Italics connote quoted comments.....
Last week, there was one of those stories that briefly flare on-line in which a pol, or someone tie-able to one, utters an indiscretion (on tape or otherwise), which is picked up and reduplicated in hopes of eliciting embarrassment from the target, and an epiphany from the public, in which hypocrisy and mendacity is sharply illustrated by the political foes of the storytellers.
This time the gudgeon was Jay Townsend, a campaign spokesman and self-styled "communications coach" for freshman Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-NY), who flagrantly tweeted or facebooked valuable lessons in the use of figures of speech, including metaphor and both senses of parrhesia: the speaker makes full use of his 1st amendment rights and the speaker seeks forgiveness for doing same. Perhaps thinking he was still posting as mstrRight on Breitbart, Mr. Townsend boyishly blurted out his latest campaigning ambition, in which "acid" would be hurled at "some [unnamed] female democratic senators." An instant classic.
Even a simple soul unschooled in rhetorical devices would, dollars to donuts, apply common sense and assume, given the context of a word jockey talking oppo, that Townsend was speaking figuratively. The folks over at ThinkProgress.com and their battery of commenters however strongly prefer a literal interpretation, and cite Townsend's words as compelling proof that Republicans, who are axiomatically "waging a war on women" are now seriously considering adapting Taliban methods as well, exposing their callous nature and lack of sympathy for actual victims of honor crimes such as acid attacks. The ThinkProgress article thoughtfully provides a link to an ABC Good Morning America story that implies acid attacks on women are mostly committed by total strangers, and that random bunging of caustic liquids is a growing problem.
(TP, founded in 2004 as an outlet of the think-tank Center for American Progress. It's long time editor-in-chief, Faiz Shakir, was tapped by Nancy Pelosi just last month to be her "director of New Media". TP claims to "provide a forum that advances progressive ideas and policies". )
(Note: Mr Townsend's head has since rolled for his indiscretion.)
The message board crackled that day with (mostly female) indignation:
Bobby Kendrick Top Commenter · Works at Orange County Health Care Agency
OMG what is wrong with these GOP thugs?
Addy Mcquiston · Top Commenter · Works at PaintSome Pottery
This man is a disgusting piece of trash.
May I suggest bile? For that is what I am filled with upon reading this stupid, stupid man's words.
What in all the name of all that is holy is wrong with this man? I am speechless with rage!
The topic seemed to take on great import:
Listen, and understand. The GOP is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.
Poster "Zoey Kay" had an explanation:
They became hateful the day that someone who is "not like them" won the Presidency. All those still hiding in their closet of hate suddenly started coming out.
"Pam Palmer" fairly bristled with anger, waxing hard into calls for harsh punishment: Sounds like this guy advocates some of those 'middle-eastern remedies' to deal with Democratic women. I have never heard anything so disgusting and reprehensible coming from someone in the political arena in my entire life. This guy should be arrested immediately and charged with inciting hate crimes. There is obviously nothing too low for a right-winger to sink to. This shows the world just what kind of people they are; dangerous radical extremists who should be locked up.
This fellow fails to see the irony in his call for revenge:
Michael Williams · Top Commenter
Anyone need any more evidence re: the Taliban/Republican mindset?
When do we "hurl" ammunition at these cretins?
Another man is looking around for his lost post:
ThinkProgess removes post? Seems my earlier post has been removed. Freedom of Speech as long as it is the correct speech?
But it's how the TP board contributors deal with doubters that is the shocking subject of this essay. The intellectual dishonesty of the article's author, Annie Rose-Strasser, regarding the nature and origin of "honor crimes" compelled me to join the fray that day, being careful to keep the tone unprovocative:
ThinkProgress finally alludes to the horrific practice of acid tossing, even conceding that it is "gender-based violence". Gone unmentioned is the society that perpetrates these crimes (Islam) and the supporting body of laws, which authorizes or excuses such backwards forms of "justice" like acid mutilation and "honor killings" (Sharia law). So the real war on women continues to be ignored by self-identified progressives.
Taking a little piece of poorly worded overheated written rhetoric and conjuring up some kind of offence is an obvious stretch of the truth for politic purposes. Making it into a crime is just over the top. Way over. Read the words of the guy [posting] under me here, Robert Levi Marenda: "Jay Townsend must be charged with inciting violence and a hate crime. It is time to take off the kid gloves with these fascist Republicans and enforce the laws that are already on the books. Why should any of us obey any of our nation's laws if those laws do not apply to Republicans. We the People demand the rule of law be restored."
