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Little Limbaughs and the Fire Next Time | The Nation

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Column > Stop the Presses

Little Limbaughs and the Fire Next Time

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Residents of Skaneateles, New York, complained to visiting reporters about the Clintons' decision to make themselves relatively scarce on their recent vacation. Consider the plight of Kathleen Palmieri, 47, a cardiovascular laboratory consultant and a registered Republican. She told the New York Times that she had wasted her "billable hours" vainly "stalking" the First Family, to no avail.

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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The architects of our foreign-policy disasters would prefer we simply forget the past.

Skaneatelesites should lighten up a bit. What with all the fundraising, Senate strategizing, house-hunting, golfing and joking about the hapless Gore campaign, the entire Clinton family was probably forced to spend their vacation's final days helping the President plow through his ambitious summer reading list.

Recall the White House Press Office's announcement that the President intended to read ten challenging books in only twelve days. Think of the humiliation should the President return to Washington unable to answer predictable questions about the daring absence of anything resembling dramatic tension in Wallace Stegner's moving portrait of lifelong friendship, Crossing to Safety. Lucky for the President Sam Donaldson resigned the White House beat. How embarrassing it would have been when, over the din of twirling copter blades, Clinton remained silent in the face of Donaldson screeching, "Mr. President! Mr. President! Did Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian fully capture the psychological turmoil of its protagonist?"

Call me cynical, but I wonder if the President really intended to read all ten books his interlocutors listed and the press dutifully reported. After all, I was on a relaxing, luxurious cruise through the misty fjords of Alaska's Inside Passage with the scintillating companionship of a couple hundred Nation readers and I barely had time to finish rereading Proust. I did, however, find a moment between the brilliant panels and breathtaking scenery to do my part to help the President out. For my contribution, I chose Waves of Rancor: Tuning in the Radical Right, by Robert Hilliard and Michael Keith (M.E. Sharpe). Repeated calls to the White House press office failed to confirm Clinton's completion of the book, much less address my request for the opportunity to test the President on it. What follows is some of what the President would have learned, if he really read the book.

Although Clinton may have been disappointed to find no mention of George Will, Bill Kristol or Bob Novak, what Hilliard and Keith deliver instead are some alarming and underreported truths regarding threats to the safety and security of our citizens. The President should take heed. The media insist on treating far-right media provocateurs like G. Gordon Liddy ("Head shots, head shots...kill the son of a bitches") Rush Limbaugh ("The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies") and Bob Grant ("I'd like to get every environmentalist up against a wall and shoot 'em") as the far end of the spectrum of respectable conservative discourse. This is a perilous error. Like the tip of an Alaskan iceberg above the frozen fjords, Limbaugh & Co. are merely the most visible portion of a collection of misfits and malcontents, any number of whom may help inspire the next dream of glory of a wannabe Timothy McVeigh.

William Pierce, leader of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, noted in 1994 that because government agents "are too many for us to assassinate, the only feasible strategy is to develop our own media of mass communications and then use these media to make everyone painfully aware of the true meaning of the New World Order...[and then to] fan that response into a revolutionary conflagration."

Far-right radio offers Pierce's best chance of seeing his dream come true. On Station KVOR in Colorado Springs, Chuck Baker used to follow Limbaugh with a show in which he advocated the violent "cleansing" of the government. One of his (and Limbaugh's) regular listeners, Francisco Duran, took this message to heart and traveled to Washington to fire thirty shots at the White House. On KFYI in Phoenix, host Bob Monhan has suggested that gun-control advocate Sarah Brady "ought to be put down." On KSFO in San Francisco, hosts have been heard to advocate the "lynching of a few liberals" and the shooting of illegal immigrants as they cross the border. While censorship is clearly not the answer, given the existence of more than 1,000 "Patriot" groups, 400 known armed militias and who-knows-how-many lone right-wing nuts, it is not hard to imagine this kind of talk being a fertilizer for the next Oklahoma bombing, abortion-clinic shooting, Columbine massacre or Jewish center bloodbath.

Equally worrisome is the subterranean world of short-wave broadcast radio. Entry costs into this business are nearly nonexistent. Production equipment runs as low as $1,000 and air-time, only $150 an hour. With 17 million receivers in the United States and 60 million worldwide, short-wave is the most cost-effective manner for militias, the John Birch Society, the KKK, Posse Comitatus, Christian Identity, etc., to reach recruits who don't have Internet access. The hard core prefers short wave because, as Pierce explains, "Commercial networks are hesitant to take any politically incorrect views because they face a lot of pressure from Jewish groups." Tim McVeigh was an avid short-wave listener. His favorite show was said to be William Cooper's The Hour of the Time. Also extremely popular is "Pastor" Pete Peters, who titled one broadcast on WWCR, Worldwide Christian Radio (a 100,000-watt station based in Nashville), "The Bible Says It's OK to Kill Homosexuals."

Does any of this concern the industry's professionals? Well, not much. Shortly after Liddy instructed his listeners on the ins and outs of murdering government officials, the National Association of Radio and Talk Show Hosts (featuring Chuck Baker as a member of its board) gave Liddy its Freedom of Speech Award. Michael Harrison, the publisher of the trade publication Talkers, insists that "hate radio as a genre doesn't exist." Baker, says Harrison, is a "nice guy." Liddy is a "benign entertainer."

At least until the next MSNBC special massacre report...

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