Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cracking the Thin Veneer

The McCain campaign is veering into dangerous waters with the personal attacks on Obama for his association with Bill Ayers, his 'otherness' which the crowd takes to mean that he's a terrorist, and his support for abortion rights, which the rightwing interprets to mean he's a baby killer. I would not say that these waters are uncharted however, because this country has a long, shameful history of murders and other criminal actions encited by mob hatred and violence.

When I moved to Seattle back in 1981, one of the books that I read that summer was "USA" by John Dos Passos. It is a quintessentially American book that tells a number of stories about America during the early part of the 20th century. The one that made the greatest impression on me was the Wobblie uprising in Centralia, Washington, around the time of the first World War. (Did you know that they don't teach this as part of Washington history to our students? That shows what power it still has they they try to bury it even now) It's a vividly brutal portrait of what can happen when mob violence is unleashed. And at the end of the uprising, there were mainly IWW members who were dead with one fellow who was castrated before he was hung by the enraged mob of anti worker businesspeople of Centralia, and his body riddled by bullets. Add to that the lynch mob violence in the south that occurred during the same period, where both black men and at least one Jew: Leo
Frank, were the victims here. You begin to see the history that is embedded in our country and the power it continues to exert over some members of our society.

These days, this kind of violence is more likely carried out by a small group of people or one or two such as Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing, but they still draw inspiration from and are energized by far right wing ravings similar to those that the McCain campaign coyly hints at these days. The abortion clinic bombers and those that killed doctors who perform abortions, spring to mind as well.

For those of us living in Seattle in 1985, Christmas at that time is a somber memory. That was the year we woke up on Christmas morning to the murder of the Goldmark family by a man who was also unhinged by the right wing, who thought the Goldmarks were Jews. Here is the wikipedia article on it:

David Lewis Rice

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

David Lewis Rice (born 1958) is a follower of the Christian Identity movement who, on Christmas Eve 1985, forced his way into the Seattle home of civil rights attorney Charles Goldmark with a toy pistol and stabbed Goldmark, his wife, and two children to death. Rice, a member of the Duck Club, a right wing extremist organization, erroneously believed the family was Jewish and Communist, and saw the crime as
part of a broader religious war between American Christianity and Soviet atheism. Goldmark and his family had been active in progressive politics in Washington for years, and his parents had won a highly publicized libel suit in 1964 as part of an effort to refute accusations of past membership in the Communist Party. When confessing to the crimes, Rice called Goldmark the "top Jew" and "top Communist" in the state.

Rice was convicted in 1986 of aggravated murder for the four deaths and was sentenced to death, but the conviction was later overturned on the grounds of an incompetent defense. A sticking point of Rice's case throughout the trial process was the psychotic symptoms that he sometimes displayed, and his attorney's lack of emphasis on them. In 1998, he finally pleaded guilty to the crimes in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. He remains in prison serving out a life sentence.

Charles Goldmark was a highly respected attorney in Seattle, where I practice law to this day. These murders were particularly brutal given the time they occurred and the way in which they were done, which I still cannot bring myself to write about. And it was a right wing organization, similar to the ones that are currently ripping ACORN and Bill Ayers,that gave rise to these heinous killings.

I am also reminded of the abortion clinic bombings and murder of doctors who perform abortions that have been inspired by right wing rhetoric that is again making the rounds in the circles of those supporting McCain.

There was a highly regarded political science professor at my college, Dr. G. Theodore Mitau, who was a Holocaust survivor. His main point, when teaching his classes was that civilization is such a thin veneer that surrounds our society, that it can break with the slightest amount of pressure. McCain is truly playing with forces that can break this thin veneer of civilization, forces that he cannot control once they are set in motion. And if our veneer breaks, I am sure that he and his running mate will loudly and longly disclaim responsibility. We cannot let this happen. We must speak out and counter the voices of the mob that would break our civilization.

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