Then on Oct. 27, a man carrying an AR-15 assault rifle and 3 hand guns, shot and killed 11 congregants at a Pittsburgh synagogue, wounding 4 police officers and 2 others, as he shouted “All Jews must die.” The Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history, was provoked by the gunman’s belief in a conspiracy theory that a caravan of Central American refugees headed to the U.S. border, was part of a Jewish plot.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Chip Berlet, an investigative journalist, research analyst and activist who has written about racism and intolerance for over four decades. Here, he examine the rise in hate crimes by violent right-wing individuals and groups – and the connection these crimes have to President Trump’s toxic, hate-filled rhetoric.
CHIP BERLET: If a very popular leader who is high up – it doesn’t matter whether it’s a political or religious or movement leader – basically alleges that some group of people is conspiring against the common good and they sort of harp on that for a long time, it’s only a matter of time before people get killed. That has been the middle of the sociology of this kind of situation since the 1960s and ’70s and ’80s, and it tracks back to the research that was done into the Nazi movement.
BETWEEN THE LINES: And Chip, how directly can the current climate we’re living through be traced to the rhetoric of “one” Donald Trump, who has certainly done his best to provoke people’s fear and hatred as his campaign modus operandi? It really seems very deliberate and it’s worked very well for him.
CHIP BERLET: What’s not clear is if it’s deliberate, because this is not the brightest star in the sky who is our president. So, I think it’s just his natural nastiness and bigotry that comes out, whether or not he’s president. My brother actually went to school with Donald Trump at New York Military Academy and you know, in later years he would admit that – as he would say, “Donald Trump was a really good baseball player. Not very smart. Oh, and he was a bully and a jerk.”
So, you come into this with the idea that he’s a bully. And now he’s president and he’s never really been in a position in his entire life because of family wealth and elite rule to be challenged on these ideas. So that he basically thinks that he can freeform this kind of rhetoric without any sense of responsibility as a president, but without caring about the fact that he’s coming across as a bigot.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Chip, I wanted to ask you in particular about a segment I saw on Fox News recently where Laura Ingraham, the host, was railing against the diseases that these immigrants were traveling up from Central America, primarily Honduras and Guatemala through Mexico in which has been a target for President Trump and the Fox News network. In recent days, she complained that these people would be bringing disease to the country and I reflexively remembered in history that the Nazi party targeted the minority groups that they were trying to demonize with pretty much the same kind of broad brush saying that they carry diseases. And, lo and behold, I looked it up and there it was, the whole history of the Nazi party, accusing various minority groups that were being persecuted by the Nazis as carrying disease. So Fox News tore a page right out of a history here, a very dark history.
CHIP BERLET: It’s a vicious history. It’s a genocidal history. You know it’s much better to use a hard word to describe this history. And in fact, if you go online and look up the Der Stürmer kind of records – that was the Nazi newspaper – and look at the language, look at the pictures, look at the characterization of Jews, “they’re not just disease carriers. They bring socialism; they bring rape; they bring all kinds of money manipulation.” So we’re basically now looking at people like Soros and seeing a direct historic relationship to the accusations against Soros, George Soros with the Nazi movement of the 1930s. So it’s really quite amazing that finally when CNN came on at 8 o’clock, they basically announced they weren’t going to talk about the name of the shooter in Pittsburgh. They weren’t going to talk about all these comments from political people. They’re going to start by naming the victims and I think that’s really what has to happen.
We spend so much time on the mainstream media talking about names, facts, killings, blood and then we go to a cut to somebody who has a political or ideological point of view pontificating, right? You know, pulling it out of their butt and and talking about stuff they know nothing about. And all too much, even on the left media now you have people talking about these kinds of actions and what promotes them without any knowledge that there’s 50, 60 years of social science that explains all this in detail. It’s as if it isn’t on the web, it doesn’t exist.
BETWEEN THE LINES: In the context of what we’re living through right now – the extremists’ hate, the racism and bigotry and the violence. How important in your view, is this midterm election coming up Nov. 6 in repudiating, the politicians and party that seemed to be promoting and advocating such hatred?
CHIP BERLET: Well, it’s a two-step process that, you know, I obviously, I think it’s time to take power away from the very bizarre set of authoritarian and self-referential Republicans who have taken over the party. There’s a really four or five different sectors of the right that have united to support Trump and, the current libertarian kind of greed-ster agenda, but also very masculinist, also very anti-kind of intellectual.
So, I think we need to elect Democrats not because we think they’re going to solve the problem, but because you know, we’d like to be able to have these conversations in two years rather than all being, you know, sitting around in a camp somewhere talking about the revolution or the Democrats or whether Hillary was the right person to pick. I think we need to stop what’s happening now. That’s crucial and that’s going to be by electing Democrats, but that is not the solution in the long run when the solution in the long run is to start organizing resistance to all these forms of authoritarianism in bigotry.
For more information, visit Chip Berlet’s blogsite: Research for Progress at researchforprogress.us.