Well, over here I guess this is just a run-of-the-mill comment, but from the point-of-view of a normal sensible person, it borders on the psychotic.
(And by the way, I don't suppose any of you guys listen to the John Bachelor show, but just to tell you Nan Hayworth is a frequent guest and she is well spoken and a very nice lady.)
Please, people, do your homework on Islamic societies treatment of women and maybe you would give these injustices, real injustices, some attention from the left.
My observation was not well received.
The first responder at least tried to engage:
Barry, you confuse a cultural issue with a religious issue. They are NOT the same. You then extrapolate that anyone who doesn't spout intolerance for a religion that YOU don't agree with, must be pro-honor killing. That is incorrect. You will find that BILLIONS of Muslims do not commit atrocities against women. If I use your reasoning, I can conclude that Christians are terrorists because a few fundamentalists have committed equally atrocious acts.
Condescending and logically flawed, but somewhat on point, which is more than can be said for the ripostes dispensed by one "rmurray" aka Ron Murray, one of TP's "Top Commenters" (how one obtains such a distinction and the benefits, if any, attached, is nowhere to be found on the site, and remains a mystery). Mr Murray appears to be the most frequent poster, appearing on almost every page as far back as one chooses to go, as there is no index. (A google search for "ron murray" and "thinkprogress yielded over 2400 hits. We met Ron and his themes in a previous blog post.)
This time he threw out some off hand swipes:
rmurray· Top Commenter
Ah, yes, the false equivalency deflection argument, used by weak, stupid conservative traitors since time began.
rmurray· Top Commenter
Miranda (sic), unlike you, Tilles, is a patriotic American. If you want to be a Muslim radical, go for it.
Mr. Murray, and his cohort Robert Levy Marenda, play the role of board enforcers, keeping the forum free of incorrect thought, castigating any doubters with a blistering accusations and vile names. This duo seemingly envisions themselves as latter day guardians of the truth - self-styled constitutional scholars who set the tone - keeping up the level of hate and anger, and entering the particulars of the case against those they see as traitorous. They wrap themselves in the cloak of the super-patriot a la The Minutemen far right group of the 60's. The writings of these two gentlemen are notable for their breathtaking close-mindedness, and a complete lack of empathy for those deemed, God help you, Republicans. These are the "Crazy" George Zimmermans of the 'net, always on patrol in their little gated community on the lookout for evil in the form of unPC thoughts, with the same shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later M.O.
Their methods are not that different from usual internet board tactics:
1) Use of derisive appellations often by deliberate alterations of words: rethuglicans repubTEAturds teabaggers
2) Impugning a poster's intelligence, often by pointing out typos or other errors as evidence of their weak intellect: James DeBorde is pitifully uneducated. Stats show that rethuglicans lack the ability for deep thinking. He's a good example of that theory. ...Jack Seckel - You do not get to decide what a political party calls itself. You are a barbarian Jack, and you belong behind bars until you die of old age. You are nothing but a fascist propagandist and we are sick of it. You wingnuts have crossed the line and we aren't going to put up with it anymore.... You're a liar, and stupid enough to think we don't know that. Typical teabagger....
3)Accusations of racism: Gwendolyn Lewis-Rouse · Top Commenter · Carlow University Sandra Goetz Stop your lying. You whites are sick people and until you stop your hate your (sic) fools are going right to hell...Sandra Goetz Hell is getting ready for you racsit (sic) haters. ...Edward Bruce Williams Please spear (sic!) me. Your (sic) racist and your (sic) party can not help themselves from their hate toward people that do not look like them... Tea baggers white people in this country have no tolerant (sic) for other races and every day they continue to show us they have no tolerant (sic) for anybody that is not white like them. ...
Edward L Carter II: You can try to walk this back all you want, Rivers, you racist scumbag, you are blaming the victim, AND Rivers (he's not a real Hispanic), you are a racist apologist for Racist Zimmerman, AND a racist apologist for racism in America!
4) Discredit the commenter by using an alleged contradiction or fib: Ron Murray:
Well, that's the Republican way. Ad hominem logical fallacies in place of truth and facts. And if the post were either half or twice as long, the Republicans would still be sub-human pigs at the trough.
5)Accusations of treason - this is big theme here at thinkprogress that I have not encountered before. The language used is odd, with a scripted almost legalistic quality as if the users were attempting to lay down some paper trail or constitutional basis for potential future actions.
Words of Ron Murray (RM):Too bad, jamie. What excuse were you going to come up with for republican treason and destruction of America this time?
Of course they will. They will do anything to hurt President Obama - right up to and including destroying this country to do it.
