The Sewers of Hate

Last week, James Adkisson was sentenced to life in prison. Adkisson was the right-wing terrorist who went on an armed rampage against the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville last July, killing two parishioners, Greg McKendry and Linda Kraeger. He had intended to kill many more, but the people of the congregation, showing uncommon courage and heroism, swiftly subdued and disarmed him and held him until the police arrived.

Adkisson’s manifesto has just been released (HT: Orcinus), a four-page handwritten document which he had intended to be a suicide note. His plan was to murder as many people as possible, then wait to be killed by arriving police. Thanks to the bravery of the UU congregation, he’ll instead be spending the rest of his life in prison – a far more appropriate fate, in my opinion, and one that will force him to come to terms with what he did rather than taking the coward’s exit of suicide.

In his manifesto, Adkisson explains why he committed these murders. The document is a glimpse into the deepest, darkest fringes of the right-wing mind, a worldview consumed by unrelenting hatred and a desire to inflict as much pain as possible on those he views as his enemies:

The worst problem America faces today is liberalism. They have dumbed down education, they have defined deviancy down. Liberals have attacked every major institution that made America great. From the Boy Scouts to the military, from education to religion… Liberals are evil, they embrace the tenets of Karl Marx, they’re Marxist, socialist, communists.

…It takes a warped mind to hate America. It makes me so angry! I can’t live with it anymore!

…Liberals are a pest like termites. Millions of them. Each little bite contributes to the downfall of this great nation. The only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is to kill them in the streets. Kill them where they gather.

This murderous mentality is an outgrowth of everything that the American right, as a movement, has spent the past several decades cultivating. One can draw a straight line from political operatives like Lee Atwater and his racist “Southern Strategy” or Newt Gingrich’s 1996 memo urging Republicans to use words like “corrupt”, “sick”, “radical” and “traitor” to describe their political opponents, to popular conservative pundits who write books with titles like Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism (Ann Coulter), Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism (Sean Hannity), and The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Schools, Faith, and Military (Michael Savage), to internet columnists who proclaim in absolute seriousness that one-half of the American population is composed of traitors and subversives. And from there, all this accumulated anger and hate trickles down into the right-wing sewers. It was such a sewer that birthed James Adkisson and filled his mind with the venom that motivated his deeds.

This hatred is not an aberration, but the stock in trade of the American right wing, which has become obsessed with the personal destruction of its enemies. The hate isn’t confined to a few fringe cranks and lunatics, but is spewed out daily from their most popular and influential think tanks, spokespeople, and political leaders. And when their violent, eliminationist rhetoric becomes so pervasive – even when conservative leaders accompany it with wink-and-nudge disclaimers that they don’t really mean for anyone to commit violent acts, of course not – a few unstable people are bound to be tipped over the edge into murderous insanity, and rampages like Adkisson’s are the inevitable, foreseeable result. In a very real sense, the leaders of the conservative movement bear partial responsibility for this horror, and the blood of the dead is on their hands.

In a rational world, this event should have been the catalyst for the right-wing movement to realize what they have created and step back from the abyss. But if the past eight years have shown anything, it’s that introspection is not their strong suit. Many sane conservatives have already fled; as for the rest, they may be too deeply invested in their hate to give it up now. Worse, now that the Republicans are out of power, the rage and frustration among their supporters will only increase. Though I very much hope I’m wrong, I would not be surprised if, over the next few years, the killing in Knoxville turns out to be only the first.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Bunk

    That’s frightening, and I fear your conclusion is correct. I live in Alabama and most people think the word liberal is the worst conceivable insult and the right wing authors/talk show hosts you mention are primarily to blame.

  • mikespeir

    This murderous mentality is an outgrowth of everything that the American right, as a movement, has spent the past several decades cultivating.

    I’d like to dispute this. I think we all know not all far right-wingers are going to go on killing sprees like this. Still, I’m not sure you’re not right in the main. It could easily be argued that far right thinking leads irrevocably to just this sort of thing. If they’re not all doing it, it’s likelier that either 1) they don’t really quite espouse the ideas of the Radical Right like they say they do (They say they do so as to fit in with that clique) or 2) there’s an interminable struggle within them between the purported rightness of their beliefs and the wrongness of the deeds that would be required to carry them to their logical conclusion.

