Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Perfect Storm, Part 3: The Killings Begin, or, Hamlet Redux

Buried in the back pages of The Washington Post, this bit of trivia:

Census Worker Found Hanged

A part-time Census Bureau field worker was found hanged in Kentucky Sept. 12 with the word "fed" scrawled across his chest, according to a law enforcement source. Bill Sparkman, 51, who was white, was found at the Daniel Boone National Forest in rural southeast Kentucky, the Associated Press first reported Wednesday night.

. . . The FBI is assisting state and local police with their investigation, the law enforcement source told The Post's Spencer S. Hsu. The source was unsure of the cause of death.

It is a federal crime to attack a federal worker during or because of his federal job.

"It’s a tragedy. Our hearts and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of this worker," Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said Thursday morning. He has spoken frequently about the denigration of federal employees.

"I’m going to be closely following this law enforcement action. If this is an attack on a federal employee, I can assure you that no resources will be spared to find the perpetrators," Berry said. "We cannot tolerate essentially domestic terrorism, if that is what this is. But until we understand the law enforcement investigation, we don’t know."

Threats are more common than actual attacks on federal employees, Berry said. He noted that people regularly threaten federal judges and their families, IRS agents and federal law enforcement officers. . . . more

So Hsu can't figure out the cause of death and Berry isn't sure if it really is domestic terrorism.

Well, I'm guessing he died of strangulation from hanging, and that the word "fed" scrawled on his chest wasn't written by a fan.

Hanging is a message with a deep history in the US. It isn't just the mode of choice of frontier "justice." It's also the weapon of racist vigilantes. I wouldn't discard these contexts if I were investigating this murder. After all, there's no shortage of guns in rural Kentucky. Or knives. Or fists and boots.

Even though Sparkman is white, the choice of hanging is a potent message that we ignore at our peril. Translated, it says "Domestic terrorists are watching you, too." No antiseptic can sanitize rural, backwoods hanging of the stink of the Ku Klux Klan. No vehicle that can transplant hanging from its solidly Right-wing garden of horrors to something Left or Center.

I said in the title of this post, "the killings begin." Actually, they began a ta few months ago with the racist slaughter of Stephen T. Johns at the Holocaust Museum and the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita.

And they are deliberately being inspired by the likes of Glenn Beck, Michele Malkin, The Freepers, Michael Savage, and their cleaned-up, prettied-up counterparts on the Right side of the US House and Senate.

All this is of a piece with the 1998 slaying of Matt Shepard and the radically underpublicized double slaying of lesbians Lollie Winans and Julianne Williams while camping on the Appalachian Trail in 1996.

What do I mean, "all of a piece"? This kind of savagery always begins in thoroughgoing, relentless dehumanization of the victim. He or she is reduced to a hated function or a thing as it is imagined by the killer.

I think the victim in these cases is actually more than mere symbol. The victim becomes the thing itself, a walking-around synecdoche: The part stands for the whole. Here, the Census worker IS the federal government. the Holocaust Museum attendant IS the Jew (and as it happens, the "Nigger" too). The doctor IS abortion. And Matt, Julianne, and Lollie ARE homosexuality, just as the World Trade Center IS the deviant, corrupt America in the minds of Al Qaeda.

How much of this is spawned by the kind of demented Christianity that Frank Schaeffer so correctly denounces? Setting aside the Al Qaeda version, probably all of it if you dig far enough. The connections are obvious in the Tiller, Shepard, Winans, and Williams cases. Maybe they're a little more remote for the current generation in the Holocaust case. Hint: "Christ killers." As for the Sparkman case, it's too early to know, but I speculate that three or four guys steeped in the toxic tea of paranoia, poverty, and Bible-thumping states-rights "patriotism" had a lot to do with it.

If you haven't seen it, be certain to watch Schaeffer's recent appearance on "The Rachel Maddow Show." He is riveting. In case you don't know, Schaeffer is the son of the late fundamentalist minister of the same name, but a renegade. His full-time career nowadays is to explain his upbringing and its implications for the country when multiplied by hundreds of thousands, or millions, of men and women brought up to hate facts and despise common sanity. Hence, his must-read Crazy for God.

Has there ever been anything comparable in scope and reach to the US Right's death-dealing assault on America? I'm not being rhetorical.

Taken collectively --from "You lie!" to Fox to Trinity Broadcasting Network to the thousands of Far Right websites, media stations, nonprofit organizations, funding agents, corporations, politicians, home schoolers, private schools, colleges, phone banks, rock bands, "entertainers," lawmakers, judges, and moles in medicine, academia, psychology and psychiatry, women's health care, and the Executive Branch, our nation, like a noble King Hamlet, is literally (not figuratively)--being mortally poisoned through the ear.

The killings aren't the cause of our demise. They're but the symptom.