Glenn Beck and the rise of Fox News' militia media
By Eric Boehlert | Crosspost with Media Matters (mediamatters.org)
After a night of drinking, followed by an early-morning argument with his mother, with whom he shared a Pittsburgh apartment, 22-year-old Richard Poplawski put on a bulletproof vest, grabbed his guns, including an AK-47 rifle, and waited for the police to respond to the domestic disturbance call his mother had placed. When two officers arrived at the front door, Poplawski shot them both in the head, and then killed another officer who tried to rescue his colleagues.
In the wake of the bloodbath, we learned that Poplawski was something of a conspiracy nut who embraced dark, radical rhetoric about America. He was convinced the government wanted to take away his guns, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Specifically, Poplawski, as one friend described it, feared “the Obama gun ban that’s on the way” and “didn’t like our rights being infringed upon.” (FYI, there is no Obama gun ban in the works.) The same friend said the shooter feared America was “going to see the end of our times.”
We learned that Poplawski hosted his own (failed) Internet radio show and that he visited the website of 9-11 conspiracy backer Alex Jones, who has been hyping the threat of a totalitarian world government for years. More recently, Jones has been warning listeners like Poplawski about The Obama Deception (that’s the name of Jones’ new documentary DVD) and how President Obama is bound to destroy America.
Jones might be a “freak,” but he has recently been embraced — and mainstreamed — by Fox News, as part of the news channel’s unprecedented drive to push radical propaganda warnings of America’s democratic demise under the new president.
During a March 18 webcast of FoxNews.com’s proudly paranoid “Freedom Watch,” Andrew Napolitano introduced a segment about “what the government has done to take your liberty and your property away.” And with that, he welcomed onto the show “the one, the only, the great Alex Jones,” who began ranting about “exposing” the New World Order and the threat posed by an emerging “global government.”
“I appreciate what you’re exposing,” Napolitano assured his guest.
Waving around a copy of his Obama Deception, Jones warned Fox News webcast viewers about Obama’s “agenda” for “gun confiscation” and the new president’s plan to “bring in total police-state control” to America.
Jones also noted with excitement that Fox News’ Glenn Beck had recently begun warning about the looming New World Order on his show, just like Jones had for years. “It is great!” cheered the conspiracist. (Like Jones, Beck recently warned viewers that “the Second Amendment is under fire.”) Concluding the interview, Fox News’ Napolitano announced “it’s absolutely been a pleasure” listening to Jones’ insights.
We don’t know if Poplawski tuned in to watch Jones’ star turn for Fox News last month. But is there any doubt that Fox News is playing an increasingly erratic and dangerous game by embracing the type of paranoid insurrection rhetoric that people like Poplawski are now acting on? By stoking dark fears about the ominous ruins that await an Obama America, by ratcheting up irresponsible back-to-the-wall scenarios, Fox News has waded into a territory that no other news organization has ever dared to exploit.
What Fox News is now programming on a daily (unhinged) basis is unprecedented in the history of American television, especially in the form of Beck’s program. Night after night, week after week, Beck rails against the president while denouncing him or his actions, alternately, as Marxist, socialist, or fascist. (sic) He felt entirely comfortable pondering whether the federal government, under the auspices of FEMA, was building concentration camps to round up Americans in order to institute totalitarian rule. [This has been for the most part a rightwing/Republican project. Beck never railed when Bush and his gang were laying down such groundwork.—Eds] (It wasn’t until this week that Beck was finally able to “debunk” the FEMA conspiracy theory.) And that’s when Beck wasn’t gaming out bloody scenarios for the coming civil war against Obama-led tyranny. In just a few shorts months, Beck raced to the head of Fox News’ militia media movement.
