Last week, in which the police shootings of two African American men were followed by the assassination of five police officers guarding a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, was wrenching. Sadly, in this atmosphere of mourning, anger and grief, too many on the far right have done what they do best: co-opt tragedy to promote hatred and fear. These are more than just a few absurd and cringe-worthy comments; instead, they represent a line of thinking that has elevated many right-wing politicians who wield significant power in this country.
After the Dallas shootings, Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman turned radio host from Illinois, tweeted: “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.” He later tried to claim that he wasn’t calling for violence against the president. Ted Nugent, a board member of the National Rifle Association, said that President Obama “wants a racewar [sic].”
Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas and, probably not coincidentally, a former conservative talk radio personality, blamed the innocent bystanders at the Dallas attack, saying that they were “hypocrites” for running from gunfire while relying on the police to protect them. His point seems to have been that the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t want police protecting communities, which is clearly not true.
Rush Limbaugh called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist group,” as did right-wing authorBrad Thor. One conservative commentator called Black Lives Matter “the new KKK.” The ever-perceptive Sarah Palin said that the social justice movement is promoting “the antithesis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s message” by saying that “one race matters more than another.” Mike Huckabee said that the real movement should be “Male Lives Matter.”
Others fell back to their standard talking points, no matter how irrelevant. Frank Gaffney, an anti-Muslim activist who advised Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign,claimed that Black Lives Matter was working with “Islamic supremacists” to foment revolution. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a great favorite of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, claimed that liberal philanthropist George Soros engineered the whole thing in order to start a race war. Conservative activist Jesse Lee Peterson said it was all a plot to distract from Hillary Clinton’s emails. The Oath Keepers, an anti-government group, called for the formation of citizen militias.
These aren’t just fringe activists and media personalities; as much as we’d like to ignore them, we can’t afford to. Their cynical exploitation of bigotry and fear has already caused too much damage in our country. This is the same media swamp that has for years promoted the idea that white people in America are the real victims of racial prejudice, the same people who have spent more than seven years claiming that the first African-American president is an outsider impostor who possibly even lied about his heritage to earn his seat. Is it any surprise that the right-wing media was ready to demonize Black Lives Matter when it emerged and to claim that the movement’s critiques are illegitimate? Is it any wonder that they were ready to blame a gruesome crime against police officers on the president’s concern for racial justice?
It doesn’t have to be this way. In the wake of last week’s tragedies, some conservativesapproached the national conversation with genuine attempts to speak honestly and thoughtfully about race in America. We might not always agree, but if we can speak with open minds, that’s a good start.
Indeed, as much as the right-wing media would like us to think it, the tragedies of last week weren’t about taking sides in a political debate or a “race war.” You can believe that Black lives matter and see the weight that disparities in policing have on people of color and, at the same time, grieve and be angry at the mass murder of police officers who were trying to protect a peaceful protest. Millions of Americans feel both. Let’s not allow the right-wing swamp to skew these tragedies to promote bigotry and fear.