Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Shaking the can of nuts

Last week in Pittsburgh. a guy named Richard Poplawski came home after a night of drinking. Hung over the next morning, he got into an argument with his mother, whom he shared an apartment with. Poplawski got rough and mom called the cops. His reaction was to put on a bulletproof vest, grab a few of his guns, including an AK-47 assault rifle, and wait for the law to arrive. When two officers approached at the front door. Poplawski blasted both in the head, and gunned down a third. Three dead police officers. One horrific tragedy.

So, who was Richard Poplawski? Well, we discovered afterward that he's essentially a 22 year-old conspiracy nut. Overly paranoid, he lived in fear that the government was intent on busting in and taking away his guns. He kept spouting to his friends about "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" and that he "didn't like our rights being infringed upon." Poplawski also warned of the pending collapse of America. Sound familiar?

'Obama gun ban?' Where the hell would a guy get that kind of idea, particularly since the White House has no such plan in the works? Well, conspiracy-minded radio host Alex Jones, for one. Poplawski was evidently a fan of Jones, and was lso a big fan of conservative talk radio and FOX News as well. Sure, Jones is a pretty goofy cat. As tin-foil as one can get. Yet I'd hate to think anyone takes him seriously. Way too ridiculous. And the few people who do listen to him, visit his website and buy his videos and books are, well, a bit out there as well.

But Jones has gotten a little more 'mainstream' cred as of late. In the past few years, when he was barking about alleged '9/11 coverups' and the crimes of the Bush Administration, no way would an entity like FOX News Channel give him the time of day. During the Bush years, he buttered his bread by pandering to the left, as a vehement critic of the administration. Now that there's a new president, Jones is pounding the anti-Obama path, and in the eyes of FOX News, well, the enemy of their enemy is now their friend. The result? Jones has started popping up on the network's properties. And the rhetoric of one recently hired weekday FOX News host, Glen Beck, has started sounding eerily like Alex Jones.

Reactionary media personalities often prey on gullible people like Poplawski to make up their fan base. Anyone familiar with right-wing shock jocks knows that few of them would ever shy away from scaring the living crap out of you. Whether it be a loose cannon government, loss of gun rights or the wrath of God, they know the buttons to push to get the lemmings to pay heed. But is there a point when it goes a bit too far? Should the hosts of these gabfests assume any kind of responsibility when someone takes their caustic rants seriously enough to reach a drastic final solution?

Many bloggers and pundits on the left seem to think so. And with good reason. After all, some of the on-air dialogue from the wacky right has gotten quite hostile since the arrival of the Obama Administration. One talking head who's gotten a lot of flack as of late is Beck. Many have been noting his bizarre recent exploits, which even included random incidents of on-air crying. Seriously. In addition, Beck has been increasingly aligning himself with the Ruby Ridge crowd - the crazy tin-foil hat-wearing gun nuts (damn, if feels like the 1990's again). To believe guys like Beck, one would think President Obama is some kind of commie socialist dictator who wants to break into your house and empty your gun cabinet, then throw you into some sort of FEMA-run concentration camp. Beck has even invoked Hitler. And the host, a reformed(?) cokehead, must have had something else on his mind when he repeatedly used phrases like "heroin pusher" in describing what he'd like you to believe is a hostile anti-American government. Let's face it, anyone who believes this shit is probably crazy enough to do something very extreme. Including getting into a shootout with the cops.
Did I mention that Poplawski, among other online exploits, also posted a link to a video clip of Beck, the bit where he warned about the alleged FEMA concentration camps, on a neo-Nazi message board he hung around? Or that he even hosted his own (now defunct) right-wing conspiracy-minded internet talk show for a brief time?

Obviously, defensive right-wing pundits are not taking these accusations lying down. Noel Sheppard, perhaps the biggest whiner at the ultra right-wing Media Research Center (besides his boss, Brent Bozo himself), is back to playing the typical victim card. We're innocent! Blame the liberals! In an article posted the other day, Sheppard lashed out at a number of notable liberal bloggers, including Andrew Sullivan and Markos Moulitsas, for having the audacity to blame right-wing media for inspiring Poplawski's rampage. Not surprisingly, Sheppard's retort is rather flimsy. He expressed massive amounts of mock outrage and crocodile tears as he attempted in vain to conjure up a laundry list of other possible reasons as to why some guy in Pittsburgh would go on a shooting rampage. He's stressed out. He just got laid off. The dog urinated on the carpet. It couldn't possibly be the hostile, caustic rants of the extremist rabble-rousers he listens to. Don't blame the crazy AM radio or FOX News meat puppet for some guy going postal.