  • Waialeale Mike

    A weakness of liberalism — is it’s tolerance. But if we lose our tolerance, we risk becoming like those at the other end of the spectrum. Perhaps our situation is the US is not unlike that of the twenties in Germany, as Germany moved to the right and the left was squeezed eventually out of existence (those that didn’t leave.)

    We’ve already had a assault on our freedoms the last eight years, and face it, many American’s are more interested in cheap gas, more toys, than the rights of the minorities, Japanese, Mexican, Atheists, moslems, whoever they imagine at that particular point in time, are in the way of the American Dream which seems to be a huge pyramid game — depending on future generations paying the bill.

    If Obama can get things moving again, and avoids a terrorist attack on US soil, I’m not that worried. But if the economy goes in the toilet and we get hit with another 9/11, I could see things getting nasty. And with the technology we have today, the government could be much more invasive/suppressive than nazi German.

    No, I don’t have faith in the right wing to protect my rights. Or to go storming the gates our some future Gitmo on US soil filled with liberals.

    But being an ex-southerner (still white), I’m astonished (and ecstatic) that the nation elected a black president. Some of us have come a long ways — especially those under thirty. They’re the hope for the future.

  • penn

    mikespeir, I do not understand what you are disputing. It is not being argued that the right wing propaganda and hate speech necessarily leads all right wingers to behave violently. What’s being argued is that the violent rhetoric of the right wing would necessarily lead certain individuals pre-disposed to violent acts to commit them. He actually directly says this:

    a few unstable people are bound to be tipped over the edge into murderous insanity, and rampages like Adkisson’s are the inevitable, foreseeable result.

    I think you are on the same page here.

  • mikespeir

    I think you are on the same page here.

    I do, too. In fact, you’ll notice that I didn’t dispute Ebon’s point after all. The only thing I might suggest is that extreme ideologies might themselves lead to this kind of instability.

  • Entomologista

    mikespeir, you should read “Conservatives Without Conscience”.

  • Paul

    The rigid ideology of some right-wingers (far more pervasive than the rigidity of liberals), the absoluteness of Adkisson’s self-righteousness, and the dogma of fundamentalist Christians are all of a piece.

  • Pi Guy

    I live in Alabama and most people think the word liberal is the worst conceivable insult…

    I live in MD and used to work in the defense industry and liberal is definitely a four-letter word in that circle. And while my coworkers were intelligent and thoughtful people not likely predisposed to violence, it’s amazing how far from rational thinking some could get at the mere thought of a democrat in the white house. I could easily imagine what a little instability mixed with that stubborn mindset could produce.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    In defense of mikespeir, I think he said he “like to dispute” it – but he can’t. I too wish Ebon were wrong. But he’s not. And as the far-right (Limbaugh-led) becomes more marginalized they will become worse. The only consolation is that this is a spiral – the worse they get, the more people they’ll shed, so that even as they get worse and worse they’ll become fewer and fewer…

  • David K. Welch

    Unfortunately (or fortunately), I am a Canadian. If you wiki the definition for right wing or left wing. liberal or republican, you’ll note that not only are these definitions different between countries (Canada, France, USA) they have also changed over the years. I’m willing to bet that even within this tight nit group, you’ll have trouble defining exactly what it means to be “far left”, or “far right”. Semantics plays a big part of communication. A lot of what Adam said in his post relies on the American interpretation of what a left and right philosophy might be. I will go so far as to say, it also relies upon his own personal interpretation. Let’s define these abstract notions before you attack people.

    Regards
    Dave

  • prase

    Dave Welch,

    although I live in country where “liberal” means “right wing” (opposed to socialist, not to conservative, ironically our major right-wing party likes to call themselves “liberal conservatives”), I have no problems to understand Ebon’s post and identify whom he addresses. I don’t think that anything important in the post relies on semantics. If you insist that “liberal” in the US sense is the same as “liberal” in Canadian or European sense, you simply make bad translation.

