blogging, conservatism

Those nasty liberal bloggers are at it again … oh, wait …

Last December a freelance writer named Jenny Price wrote an op ed for the Washington Post arguing for a ban on handguns and criticizing the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence for not pursuing a handgun ban.

For the record, I suspect the Brady Campaign is taking a realistic approach. The chance of a ban on all handguns in our lifetime probably is slightly less than the chance lightning bolts will simultaneously strike and write “Bush Sucks” on the White House lawn. I also believe — and I’ve spent some time with arguments pro and con on this point — that such a ban would require a constitutional amendment. But I don’t intend to go into all that today.

I bring up the Jenny Price op ed because today Ms. Price has an op ed in the Los Angeles Times in which she describes reactions to her Washington Post piece. She knew she was going to catch hell; she was not surprised, she says, by the insults and threats she received.

But Ms. Price began her Washington Post op ed by describing how her brother was murdered by his fiance’s mother, with a handgun. And Some People objected.

First, many chat-room members declared that the killing had to have been justified and was most likely an act of self-defense.

One participant, “armymarinedad,” wrote: “I would submit it was a liberal mind-set.” Liberals, many others agreed, are mean to their parents — mean enough to warrant homicide. “One can’t help wondering,” went one response to armymarinedad, “what the mother had done in a previous life to deserve … a Liberal for a daughter.”

The second challenge was that I had made up the story of my brother’s murder. “Law-abiding gun owners simply do not commit crimes,” “Gunslinger” posted — logic hard to refute. But like David’s killer, thousands of law-abiding citizens annually become criminals when they pick up a firearm and shoot other people.

“Chances are very good,” wrote “Plutarch” on, “that her brother, if she has one, is alive and well.”

Plutarch and his freerepublic fellows Googled my story about David — and were encouraged when they came up empty because they were certain that “this remarkable murder” would have received massive media attention.

“I love to catch them [liberals] lying!” declared “mad_as_he$$.”

Lamentably, a double homicide by a friend or relative of the victims is an unremarkable news event in Los Angeles County, where 17 people, on average, are shot to death every week. The Times’ and Daily News’ stories were brief and buried on inside pages. Because the police took all day to notify our family, David’s name did not appear in them.

No matter. The gang Googled some more, LexisNexised, scoured The Times’ archives for headlines, dug up Social Security records. They wondered whether David and I had different last names: A “rabid feminist” like me, of course, would never use her husband’s name. But “Ghengis (Alexander was a wuss!)” surmised that David and I had different fathers because that was so “common in California in the ’60s.”

In the midst of my detective work, I received an e-mail from a medical doctor who praised my “terrific opinion piece” and asked for “a link to any newspaper accounts.” But I quickly determined that Plutarch had sent the e-mail using his real name (I can Google too).

Plutarch found a photograph of me on the Internet and posted it on the freerepublic site. He worked so hard on the case that I was rooting for him to be the guy who finally figured it out. But just after he promised his colleagues that he’d call the L.A. County coroner’s office, “DakotaRed” posted a recent newspaper piece about my family that mentioned the murder. The freerepublic discussion stopped abruptly, and the chat rooms on the other pro-gun sites soon moved on as well.

Technorati says the December op ed received remarkably little notice from bloggers — only ten links. I guess when this is posted there will be eleven. The attention paid to Price’s op ed came from gun advocacy chat rooms and Free Republic, not from bloggers, which might Mean Something. Or not. Anyway, here’s a link to one Free Republic thread, although I couldn’t find the comments Price quotes. (Deleted, perhaps?) If you are interested, you can see what the Freep are saying about today’s Los Angeles Times article here. I notice one commenter (#22) doubts the story of Price’s brother’s murder is true. They don’t give up, do they?

A guest blogger at Orcinus, Sara Robinson, is posting a series on the authoritarian personality. (Thanks to moonbat for the tip.) Robinson believes authoritarians can be cured — good luck with that. But I mostly want to call attention to the traits of the authoritarian personality, which she lists in Part I. Authoritarian leaders tend to be (not the full list) —

Intimidating and bullying
Faintly hedonistic
Cheat to win
Highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)

And authoritarian followers are usually (not the full list, either)–

Prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals, women, and followers of religions other than their own)
Uncritical toward chosen authority
Prone to panic easily
Highly self-righteous
Severely punitive
Little self-awareness

Clearly, Ms. Price stumbled into a nest of authoritarians. Ouch. But in her Los Angeles Times op ed she makes a valid point about the Freep that IMO also could apply to blogs —

The discussions left me profoundly sad. “You know,” a friend tried to reassure me, “these are just guys who sit in front of their computers at 3 a.m. in their underwear.”

