Book Club – Chapter 6 summary

By Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud
March 23, 2016

Chapter 6 – Vigilante Violence

 “The view of ourselves as divine agents of purification anointed by God and progress to reconfigure the world around us is a myth that remains firmly embedded in the American psyche (pg. 144).”

“We suffer from a dangerous historical amnesia and self-delusional fantasies about the virtues and goodness of ourselves and of empire. We have masked our cultural propensity for widespread and indiscriminate murder. “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer,” D.H. Lawrence wrote. “It has never melted.” (pg. 145)”

“Violence in America is not restricted to state violence. There is a tradition of vigilante violence that is used, usually with the state’s tacit if unofficial blessing, to crush dissent, to keep repressed minorities in a state of fear, or to exact revenge on those the state has branded as traitors. It is a product of hatred, not hope. It is directed against the weak not the strong. And it is deeply ingrained in the American psyche (pg. 145).”

“These vigilante groups have been tolerated and often encouraged and utilized, by the ruling elite (pg. 145).”

“Vigilante groups in American do not trade violence for violence. They are mostly white men who often prey on people of colour and radicals. They are capitalism’s ideological vanguard, its shock troops used to break populist movements and tyrannize the oppressed. And they will be unleashed against any mass movement that seriously threatens the structures of capitalist power and calls for rebellion (pg. 146).”

“There is no American immigrant group, from Chinese labourers, to the Irish, who have not suffered the wrath of armed vigilantes. And African Americans know too intimately, how judicial systems work to protect white vigilantes and police who gun down unarmed black men, women, and children (pg. 147).”

“…the more likely become random and violent acts of retaliation, which the state will label terrorism and use to justify odious forms of repression (pg. 147).”

“Vigilante thugs serve the interests of the power elites, as in the case involving the Nevada rancher who made war, in essence, on behalf of corporations that seek to eradicate public ownership of land (pg. 147).”

“The raison d’etre given by vigilante groups for the need to bear arms is that guns protect us from tyranny. Guns keep us safe in our homes. Guns are the bulwark of liberty. But history does not support this contention (pg. 147).”

“The engine of vigilante violence is not fear of government. It is the fear by white people of the black underclass and of the radicals who champion the cause of the oppressed. The black underclass has been enslaved, lynched, imprisoned, and impoverished for centuries. The white vigilantes do not acknowledge the reality of this oppression, but at the same time they are deeply worried about retribution directed against whites. Guns, for this reason, are made easily available to white people, while gun ownership is largely criminalized for blacks. The hatred expressed by vigilante groups for people of colour, along with Jews and Muslims, is matched by their hatred for the college-educated elite. The vigilantes see people of colour, along with those who espouse the liberal social values of the college-educated elites, including gun control, as contaminants of society (pg. 148).”

“For one such a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen. In 1932, most of the predictions made about what would happen if Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor were wildly overoptimistic (pg. 149).”

“Precise role of The Birth of a Nation was in encouraging this increase; but as African-American scholar Lawrence Reddick noted in 1944, “Its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan was at least one factor which enabled the Klan to enter upon its period of greatest expansion.” James Baldwin called the film “an elaborate justification of mass murder.” (pg. 150)”

“It has heavily armed population and yet maintains remarkable political stability – because, as Hofstadter writes in American Violence, “our violence lacks both an ideological and geographical center; it lacks cohesion; it has been too various, diffuse, and spontaneous to be forged into a single, sustained, inveterate hatred shared by entire social classes.” He adds that Americans also have a “remarkable lack of memory where violence is concerned and have left most of our excesses a part of our buried history.” Hofstadter notes that “most of our violence has taken the form of action by one group of citizens against another group, rather than by citizens against the state (pg. 151).”

“Most American violence, Hofstadter observes, has been initiated with a “conservative” bias. It has been unleashed against abolitionists, Catholics, radicals, workers and labour organizers, Negroes, Orientals, and other ethnic or racial or ideological minorities, and has been used ostensibly to protect the American, the Southern, the white Protestant, or simply the established middle class way of life and morals (pg. 153).”

“No revolutionist can challenge power if he or she does not grasp how power works. Of Paine’s many contributions to the American Revolution, this understanding ranks as one of the most important (pg. 153).”

