anything in our society that they believe is demon-possessed -- including LGBT people, of course. They are anti-democracy, and aim to set up Bible-based police states run by themselves.
Two Opposing Movements
The 1960s-70s radical left had aimed for young Americans to rise in revolt against conservative American authority and establish a socialist revolution. But that revolution never happened. Most liberal American youth of those times who hit the streets to protest on issues didn't want to destroy our existing government -- they just wanted to fix it.
As a result -- by the 1980s, leftist revolutionary leaders found themselves left high and dry. They went underground or surrendered to the FBI. Some were charged and did prison time.
By contrast, the radical-right revolution was doing just fine, thank you. Whereas SDS and Weatherman members were criminally charged with advocating violent overthrow of the government, no radical righter (that I know of) has been charged with verbally advocating violence against minorities that they hate. Despite the dark lessons of history that violent talk leads to violent actions, and the passage of hate-crime laws, many in our society continue to deny the fatal connection between words and bullets.
So, the radical righters have spent the last 2-3 decades building a broad power base for themselves, in order to make America safe for their activities. In so doing, they have gotten leverage that was never available to the radical left. Examples: They've expanded their influence in the U.S. military, from chaplains to commanding officers to troops that they have proselytized. They now have members and allies in state legislatures, governor's mansions, Congress, the Supreme Court, as well as the major media. The IRS has done nothing major to stop the illegal fundraising and politicking by churches and church-run nonprofits. American voters have done nothing to stop it either.
To get this leverage, these groups focus on highly emotional wedge issues like "baby killing." When it's okay to shoot "baby killers" (as Scott Roeder did to abortion doctor George Tiller), it is also okay to shoot "perverted sodomists" (LGBT leader Harvey Milk). Or to shoot women leaders like Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who had already gotten many death threats before Jared Loughner finally took aim at her on January 8 in Tucson, AZ. Like Kent State, such acts are "popular murders."
Figures like Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck now feel comfortable inciting in front of a crowd and a battery of news cameras. Belatedly, Palin surely realized that her website's picture of rifle crosshairs trained on Gifford's office location was an incitement to murder, because it was hastily taken down. MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow said recently, "I get hate mail from all sort of conservatives, but it is the hate mail from self-proclaimed fans of Mr. Beck that is most likely to contain death threats and threats of violence against me." Beck's attacks also prompted death threats to a 78-year-old NYU professor who writes about poverty.
Ironically, America has exported this violence against gays into African countries, along with the more virulent missionaries that went there. Today there are the ultra-conservative African Catholics and Episcopalians (like Episcopal Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria) who have all fueled the explosive anti-gay climate that is building across central Africa, not only in Uganda, but other countries as well. But it is the American NAR, with their goal of setting up puppet "governments for Jesus" everywhere in Africa, who have done the most to unleash all that inciting against LGBT activists. So far, our government has done nothing to muzzle the American politicians and missionaries who have gotten so directly involved with setting up and supporting Bible-based police states in African countries.
How ironic that a conservative author with a conscience gave America the early storm warning on where "shoot them all" was going to go.
Avoiding the Issue
One more point: Radical-right loudmouths like Glenn Beck try to justify rightist hate speech by the fact that the Left has incited Americans to murder too. Beck points out that some liberal and leftist commentators, like Mike Malloy, indulge in their own brand of hate speech.
And Beck is right to some degree. I'm not a fan of today's leftist inciters like Mike Malloy. The SDS and Weatherman not only carried out a series of bombings, but incited others to violence as well -- to "kill pigs" (police) and destroy the Establishment, so they could replace it with a socialist government.
But the Radical Left lasted only a couple of decades, and it didn't go unscathed. Whereas the Radical Right has been allowed to get away with inciting murder, ever since their movement went public in the 1970s.
The one exception has been federal efforts, under President Clinton, to prosecute violent crimes by anti-abortionists. Unfortunately, prosecution has never stemmed the flood of anti-abortion inciting. The "expendable nobodies" like Scott Roeder have been happy to go to jail for their beliefs. As a result of this ongoing terrorism against abortion clinics, these crimes are still happening today -- eight doctors dead so far, and dozens of other clinic personnel injured and clinics bombed. As a result, the right is winning its war against abortion without even getting anti-abortion laws passed. Abortion-clinic personnel are now so fearful of violence that abortion infrastructure has withered away in most states, to the point where most American women now have little access to this medical procedure that technically is still legal.
Why this stark contrast between the way our justice system treated the radical Left , and the way it treated the radical Right? Why have the American people done so little to stop this deadly trend?
It is politically difficult to attack the Bible as the source of radical-right incitings for violent death, when so many moderate Americans have warm fuzzies about the Bible. Since childhood they've felt a naive Sunday School reverence for what they call "the Good Book." They don't mind promoting the idea that the Bible should have a central place in our culture and our public life. Never mind that the Bible was imported here from Europe too, along with the brand of fundamentalist Protestantism that believes every word of that book. The Bible is a paradox -- along with its inspiring passages of spiritual wisdom, it has many venomous passages that amount to a primordial primer for religious inciting, a handbook for hate speech. There is page after page of gory Old Testament episodes that can be cited by believers as examples of "what God wants done to his enemies."
