Apocalyptic rhetoric of religious right is playing with fire

The religious right leaders and right-wing media predicting apocalyptic scenarios if President Obama is re-elected are just playing political games.

Photo by Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner

When Robert Knight says an Obama victory will “push us over” the edge into “losing our constitutional republic,” or Matt Barber says the election is about “good vs. evil” and “may determine whether we as a nation sink or swim, live or die,” or when John Hagee says it will “bring absolute socialism,” they’re just talking out of their collective asses. They don’t really believe it.

That wild talk is just pep-rally hyperbole that they don’t really expect to come about any more than they really expected all of the horrific consequences they earlier predicted would come to pass when Vermont first allowed civil unions, or when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed.

But not everyone understands that it’s just a game. And not everyone understands that these over-the-top predictions and lies are just role-playing aspects of that game.

And when some of the people who listen to, and trust, these religious right spokespeople and right-wing media outlets hear what those folks are saying — and believe it, the consequences can be tragic:

Albert Peterson shot dead his wife and two sons hours after going to church because he dreaded the thought of Obama winning the election, a family friend has revealed.

A confidante of the family for the past 25 years has spoken to MailOnline about the strength and grace of the Peterson family, as well as the torment that plagued Albert which drove him to shoot dead his wife Kathleen and his two sons Christopher and Mathew at their suburban home [near] DC on Sunday.

A history of mental illness, the loss of a dear uncle, and a growing fear of Obama winning a second term in the White House took its toll on the mind of Mr Peterson, a wealthy defense contractor, the friend said.

The Washington Post has more.

The reckless rhetoric that this tormented man absorbed and latched onto is not directly esponsible for causing his actions. He was probably bound to latch onto something as a pretext for such destruction, and so the right-wing demagogues cannot be held directly responsible for making this man a powder-keg of violence and annihilation.

But they should take responsibility for flicking lit matches at that powder-keg.

I wonder if people like Knight, Barber and Hagee — like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Tony Perkins, David Barton, Rush Limbaugh and all the rest — ever pause after hearing stories like this and, even for a moment, contemplate the way their reckless words can lead to horrors for anyone frightened or foolish enough to take them seriously. I wonder if those folks ever lose any sleep over that.

I doubt they do. To them, it’s just a game.

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  • AnonymousSam

    In other news, Glenn Beck asserts that Eve Online, the MMO, is actually a front for the CIA.

    Why do people take this guy seriously?

  • Carstonio

    If Jonathan Bernstein is right, the right-wing demagogues have a financial interest beyond the obvious one. They make more money when the GOP is out of power because because that makes righteous victimhood easier to sell. Bernstein doesn’t explain what the other incentives might be for the party being dysfunctional. I might say the GOP is not worth saving except that any replacement might be far worse. Writers like E.J. Dionne argue that there’s a place for a rational opposition party to the Democrats, one that urges caution in the fact of change and one that is skeptical about human nature. But I’m doubt that such a party could long avoid becoming the advocate of the perpetuation of privilege, which is what happened to the GOP in the Gilded Age, because people with privilege naturally seek to oppose change.

  • The media’s obvious complicity in aiding and abetting this kind of stuff by failing to do even basic fact checking or background checks on their talking heads and interviewees is something that should not be overlooked.

  • Pamela Merritt

    If a rational opposition party shows up, I’m sure they will be worth a listen.

  • Madhabmatics

    I hope our other popular Somethingawful guilds are fronts for government organizations. I was in “Ye Olde Goone Squade” on EQ2, I am pretty sure we were a front for the ATF.

  • Carstonio

    I agree. I would vote for a Republican if zie favored things like single-payer health care, marriage equality, more progressive taxation, stronger unions, and more protection for the environment. Whether there are such Repubicans now is another question.

  • Hypocee

     Welllll, things used to be a bit more complicated. Both parties were parties of privilege in the Gilded Age, and the Democratic party was the party of Southern racism.

  • lightning bug

    The term that’s coming into use is “stochastic terrorism“.  Folks seem to be finally starting to notice this; it’s been going on for a long time — at least back to the John Birch Society days.  We’ll see if anybody does anything about it.

    Unfortunately, evangelicals seem to be incapable of saying “You!  Outta the tent!”.

  • Lori


    Writers like E.J. Dionne argue that there’s a place for a rational
    opposition party to the Democrats, one that urges caution in the fact of
    change and one that is skeptical about human nature.   