Interestingly enough, these tireless advocates of personal responsibility on the right would never even dare admit that the rhetoric of their comrades could result in dire consequences. What's the difference, really? Hey, I've been laid off from a few jobs in the past and my dog still pisses on the damn carpet, but that doesn't make me want to slap my mother around, grab the flak jacket, raid the arsenal and act paranoid while shooting at cops. On the few occasions when my dog relieves himself where he shouldn't, I reach for the Bissell and the Cesar Milan DVDs, not the nearest Kalashnikov. Sorry, but this latest wingnut spin is as weak as Dan White's twinkie defense.

But critics reading this may cite the Pittsburgh tragedy as an isolated event. The guy was obviously unhinged from the get-go, but did the voices that surrounded and influenced Poplawski help to push him over the edge? Was it just a fluke incident? There was another. Last July, a 58-year-old unemployed truck driver named Jim Adkisson opened fire with his sawed-off shotgun in a Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee during a service. He killed two people and wounded several others.

When investigators searched Adkisson's for evidence and a motive, they found copies of books from the likes of Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. They also found what was intended to be Adkisson's suicide note: a handwritten, four-page manifesto explaining his heinous actions:

...Liberals are evil, they embrace the tenets of Karl Marx, they're Marxist, socialist, communists...

...The only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is kill them in the streets. Kill them where they gather. I'd like to encourage other like minded people to do what I've done. If life aint worth living anymore don't just Kill yourself. Do something for your Country before you go. Go Kill Liberals!

Nice, huh?

What about all those abortion clinic rampages we read about? Those perpetrators must have gotten the idea somewhere.

Ironically, these same right-wing pundits are typically the first to point the finger at rap music for inspiring misogyny, drug use and violence among young people. Or that playing Judas Priest records backward will inspire someone to commit suicide. Whereas they'll never admit that violent reactionary talk radio and TV inspires irrational behavior among their own weak-minded set. Let's face it, what is conservotalk radio but rap for uptight middle-aged white guys? It works both ways, folks. What's it gonna be?

But it's all just entertainment, they say in their defense. Hey, so is rap music. At least rap has a beat.

Speaking of hypocrisy, I also find it ironic that during the past eight years, these same critics who defend their seemingly anti-government crusaders would not suffer any kind of dissent whatsoever from our end. Criticizing President Bush was tantamount to treason. It was un-American. Love it or leave it, they said. Conform or suffer the consequences. Yet, Sheppard closed his ridiculous article with this rather interesting statement:

Those who disagree with the direction our nation is heading better be willing to stand up and fight or there will soon come a day when you don't recognize the land you live in.

Good sentiments, and perhaps the only thing in the article I agree with. But coming from someone who represents the Media Research Center, after all the nasty shit they flung our way during the past eight years, that's gold-plated irony right there, folks. Just ask Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks about what they did to her when she decided to 'stand up and fight.'

Suffice it to say, Noel Sheppard (and his lunatic boss) are ten pounds of horseshit in a five pound bag. Poplawski is a feeble-minded murderer. Alex Jones is a goofball with a small echo chamber. Glen Beck is fucking nuts. And the weak-minded lemmings who swallow every word 'entertainers' like Beck spout without even utilizing their critical and rational thought processes are morons.

This isn't really a freedom of speech issue. And as a fervent backer of the First Amendment, I certainly would not call for the muzzling of any voices in our media. Never have. If Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, et al., are able to attract hoards of really crazy people to join them in drinking the tainted Flavor-Aid, well, more power to 'em. Let 'em have their echo chamber. And I, along with many others, also have the right to mock them. But just like when Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater got into hot water when they convinced radio listeners that aliens were actually attacking our planet, the modern-day equivalents should realize that there are people who take their word as gospel. And that some of these people are crazy enough to do something rather horrifying.

And before I get the inevitable hate mail, I will say that very few right-wing radio listeners are as unhinged as Poplawski, just as very few rap music fans take the music they listen to as a guide to life. But if one issues a call to arms, one must realize the consequences of someone who obeys.

When one shouts "fire" in a crowded movie house (or "movie" in a crowded firehouse), or when a boy cries "wolf," that warning can take on serious consequences. I'm not saying it's wrong to say it. But if one makes his or her living via highly aggressive rhetoric, preying on weak-minded folks to brainwash into listening to them, then they should accept some responsibility for the consequences of their actions. With great power comes great responsibility.

Perhaps these people should start engaging in constructive, positive debate rather than reckless rabble-rousing. But I guess that wouldn't get the ratings, huh?


FSL said...

I bet Alex Jones, of whom few had heard before this, is really happy today. Thanks to all the liberal bloggers, and to the mainstream media who apparently can't resist recycling bloggers' comments, Jones has more buzz than he ever imagined. Visions of making the Talkers' list are dancing in his head.