But when these gun-obsessed guys in their underwear talk to like-minded guys, they build a community that reinforces a level of intolerance that is off the charts. After all, the Internet doesn’t create community. People create community — and how the Internet is used depends on the people who use it.

I’ve sometimes wondered if some Internet forums amount to positive feedback loops for personality disorders. In this case, Free Republic is a medium by which authoritarian personalities get together and feed each other’s authoritarian traits. You can say the same thing for Little Green Footballs and other blog communities. And never forget — anything you feed will grow. Eventually (I postulate), a Freep who was mildly authoritarian when he began freeping will become a flaming, snarling, foaming-at-the-mouth authoritarian; the sort of person compelled to destroy anyone with whom he disagrees, like Jenny Price.

Price also asks, “[D]o you really want these people on these websites … to have guns? … the paranoia and bone-chilling hatred that spew from such sites as and make for an equally — and unusually — effective argument for a ban on handguns.” (Have you ever noticed that the people who are most single-mindedly zealous about their right to own firearms usually are the last people on the planet you’d want to own firearms?) But, as Michael Moore argued in the film “Bowling for Columbine,” Americans aren’t just violent with handguns. We are violent, period. We murder each other with all manner of objects — knives, clubs, whatever — at much higher rates than other first-world nations. Might this homicidal tendency be a by-product of authoritarian culture? A stretch, maybe, but think about it.

Henry Porter writes on the Guardian web site that right-wingers on the web are successfully silencing speech they don’t like. Porter cites a Chicago university that banned students asking questions about Israel and Palestine in class. The subject was verboten, Porter says. When a professor named Douglas Giles permitted a student to ask a question about Palestinian rights in his World Religions class, he was fired. (I found the same story at Chicago IndyMedia. Is it true? Is there something that Giles is not telling us? I don’t know. If anyone learns more about this, please post.) According to Porter (emphasis added) —

Giles’s sacking … is part of the movement to suppress criticism of Israel on the grounds that it is anti-semitic. A mild man, Giles seems astonished to find the battle for free speech in his own lecture theatre.

‘It may be sexy to get on a bus and go to DC and march against war,’ he said to me last week. ‘It is much less sexy to fight in your own university for the right of free speech. But that is where it begins. That is because they are taking away what you can talk about.’ He feels there is a pattern of intolerance in his sacking that has been encouraged by websites such as and Campus Watch.

Joel Beinin of Stanford University is regularly attacked by both. Beinin is a Jew who speaks both Hebrew and Arabic. He worked in Israel and on an assembly line in the US, where he helped Arab workers understand their rights. Now, he holds seminars at Stanford in which all views are expressed. For this reason, no doubt, his photograph recently appeared on the front of a booklet entitled ‘Campus Support for Terrorism’.

It was published by David Horovitz, the founder of who has both composed a bill of rights for universities, designed to take politics (for which read liberal influence and plurality) out of the curriculum and a list of the 100 most dangerous academics in America, which includes Noam Chomsky and many other distinguished thinkers and teachers.

The demented, bullying tone of the websites is another symptom of the descent of public discourse in America and, frankly, one can easily see the attractions of self-censorship on the question of Middle East and Israel. Read David Horovitz for longer than five minutes and you begin to hear Senator Joseph McCarthy accusing someone of un-American activities.

More evidence that authoritarians rule America — we are about the last industrialized democracy with the death penalty; in 2004, 97 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Viet Nam (authoritarian regimes, notice) and the USA. And is not the Neocon world view — love us, or we’ll invade you — essentially authoritarianism writ large?