    I really wish that people, especially those who have a large public forum, would stop buying into the idea that Republicans are skeptical about human nature and Democrats are not. That’s a totally false construct and perpetuating it doesn’t help make anything about our party system better.

    I’d also really like it if financially well-off white male members of The Village would stop talking about the value of being cautious about change. Change isn’t always good and we do always need someone looking at it with a wary eye, but coming from Dionne and others like him it smacks of shallow defense of the status quo that benefits them so much.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Oh, no, they say it just fine. To anyone who says out loud that there might be occasions on which abortion might be the least wrong option, situations in which gay handholding is perhaps permissible, scenarios in which the people who say the planet is heating and the oil running out are not wholly incorrect.

  • Victor

    (((they’re just talking out of their collective asses. They don’t really believe it.)))
    Fred, I think that we are all playing a very scary game and even sinner vic agrees with me that we should all take a good spiritual reality laxative and go back to praying that GOD (Good Old Dad)  will give U>S (usual sinners) a good right and/or left hand here!?
    I hear ya! There’s no coherent sentences capable of logical and consistent speech above so maybe there really is a sinner vic? :)

    Go Figure!



  • Carstonio

     I don’t like that construct either. To some degree, it endorses or enables the authoritarian position that government’s chief role is keeping people in line. You’re exactly right about the status quo and the people who benefit from it.

  • Carstonio

     Good point. The difference with the Republicans is that they started out opposing slavery and (in principle) advocating citizenship rights for blacks. The party did have progressive elements for some time – my state’s Mac Mathias may have been the last prominent Republican to consider himself liberal. The Democrats ended up being an alliance of liberals, unionists and other progressives from the North and segregationists from the South until the middle part of the last century, and Woodrow Wilson was a progressive who pushed segregation.

  • CrazyF

    There is already a group of people keenly aware of the costs of inflammatory speech, people who work for abortion clinics. They are a constant target for terrorism in the form of shootings, bombings and stalkings. I don’t think the right has been able to tap the same anti-kitten-burning coalition rage about Obama, but the rhetoric is still worrisome. 

  • B

    I agree that we need an opposition party to the Democrats, but given that the Democrats keep drifting towards the center, I rather favor a liberal opposition party myself…

  •  Oh, there is definitely an option for a rational opposition party against the Democrats.

    One for example that opposed running our economy for the benefit of banks, was for stronger unions, single payer health care, and higher taxes on the rich.

    In other words, any rational opposition is going to come from the left.

  • Carstonio

    My hope is that if the GOP implodes and the Tea Party becomes a fringe party, then the Democrats wouldn’t feel so much pressure to cater to the middle and would be freer to broadly support progressive initiatives. Or else the progressives start their own opposition party that moves the middle further to the left. To put it brutally, this may require the simple march of time, with Obama’s biggest group of opponents – old Southern white men without college educations – dying off.

  • Right.  The Democrats are already a party that is cautious about change.  The current Democratic Party would make a fine conservative party to work as a counterpart to a genuinely progressive party.  

    What we currently have is one moderately conservative party and one party that is a tent for every far-right ideology going today.  

  • Marylynne1

    Did the man shoot himself too? Or just his defenseless wife and children?

  • Carstonio

    “Conservative” works as a label for the Democrats only if one assumes the word means caution or opposition regarding change, and I agree that the party should be doing much, much more to reduce privilege. What is labeled political conservatism in the US is really a defense of privilege, and while this sometimes involves opposition to change, more often it involves change in the opposite direction, or reversing change. I suppose the technical term for that is reactionary and not conservative.

    What you propose would be one party acting as an accelerator and the other (the Democrats) acting as a brake. That analogy is sometimes used in the corporate and entertainment worlds to describe the visionaries versus the bean counters. That wouldn’t be a bad alternative to what we have now, which is one party as a brake and the other seeking to drive back home in reverse, or disconnect the ignition. In the European democracies, even what they call conservatives seem to agree with the opponents that the purpose of government is for citizens to obtain things working together that they couldn’t obtain on their own. Perhaps that’s a reaction to those nations’ experience of having feudalism, just as the experience of having state religions and denominational warfare has arguably resulted in more atheism. What Americans call conservatives are really feudalists who think they’re defending Daniel Boone/John Wayne frontier individualism.

  • P J Evans

     yes. Killed them, then himself.

