Hotel rooms can occasionally make you watch Fox. It happens. And I know I should be better than this, but it’s still, yes, shocking in its relentless, cynical propaganda. I was watching a foul, smug gabfest headed by Greg Gutfeld late last night and they introduced a segment on the first Ebola case in the US. Immediately, they cut to a graphic of a gloomy looking Obama with the words “Only in Obama’s America.” Seriously. He’s now responsible for Ebola, it seems. And, of course, the subtle insinuation that Ebola is a black disease and Obama is therefore somehow part of this dark menace coming to our shores was the subliminal message.
Then last Friday night, alone in my DC apartment – Aaron and the hounds are still in Provincetown – I also watched the Megyn Kelly show. You should never watch Fox alone. It was, of course, about the horrifying incident in Oklahoma that day where an obviously unstable and deranged worker had been fired and gone on a rampage, yelling Islamic slogans, and actually beheading one of his victims. It was obviously a deeply disturbing incident and certainly deserved coverage. But the coverage was designed not to lay out the facts, but to foment the most widespread fear imaginable. They played the full 911 tape – to accentuate the horror. They spoke of his possible ties to international terror groups. They had photos of him at a local mosque. They implied – in full McCarthy mode – that the authorities were covering up this Muslim in our midst out of political correctness or, in Obama’s America, government support for Islamist terror. Kelly intoned that this was “the first beheading on American soil,” implying that this was the beginning of a campaign to behead Americans all over the country. It was way into the segment before one of the guests, when asked why on earth the authorities weren’t describing this as an act of Islamist terror in the heartland, muttered that, well, in fact, the dude had just been fired at the place he worked, after a heated argument, and maybe that had something to do with it. Kelly immediately pounced and dismissed any such motive – and the segment moved directly from the local police who had called this workplace violence to an assertion that the Obama administration was behind this p.c. move.
The incident happened that day. I understand that breaking news may not have all the facts available to make full sense of it. But to assert he was arguably part of an international Jihadist group, already planning more attacks, to describe what prompted this horrifying act as solely terrorism, to watch Kelly’s widened incredulous, scandalized eyes asking over and over again why the police were still calling this as a preliminary measure an act of workplace violence … well, it was pure fear-mongering.
It turns out now that more facts are in that he’s obviously a deeply disturbed individual, singled out people he had a grievance about, had shown up at a local mosque and asked to have pictures taken (even though he was not a member of it and its members had no idea who he was), and had gotten into his sick head that he was an Islamic warrior, from reading on the Internet and watching the recent ISIS beheadings. He had just “converted” to Islam and was full of racist and misogynist poison. It would not be the first time an unstable individual had grappled with his demons by adopting some new religion and then went on a rampage to avenge those he had a grievance against. His weapon? A kitchen knife he had gone back to his apartment to get after being dismissed.
My point is not that this was not a horrifying act, and he faces the death penalty for it. My point is simply that the way this was covered reveals ever more starkly that we are in a new era now of the kind of paranoia and terror that sees a terrorist conspiracy behind any and every act of violence, that seeks to equate the acts of this disturbed and violent man as somehow indicative of the many Muslims in that community who were as appalled as anyone by this murder, and that is fast becoming national hysteria that shows no sign of abating.
America, my adopted home, is a place of wonder, of energy, of enterprise, of compassion, of risk and diversity. But it is now and always has been a place where deep-seated fear and paranoia have always simmered below the surface – where McCarthyism once stalked the land, where recent hysteria justified the American president authorizing appalling torture of hundreds of people (with complete impunity), where civil liberties were shredded in a period when more people were killed by lightning than by terrorism, where refugee children as young as eight or nine are treated as terrible dangers to the republic, where undocumented immigrants are left in permanent limbo and where legal immigrants are treated as threats first and assets second, and where our leaders, whom one might expect to calm the public, instead fan the flames of panic for short-term political gain.
The great achievement of those maniacs in Iraq and Syria is to have ignited this strain in American life, exploited the PTSD of 9/11, and brilliantly baited this country into another unwinnable, bankrupting war which will only deepen the polarization that leads to more terror – a war in which what’s left of democratic accountability and constitutional norms are once again under threat. I see no one in our elites, including the president, doing anything to calm this down. And I see a Republican landslide coming in the Congress this fall, with all the consequences of more war and more hysteria ahead.
Welcome to America, no longer the land of the free or the brave, but the land of the paranoid and terrified. I haven’t felt this glum since the Bush-Cheney years. Because, it appears, they never really ended.