ON THE HEALS of the January 8th shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona which left 6 dead and over 14 wounded, residents of Spokane, Washington celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday escaped their own terrorist attack as a MLK Day parade was diverted from a route where a suspicious backpack containing a shrapnel bomb was found. The device was discovered by Spokane city workers “on a bench at the northeast corner of N. Washington Street and W. Main Avenue in downtown Spokane”.
F.B.I special agent Frank Harrill said that the bomb was “by all early analysis, a viable device that was very lethal and had the potential to inflict multiple casualties”. The agency is investigating white supremacist organizations in Washington state, though if Jared Loughner's rampage or other recent rightwing domestic terrorist attacks are any indication, many of these "lone gunmen" have loose or sometimes no outright connections to the organized right.
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THE ATTEMPTED bombing was an eerie reminder of the dangers of the militant far right in the United States; a movement currently being egged on both by openly reactionary organizations like the Minutemen, Tea Party groups, and Pamela Geller's "Stop the Islamization[sic]of America" and by elite opportunists like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Sharron Angle. While the F.B.I. currently has no suspects, it’s obvious that parade participants – including many racial, peace, social, and economic justice activists – were the targets: the bomb was aimed towards the parade route, riddled with shrapnel, and set up for remote detonation.
Despite recent polls which show that more people support “socialism” (36% according to Gallup) than the “tea party” people (35% according to the new Washington Post/ABC poll), the far-right has continued their offensive, isolating themselves from the mainstream (in politics and tactics) with every step rightward. The context of their offensive started with the big bank bailouts, was exacerbated with the election of the nation’s first African American president, and solidified with the Tea Party “movement’s” supposed victory in the midterm election.
The 2010 midterm election season was particularly vitriolic, with Tea Party leaders urging the disenfranchised to ready themselves for “second amendment remedies” and Sarah Palin telling supporters not to “retreat” but rather to “reload”. Islamphobic campaigns in places like New York City (against a proposed Islamic center in downtown Manhattan), in Gainsville, Florida (Terry Jones’s ‘Burn a Qur’an Day’), and Murfreesboro, TN (against a proposed Mosque) fanned the flames of anti-Muslim, anti-arab, and pro-imperialist sentiment.
During his June 10th show last year, Glenn Beck, in his characteristically dramatic clamor, proclaimed “they” – the new representatives in congress – “believe in communism. They believe in and have called for revolution. You’re gonna have to shoot them in the head. But warning, they may shoot you.” (aired 10 June 2010, see video).
None of them, of course, are actually socialists. Real socialists have much different views. In contrast to the rabidly violent rhetoric and actions of the rightwing – who regularly shoot, bomb, and otherwise attack unarmed targets of all kinds (gay bars, abortion clinics, the U.S. Holocaust Museum, etc) – socialists are among the most resolute opponents of violence: we oppose war and occupation, attacks on LGBTI people, immigrants, women, workers, and people of color. Socialists also especially oppose individual terrorism, unlike many rightwing militants.
The Republican Party took the House of Representatives as many of Barack Obama’s newly won supporters, frustrated with lack of progress and betrayed promises (Obama promised to to close the Guantánamo Bay detention center, pass real health reform, oversee a swift economic recovery, and end to the war in Iraq, etc. – none of which occurred), stayed home while GOP supporters, emboldened by far right militancy and rhetoric, turned out in larger numbers.
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THE OBAMA GOVERNMENT has been almost completely silent on the terrorist plot, save for statements from the Spokane field office. A routine site search of the White House website finds no mention of the near-miss massacre in Spokane. The Obama Government was too busy on Monday promoting its “National Day of Service” to address the terrorist attack or its more systemic causes. A government interested in protecting its population would undoubtedly have taken a bombing attempt on a day celebrating one of the nation’s proclaimed heroes seriously.
Nor is any mention of the attack found on the front pages of the F.B.I or Homeland Security websites – the former too busy promoting its crackdown on aging New York mobsters and the latter too busy praising out-going Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman for the helping establish the Department in the first place.
Contrast this with the ballyhoo around the F.B.I. frame-ups of the “Newburgh 4” in the Hudson Valley of New York and Mohamed Osman Mohamud in Portland, Washington. The Newburgh case, for example, was front-page news both in the Hudson Valley and nationally. The Pioneer Square case in Portland made national news as well. The accused in both these cases, it should be noted, were people of color – while the terrorist plot in Spokane was directed against peace and social justice activists – many of color – on a day memorializing a black civil rights leader.
None of this is at all surprising. The F.B.I.’s primary relationship with peace and social justice activists over past year has been in the form of a new wave of repression, including raids against seven activist homes and federal grand jury subpoenas against fourteen individuals (see StopFBI.net). More broadly the Obama government is set on defending U.S. corporate interests by continuing the murderous and illegal occupations and bombings of the Middle East and Asia. Protecting those furthering social justice is not on its agenda or in its interests.
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WHAT MIGHT KING have had to say about all of this? While we can’t put words in his mouth (unlike Department of Defense Jeh Johnson who offensively claimed last week that King might have supported the U.S.’s imperialist wars in the Middle East), we can let him speak for himself. King, an self-admittedly imperfect ‘prophet‘ who fought his whole adult life for civil rights, peace, and social justice, famously remarked that to succeed in our pursuit of freedom and justice we must
“Somehow… be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process… and our victory will be a double victory.””
His vision was one of transcendent sisterhood and brotherhood whereby all of humanity is emancipated through a process of collective liberation. Dr. King consistently connected the actions of what today are regularly called “deranged individuals” and “lone gunmen” with the daily and systemic violence of the whole system – the former incomprehensible without the context of the latter.
In the last years of his life King’s opposition to the whole of the capitalist system became increasingly pronounced. In 1967 he remarked that:
“One day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society.”
In an era of global economic crisis, where attacks on the working class through programs of austerity are on the rise and the threat of right-wing terrorism is as well, we can learn from Dr. King who challenged us to see past individual instances of greed, hate, and injustice toward their more systemic causes. “A true revolution of values” King famously said in his speech Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,
“will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
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Liam O’Ceallaigh is a socialist organizer, activist, and writer from New York. His writings can be found on his website, Diary of a Walking Butterfly.