Freedom of speech? You don't deserve it, you are trying to destroy the Constitution and all American freedoms. go cry some more, pansy.
We see high dudgeon, righteous indignation, and rapid condemnation for even the flimsiest deviation from the grim orthodoxy of the group. These guys make the Ox Bow Incident lynch mob seem judicious.
RM: I'm with him. My tolerance for the conservative republican Taliban has run out, as has my tolerance for the Constitution-shredding, hateful, bigoted, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-American right in general.
Robert Levi Marenda (RLM): I am also willing to be less tolerant. It is time to stop tolerating Republican criminality. Round them up, lock them up, and throw away the key. I see no reason to further tolerate Republican fascism. It is past due time to restore the rule of law and crack down on conservatism so hard, the Republican Party can hold their meetings behind bars instead of in them.
Marie Harris · Top Commenter
Robert Levi Marenda [she is responding to Marenda here-the name shows up when you 'reply' to a post] When? I am more than ready!
RLM: Marie Harris - If I may borrow a bit from Ghostbusters, there will be a sign. I wish I knew what kind of sign, but it will be obvious and the wingnut roundup will begin in earnest
Another veiled threat from another "top commenter":
Listen I know we all look alike to you rednecks but I want to take your guns and kill you, not Obama. he's actually trying to help you. I'm trying to END YOU. For good.
By the way, last year's shooting of Congresswoman Giffords is still attributed to the the tea party or GOP by various TP posters as if they have a seperate reality from the rest of us: Frank F. O'Barski - Shameless. They are painting targets on their enemies, and Gabriele Giffords was just the first victim of their vicious hatred.
There is a propaganda technique called "reversal of reality" and it is generously employed here:
These guys aren't going to stop until there's blood in the streets, they've taken so much now that there insane with greed RM: conservatives are scientifically proven to be stupid in comparison to liberals. conservatives are also fearful, easily manipulated, and make lemmings look independent. And if you doubt that, read your own drivel.
Robert Levy Marenda's stuff ranges from the merely nasty to the downright menacing:
Maryanna Price · Top Commenter · Wolfson College, Oxford
I quit Girl Scouts (Brownies) when I was a kid because we sang lame camp songs that barely rhymed, weren't allowed to build the fires ourselves (the dad chaperones had to do it), only went "camping" in cabins and weren't allowed to have knives. If ONLY I had stuck in longer and gotten my abortion and indoctrination badges!
Reply · 11 · Like · Follow Post · February 24 at 11:32am
Robert Levi Marenda · Top Commenter · University of Wisconsin–Whitewater
You probably weren't allowed to have a knife, because the rest of the girl scouts teaches knife safety, and they all learn how to use a knife properly. As for claiming that the Girl Scouts indoctrinates children or advocates for abortion, you should be ashamed of yourself. What kind of immoral excuse for a person are you Maryanna? You make me sick Maryana. You are a disgusting propagandist Maryanna, and you deserve to spend the rest of your life behind bars for it.
Reply · 2 · Like · February 24 at 2:59pm
Robert Levi Marenda · Top Commenter · University of Wisconsin–Whitewater
It does appear that there are a lot of Christians, Catholics and other fundies that need to be rounded up, disarmed and deprogrammed, but I don't advocate for shooting any of them, but I am willing to adapt if that's what they want.
Reply · Like · Follow Post · 14 hours ago
Robert Levi Marenda We need to start prosecuting Republican terrorists.
Robert Levi Marenda · Top Commenter · University of Wisconsin–Whitewater
Ed McClure - Are you even for real? You bear false witness against Scott Merrick, and then threaten him with "replacement", which sounds like a death threat. I am going to flag your comment and refer it to law enforcement.
Reply · Like · March 10 at 12:34pm
Robert Levi Marenda: Charles Ivy - You are a disgusting fascist Charles. I hope you get rounded up when we finally decide to make you wingnuts take responsibility for your actions.
Charles Ivy - I am not a Nazi, and you bear false witness against me again by claiming otherwise. You clearly do not know right from wrong. You need to be rounded up, disarmed and deprogrammed. You are sick Charles, you have a diseased mind. Please seek mental health counselling before you hurt yourself or someone else
Similar words to a different person: You bear false witness against me again. Why are you willing to sin for your ideology? If you don't know right from wrong, please get yourself into a mental health facility when you can be helped. You could very well be mentally ill Gary.
Sometimes Messages are in response to posters whose posts no longer exist, as if they had been purged, but sloppily:
Tim Cavanaugh - You already have commented to a guy who you think is dressed up like a rabbit, therefore you are a liar.
