The Rise of the
Far Right in the US
Shirley Sharrod, an African American woman, was forced to resign in July on charges of racism from her USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) job where she was the Director of Rural Development in Georgia. The decision to let her go came overnight on the basis of an edited video played by the right wing news channel FOX News. The video was originally posted on the internet by a right wing blogger Andrew Breitbart. The edited video showed part of her speech where she said “did not help a white farmer to the fullest extent.” The Democrats and the Republicans joined the chorus of slander against her which abruptly came to an end the very next day when the video of the full speech proved that Sharrod’s words had beem maliciously edited out of context. Eloise Spooner, 82-year-old wife of the white farmer in question, Roger Spooner, came out in support of Sherrod and said that without Sharrod’s help they would have been devastated. The Obama administration was forced to retract in embarrassment, and President Obama himself called Shirley Sharrod, apologized to her and offered her another job in the administration.
This recent incident widely covered in the media is quite reflective of the ‘post-racial’ society as painted by President Obama, where African Americans are supposed to be almost apologetic for being black. Any reference to the historical and current injustices to the African Americans is now projected by the far right as reverse racism. Another edited video by Andrew Breitbart about ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) resulted in the Congress cutting its federal funding to the organization that has for decades worked among poor and underprivileged sections of the society, mainly African Americans and has conducted large scale voter registration drives. It is remarkable how the administration is reacting to false and doctored information from a highly racist white person, who is just a blogger and has no credibility whatsoever. This is a new trend; under Bush this would not have happened, when the conservative whites were secure and the blacks were in their place in the social ladder. This culture of apology was in fact set in motion by President Obama himself when he apologized for his comments to a white police officer who had harassed an African American Harvard professor in his own home.
The Obama presidency has not only deeply disillusioned the progressive forces in the United States who mistakenly saw him as a radical symbol of change and not as a regular corporate democrat, but has also given a fresh and reviving impetus to the far right in the country. Having a black president who is becoming increasingly unpopular has given space for the white supremacist groups to raise their ugly head and has allowed parties like Tea Party to come into being and increase their grounds. With Tea Party led by far right Sarah Palin, once John McCain’s running mate for Vice President, extreme conservatism with white nationalism has found a voice in mainstream American politics. The Tea party rallies are filled with most conservative, irrational and fascist elements who have deep hatred for anything that is progressive, multi-cultural and humane. The rallies have gun toting right wing radicals who oppose any social welfare program, even the social security program for retirement and indulge in virulent racist, nationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric. The demagoguery has led poor conservative whites to act against their own interest by opposing social welfare or job creation programs which could benefit them. The deep rooted racial fault lines seem to be erupting as discernible cracks in the ‘post-racial’ American society and the far right is riding this wave.
Mosque at Ground Zero
There is a growing ruckus in the US over building of an Islamic center and mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero where the Twin Towers once stood in New York City. The site already has a building which has been a center of cultural activity for Muslim population in the city for decades. The proposed building of this mosque has now become a rallying point for the political right in the US, trumpeted by the Tea Party. Only eight months back there was no controversy on building of this mosque. Things changed diametrically, when a far right conservative blogger Pamela Geller who has devoted herself in demonizing Islam used her blog to brand the proposed mosque a ‘Monster Mosque’ at Ground Zero which would be symbol of Muslim ‘victory’ in perpetrating 9/11.
In 2009 the most vicious and violent white supremacist group KKK (Ku Klux Klan) tripled in membership. Other white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups have sprung all over the country especially in the south and claim that their membership is increasing. From Aryan skinheads, White Knights in Arizona to Council of Conservative Citizens in Mississippi to dozens of other splinter groups, the white nationalism in America is resurgent. These groups have portrayed Obama’s election and economic meltdown as a wakeup call for white America and impending racial war. They also see this time with a black man as President as the biggest opportunity to enter the mainstream politics exploiting the new platform provided by Tea party. According to watch dog groups, there are over 250,000 declared white nationalists with party affiliations but the actual number could be far greater. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a prominent civil rights organization that was founded to ensure that the promises and laws of racial equality become a reality for all (read African Americans) listed 932 active hate groups in 2009 alone. Leonard Zeskind, author of ‘Blood and Politics’ has studied white nationalist groups for decades and says that they may appear marginalized today but their influence is far greater than understood and may become a mainstream phenomenon soon. The year 2009 witnessed most high profile racial killings in last several decades. Racially motivated threats against Obama peaked in 2009.
White nationalists see anti-immigrant movement as a bridge to mainstream politics and actively try to use it to inflame the racial undercurrent in American society. The ‘National Socialist Movement’ (a misnomer), one of the largest groups in America carried out anti-immigration rallies in Phoenix, Arizona wearing swastika signs. Arizona has become the hotbed of such fascist movements. Arizona recently passed a most hateful anti-immigrant law in which police officers could stop anybody on mere suspicion and ask for legal documents. This gives police a free hand for racial profiling and hundreds of Latinos since then have left the state. At least nine other states have followed suit proposing similar anti-immigrant legislations.
The economic downturn triggered by financial industry has also been a major catalyst in increasing the influence of the far right. The bad economy has not only led to increasing impoverishment and rising unemployment; it has also provided grazing grounds for the far right to poach on average people’s sentiments and turn their resultant anger and frustration to racial hatred, intolerance and social insecurity.
One consolation is that there is widespread opposition to such movements and the blurred gap between left and right is increasingly becoming clearer. Over 100,000 people rallied in Washington DC in March to press for immigration reforms. This however goes quite unreported in mainstream media which enthusiastically covers any minor event of Tea Party. The events also present a rare opportunity for the left to unite and come out stronger as it did in 1930s. The absence of collegiality and cohesiveness among left forces has largely left them as a force not to be reckoned with. Left forces need to come together to face and exterminate this challenge from the right; it is more of an opportunity for the left than the right to push for transformational changes. It remains to be seen how these phenomena will shape American society in the coming times.