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    This murderous mentality is an outgrowth of everything that the American right, as a movement, has spent the past several decades cultivating. One can draw a straight line from political operatives like Lee Atwater and his racist “Southern Strategy” or Newt Gingrich’s 1996 memo urging Republicans to use words like “corrupt”, “sick”, “radical” and “traitor” to describe their political opponents, to popular conservative pundits who write books with titles like Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism (Ann Coulter), Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism (Sean Hannity), and The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Schools, Faith, and Military (Michael Savage), to internet columnists who proclaim in absolute seriousness that one-half of the American population is composed of traitors and subversives. And from there, all this accumulated anger and hate trickles down into the right-wing sewers. It was such a sewer that birthed James Adkisson and filled his mind with the venom that motivated his deeds.

    This hatred is not an aberration, but the stock in trade of the American right wing, which has become obsessed with the personal destruction of its enemies. The hate isn’t confined to a few fringe cranks and lunatics, but is spewed out daily from their most popular and influential think tanks, spokespeople, and political leaders. And when their violent, eliminationist rhetoric becomes so pervasive – even when conservative leaders accompany it with wink-and-nudge disclaimers that they don’t really mean for anyone to commit violent acts, of course not – a few unstable people are bound to be tipped over the edge into murderous insanity, and rampages like Adkisson’s are the inevitable, foreseeable result.

    I’m following along just fine with all of that, and we can agree that those pundits are entirely irksome. However,

    In a very real sense, the leaders of the conservative movement bear partial responsibility for this horror, and the blood of the dead is on their hands.

    That just sounds like sappy rhetoric. How so? Is the blood of Jokela’s dead on Darwin’s hands? Why? Why not?

  • justin
    In a very real sense, the leaders of the conservative movement bear partial responsibility for this horror, and the blood of the dead is on their hands.

    That just sounds like sappy rhetoric. How so? Is the blood of Jokela’s dead on Darwin’s hands? Why? Why not?

    Nope, since the shooter demonstrated an ignorance of natural selection usually reserved for creationists. He said he was going to kill those who had “failed natural selection.” If someone fails natural selection, then they have produced no offspring before death. Jokela is a high school where most of the students haven’t gotten around to reproduction yet. Therefore it seems that the shooter thought that “unfit” meant the “disgraces of [the] human race.”

    Further, did Darwin advocate killing the “unfit?” Did he hint at it the way that talk radio hosts hint at killing liberals?

  • Alex Weaver

    Dave:

    In the United States, in modern media usage, “far left” generally means “slightly to the right of center.”

  • Virginia

    I am hoping that this right-wing movement (in HK, conservative religious right) will not infect HK.

    Here we just held a rally where up to 1000 people showed up to voice their dissatisfaction over the Conservative Religious Right (well, headed mostly by Christian Fundamentalists here, and groups advocating discrimination to gays).

    We just hope people here realize the sinister nature underneath the “self-righteous” outercoat.

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    “Adkisson was the right-wing terrorist”

    Although you didn’t actually say so, you committed the logical error of painting all Conservatives as terrorists. Adkisson was NOT a “right-wing terrorist”. He was a nut-job who happened to hold some wacky right-wing ideas, and is roundly condemned by decent people of all political persuasions.

    If I had been present, I would have done my best to defend the people of that church.

    And I’m neither Liberal nor Theist.

    http://www.chl-tx.com

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Although you didn’t actually say so, you committed the logical error of painting all Conservatives as terrorists. Adkisson was NOT a “right-wing terrorist”. He was a nut-job who happened to hold some wacky right-wing ideas, and is roundly condemned by decent people of all political persuasions.

    He was a terrorist who was also a right-winger politically, hence the description is valid and accurate. Nowhere does that mean that all right-wingers are terrorists. In fact, Ebon argues against the penchant for the right-wing mouthpieces to paint all liberals in that light, so it would be rather hypocritical for him to do the same to them.

  • Polly

    I agree with the characterization of the “right-wing” and of Adkisson as a right-wing terrorist; a suicide-terrorist in fact. The frothy rhetoric and appeals to nationalism inevitably produce this kind of garbage at the fringes. And I also agree that some of the moral culpability even if not legal responsibility belong to the spin doctors. Remember how McCain’s audience would yell “kill him” regarding our current president? Yeah, that’s not the result of cultivation. /sneering sarcasm/

    Just like the barely cloaked racism that undergirds some politicians’ speeches about immigration reform surely lead to hate crimes*.