  • hagsrus

    Check your voting staus:


  • Fusina

    A friend of mine from Great Britain says that our far left people are called mid-range people there. All I could think was, “Coo, we can get even further left?”

    Oh, and I realized today that my parents, both staunch GOPers, are voting for Obama. Romney said so.

  • Carstonio

    That friend’s point is not quite fair to the people on the US left whose positions line up with those of UK leftists. It’s more useful and accurate to use an objective spectrum and point out that the US has many more people who fall on the center and right portions. The US equivalent of the UK leftists do exist, they’re just far fewer in number and generally locked out of what the media laughingly bills the mainstream.

  • aunursa

    I agree that we need an opposition party to the Democrats, but given that the Democrats keep drifting towards the center, I rather favor a liberal opposition party myself…

    The Green Party and the Peace & Freedom Party aren’t liberal enough for you?

  • EllieMurasaki

    The Green Party does not have a single US senator or representative, a single governor, a single state congresscritter. A hundred thirty-six elected officials nationwide are Green Party. A hundred thirty-six.
    The Green Party presidential and vice presidential candidates were arrested two months ago, along with three other people protesting foreclosures, and I don’t think it even made the news.

    The Green Party opposes both the parties that control US government at all levels, yes. That does not mean the Green Party has anywhere near enough power to be the, or even an, opposition party.

    And the Green Party at least has name recognition. Peace and Freedom Party? I am quite well educated on current and recent US politics and political history, and I had to Google it.

  • B

     I have been told something similar by a British friend.  (I think the way he put is was that many Democrats would be considered too conservative to be electable in the UK.)

  • Hexep

    I think the Green Party would have to rebrand itself in order to have some success, even at the cost of name recognition.  I have no doubt that it has detailed positions on the whole gamut of issues, and that it could form a cabinet with a complete set of portfolios, but as long as it’s the Green Party – instead of, say, the Social Democracy party or the New Liberal Party or Square and Fair party – it simply comes off, viscerally, as being single-issue.  That sort of thing can work in proportional representation systems, where the Green Party could form a coalition with the Right to Choose Party and the Union Action Party and they’d balance out that way, but there is nothing suggestive in ‘The Green Party’ that they’d have a nuanced position on, say, healthcare reform, credit regulation, or Korea.

    Granted, one could say that the Republicans are now a single-issue party to the tune of ‘cut taxes,’ but counterpoint – the Republicans are a mite shitty, and are now beginning to pay for it as the high tide of history runs over their feet like King Canute, and proposes to drag them out to see and get eaten by the sharks and barracudas of mediocrity.

  •  Yeah we have a saying in Britain. The Republicans are the right wing party in America… as opposed to the Democrats – who are the other right wing party in America.

    And seriously this is true from the perspective of this side of the pond.

    The Democrats float somewhere around the left of our Tory Party (so still a ways right) and the Republicans float somewhere around the right of the same party. The only radical party of the left in England is the Greens. Scotland has the SNP who’s policies have proven to be fairly left.

    On the upside the right of our Tory Party isn’t characterised by religious fiundamentalism just extreme fiscal conservatism and classism.

  •  I don’t know about the US Green Party but the UK Green Party most definitely does have a full manifesto http://greenparty.org.uk/policies.html

  • EllieMurasaki
  • friendly reader

     And don’t forget “not using drones to kill civilians.” Tragically, I don’t think that’s going to change regardless of who gets elected, and I don’t know what we can do to stop it.

    I hate to admit it, but I’ve resigned myself long ago to the  idea that American foreign policy will always be wretched (it has been for 200 years, why stop now?) and just vote on domestic policy. That said, what with the electoral college rendering my vote meaningless, I may try to find a third party I side more closely with for the presidential ballot. Or do a write-in.

  • B

     Exactly.  I meant I’d like to see a party to the left of the Democrats be VIABLE.  As in, actually potentially getting elected.

  • Carstonio

    I suspect that some Democratic office-holders may be more leftist than they let on but fear alienating many voters. It’s been suggested that Obama was for marriage equality all along and that his statements over the years have been subtle hints to proponents. Biden putting the issue forward may have been a deliberate tactic.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yeah, so would I. My point was aunursa seems to think that the US already has a viable leftwards party. Which, no.

