Holocaust Museum shooter, characterized as a right-wing extremist, is hardly that
Ah, yes. To continue where we left off at this time yesterday, news outlets are continuing to characterized Holocaust Museum shooter James von Brunn as a “right-wing extremist.” The problem, however, is that all of them are wrong.
Ben Smith over at Politico.com has found out that The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine run by Fox News contributors Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes, was the likely target for von Brunn. FBI agents visted the office and asked if officials there had received any threats — apparently, the address for the publication’s offices was found in the vehicle double-parked and abandoned by the 89-year-old madman at the National Holocaust Museum, only about a mile away.
Von Brunn had ranted for years about “neo-cons,” and among those on the left who also rant about “neo-cons”–inside and out of the mainstream press=-The Weekly Standard is widely considered a neoconservative publication. Perhaps von Brunn was headed there, only to find another target. I don’t know.
Point being, von Brunn may have hated Jews, but he also hated conservatives. Von Brunn allied himself with the Nazis, a radical leftist movement. He also bought into the theory that the September 11, 2001 attacks were an inside job, a popular conspiracy theory among those on the left. Apparently, according to Smith’s piece, he also may have believed that Barack Obama was not an American citizen, a theory which, taken independently from all of the anti-semitism and hate, is shared by many who read America’s Right.
The lesson here should be that characterizing people doesn’t work. This past fall, I spent a great deal of time analyzing one of the citizenship-related lawsuits in particular. While I said many times that I could by no means whatsoever attest to the veracity of the claims, I followed the suit nonetheless because I found the constitutional aspects interesting. I followed the suit because I work in the court in which everything was filed and therefore enjoyed better access than anyone else (it was because of that access that I was able to break the story on the suit in the first place). But as the process went along, what I thought was an interesting constitutional question and a justifiable desire to see public officials vetted became a virtual lynching, became for many less driven by the law and more driven by identity politics. Many e-mails I received had nothing to do with the Constitution or the presidency. Many of the comments I rejected from this site had nothing to do with any of the legal questions, regardless of how outlandish or lacking in anything but circumstantial evidence. At one point, it became too much and I tried my best to warn everyone of the dangers of Obama Derangement Syndrome. Soon thereafter, I abandoned the citizenship controversy for good. I don’t think I even mentioned it again until yesterday.
But that’s also where the dangers of characterizing people comes into play. Throughout the e-mails, throughout the comments, never once did I feel as though any of the people sending them were on the verge of snapping or acting out violently. Yes, they were frustrated. Yes, they were at times obscene. Yes, the language they used offended me, someone who doesn’t easily become offended. But at no point whatsoever was there any worry on my part that violence would come from it. I was worried about political difficulties, that the people who had become consumed with perceived unanswered questions would become the right-leaning equivalent of the Code Pink crowd, that chants of “HE’S A USURPER” would replace “BUSH LIED AND PEOPLE DIED,” and that people like myself who spends so much time trying to point out specific policy-based problems with the Obama administration would be met with the same rolled eyes that conservatives displayed toward the Bush-hating left.
Why is this important? Because in the wake of this horrible killing at the National Holocaust Museum, the media and the American political left has rushed to microphones everywhere to blame this on so-called “right-wing extremists.” They’re excited about it, much in the same way that Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi would rush to a microphone to denounce former President Bush’s actions in Iraq after a particularly deadly day for American troops. They see room for a political win in Officer Johns’ death. And, so far, they’re succeeding.
Not once have we seen, until Ben Smith’s article was posted a few hours ago, James von Brunn characterized as anything but a right-wing extremist. And, yes, he shared opinions with those who lean to the right — but just as much, if not more, he shared hatreds and prejudice and ideology of many who reside firmly on the political left.
Ben Smith is absolutely right in writing that “the substance of [von Brunn's] views . . . are too far on the fringe to fit into conventional political classification.” But he has been classified. And for the sake of an American people at the end of a whip held by an administration which thrives on crisis, manufactured or otherwise, it is imperative that we do everything we can to unring this bell.