Just prior to the Pittsburgh massacre, Beck’s often bizarre on-air performances, in which his rants against the Obama administration’s dark forces were mixed in with his tearful proclamations of love of country, had turned him into a highly rated laughingstock. “That is a shaky cat,” Dennis Miller recently giggled while describing Beck. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough broke into hysterics after a montage of Beck’s most weepy moments. And TV satirists have had a field day at the Fox News host’s expense. (Stephen Colbert: “Crank up the crazy and rip off the knob!”)
But I’m not sure people should be laughing.
The consequences of Fox News’ doomsday programming now seem entirely predictable. As Jeffrey Jones, a professor of media and politics at Old Dominion University, recently explained to The New York Times in regard to Beck’s rhetoric, “People hear their values are under attack and they get worried. It becomes an opportunity for them to stand up and do something.”
People like Richard Poplawski? FYI, weeks before his headline shooting spree, Poplawski uploaded a video clip of Beck ominously referencing the FEMA camps on Fox News.
It’s true that Beck, in response to mounting criticism, made this statement on his show:
BECK: Let me be clear on one thing. If someone tries to harm another person in the name of the Constitution or the truth behind 9-11 or anything else, they are just as dangerous and crazy as those people we don’t seem to recognize anymore — you know, the ones who kill in the name of Allah.
And let’s drop the idea — pushed hard by Beck himself — that he’s simply a modern-day Howard Beale, from the classic film Network, just an angry, I’m-mad-as-hell everyman lashing out at the hypocrisies of our time. Nonsense. Beale’s unvarnished on-air rants from Network targeted conformity, corporate conglomerates, and the propaganda power of television. Beck, as a classic case of rightwing populism, is their apologist. —Eds.
But look at the very next two lines of his monologue: “There are enemies both foreign and domestic in America tonight. Call it fearmongering or call it the truth.” That doesn’t sound like Beck was backing away from his rhetorical call to arms to fend off the Marxist — no, wait — fascist Obama administration.
And let’s drop the idea — pushed hard by Beck himself — that he’s simply a modern-day Howard Beale, from the classic film Network, just an angry, I’m-mad-as-hell everyman lashing out at the hypocrisies of our time. Nonsense. Beale’s unvarnished on-air rants from Network targeted conformity, corporate conglomerates, and the propaganda power of television. (“This tube,” he called it.) Beck, by contrast, unleashes his anger against, and whips up dark scenarios about, the new president of the United States. Big difference.
Here’s a sampling of what Beck’s been drumming into the heads of viewers, a portion of whom likely (and logically) hear his rhetoric as a call to action. That the government is a “heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state.” That it’s indoctrinating our children; that we have “come to a very dangerous point in our country’s long, storied history.” Beck’s concerned that the “Big Brother” government will soon dictate what its citizens can eat, at what temperature their house can be set, and what kind of cars they’re allowed to drive.
Beck’s sure “[d]epression and revolution” are what await America under Obama, and fears moving “towards a totalitarian state.” The country today sometimes reminds Beck of “the early days of Adolf Hitler.” Beck thinks that Obama, who has “surrounded himself by Marxists his whole life,” is now “addicting this country to heroin — the heroin that is government slavery.”
And it’s not just Beck. Appearing on Fox News, Dick Morris recently made a wildly irresponsible comment that looks even worse in light of the Pittsburgh law-enforcement slayings: “Those crazies in Montana who say, ‘We’re going to kill ATF agents because the UN’s going to take over’ — well, they’re beginning to have a case.”
And it’s not just Fox News. Radio nut Michael Savage recently claimed that “we have a naked Marxist for president.” And high-profile conservative blogger Erick Erickson contemplated the beating of politicians: “At what point do [people] get off the couch, march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?”
Of course, the right-wingers at Free Republic are way ahead of Erickson as they fantasize about Obama’s assassination: “And let’s face it: all the speculation about Obama being the actual Antichrist will either be confirmed or denied if someone gets off a lucky shot at the SOB.”
“Go Kill Liberals!”
