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Right-wing violence and the “diseased mind”

May 30, 2017

Greg Gianforte’s assault of a reporter was the minor instance of right-wing violence in Montana this week. Just enough to get cheers from the Texas governor and American Family Association. The larger and tragic act was the murder of Broadwater County Deputy Mason Moore by Lloyd Barrus and his son Marshall. Another son, Al, who was not involved, describes his father this way:

I observed someone who believed that people of different races were lesser. He let conspiracy theories over take his mind. He was obsessed with guns, and peddled the idea that the government was the enemy who couldn’t be trusted.

Michael Gerson also describes that kind of diseased mind:

Conspiracy theories often involve a kind of dehumanization. Human tragedy is made secondary — something to be exploited rather than mourned. The narrative of conspiracy takes precedence over the meaning of a life and the suffering of a family.

Gerson focuses on how that pathology plays out in politics, rather than in personal lives. Until recent decades, those largely were distinct. A crazy uncle might think the local police were acting as part of a UN plot, say, when they trained their officers on community policing, but the local media knew that was nuts. Threats to shoot a colleague might happen in the Texas House, but not in national politics. Today, the airwaves and internet pipe a paranoia that drives the right-wing militias, the violent loners, and the US president alike. Or at least, his messaging. Gerson is wrong to credit Trump for creating that. It was Limbaugh, Hannity, Alex Jones, and the other pied pipers who crafted those tunes for years. Trump is just a conman who swooped in late, to claim the prize.

I must dissent from David Frum, when he proposes that the 25th was a signal day for the Trump administration. Like many others, Frum thinks he has a grasp on things, having survived an early cold front. Winter is yet to come. Andrew O’Hehir thinks it may be long.

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