    *I don’t endorse making distinctions in sentencing but it’s good to track these things

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    On this topic, Glenn Beck is now hosting a “war games” segment on Fox News in which, I kid you not, he discusses the possibility of a new American civil war and ponders whether the military would side with the militias he envisions rising up against the government.

  • Alex, FCD

    Unbelievable. I cannot even begin to imagine what conservative pundits (like, say, Glenn Beck) would have said if NPR ran a program that consisted entirely of pontificating about the possibility of a violent, socialist revolution to overthrow the Bush administration.

  • abusedbypenguins

    The only difference between Adkisson and brown shirts in Germany in the 30′s is that he acted alone. Substitute “Jew” for liberal and the same mind set is at play. The 21st century facist right wing is going to blame all of our economic problems on liberals instead of themselves. History repeats.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Justin,

    Your points are well taken, but that my analogy can use some strengthening does not entail that my argument fails. Jokela was not the ideal analogy, and you’re right to note the distinction between Darwin and today’s conservative pundits. Taking your observation even further, Darwin himself was explicitly disinterested in championing his own ideas and we can deduce that he likely would not have been comfortable with those who did, especially to justify a murderous spree. So I can grant you all that.

    However, the motivation behind my disagreement with Ebonmuse here is on the principle that people must bear responsibility for their own actions. Ebon has argued before that lack of clarity in the Bible can be rightfully blamed for certain religiously motivated atrocities. I strongly disagree.

    So, how about a better analogy, eh? How about what society refers to as “gangsta rap?” More so than conservative punditry, this musical genre advocates the killing of certain individuals in our society. Should Little Wayne, Biggie Smalls, B-Legit, Ice-T (who explicitly advocated the killing of police), Geto Boys and countless others be held responsible for the countless gang-related murders that occur daily in this country? If so, to what degree and how do we reasonably assess and distribute culpability? If not, why doesn’t the same reasoning apply to the silly pundits in question?

    Now sure, I think the pundits in question are ignoramuses, and that anyone can take Ann Coulter so seriously should have been dealt with long before such people were allowed to acquire guns. But realistically, regardless of what some outtawhack pundit or allegedly holy book says, it’s up to people to keep their own heads on straight!

    So, when I hear Ebon say,

    In a very real sense, the leaders of the conservative movement bear partial responsibility for this horror, and the blood of the dead is on their hands.

    I simply can’t agree sans further justification. Does he side with Tipper Gore and equally accuse Little Wayne, Biggie Smalls, B-Legit, Ice-T (who explicitly advocated the killing of police) and Geto Boys?

    TX CHL Instructor,

    I think your interpretation of Ebon’s wording is reasonable, especially when we have this sentence:

    This murderous mentality is an outgrowth of everything that the American right, as a movement, has spent the past several decades cultivating.

    Now I doubt someone like Ebon thinks “all conservatives are terrorists,” but Ebon, you gotta admit, it’s the extreme right that is reasonably identifiable as the main supply of the fascist fanaticism that whet Adkisson’s murderous appetite – not the more generic “American Right.” And I’ll bet we could agree that many of these same silly pundits are actually quite fascist and/or extreme while masquerading and/or being portrayed under a false moderate pretense. I’ve heard some scary stuff come from the mouths of supposed moderates, comparable to the lewdest obscenities I’ve heard from the Reconstructionists and their ilk.

    David K. Welch,

    Your comment February 22, 2009, 3:29 pm was relevant.

  • Polly

    Am I the only one who read “Sewers” in the title as those subterranean drains that carry waste? As opposed to sewers – those who use needle and thread?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    No, you’re not.

  • Polly

    I think I’m getting the phrase mixed up with Sower – someone who plants. Like someone who is a “sower of discontent among friends.”

    Sower and sewer are pronounced the same way, but not sewer as in drain. But, to my mind, the needle and thread analogy also works like the planting seeds analogy, kind of like weaving – a web of deception. So, that’s where I got confused, I guess.