I wonder if Glenn Beck knows who Jim Adkisson is. Adkisson [see below, addendum] made headlines on July 28, 2008, when he brought his sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and, after whipping it out of a guitar case, opened fire on parishioners while a group of schoolchildren performed songs up by the altar. Adkisson killed two people and wounded several others.
Adkisson, a 58-year-old unemployed truck driver, brought 70 shotgun shells with him to the church and assumed he’d keep killing until the police arrived on the scene and shot him dead as well. Instead, some members of the congregation were able to wrestle him to the ground and hold him for police.
When investigators went to Adkisson’s home in search of a motive, as well as evidence for the pending trial, they found copies of Savage’s Liberalism is a Mental Disorder, Let Freedom Ring by Sean Hannity, and The O’Reilly Factor, by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly. They also came across what was supposed to have been Adkisson’s suicide note: a handwritten, four-page manifesto explaining his murderous actions. The one-word answer for his deed? Hate. The three-word answer? He hated liberals.
“The only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is kill them in the streets. Kill them where they gather. I’d like to encourage other like minded people to do what I’ve done. If life aint worth living anymore don’t just Kill yourself. Do something for your Country before you go. Go Kill Liberals!”—Jim Adkisson
What Adkisson especially hated about liberals (“this cancer, this pestilence”) and what he hated about candidate “Osama Hussein Obama” was that they were marching America toward ruin: “Liberals are evil, they embrace the tenets of Karl Marx, they’re Marxist, socialist, communists.” Adkisson seethed over the way liberals were “trying to turn this country into a communist state” and couldn’t comprehend why they would “embrace Marxism.”
Sound familiar, Glenn?
John Bohstedt was one of the Unitarian church members who tackled Adkisson after the first round of gunfire went off inside the sanctuary. Two months ago, Adkisson pleaded guilty to the murder charges and was sentenced to life in prison. At the hearing, Bohstedt told the Associated Press he didn’t think the killer had been insane, but rather had been manipulated by anti-liberal rhetoric.
“There are a lot of people who hate liberals, and if we stir that around in the pot and on the airwaves, eventually there will be people (like Adkisson) … who get infected by the violent rhetoric and put it into violent action,” Bohstedt said.
He remained worried about future violence: “Do you think there are other Jim Adkissons out there listening to hate speech? I do.”
Jim D. Adkisson Charged In Tennessee Church Shooting That Killed 2
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — An out-of-work truck driver accused of opening fire at a Unitarianchurch, killing two people, left behind a note suggesting that he targeted the congregation out of hatred for its liberal policies, including its acceptance of gays, authorities said Monday.
A four-page letter found in Jim D. Adkisson’s small SUV indicated he intentionally targeted the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church because, the police chief said, “he hated the liberal movement” and was upset with “liberals in general as well as gays.”
Adkisson, a 58-year-old truck driver on the verge of losing his food stamps, had 76 rounds with him when he entered the church and pulled a shotgun from a guitar case during a children’s performance of the musical “Annie.”
Adkisson’s ex-wife once belonged to the church but hadn’t attended in years, said Ted Jones, the congregation’s president. Police investigators described Adkisson as a “stranger” to the congregation, and police spokesman Darrell DeBusk declined to comment on whether investigators think the ex-wife’s link was a factor in the attack.
Adkisson remained jailed Monday on $1 million bond after being charged with one count of murder. More charges are expected. Four victims remained hospitalized, including two in critical condition.
The attack Sunday morning lasted only minutes. But the anger behind it may have been building for months, if not years.
“It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred for the liberal movement,” Police Chief Sterling Owen said.
Adkisson was a loner who hates “blacks, gays and anyone different from him,” longtime acquaintance Carol Smallwood of Alice, Texas, told the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Authorities said Adkisson’s criminal record consisted of only two drunken driving citations. But court records reviewed by The Associated Press show that his former wife obtained an order of protection in March 2000 while the two were still married and living in the Knoxville suburb of Powell.