“…the global imperial power that American wields today, was blinded by its hubris and military prowess. It had lost the ability to listen and as a result had lost the ability to make rational choices – as inhabitants of New York would discover when British warships and mercenary troops during the revolution mercilessly bombarded and occupied the city. The British foolishly believed that their superior military force alone would decide the conflict, the same mistake the United States made in Iraq and Afghanistan and earlier in Vietnam (pg. 154).”

“Power, [Paine] warned, even in a democracy, carries within it the seeds of tyranny (pg. 154).”

“My motive and object in all my political works, beginning with Common Sense,” Paine remembered in 1806, “… have been to rescue man from tyranny and false systems and false principles of government, and enable him to be free (pg. 155).”

“When it shall be said in any country in the world, ‘My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am a friend of happiness – when these things can be said,” wrote Paine, “then may that country boast of its constitution and its government (pg. 155).”

“Paine wrote in everyday language of working people. Grounding his writing in their common experiences, he was the first political writer to extend debate beyond university halls, government office buildings, and elite clubs and salons to the streets and the taverns. Paine knew liberty was intimately connected with language. And he knew that those who seek to monopolize power always use inaccessible and specialized jargon to exclude the average citizen. Paine broke these chains (pg. 155).”

“Paine’s clarity will have to be replicated today. We too will have to form a new language. We will have to articulate our reality through the ideas of socialism rather than capitalism in an age of diminishing resources. And we have to do this in a form that is accessible (pg. 155).”

“Those who live under despotic regimes, Paine noted, are denied the ability to communicate and discuss in a national forum their most basic concerns and grievances. And this suppression, Paine understood, has consequences. “Let men communicate their thoughts with freedom,” (pg. 156).”

“Paine hated the pomp and arrogance of power and privilege. He retained throughout his life a fierce loyalty to the working class in which he was raised (pg. 159).”

“While his unrelenting commitment to truth and justice and eternal rebelliousness, Paine would later be vilified by the leaders of the new American republic, who had no interest in the egalitarian society he championed (pg. 159).”

“Any revolutionary movement that builds a mass following will have to contend with the kind of state-orchestrated vilification and vigilante violence that plagued Paine’s life. Vitriol and violence will be unleashed, with the tacit approval of the state, on all who resist, even non-violently. These reactionary movements, while defining themselves as the guardians of patriotism and the Christian faith, will draw on the deep reserves of racial hostility (pg. 160).”

“The longer we remain in a state of political paralysis, dominated by a corporate elite that refuses to respond to the growing misery and governed by an ineffectual liberal elite, the more the rage of the white male underclass – whose economic status often replicates that of poor blacks – will find expression through violence. If it remains true to the American tradition, this violence will not be directed at the power elite but will single out minorities, dissidents, activists, radicals, and scapegoats (pg. 161).”

“The language of violence always presages violence (pg. 161).”

“…in Germany there was a yearning for fascism before fascism was invented.” It is the yearning that we now see. If we do not swiftly reincorporate the unemployed and the poor back into the economy, giving them jobs and relief from crippling debt, then the nascent racism and violence that are leaping up around the edges of American society will become full-blown conflagration (pg. 162).”

“Left unchecked, the hatred for radical Islam will transform itself into hatred for Muslims. The hatred for undocumented workers will become hatred for Mexicans and Central Americans. The hatred for those not defined by this largely white movement as American patriots will become hatred for African Americans. The hatred for liberals will morph into a hatred for all democratic institutions, from universities to government agencies to the press (pg. 162).”

“The embrace of non-reality-based belief systems made communication among ethnic groups impossible. They no longer spoke the same cultural or historical language. They believed in their private fantasy. And because they believed in fantasy, they had no common historical narrative built around verifiable truth and no way finally to communicate with anyone who did not share their self-delusion (pg. 163).”

“Intolerance that leads to violence is being bred with the steady rise of ethnic nationalism over the past decade and the replacing of history with fabricated stories of lost glory. Violence becomes in this perverted belief system a cleansing agent, a way to restore a lost world (pg. 170).”

“Those who retreat into fantasy cannot be engaged in rational discussion, for fantasy is all that is left of their tattered self-esteem. Attacks on their myths as untrue trigger not a discussion of facts and evidence but a ferocious emotional backlash. Such challenges of the myth threaten what is left of hope (pg. 170).”

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