The Veils of the State: Contextualizing Political Affiliation, Acts of Violence and Illogical Justifications of the Rhetoric of Patriotism.
by Doreen Martinez
Almost immediately following the horrifying shootings in Arizona, there was a frenzied attempt to identify the shooter Jarod Loughner’s political affiliations. Inquires were abound regarding his potential tea party ties, white supremacist connections and/or simple voting status as Republican. The call to prove such carried a vehemence familiar of the NYC trade center and Oklahoma City bombings attacks in which the media, politicians and public in fraught and excessive mannerisms sought to blame and center blame on villains. And, they were to be nationalistic villains. It is such individuals that any one or any side could then manipulate and frame as an affront and/or deviance of American ideals; of course, depending on the location of the critic, location of the impassioned patriot or concerned apolitical citizen.
When it came to light that Mr. Loughner failed to have any formal political memberships, a shift away from the deeper connection he embodied occurred and one veil of the borderlands was achieved. Therein is a critical failure to understand Jared’s racial and gender entitlements e.g., his context or what we could refer to as his borderland status. Mr. Loughner has NO need for any official membership. His very location as a Euro-American male privileges his daily existence and facilitates righteousness to his actions. He, then, is an actor of the Whiteness script that is founded on European, Christian and capitalistic values, codes and explicit veils of domination and superiority. We including the media fail horribly when we negate to align him to the larger political landscape of his privilege and entitlement. Yes, there is power to political affiliation especially when organization or members are seeking change. Yet, the maintenance of the status quo fails to demand such in the same vein. The borders are well-established, rigid and institutional expectations that Jarod Loughner, by birthrate, inherently occupied, benefits from and innately knew.
Additionally, the very description of the “event” as tragic veils the role and implicit responsibility the language, tone and tenor of recent and commonplace political renderings have produced. Tragic implies a lack of knowledge, a lack of understanding, and/or responsibility. It was tragic e.g., it was sad, unfortunate, terrible or awful. All implying a certain impossibility for us to avoid and/or incapable of stopping. The veil of Loughner’s mental illness only provides a scapegoat to the events. He chose a specific political event; he chose a specific person; and he chose a specific weapon. All of which was made accessible to him with certain ease, determinedness and permission via his status – context - as Euro-American, male, assumed heterosexual, assumed citizen.
A few examples to illustrate how that whiteness script has fostered his veiled actions and antecedent framing of them: The AZ HB 2281 bill according to Mother Jones, “prohibits schools from offering courses at any grade level that advocate ethnic solidarity, promote overthrow of the US government, or cater to specific ethnic groups—regulations which will dismantle the state's popular Mexican-American studies programs.” Although, the bill’s target may be Ethnic Studies programs or course/curriculum offerings, the interpretations and masking of these programs that seek to produce inclusive and accurate histories, contemporary realities, and future possibilities “for all” as anti-American, unpatriotic, and/or even evil and immoral casts a distorted imagery, understanding and necessity of Ethnic Studies efforts.
I believe the type of solidarity promoted, discussed or raised in Ethnic Studies programs must be complicated. It may be situated within specific ethnic or culture knowledge systems, beliefs and/or practices. However, at their core, it is solidarity of humanity that I argue is marked in the Constitution and embedded in democratic principles and delivery modes. It includes all rather than a specific ethnic group and primarily seeks to employ the government rather than overthrow it. I realize that my conceptual framing may offer differing views of some culture or specific Ethnic Studies dialogues. Paramountly, I would argue the divisive violent threat suggested in the bill is tantamountly incorrect and, thus, produces a policy and general public awareness of a false enemy. The larger veil that transpired in Arizona was their massive housing boom, [read capitalism] which erupted and obliterated the state’s economy as the nation recession borne from the banking industry landed in Arizona with catastrophic force. It is vital to note during this housing/construction soaring growth there was largely an absence of directives aimed at undocumented peoples [read workers] in Arizona. Minimally, we can argue that what efforts did occur then were less volatile and/or had less national attention and backing that the most recent legislation has found. The attack on undocumented peoples and Ethnic Studies program diverts the acknowledgement of failed economic policies and programs.
