The Washington Post published an opinion piece Sunday night by author Max Boot titled, “Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media can’t escape responsibility.” Boot’s argument is that we should treat acts of domestic terrorism the same way we treat Islamic terrorism, i.e. ask who inspired it. From there, Boot makes a terrifically irresponsible argument that connects right-wing media to mass murder without ever bothering to point to any actual incitements to violence.
After a “lone wolf” Islamist militant attack, the media invariably ask: What inspired him to kill? Usually the answer is found in Islamist militant propaganda. We need to ask the same question about right-wing terrorism. What inspired Cesar Sayoc to allegedly send mail bombs to prominent liberals? What inspired Robert Bowers to allegedly gun down 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue? What inspired Gregory Bush to allegedly kill two African Americans in Jeffersontown, Ky., after failing to enter a predominantly black church?
To ask these questions in no way obviates the perpetrators’ ultimate responsibility for the evil that they do. But terrorists do not operate in a vacuum. So who created the environment in which right-wing terrorism has become far more commonplace — and, since 9/11, far more deadly — than Islamist terrorism in America?
I don’t have a problem with asking what a crazy person might have been thinking when they went on a rampage. Sometimes, those people are just crazy but sometimes they seem to be acting out of a clear ideology. That seems to be the case with Cesar Sayoc and Robert Bowers. So in that limited sense Sayoc and Bowers have something in common with Islamic terrorists, i.e. they all engaged in terrorism.
But there’s an obvious difference which Boot seems to overlook here, probably because it doesn’t help his argument. ISIS and Al Queda have extremist media which actively encourages people to kill, bomb, run-down, shoot, and generally murder as many people as possible. So, for instance, Al Queda’s aptly named Inspire magazine has encouraged followers to commit truck attacks like the one in New York City just about one year ago. Inspire also contained an infamous article about how to make a pressure cooker bomb, like the one used in the Boston Marathon bombing. Similarly, ISIS had a glossy magazine called Dabiq which attempted to sell people on joining the caliphate and which encouraged mass casualty attacks in the U.S. and Europe.
My point is that there is such a thing as extremist literature which may inspire acts of violence but in the case of Islamic terrorism, that inspiration is usually very explicit. People don’t have to read between any lines to know what ISIS wants them to do. They can just read the brochure and it’s right there. By contrast, here is the sort of thing which Boot says makes right-wing media responsible for these acts of terrorism:
Some of his Republican followers are even more extreme. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) brought a Holocaust denier to the State of the Union and has blamed Soros for financing a Central American immigrant caravan. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) gave an interview to a far-right Austrian website in which he endorsed the white-supremacist claim that white nations are committing “slow-motion cultural suicide” by allowing in immigrants of color.
Even GOP leaders are joining in. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) posted and then deleted a tweet accusing Soros, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer of buying the election. (Soros and Bloomberg are Jewish; Steyer is an Episcopalian whose father was Jewish.) Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, blamed Soros for funding protests against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Where do these politicians get these noxious ideas? From a right-wing media industrial machine that includes Fox News, Breitbart, Infowars, Newsmax, the Daily Caller, Gateway Pundit and many other outlets. It was Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network who asked Grassley if Soros was behind the Kavanaugh protests — and after Grassley endorsed the charge, Trump gave it his imprimatur. The Wall Street Journal, in turn, ran an op-ed endorsing this calumny. Last week, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs interviewed Chris Farrell of Judicial Watch, who claimed that the Central American caravan was directed by the “Soros-occupied State Department,” echoing neo-Nazi propaganda about a “Zionist-occupied government.” (Fox Business has since apologized.)
Look, George Soros may be Jewish but he is also is a major funding source for a lot of left-leaning organizations. Same with Steyer. If someone goes too far with criticism of Soros or Steyer in ways that sound like stereotypical anti-Semitism, that should be called out. I don’t think anyone should be defending that. But there’s no way these powerful, partisan men can be considered above partisan criticism, not when Steyer has been working to impeach the president for months.
If you wonder what level of criticism is appropriate for partisan billionaires, just take a look at the left’s treatment of the Koch brothers. They’ve been denounced as public enemy number one by the far left and by top Democrats for years, and yet no one ever seemed to think Harry Reid was inciting violence.
The larger point here is that Boot doesn’t cite any examples of anyone calling for the murder of Jews or the murder of anyone. That’s a huge difference between all of the sites he listed and real extremist media created by Islamic terrorists.
In fact, Boot mentions Rep. Matt Gaetz claim that Soros was “financing a Central American immigrant caravan.” And then two paragraphs later he says this crazy stuff is coming from, among others, Breitbart News. But one of the people who immediately pushed back on Gaetz’ claim (among many others) was Brandon Darby, a reporter on border issues for Breitbart News (full disclosure, I used to work there).
This is likely fake news. There is no evidence that this is people receiving cash to “storm the US border.” Irresponsible for Gaetz to make such a claim based on available info. https://t.co/O3z9BLicza
— Brandon Darby (@brandondarby) October 17, 2018
It’s hard enough to get people to care about realities on or around our border. Please stop pushing fake news about terror training camps and Soros funding people to “storm” our border. Just stop. Not cool.
— Brandon Darby (@brandondarby) October 17, 2018
Even the story Max Boot links about Robert Bowers says this:
Bowers’s low profile stands in sharp contrast to feeds on Gab, including the since-deleted account in which a user with Bowers’s name compared Jews to Satan and complained that Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement cannot succeed so long as Jews “infest” the country.
Bowers was quite literally disappointed in Trump. That’s pretty much the opposite of seeing him as an inspiration. As for Cesar Sayoc, he was definitely a Trump fan, no doubt about that, but again he was also a guy with a long history of criminal activity including a previous bomb threat. No one in conservative media wanted to see actual bombs sent to anyone. It’s not fair to blame an entire swath of people for something they never said based on the actions of one person who acted in a way no one else watching Fox News (or reading these other sites) acted. Sayoc may have been inspired by right-wing media to love Trump and even to dislike Hillary Clinton and CNN, but he wasn’t inspired by them to send bombs. He didn’t need the inspiration to be violent, he was already there.