But most Americans have never actually bothered to read the Bible cover to cover. If they did, they might see the passages where all the hate speech is coming from, and their warm fuzzies for the Good Book might vanish overnight.
Today, any efforts to prohibit Americans from advocating gory religious massacre, or to punish them if their words have provably led to someone's death, raises a daunting issue of free speech.
Our country has yet to deal with this speech issue in a courageous and clear-minded manner. If a flagrant case were to come before the U.S. Supreme Court, I doubt that our present High Court would be high-minded enough to rule on it in a way that solves the problem. Meanwhile, as conservatives work to restore Bible teachings in U.S. public schools, and more students start resonating to those specific violent passages in the Bible, the anti-gay climate in the U.S. is going to get worse. Much worse.
Who Murdered Hypatia?
It's also important to look at the more distant past. Long before our own national founding, there is the gory historical record of conservative Christianity and its incitings over 2000 years.
For most of those centuries, both the Catholic and Protestant varieties have been driving Western governments and empires. They have enjoyed the lion's share of control over "the history of Western civilization." Through missionaries, the radical righters of these different denominations were spending long centuries looking to funnel the boiling acid of punitive preachings into non-Christian parts of the world, like Asia and Africa. Whereas "liberalism" and socialism" -- the formal brands that they hate so much, because these movements aimed at the dis-establishment of church power in European governments -- are only recent developments.
So the ancestors of today's radical righters have been at it for most of those 2000 years. They've had lots of time to practice.
We can start in 415 CE, with the most horrific act of inciting in the early Christian era. It took place in the city of Alexandria, when a mob was incited against famed pagan philosopher Hypatia. They dragged her out of her chariot, and tortured and murdered her. Today's conservative Catholic historians are still trying to get the alleged inciter, St. Cyril of Alexandria, off the hook by insisting that he was really a nice guy and didn't call for her death. One revisionist scholar, S. J. Davis, blames Hypatia's murder simply on "a volatile social environment."
In my opinion, the question of what local figure actually incited the mob to kill Hypatia is academic. Because the fact is -- by the late 300s, the Catholic Church had made itself the sole legal ruling force in the old Roman Empire. By 415, any practice of pagan spirituality was formally and universally declared to be a serious crime. Inflammatory church writers like Firmicus Maternus were calling for "paganism to be utterly destroyed." By Hypatia's time, all anybody had to do was point a finger.
On to post-medieval times, and Protestant inciting of violence against Jews.
The most venomous attack came from Reformation leader Martin Luther himself, and his 1543 tract, On the Jews and Their Lies. Anybody who thinks that Luther was a nice guy should read this piece. Luther urged that synagogues be burnt and Jews savaged for their alleged role in the death of Christ and their refusal to convert to Christianity. While Luther did not invent anti-Semitism, or bloody his own hands with murders, he was personally responsible for four centuries of post-Reformation pogroms...right up to the 1930s, when his tract was exploited by Nazi propagandists.
With such historic examples to "inspire" them, today's descendants of reactionary churchism have got their technique down pat. They feel very justified and comfortable in what they perceive as their "right" to go on pointing the finger...or to pretend they're not doing it even when they are.
So this is what we're really fighting as we mourn the violent death of David Kato in Uganda. This is what we truly fight as we experience the lengthening list of violent crimes against LGBT people in the U.S.. Like the dead students at Kent State, we are the "popular murders" of our time.
The Flashing Green Light
As I write this article in February 2011, America has taken another step towards a Bible-based society governed by religious vigilantism. In the South Dakota legislature, state representative Phil Jensen (R ) introduced HB 1171 making it "justifiable homicide" to kill someone in defense of an unborn fetus. Translation: it's okay to murder abortion-clinic personnel.
When news of HR 1171 hit the national media, a tornado of controversy engulfed Rep. Jensen. He insisted that his intention was not to advocate murdering abortion doctors. However, a move like this bill is always transparent, always part of the inciting process. HR 1171 had come out of committee with written support by 22 other representatives and four senators. It was buttressed by testimony from Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, Family Heritage Alliance, and Family Matters. These rightist supporters know exactly what they're supporting, and make no bones about it. Jensen himself has a track record of being anti-abortion.
The latest word is, that HR 1171 may be shelved. But it will be back...or something like it. Along other state laws that justify religion-driven "in-defense-of" killings of other hated groups. And the nobody shooters out there will know how to read the green light they're being given.
The American people had better wake up to what's happening right in their front yards. Americans who are more moderate than conservative, and who fondly believe that the "Good Book" is a good model for American society, need to start asking themselves if they want that book to be used as a murder weapon.
As long as there is a public policy that God "wants His people to violently destroy His enemies," some of us will pay the ultimate price for somebody else's perceived "right" to demand that all of us should be shot.
"They Should Have Shot Them All" - Kent State Aftermath