The couple had been married for almost 10 years when Liza Alexander wrote in requesting the order that Adkisson threatened “to blow my brains out and then blow his own brains out.” She told a judge that she was “in fear for my life and what he might do.”
Calls to Alexander’s home were not answered Monday, and the voice mailbox was full.
Monday night, an overflow crowd of more than 1,000 people attended a memorial service at the Second Presbyterian Church next door to the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.
“We’re here tonight to make sense of the senseless,” the Rev. William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, told the gathering.
In Adkisson’s letter, which police have not released, “he indicated … that he expected to be in there (the church) shooting people until the police arrived and that he fully expected to be killed by the responding police,” Owen said. “He certainly intended to take a lot of casualties.”
Witnesses said the attack was cut short after some church members tackled the gunman and held him until police arrived.
The Unitarian-Universalist church advocates for women’s rights and gay rights and has provided sanctuary for political refugees. It also has fed the homeless and founded a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, according to its Web site.
Owen said authorities believe the suspect had gone to the Unitarian church because of “some publicity in the recent past regarding its liberal stance on things.”
Owen did not identify the publicity, but the Rev. Chris Buice, the church’s pastor, is a frequent contributor to the Knoxville newspaper.
“In the midst of political and religious controversy, I choose to love my neighbors as myself,” Buice wrote in an op-ed piece published in March. “Ultimately, I believe that tolerance, compassion and respect are the qualities we need to keep Knoxville and East Tennessee beautiful.”
A police affidavit used to get a search warrant for Adkisson’s home said the suspect admitted to the shooting.
Adkisson “stated that he had targeted the church because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of the major media outlets,” Investigator Steve Still wrote.
Adkisson told authorities he had no next of kin or family. He lived about a 20-minute drive from the Unitarian church _ one of three in the Knoxville area. The church is in an established neighborhood of older, upscale homes and several other houses of worship near the University of Tennessee.
The police chief said the suspect bought the shotgun at a pawn shop about a month ago, and he wrote the letter in the last week or so. A .38-caliber handgun was found in his home.
About 200 people from throughout the community were watching 25 children performing “Annie” when the suspect entered the church, pulled out a semiautomatic shotgun and fired three fatal blasts.
Church member Barbara Kemper said the gunman shouted “hateful words” before he opened fire, but police investigators said other witnesses didn’t recall him saying anything.
A burly usher, 60-year-old Greg McKendry, was hailed as a hero for shielding others from gunfire as other church members rushed to wrestle the gunman to the ground. Police arrived at 10:21 a.m., three minutes after getting the 911 call and arrested Adkisson.
No children were hurt, but eight people were shot, including the two who died _ McKendry and Linda Kraeger, 61.
When the first shot rang out at the rear of the sanctuary, many church members thought it might be part of the play or a glitch in the public address system. Some laughed before turning around to see the shooter and his first victims covered in blood.
Jamie Parkey crawled under the pews with his daughter and mother when the second and third shots were fired. He saw several men rush the suspect.
“I jumped up to join them,” he told AP Television News. “When I got there, they were already wrestling with him. The gun was in the air. Somebody grabbed the gun and we just kind of dog-piled him to the floor. I knew a police suppression hold, and I sat on him until police came.”
Parkey’s wife, Amy Broyles, was visiting the church to see her daughter in the play. She said Adkisson “was a man who was hurt in the world and feeling that nothing was going his way,” she said. “He turned the gun on people who were mostly likely to treat him lovingly and compassionately and be the ones to help someone in that situation.”
Investigators were reviewing several video recordings of the performance by parents and church members. Owen said police would not release the videos or Adkisson’s letter until they have been analyzed for evidence.
Adkisson, who faces his next court hearing Aug. 5, was on active duty with the Army beginning in 1974. Army records show he was a helicopter repairman, rising from a private to specialist and then returning to private before being discharged in late 1977.
Associated Press Writer Beth Rucker contributed to this story.