The compulsion to eliminate whatever one doesn’t like takes milder forms. A few days ago a rightie blogger realized, correctly, that a Reuters photograph showing bomb damage in Lebanon had been Photoshopped. Ever since then a number of rightie blogs, including some of the big ones like LGF and Hot Air, have been eagerly searching for more evidence of media malfeasance. And it may be they’ll find such evidence, since many such images are coming from stringers who earn a living by selling their work to news and stock photo agencies. But now every image that amounts to bad PR for Israel is being scrutinized with single-minded obsessiveness. And if the scrutinizers don’t see signs of Photoshopping, they’ll find clues the image was staged. As Glenn Greenwald wrote last week, reaction from the VRWC to the Reuters photos has been a little, um, over the top.

I’m sayin’ there’s something going on here that ought to be listed in the DSM-IV-TR somewhere.

Sara Robinson points out that authoritarians are hostile to the “cultural and political openness” that a functional democracy requires. “Everything in their souls drives them to dismantle the democratic impulse,” she says, “and bring people under the heel of hierarchical authority — which is why history has also shown us that the nation’s worst moments, past and future, are created by people with a strong right-wing authoritarian orientation.”

I’m not sure how history shows us what our worst moments are going to be in the future, but never mind — authoritarians are in control of our government more so than ever before — even more so than during the McCarthy era, IMO. And the Internet may be a factor, because (I postulate) it is exacerbating authoritarian tendencies in right-wingers who participate in online discussion.

This bears, um, watching.

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  1. Marshall  •  Aug 13, 2006 @1:34 pm

    I have roots in the country (middle Georgia), and so I am pretty sympathetic to those who want firearms to hunt and for protection.

    (At the core of the gun debate is a very real town / country divide. If you are 30 minutes away from the nearest town, and 1/2 mile from your nearest neighbor, why shouldn’t you have a shotgun in the closet for protection if you want ? If you are in a 30th floor apartment, why should you ? I am not going to get into arguments about the details, but anyone interested in serious debate should realize that these are rather different situations.)

    However, I spent time in Lebanon in the early 1970’s. That beautiful country was wrecked and ruined by too many people with too many guns. If a society where no-one is armed has the potential of being preyed on by thugs with guns, a society where truly everyone is armed can realize that potential and then some.

  2. maha  •  Aug 13, 2006 @2:05 pm

    Marshall — I hear you about the town/country divide. I wrote exactly the same thing in this post.

  3. Swami  •  Aug 13, 2006 @3:20 pm

    Ah, we’re lucky in Florida..we can kill anybody to protect our property..If you catch a kid stealing your stereo from your car..just blow them questions asked. Isn’t that great! I think the Florida law is more progressive than Texas’ gun laws… Why, just a short time back some drunk made the mistake of trying to get into his neighbors house thinking it was his own…Now he’s sleeping in the mansion that Jesus prepared for him.

  4. zen_less  •  Aug 13, 2006 @4:01 pm

    The reaction of the right wing blogosphere to the Reuter’s photos may have been over the top, but it got them exactly what they wanted. They are now considered a credible voice in the coverage of the Lebanon affair and will be consulted as pundits, continuing to throw their crap around. It worked extremely well for them.

  5. emel  •  Aug 13, 2006 @5:46 pm

    I don’t blame the internet. I blame people like Richard Viguerie who told Bill Moyers on Now a few years back that the right would never play” by the rules again, that there were no facts just opinion.” Moyers was honestly questioning why there could be no honest debate on policy in america and that was the answer.
    Damn the facts( torpedoes) full speed ahead. With sneering blinders on you can warp anything( the brother’s murder) into empty conjecture and you don’t deal with it as a fact. or as an issue to be dealt with.

  6. Detlef  •  Aug 13, 2006 @7:18 pm


    I can certainly understand your point. Although I confess that I´m more sympathetic to Ms. Price. 🙂

    I´ve got no problems with hunting. I´m not sure about the town/country divide though. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, more violent crimes occurred in metropolitan areas and cities than in the “country”. So city people should be more worried perhaps?

    (General comment not answering Marshall.)

    I´m a German and I had a similar email discussion (firearms/crime rates) a few years ago with an American friend.

    My conclusion in the end was that (Western) European countries / societies seem to be very “different” on this topic compared to the USA. With the USA maybe a more “violent” society? I just couldn´t figure out a good reason for it?

    I used Germany (very restrictive weapons laws) and Switzerland (more relaxed weapons laws) as my European examples.
    Both countries back then had very similar low murder rates despite their different weapons laws compared to the USA.

