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How Right-Wing Talkers Crassly Exploited Ft. Hood Tragedy

4 years ago
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On Tuesday morning I accidentally had the chance to listen to Chris Plante, a Rush-wannabe radio talk-show host who appears on a D.C. station. He was going on and on about how the Fort Hood shootings have driven the nation apart. An agitated Plante noted that 9/11 had brought the country together, but that in the wake of the horrific Fort Hood attack there's been no unity. Why? Because, as his Web site noted, Democrats and liberals have been "trying desperately to convince America" that Nidal Hasan, the presumed shooter, was "just a crazy guy who spent too much time around deployed soldiers and caught [post-traumatic stress disorder] and oh he happened to be a muslim [sic], but we should ignore that. We shouldn't jump to conclusions."

This was a bizarre analysis: Division was being created by people saying that there should be no rush to judgment regarding the motives underlying this horrific act or the episode's ultimate significance. Actually, it was right-wing pundits and activists who were eagerly whipping up conflict.

On his show, Plante repeatedly asserted that Hasan had shouted, "Allahu Akbar!" before firing on his fellow soldiers -- which would make his attack an act of religious-inspired murder. But a Fort Hood spokesman had said that Hasan's use of that phrase was just "speculation." In fact, last Friday, when Gen. Robert Cone, the base's commander, first discussed the possibility that Hasan had shouted these words, he made clear that this was an unconfirmed report. Nevertheless, Laura Ingraham, another conservative radio ranter, also claimed it was a fact that Hasan was "screaming Allah-u-Akbar" -- as she argued that Hasan had been moved to kill by his "religious fervor" (read: Muslim religious fervor).

Maybe Hasan did shout that Islamic phrase. If so, that would partly explain what had driven him to kill his fellow soldiers. For now, stating it as an established fact is a divisive act.

Yet some on the right see no need to wait for evidence. On Monday, the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group, posted on its Web site an article calling for all Muslims to be barred from military service. "As soon as Muslims give us a foolproof way to identify their jihadis from their moderates, we'll go back to allowing them to serve," wrote Bryan Fischer, the group's director of issues analysis. (An aside: When Christian right extremists shoot abortion providers, does this outfit call for prohibiting all Christians from owning guns?)

Over at Fox News, Sean Hannity, too, has been busy exploiting the Fort Hood horror. He proclaimed, "There is a chance our government knew all about" Hasan and "did nothing because nobody wanted to be called an Islamophobe." This is -- to use a technical term -- dumb. The U.S. government has pursued numerous terrorist cases against radical Muslims. It has broken up alleged cells of Muslim radicals. And the Bush and Obama administrations have used drones to blast Islamic extremists in the nether-regions of Pakistan. No one in charge of these activities seems to fear being branded a bigot.

Nevertheless, Hannity has tried to use the Fort Hood tragedy to depict Obama as weak on terrorism. The facts, however, don't fit the smear. As The Washington Post reported, Hasan came to the attention of not one but two terrorism task forces after he corresponded by e-mail with a radical imam named Anwar al-Aulaqi. But this happened in late 2008, when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were in charge. The government then took no action, because an analyst concluded that Hasan's contact with al-Aulaqi was consistent with research Hasan was conducting. Still, Hannity has blasted the Obama administration for not catching Hasan before his killing spree, bellowing, "What does it say about Barack Obama and our government?" Actually, it says nothing about Obama.

Rush Limbaugh also blamed Obama for the Fort Hood massacre. Then he denounced the president for not referring to the attack as an act of terror.

The Fort Hood killings are a national nightmare. Obama spoke movingly at the memorial service held on Tuesday afternoon. After being greeted by loud cheers from those who had assembled to commemorate the deaths of comrades and loved ones, the president spoke of the country's commitment to religious freedom and plurality:

We're a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship as one chooses. And instead of claiming God for our side, we remember Lincoln's words, and always pray to be on the side of God. We're a nation that is dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal. We live that truth within our military, and see it in the varied backgrounds of those we lay to rest today.

Shouters on the right, though, see this moment as an opportunity -- to stir up questions about an entire religion and to bash political foes. They are not decrying division, they are quite purposefully creating it.

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I've written about the Tea Party activists a bit of late, and for those of you following them, here's the latest: after ranting about the health care bill, they're now targeting climate change legislation, claiming that what they're most concerned about is the poor. It's all explained here.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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