In the wake of the Tucson shooting and the almost frantic denials on the right of their complicity, and particularly in watching Palin dig herself in even deeper last night on Hannity’s show, I want to reiterate: words have consequences. Blood libel, or the accusation that Jewish people used the blood of Christian babies, was used for centuries to justify the ongoing slaughter (also known as pogroms, by the way) of these people. And, if you didn’t know, blood libel continues to this day — it is not merely some historical artifact. The history of the phrase has a peculiar resonance given its use in these shootings. If I didn’t know better, I’d wonder if Palin was using it as code to whip up her followers. It is exactly the sort of odd Biblical type reference used in coding and it’s otherwise dropped in so awkwardly into the public discourse that it makes me wonder. That she felt compelled to cling to it on Hannity’s show is even more strange since it has clearly backfired so publicly. (Most of the time coded language carries a specific meaning to followers and just puzzles the rest of us — if we even notice it — which is the entire point.)
In any case, taking the right wing to task for using this sort of rhetoric and imagery isn’t accusing one of murder or being an accessory to murder (I love the breathless right wing’s instant interpretation of what these criticisms are about — they project so transparently most of the time) nor is it something new and novel and “New Agey” to point this out. King Henry II found out long ago how minions will pick up and carry out even rhetorical utterances — but I guess that history is as opaque as that of blood libel. I have already pointed out to a modern day analysis of how this works and to be honest? That is what I think they are doing, in some cases quite deliberately. Trigger unstable people, and wash your hands of the resulting havoc.
Now consider all of this in the context of Wikileaks. As we all know, Julian Assange has been the subject of numerous threats, mostly from the United States, which taken together are dismaying, and which taken in context of the events in Tucson are downright frightening:
- John Hawkins: The CIA Should Kill Julian Assange (Jul 29, 2010)
- Jonah Goldberg: All Quiet on the Black-Ops Front (Oct 29, 2010)
- Peter King (R-NJ): Congressman wants WikiLeaks listed as terrorist group (Nov 28, 2010)
- Tom Flanagan (Canada): Tom Flanagan: ‘Julian Assange Should Be Assassinated’ (Nov 29, 2010; retracted Dec 1, 2010)
- William Kristol: Whack WikiLeaks (Nov 30, 2010)
- Jeffrey T. Kuhner: KUHNER: Assassinate Assange? (Dec 2, 2010)
- Bob Beckel: Bob Beckel Wants Julian Assange Assassinated! (Dec 6, 2010)
Is it any wonder that part of his fight against extradition to Sweden included the sidenote that if he were subsequently extradited to the U.S. from Sweden he feared for his life?
I’m certainly not the only person who has pointed out this disturbing trend in the public discourse. And this obviously begs the question of why such an extreme response. After all on a basic level this is no different from years of investigative reporting, from Ellsberg to Woodward and Bernstein — even recently when The NYT spills key military secrets on its front page. None of these has triggered calls for execution or assassination in the way Wikileaks and Assange have. Not only that, but the sorts of Internet freedom that Wikileaks is all about were championed only last year, by none other than Hillary Clinton. Again, others have also been asking these questions.
I wonder if a clue can’t be found in this unrelated article: Glenn Greenwald’s The vindication of Dick Cheney. Key point:
Obama has single-handedly eliminated virtually all mainstream debate over these War on Terror policies. At least during the Bush years, we had one party which steadfastly supported them but one party which claimed (albeit not very persuasively) to vehemently oppose them. At least there was a pretense of vigorous debate over their legality, morality, efficacy, and compatibility with our national values.
So now that the U.S.’s political parties have both abandoned this debate and have both engaged extensively in expanding and strengthening the War on Terror which translates pretty directly into the transformation of the United States into an authoritarian plutocracy via the Patriot Act, the continued level of government secrecy, the increasing incidence of Fourth Amendment violations particularly at airports, the harassment of individuals offering criticism, the illegal detention of U.S. citizens without proper pretrial treatment or indeed without any charges at all (including Bradley Manning and Gulet Mohamed) and so on — who or what is there to effectively work against all this? If the huge state and government apparatus of the United States — a traditional defender of human rights and decency — has been thus co-opted, then clearly some other agency independent of, and equally powerful to, the U.S. must take up the slack.
Is Wikileaks that agency? I think it is too early to tell, but I think events are placing Wikileaks precisely there. It is the only agency exposing the sorts of things that the U.S. is doing, with relative immunity and impunity. It is the only agency, because of its unique global position on the pulse of online culture and distributed architecture, positioned to be powerful enough, in the ways that matter, to stand up to the U.S. It is a crowdsourced investigative and journalistic entity that is not a traditional government-linked or -dependent entity vulnerable to pressure from those quarters. It is self duplicating and cannot be shut down. And while Assange is currently the figure at the helm of Wikileaks, it can be run equally well by many others.
No wonder the U.S. would like to see him killed. But like Henry II, the U.S. would likely find that it would not solve their problems with Wikileaks…