    Just to make my point (source German federal crime statistics 2005):
    Number of cases in which a firearm was used in a crime in Germany 2005: 14,216
    That includes:
    5,039 cases in which a firearm was shot and
    9,177 cases in which a firearm was used to threaten a victim
    (Note that the last number includes criminal cases of using a toy weapon if even one victim thought it was a real weapon.)
    Now, number of murder offenses in the USA in 2004: 16,137
    “70.3 percent of the homicides that occurred in 2004 were committed with firearms” according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report 2004. (The 2005 report isn´t yet out.)

    The USA got more murder cases involving firearms than Germany got any criminal cases in which a firearm was shot. And that includes in Germany damaging “things” (1,555 cases, for example shooting at traffic signs or cameras), poaching (325 cases) and so on.

    Just to finish my comment.
    Completed murders in Germany 2005: 413
    (Completed and attempted murders: 794)
    Completed manslaughter (including assisted suicide): 456
    (Completed and attempted manslaughter: 1,602)
    (Use of firearms in completed and attempted murder: 14,1%.
    Use of firearms in completed and attempted manslaughter: 6,2%.)

    I speculated that because murders and the use of firearms in violent crimes were so “rare” in Germany the police probably would throw a lot of resources into that cases to solve them and discourage would-be imitators. The clearance rate seems to support that.
    Clearance rate for murder cases in Germany 2005: 95.8%
    (Manslaughter and assisted suicide: 95.8%)
    Clearance rate for murder cases in Germany 2004: 96.5%
    (Manslaughter and assisted suicide: 95.9%)
    Clearance rate for murder cases in the USA 2004: 62.6%

    Simply put, murder and use of a firearm in a violent crime will get you a lot of attention of the police force in Germany. Not smart.

    Ahh, and don´t point to the difference in size of the USA and Germany. Think about the “Schengen treaty”. No more border controls between member states. And realize that the police of one country simply can´t cross the border to follow a fleeing criminal. In short, a criminal could commit a crime in EU country A and then flee to another EU country B. Even if the law enforcement agencies of country A could identify him, he probably has several days until the police in country B will get the information.

    Likewise, given the current EU borders it shouldn´t be so hard to smuggle firearms into the EU. Still, use of firearms isn´t as high as in the USA….

  7. maha  •  Aug 13, 2006 @8:35 pm

    Detlef — there’s a gun cult in the U.S.; large numbers of men, mostly white and middle class, believe they must be able to own guns or (black men; criminals; government agents; their ex-wives, etc.) will break into their homes and kill them. They believe they must guns for protection or civilization itself will crumble and fall into anarchy. .

    In some parts of the U.S. the population is quite sparse and police assistance and/or the wildlife warden may be some distance away, so keeping a loaded shutgun on the wall makes some sense, but most of the culties also want the right to carry a concealed weapon all the time, even in urban areas, for self-protection. And some states allow this. The culties have a cherished mythology that widespread gun ownership lowers crime, but their data is a tad skewed. In fact you are safer from violent crime in New York City, which has extremely strict restrictions on firearms, than in most other large urban areas in the nation. The culties refuse to believe this.

    IMO this gun cult reflects a perversion of cultural ideas about “manhood.” The culties think guns make them strong, when actually their emotional attachment to guns reveals them to be weak and pathetic. They refuse to believe this, also.

    And as I said in the post, Americans have unusually high rates of murder using implements other than guns.

    Right wingers in the U.S. believe the high rates of violence have something to do with America’s racial diversity. But Canada, which has widespread gun ownership and has at least as much racial diversity, has remarkably lower homicide and violent crime rates than the U.S.

    I don’t believe there is something about gun ownership per se that inspires people to be homicidal. Rather, there is something about U.S. culture that inspires people to be homicidal, and I think the obsession with gun ownership is connected to whatever that something is.

  8. Seattle Man  •  Aug 13, 2006 @9:26 pm

    “[D]o you really want these people on these websites … to have guns? … the paranoia and bone-chilling hatred that spew from such sites as and make for an equally — and unusually — effective argument for a ban on handguns.”

    Here’s another way of looking at it.

    Several years ago I went to a “gun show.” These are totally legal events where hobbyists can trade and sell guns. It’s like a convention. There are booths which display the wares — guns of all types — and they are for sale. There is no requirement for registering guns (this was in Washington State but I assume it’s the same in all states) so the sales were all “off the books” with no reporting requirement. An individual hobbyist might have 50 – 75 guns for sale.