Worse yet, since you have already been told it is not a rabbit suit, you are bearing false witness against me.
Why are you willing to lie and sin for your ideology Tim? Don't you know right from wrong? Just exactly what is wrong with you?
Robert Levi Marenda: Demanding accountability under the Constitution, and, to nobody's surprise, Clay the fascist little coward lies like a rug about it. Nothing like rightwing traitors in our midst, like little lord clay, the coward of the county.
Wingnuts can't even read well enough to understand the rights of a free people under the Constitution, as Clay proves with every ignorant, fascist, goose-stepping, Nazi reaction to Americans doing what they've always done: insisting on their rights. Clay, you're a truly unAmerican little freak.
Robert Levi Marenda : Clay Stringer claimed the protesters were demanding free education and in so doing, bears false witness against all those students. You can always tell a wingnut by the fact that they are willing to sin for their ideology. They are Satan's children.
RLM pedantically sums up his philosophy: Hate is the cornerstone of the Republican propaganda message. Republicans hate woman, blacks, Hispanics, non-Christians, non-Americans, homosexuals, drug users, liberals, progressives, Democrats, socialists, Marxists, communists just to name a few. Republicans are just as hateful as Nazis, and use hate for the same reasons the Nazis did.....
Mr Murray is not above resorting to innuendos, inanities, contradictions, crude vulgarities, or even profanity to make his points:
Sorry for your brain-damaged treason, you loser. Rioting will come, when good Americans have had enough of the right's greed and treason. And, as you always do, you will lose.
rmurray· Top Commenter (signed in using yahoo)
Jared Pachefsky, his point is the same as your head: empty and stupid, and a lie as well. america is a free Market nation, jared, you ignorant fool. Ask any of your teabagging buddies, if you can get their dicks out of your mouth....
Deal with it , you fat little moron
rmurray· Top Commenter (signed in using yahoo)
Jim Brai , nobody ever accused you of being decent, because you're not. Racism is antiAmerican, antiChristian, and antiHuman. You're just a piece of walking garbage. Poor white trash, the worst of America. Black people are far superior to you and your kind.
That last insult is beyond the pale.
Enough! What's going on here? These boys don't really respond, discuss, or even expound on their own philosophy - they issue terse bulletins from on high - wielding "top commenter" badges like some loony-ass internet sheriffs, all in a take-no-prisoners, brook-no-compromise, seek-no-negotiations style.
To me, it's a study in pure rudeness, simply on a human level. Normal people just don't treat other people that way. Moreover, a basic sense of humor seems so completely missing (except in its basest form - crude taunts sometimes with the laughs spelled out in capslock) that they seem blind to the irony of their own contradictions and the self important stylistic quirks that render the rantings parodic. These folks seem so without mirth that they not only lack humor, the lack the ability to recognize it.
As persuasive political propaganda, this stuff is piss poor. TP fails as a recruitment site because only heretofore hardcore haters will feel kindred to this unwelcoming club. Persuasion begins with reasoned arguments and a modicum of respect for the adversary if not their point-of-view. Logic and elements of debate are used here, but only in a twisted way that aims to confuse. I only feel exasperation however - at the breathtaking chutzpah of their blatant misuse of language.
This may seem like a modern kind of civil discourse, but it's actually a kind of negative writing. Here, the writer regards the reader as an opponent, and engages in a kind of lexical sleight-of-hand, or verbal Ju-Jitsu, using words that obfuscate, or have many possible meanings, in order to confuse, deflect attention or keep the user off-balance. Negative writing is of course the exact opposite of what a good writer does which is to elucidate a concept for the reader or clearly communicate information. A good writer does not need to be vituperative or solicit hatred through emotional manipulation.
Once one is accustomed to the boorish style and the opprobrious content, the messages and responses here often have a generic nature and a sometimes odd, off-topic quality, as if text were generated by an AI software 'bot responding to key words, occasionally emanating hilariously (or frustratingly) inapplicable remarks. (This isn't unique to this message board. Every Yahoo equity stock chat-room seems to have a top dog guy long and a "troll" short [who pump and ridicule the company, respectively] that post so prolifically people suspect they get paid by the unit.)