But, the state economy did collapse. Thus, one outcome is the escalation of a target and purpose that profoundly promotes notions of enemies and threats to the fabric of our country. In a more direct outcome of this framing is the resultant effect that individuals and organizations who challenge, call into question and/or disagree with proposals to protect our country are seen as villains, terrorists and yes, indeed, targets. When the Dixie Chicks called out our then national commander, George H. Bush, they received a torrent of death threats and various other violent threats and actions against themselves, their property and symbolic items such as the collective burning of their CD’s in various communities.
The fuel for such responses and action has been exacerbated by numerous recent political campaigns. Strikingly these framings and language provide the embers and torches to both responses e.g., the violence against the Dixie Chicks and the scapegoat of Loughner’s violence. Sarah Palin, substantially a media favorite, and touted as an American voice was discussing the memorial service held for the Tucson victims (more accurately stated the victims of political violence.) She expressed that politics are/need to be “hot.” And, that, she believed we have progressed from when “political figures settled difference with dueling pistols.” Yet, she failed to acknowledge properly the role of dueling. Thus, misaligning a supposed “uncivil,” according to her interpretation, act e.g., dueling as justification for her current engagement with violent language and imagery. Critically, dueling required a specific person and affront had to be identified and if rules failed to be followed murder charges could ensue. And significantly, contextually, the types of guns/weapons used in duels were most often single action and, certainly, non-automatic.
Her accounting of politics needing to be hot was an attempt to dissuade responsibility for the literal “targets” she had utilized identifying certain congressional members who she suggested had to be unseated in upcoming elections. As part of this campaign, she had used additional violent language, imagery and promoted an extreme attitude of us (the patriots and citizens) vs. them (the enemies and affronts to American morality.) She went as far as questioning why the Tucson memorial service wasn’t a “Catholic Mass.”
During this same time period, Glen Beck while being interviewed on the Today Show by Meredith Vieira offered this perspective:
Political discourse is sometimes really in your face. Sometimes you really get into their face. Just like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went back and forth. John Adams was called a hermaphrodite by Thomas Jefferson. Adams response was that your children will be raped and towns burned if he becomes the president. Let’s keep political discourse in context of history. Children weren’t raped, towns weren’t burned. We have to fix the individual. The problem in Tucson was the individual.
So, yes, let’s keep political discourse in context of history. Today, Americans can and do buy magazine clips for their individually owned semi/automatic weapons. These clips allow twenty plus rounds of ammunition [read bullets] to be fired before having to be reload that gun. During Jefferson and Adams historical time period, some individuals at best had at best musket loaders. Today, we question whether our country has become immune to visions and acts of violence. Today, in our political history, on a regular basis in various forms imagery of violence and death is shared and promoted freely. Video games, movies, entertainment, and even imagery of warfare – senseless dismemberment and extreme murder - are regularly and routinely accessible. For those who seek and are drawn to such there is an unending supply. In our political history, Beck himself has suggested that a political representative needs to be poisoned. Today, various forms and means of delivery exist for poison to be used in this manner. We as a country have experienced anthrax and other toxic poison scares and threats. Numerous politicians have received tainted e.g., poisonous envelopes, their campaign headquarters vandalized and representative blackmailed, bribed or harassed. Our political history includes the reality/truth that our proposed codes of civility have been stretched and broken in various ways as children are raped regularly, homes burglarized, property stolen and assaults and bodily harm too frequently enacted.
The problem in Tucson is the fostering of righteousness that is fueled and borne upon the rhetoric of denial and patriotism veiled on the borderlands. The problem is the individual who fails to take responsibility. The problems in our Nation’s political discourse are the veils of violence and divisiveness coded as patriotic or needed hot/heated debate. We can have necessary hot and heated dialogue absent of violent and harmful language and framing.
We must view and act upon Loughner’s political act as a political act. Whether there was an official stamp of approval of such fails to be negligible. As an actor, an agent, an soldier, he acted upon an expectation of patriotism that relied on his privilege and entitlement of violence reified through the access and purchase of his weaponry, through the subtle and overt affirmation of “targets” and disguised enemies and the celebration of hot and heated rhetoric that was hailed upon the death threats delivered to the Dixie Chicks. If we select to interrogate mental illness, I argue we must do so at the start. What has happened to our country’s mental illness/health?
Doreen Martinez, Ph.D serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at CU Boulder.
Graphic of Loughner from Time.com, manipulated by Bad Subjects. Cowboy & guns from Arturo Aldama archives.