  • vsm

    Prior to the 2008 presidential elections, several Finnish right-wing politicians were invited to some right-wing solidarity conference hosted by the Republican Party. The delegates found it amusing, since they considered themselves politically much closer to the Democrats, and not just on foreign policy. A few weeks ago, all 200 MPs were asked whether they’d prefer Obama or Romney as the next POTUS. Three were willing to admit they’d pick Mitt.

  • Carstonio

    What exactly defines leftism and rightism? My own impression is that the right end is focused on authoritarianism and privilege and the left end is focused on reducing privilege.

  • Granted, one could say that the Republicans are now a single-issue party to the tune of ‘cut taxes,’

    You could say that, but it wouldn’t really be true. If you look at the current record of the House Republicans elected in 2010, you’ll see that they have interests far beyond tax cuts. They care about a wide variety of issues, including blocking contraception as a mandatory part of health insurance, cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood as well as NPR and PBS, trying to repeal Obama’s health-care law. They may be stunningly incompetent screw-ups, but no one can say that they’re only bad at one thing. 

  • vsm

    That might be a workable definition in the current American context, but I don’t think you can really pin authoritarianism on either side. Left-wing authoritarianism (e.g. Stalinism) exists, as does right-wing anti-authoritarianism (e.g. Libertarianism). Using privilege as a main analytical tool is also something you’re most likely to encounter among the American Left. I doubt a member of the French Parti socialiste would describe her politics in those terms. Oh, and any European party that calls itself Liberal is almost certainly right-wing.

  • P J Evans

    The Green Party and the Peace & Freedom Party aren’t liberal enough for you?

    My brother has been in both. He’s now registered as a D. Neither the Greens nor P&F have any real organization or any chance of winning anything in my state.

  • P J Evans

     It would help if they didn’t have a history of being bought by the GOP.


    I suspect that some Democratic office-holders may be more leftist than they let on but fear alienating many voters.

    What I care about, when hiring politicians, is their policies. If knowing what they fear allows me to predict their policies more accurately than knowing what they are “really like”, then what they fear is more important to me than what they are really like.

  • P J Evans

    I am quite well educated on current and recent US politics and political history, and I had to Google it.

    You really have to go back to the Vietnam era, when they were the anti-war party on the far left.

  • Carstonio

    What makes Stalinism left-wing or libertarianism right-wing? Is the latter definition because libertarianism preaches economic just-worldism? 

  • Fusina

     I don’t know about anyone else, but I am more focused on increasing privileges so that everyone can have them. (you know, the privilege to live in some sort of housing not made of cardboard or canvas, to not starve, to not have to choose between taking care of illness or staying in housing and not starving–those privileges). Oh, and being able to marry whomever one wants to marry, regardless of gender (but not species, unless they can intelligently consent). Again, this is just me. But then, I have friends who are gay, and I have friends on social security and medicare. So I have seen the damage these policies do from close up.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Um, privilege is not what people of one group have and people of another group don’t. Privilege is the gap between them. Sure, one can reduce that gap by knocking the first group down to the second group’s level, but one can also reduce it by lifting the second group up.

  • Hexep

    Oh, of course they do.  Nobody would last this long if they didn’t.  But if they’re ‘The Green Party,’ it follows naturally (to some) that other parties are ‘Not Green,’ which means that the difference between them is one of Green-ness.  Besides, I recall hearing that the Green Party split into two factions, and that just muddies the water if they both call themselves ‘The Green Party.’  One should try and re-position visually on a wider array of issues.  Changing a name might seem paltry, even petty, but it’s amazing how much in politics depends on presentation and image management.

    Anyway, if they aren’t accomplishing what they want now, what have they got to lose by re-branding themselves?

  •  I thought Stalinism was “left-wing” in the economic sense, since it involves (correct me if I’m wrong, smart people!) increased government control/regulation of the economy, while libertarianism is right-wing because it promotes decreased government control or deregulation of the economy. I think it’s hard to divide the left- right- axis (assuming you even think it has any value) into a sharp line like that, because you can have all those other dimensions to it, and no two people (much less two societies) can agree on a hard definition of each term.

  • Hexep

    It all began in France in the 1700s, shortly after the French Revolution.  The different estates would sit in different places relative to the President’s chair; the Second Estate (the nobility) would sit on the chair’s right side, the Third Estate (the commoners) to the left.

  • B

    Yeah, that was meant as a reply to aunursa.

    I mean, I could form the 1-person Me Party and it would be to left of the Democrats, but it wouldn’t be a viable party. :-)