    I think it’s fair to characterize the men there (almost totally male) as right-wing red-necks. (That’s not casting any aspersions — they’d probably agree 100% without hesitation as these guys from my experience are often quite self-aware and intelligent.)

    In any case, after I left the show I remember having one thought:

    With so many guns in the hands of the people I saw at this event, there is absolutely NO WAY I would ever want to see any greater gun control. These folks already have guns. Lots of guns. Lots. You are not going to take them away. They will go underground if guns are made illegal.

    So why would I favor policies which make it more difficult or impossible for _me_ to have a gun? And which would leave all the guns in the hands of either the government or right-wing wackos? I don’t think so.

  9. maha  •  Aug 13, 2006 @9:40 pm

    Seattle Man: I am not advocating taking your gun away from you. This post is not about gun control, but about Freepers and their ilk.

    You’re probably right about guns going underground, which is one reason why I think Ms. Price is unrealistic. I don’t believe it would be possible to enforce a ban on handguns in this country.

  10. Seattle Man  •  Aug 13, 2006 @11:59 pm

    I understand. I realized after I had commented that I hould have characterized my remark as an aside.

  11. justme  •  Aug 14, 2006 @5:19 am

    No let them all keep their guns,, make the bullets illegal 🙂 no amendment needed,,no constitutional right to bullets…

  12. Technocracygirl  •  Aug 14, 2006 @8:32 am

    I’ve sometimes wondered if some Internet forums amount to positive feedback loops for personality disorders. In this case, Free Republic is a medium by which authoritarian personalities get together and feed each other’s authoritarian traits. You can say the same thing for Little Green Footballs and other blog communities. And never forget — anything you feed will grow. Eventually (I postulate), a Freep who was mildly authoritarian when he began freeping will become a flaming, snarling, foaming-at-the-mouth authoritarian; the sort of person compelled to destroy anyone with whom he disagrees, like Jenny Price.

    I know that the SPLC and the ACLU have gotten more worried about the internet’s ability to feed the white supremacy movements and to help people within them feel like they’re not alone. They’ve also noted how the internet makes those group’s activities easier for people to fall into and become a greater part of the movement. There’s no reason why it can’t do the same for the slightly less fringe aspects of authoritarianism.

    And I *love* the comment — “anything you feed will grow.” Very, very true.

  13. Seattle Man  •  Aug 14, 2006 @9:58 am

    “They’ve also noted how the internet makes those group’s activities easier for people to fall into and become a greater part of the movement.”

    Wouldn’t the internet also make them far easier to monitor?

  14. Ann  •  Aug 14, 2006 @12:42 pm

    Maha, I love your blog. I agree with your speculation about right-wing blog participants “feeding” each other. I can only hope that the same holds true for the left – that our own community is growing and flourishing via the Internet. Perhaps this theory is somewhat borne out with the Lamont victory?

  15. Mrs. Robinson  •  Aug 14, 2006 @3:08 pm

    Maha, thank you for the link. This thing is getting an amazing amount of play, and starting to provoke just the kind of conversation I’d hoped it would.

    However, I’d never say that these people can be “cured.” If we’re using a pathological model (and I can make some good arguments that that’s an accurate metaphor), then this is a long-time, incurable disease that’s endemic to the human condition. You can never cure it; you can only manage it. In the next two posts, I’ll point at some specific ways to do that.

    And I do think your observations on the echo chamber feeding our various delusions are spot on, and dovetail nicely into my arguments about how people’s fear and submission levels get yanked to the point where they’ll accept authoritarian leadership. Right-wing media had everything to do with eroding Americans’ trust in each other, and creating the psychological conditions that allowed these proto-fascists to rise to power.

    But the very fact that people are also constantly leaving authoritarian political and religous systems proves that this is not an immutable condition. What is done can be undone. Now that we’re all increasing aware of how they got there, it is time to start talking constructively about how to set about bringing them back again. That’s the conversation I’m hoping to open.

  16. Big Gay Al  •  Aug 22, 2006 @12:43 pm

    Yes Ann, Left-wing wacko blogs also feed each other. Or haven’t you been reading them much? 😉