“Kill Him”—A Political Chronicle

by William Loren Katz on June 17, 2009

Two white skinhead believers in “white power” who planned to assassinate candidate Barack Obama in a shooting spree that also targeted African American school children have been arrested by federal authorities in Tennessee. The two men, 20 and 18, are charged with illegal possession of a sawed-off shotgun, plans to rob a firearms dealer and making threats against a presidential candidate. The arrest, weeks before the election, is a concrete sign that the terrifying “A-word” of U.S. politics has entered a tumultuous and ground-breaking battle for the White House. [New York Times, October 28, 2008]

In 1995 General Colin Powell acted on his wife’s fears for his safety, and decided not to run for President. When Barack Obama entered the Democratic Presidential primary, the secret service provided him protection in May 2007, earlier than any other candidate in history. As the McCain/Palin campaign sputters and stalls, and its attack language hovers around the ugly edge of provocation, these responses and the current arrest should set off alarm bells. We Americans are dealing with more than the usual “red meat” of an intense election.

Almost from the outset of the campaign, and in a variety of forms Republican voices have offered a steady anti-Muslim drumbeat, with racial overtones. Campaign surrogates continue to cast Obama as “the other,””not like us”; he “pals around with terrorists.” Translation: he’s a sinister, dangerous, unpatriotic, foreign friend of 9/11-types. Audience responses have been unsettling. At one McCain town meeting, a lady was moved said of Obama, “I don’t trust him. I hear he’s an Arab.”

Taking away her microphone, McCain replied, “No, he’s a good family man — with whom I have strong disagreements.” (McCain’s immediate distinction between good people and Middle Eastern people is itself dsiturbing.) Colin Powell suggested a better response: “The really right answer is, ‘What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?’ The answer is no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be president?”

Unfortunately, right answers have not kept pace with violent threats: Some people in McCain/Palin audiences have greeted references to Barack Obama with racial slurs, epithets and shouts of “kill him!” Although a few outbursts are being investigated by the FBI, they continue to mark Republican campaign rallies and haven’t been forcefully repudiated.

Matters escalated in early October after Fox News’ Sean Hannity introduced a researcher named Andy Martin who characterized Obama’s work as a Chicago community organizer as “training for a radical overthrow of the government.” Martin’s background, not mentioned by Hannity, was revealed a week later by the New York Times: Martin is distinguished by having filed so many frivolous law suits that he was featured in a TV documentary. The Times reported further that although he graduated from law school, Martin was denied admission to the Illinois bar because he has a “moderately severe character defect manifested by a well-documented. . .paranoid flavor and grandiose character.” [New York Times, October 13, 2008] One judge barred Martin from bringing his antics to the federal court system. Martin also has an odd political career: He ran for Congress three times, for President twice, and in the 2008 campaign circulated “proof” to Jewish and other voters that Obama is “a secret Muslim.”

Jews and “race” have occupied Martin’s mind. In his Connecticut race for Congress, his campaign committee listed one of his goals as “to exterminate Jew power.” In 1983, court papers document his referring to a Judge as a “crooked, slimy Jew who has a history of lying and thieving common to a member of his race.” Another legal document for that year has Martin stating, “I am able to understand how the Holocaust took place, and with every passing day feel less and less sorry that it did.” When confronted with his words by the Times, Martin charged that malicious judges had invented and inserted the offending quotations. Sean Hannity and Fox News had provided a nationwide platform to this self-appointed expert on Obama.

Between Martin’s TV appearance and the third debate, Sarah Palin increasingly painted Obama as being “not a man who sees America like you and I see America” and as “a pal of terrorists.” Palin’s proof: Bill Ayers, a 1960s Weatherman, who had been tried but not convicted of acts of terror—when Obama was eight-years-old. In recent decades, Ayers has served on community boards with Republicans and Democrats (including two with Obama), has been recognized by the Mayor of Chicago for his civic contributions and designated Chicago’s “Citizen of the Year.” Today, he is a distinguished professor at the University of Illinois/Chicago, whose advocacy of educational reforms has won him important friends and colleagues of every political stripe.

Next, Republican speakers invoked Obama’s middle name as a way of alerting crowds to the presumed danger he represents. On October 8th, Lehigh County Republican Party chair Bill Platt, for example, publicly scoffed at the idea of “Barack Hussein Obama” becoming “President of the United States.” At a Florida rally, a uniformed policeman roused a crowd with his sinister invocation of the name “Barack Hu-u-s-sein Obama.” The official Web site of the Sacramento County Republican Party compared the senator to Osama bin Laden and featured a poster calling on people to “Waterboard Barack Obama.” The Republican National Committee had them take it down. Republican rallies, as documented by news videos and You Tube postings, began to resemble unruly scenes, with yells of “traitor,” “liar,” “kill him” and other threats. Neither Palin nor any party official rebuked these words. (“Unleashed, Palin Makes a Pit Bull Look Tame,” The Washington Post, October 7, 2008.)

On October 8th, Senator Biden on the “Today Show,” called Palin’s rhetoric “over the top” saying: “Once her speeches elicited yells of ‘traitor,’ she should have stopped in mid-sentence and turned and condemned that.” No Republican response.

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