Rush demonstrated this almost twenty years ago: The best way for a right-wing talker to get to the big time is to p*** off elite liberals. They wring their hands, denounce and view with alarm, and then angry, post-money demo White folks come running. After all you and the other bloggers have done for Alex, he should at least put you on his Christmas card list.

LT, you seem to be saying Poplawski (pop law is to law as pop psychology is to psychology) has the beliefs and attitudes he apparently has because he read Jones' website. This represents the great myth held by broadcasters: That they can and do influence people. Not so. There is a whole body of social research going back more than half a century showing it's the other way around: In all likelihood Poplawski visited Jones' website because Jones confirmed and reinforced what he already thought. Bottom line: Talk show hosts preach only to the choir.

Poplawski thought the government would bust in and take away his guns? Well, that's pretty much what they did. Paranoids do have enemies, as Henry Kissinger said.

Might there be a double standard at work here? LT, would you being saying the same thing if this were a Black man versus the cops. Or if Black talk show host were talking about government conspiracies against Blacks? There is a station filled with hate-mongering Black hosts and White liberals are strangely silent about their more outrageous comments. Why "Free Mumia" from liberals but not "Free Poplawski?"

Let's not forget this whole incident might not have happened if the 911 operator who spoke to Poplawski's mother had bothered to tell the police dispatcher that the guy was armed.

Anyway, I'm sure this will turn into a "ripped from the headlines" episode of Law & Order in which the Poplawski character makes a deal with Cutter and Cutter prosecutes the Jones character (against McCoy's oders).

Anonymous said...

Only problem is the guy didn't agree with Alex Jones... Oops.

Cervantes said...

One correction -- Andrew Sullivan is not a liberal. He's a socially liberal economic conservative, basically. Describes himself as a "real" or "classical" conservative, as opposed to neo.

Chris said...

The alternative would be not to speak out against opposing topics? Sounds like a totalitarian society to me. Anyone who thinks this article holds any kind of logic is not thinking clearly, and only with emotion. I also find it interesting, the category this was listed under was Stupid Conservatives. Stupid? Why so angry? I don't think Liberals are stupid.

It's funny but kind of sad that these types of bloggers have this much time on their hands to write such things. Maybe, their getting a hand-out?

btwestmo said...

We the people and the media can not keep try to play the blame game when it comes to people that obviously have mental disorders. This young man could have just as well been a conservationalist extremist. Who is to blame when conservation group preform terrorist acts in the name of global warming. If your argument is true then Al Gore should be held accountable for extreme acts by the other side.

Anonymous said...

I've actually never heard / seen a so-called liberal talk show host / blogger ever try to incite the masses like their opposites - seems to be a peculiar trait of this bunch. So, yes, I do equate these current talk show host / bloggers with figures throughout history who have managed to influence and incite the masses (Hitler, Mussolini, James Jones, David Koresh, etc.). Unless Beck, Jones, Savage and the like can actually prove what they're saying is true, they need to shut the hell up. Hiding behind the guise of "entertainer" is a pretty flimsy excuse, but perhaps a disguise for being unhinged themselves. Time to requiring mental-health tests on people like this before allowing them on the air? I think so.

ltr said...

Here's a link to this entry that has 49 or so other opinions on the subject.

And no, it's not that Drudge.

silentgadfly said...

In studying international conflict in graduate school i've come to see how easy it is for words to actually hurt. Thank God we're lucky enough to live in a stable, pluralistic society. In many places around the world the media has been directly responsible for encouraging genocide against others. I don't believe that things could ever become that extreme in the United States. I do take it as evidence that rhetoric actually has an effect on people's motives to act. So, if radio hosts can manage to incite people to genocide in one country, they can certainly incite people to much more limited violence in another. If a radio host in one country can incite entire populations to hack children up with machetes, he/she can certainly incite a few loose cannons to do stupid shit in another. It would be incredibly naive to think that public voices don't have any influence on people.

FSL said...


What you describe only occurs when the media are controlled and behavior is uncontrolled. Somebody like Goebbels could do it. Not Alex Jones.

And Goebbels didn't even "incite." He had people who were in agreement. With propaganda, the army and the secret police, he could keep anybody else from objecting.

Lots of people are predisposed to what you call genocide and don't need anybody to "incite" them.

If what you're saying were correct, then you would be "incited" if you listened to Jones or someone like him. You might think you're different and that most people are sheep, easily lead astray. The next step in that line of reasoning is censorship to "protect" the sheep from bad opinions.

Try taking some courses in social psychology.

ltr said...

Better listen to what the man said. He got high SAT scores.

ltr said...

Looks like I'm not the only one taking Noel Sheppard to task. Here's what Media Matters for America has to say:

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