  • justin

    Should Little Wayne, Biggie Smalls, B-Legit, Ice-T (who explicitly advocated the killing of police), Geto Boys and countless others be held responsible for the countless gang-related murders that occur daily in this country? If so, to what degree and how do we reasonably assess and distribute culpability? If not, why doesn’t the same reasoning apply to the silly pundits in question?

    Should they be held responsible? Yes.

    How do we assess and distribute culpability? They are indirectly responsible, (just like the pundits in question) so it’s difficult to answer the question. Obviously, we can’t throw anybody in prison, but without their negative influence, the murders in question might not have happened.

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Justin,

    I’m gonna have to reverse my opinion. I now think you and Ebonmuse are right, and I think I was unnecessarily framing Ebon’s general usage of the word responsibility in a context of meted legal punishments. Anyone who advocates murder is certainly indirectly responsible when the person they persuade follows through, and that’s always been obvious to me.

    But still, there are so many possible shades of gray here that make the whole question of culpability and distribution very nuanced, and that was a major chord in my progression, so to speak. Not to mention this raises some fussy freedom of speech issues. If freedom of speech should be absolute, then we cannot hold these pundits responsible, we must turn to the system that permits these pundits to act irresponsibly.

    And I still think the “blood of the dead is on their hands” thing was sappy. But hey, I’m just another mouth talking. Cheers to good volleys.

  • Alex Weaver

    Now I doubt someone like Ebon thinks “all conservatives are terrorists,” but Ebon, you gotta admit, it’s the extreme right that is reasonably identifiable as the main supply of the fascist fanaticism that whet Adkisson’s murderous appetite – not the more generic “American Right.” And I’ll bet we could agree that many of these same silly pundits are actually quite fascist and/or extreme while masquerading and/or being portrayed under a false moderate pretense. I’ve heard some scary stuff come from the mouths of supposed moderates, comparable to the lewdest obscenities I’ve heard from the Reconstructionists and their ilk.

    You’re right. Aside from promoting the same dysfunctional and destructive religious ideologies that these psychos fixate on, impeding efforts to treat mental illness in a way that would help prevent this sort of thing by championing social service cuts, fighting tooth and nail any effort at all to keep firearms out of the hands of the criminal and dangerously unstable, and apparently considering it more of a problem that moderates and liberals sometimes seem to lump them in with the “extreme right” than that certain of their ideological allies believe acts of terrorism are morally justified and a legitimate way to further their agenda, the American Right as a whole hasn’t done anything wrong.

  • KShep

    This is what passes for humor among the American Right, on buttons being sold outside the Republican convention in 1996:

    “Where is Lee Harvey Oswald now that our country needs him?”

    Anyone who thinks that isn’t a direct invitation to assassinate the then-president has their head up their ass.

    Anyone else notice a big difference between the most recent inauguration and the previous two? At Obama’s, the talk was about bringing people together, bipartisanship, inclusion. At Dubya’s, what did we hear? It’s us against “them.” “Our ‘enemies’ are determined to strike us….” Etc. etc.

    The contrast between how the right views the world versus how the left does couldn’t have been more obvious. The right sees enemies everywhere they look, and thinks the way to handle them is with brute force and no mercy. They then apply that “enemy” label to anyone who disagrees with them or who looks different. It’s only a matter of time before the delusional nutjob with easy access to guns goes off. He’s convinced all those “enemies” are going to get him if he doesn’t strike first.

    Liberals just aren’t that violent. You’ll never hear about a liberal shooting up the Heritage Foundation HQ, will you?

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    This is what passes for humor among the American Right, on buttons being sold outside the Republican convention in 1996:

    “Where is Lee Harvey Oswald now that our country needs him?”

    The same joke was about in the U.K after the election of Bush senior.

  • KShep

    It’s still not funny.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Maybe not! However it does suggest that sick humour isn’t confined to the political right. Of course when a liberal says it he is being ironic, when a conservative says it, he means it (probably).

  • Kennypo65

    How about Bill O’Reilly saying”Tiller The Baby Killer” over and over again until some nut-job killed Dr. Tiller.(while Tiller was at his church,no less) Then BillO was like, “I’m not responsible.” What a crock!


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