I made several attempts to engage Mr Murray with reason, but I was unable to coax him any reflection on the tone or content of his work:
Mr Murray. Hate is an emotion you seem intimately familiar with, sir. You're here every day, pounding people. I understand you have a strong sense of right and wrong, and ideas of morality that are clearly well developed. That trait is one that distinguishes people from animals I think, along with the ability to communicate unambiguously with language. Would you say empathy is a necessary human attribute, as well? What if the animal/self-preservation part of the brain is at odds with the human/empathy? Then morality is applied if it is expeditious. Perhaps that is why you treat people so shabbily around here - the greater good justifies it. Is that why, when a guy stumbles in with a remark or query, you chop him up like dried spaghetti and eat him alive? That's then a guy who'll slink away and never come back. Even potential sympathizers are turned off.
You could have a much better chat-room here if you and the other big dog on the block, Mr Marenda, would let folks up for air once in a while. It's my impression that many other contributors are intimidated by the pure malevolence of your message and the overbearing bossiness with which it is delivered. perhaps what you interpret as respect or admiration, Mr Murray, is simply out-and-out fear, as when a guy in your neighborhood has a gun, you like him....
This is what I'm talking about Mr Murray. You have to stop treating people this way. Not every voice, even on the far left, is in concordance with your unforgiving political views. Okay maybe this Mr McCutchen you already knew (he has the TC badge, how do you achieve that anyway?) But to what end do you browbeat a newcomer, and slap him down in such negative terms it sometimes verges on parody. Either way it's rude. Remember there are good points and bad points to every person. I drive a cab in Boston and meet all kinds of people from all walks of life, and if I'm in a good mood, I talk to my fares and I see nice normal people. In a bad mood, not so much. You get the point? You're always in a "bad mood".
Sorry to single you out Mr Murray but you seem to be a leader so maybe if you tried to be nicer, others may show more forbearance too.
And by the way, I voted for Obama and then the first thing he did in office is raise the butt tax a buck a pack. I'll never forgive him for that. Anti-smoking laws and people is about number five on a 10 reasons I left the left list.
The only response:
rmurray· Top Commenter (signed in using yahoo)
Barry Tilles,STFU. Nobody cares about your idiocy.
I hit reply:
rmurray Hey man, c'mon, why are you mad?
..and received the following:
Who's mad, Barry? Wingnuts are "mad", I'm angry at the treason and hatred on the right. I'm mad because you idiots are helping the GOP to destroy America. Why are you all traitors?
Okay I really could not get anywhere with Murray, and everyone else seemed to have me on "ignore" as if I were putting up discordant notes that could disrupt the comity of the group.
Over 40 years (I'm 58) I've both gradually and epiphanically moved away from left and abjured progressivism as it has developed itself. Perhaps it is partly 60's nostalgia, but it is mostly resentment at what I feel is the left's abandonment of principles that engendered such vexation in me when reading ThinkProgress. Absent here are the elements of open-mindedness, intellectualism, scholarship, and erudition that define the old (pre-1966) left, as well as the mysticism, naive idealism, and gleeful high-spiritedness of the late '60's, or certainly none of the proto-libertarian precepts of the group of back-to-nature folks that came next. These DIY individualists eschewed arcane philosophies and hippy-dippy communalism to build communities that reflected the spirit and style of the American pioneer West.
I can't figure this crowd out. Perhaps these are the 80's leftist arnacho-punks, all grown up. Stern aficionados of hardcore, an angry tuneless musical sub-genre popular in the Reagan/Thatcher years, were so disdainful of anyone outside their clique, they made the movement self-limiting.
So what do we make of all this - the bombast, the eye-glazing repetition, the narrow focus, the seeming inability to form relationships or to communicate any emotion save anger? It somewhat evokes autism to me, with apologies to actual sufferers and their families. Or the label "Irish Alzheimer's": you forget everything but the grudges. How about paranoia, cynicism and off-the-wall delusions of schizophrenia?
The deepest, oddest, impression one gets is that of a biblical fundamentalist, particularly odd since "fundies" are cited by our friends as the epitome of right-wing intolerance. But the stern old testament type idiosyncratic phrases, the vengeful day-of-judgement and rapture allusions, the stiff, archaically phrased accusations of "bearing false witness" evoke early American Calvinism, with its strict division of mankind into "the elect" and "the damned".
We last encountered cynicism this pervasive back when the Occupy movement imbued us with their "message." But this gang doesn't seem that interested in Occupy - just happy with President Obama and quite defensive about him, and furious that the Republicans are standing by to take back power and roll back Obama's "initiatives", such as each year's $1 trillion gov't giveaway (called the "stimulus" in 2009, then just subsumed into the main US budget). So the thinkProgress gang turn out not to be radical insurgents, but moderates - just regular bread-and-butter Democratic party members who are really really pissed. Who knew?
To me, discourse of this kind is dangerous for the country, as well as being a bad example for those who aspire to amiability.