Palling Around With Neo-Nazis

Daniel Cowart and Paul Schlesselman were charged yesterday with threatening to assassinate Barack Obama. The two men are neo-Nazis and the craziness of their plot, from its fixation with numerology to its campy costuming (the two intended to wear white tuxedos and top hats while slaughtering Obama and 102 other black Americans) should not encourage us to ignore its hatefulness, and the sources of that hatefulness.

To be clear: No one technically "palled around" with these neo-Nazis. Sarah Palin did not go moose hunting with Cowart and Schlesselman, nor her allies in the press, from Sean Hannity to Mark Stricherz, go bar hopping with the duo. There was no "palling around" because there was no casual relationship. There was something actually far worse: a causal relationship. For, surely, one of the mitigating factors Cowart’s and Sclesselman’s attorneys will point to is the fact that for several weeks a Governor of one of the fifty states, who had secured her party’s nomination for the vice-presidency of the nation, and a variety of serious media outlets had broadcast as newsworthy and significant the "fact" that Barack Obama "palled around" with terrorists.

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We all know that terrorists are enemies of the United States so someone who "pals around" with them must at the very least be aiding and abetting the terrorists. Isn’t that what Palin meant to suggest? Young men and women wearing the uniform of the United States are engaged currently in two wars fighting terrorists who threaten our nation. Why should we stand idly by while one of the terrorists’ allies stealthily wins political support when our brothers and sisters are fighting against the same terrorists abroad?

You can hear the objection: We never told anyone to kill! We never told anyone to purchase a short-barreled shotgun, or two handguns, or a rifle and ammunition (all of which were found in Cowart’s and Schlesselman’s possession)! True enough. But, it requires a willful ignorance not to know that questioning the patriotism of the first black candidate for president might capture the attention of racist haters, that suggesting a casual connection between Obama and terrorism was a variety of hate-mongering, and that, long after it had been demonstrated that there was no meaningful relationship between Obama and Ayers, continuing to raise the issue amounted to shouting "fire" in a crowded arena. You can drive one hour from our nation’s capital (to the north or south, I might add) and find KKK and other racist memorabilia. The arena of racism is a crowded one and shouting "fire" is literally incendiary.

I do not believe that any of those who rehearsed the Ayers story wanted Obama dead. I also believe that their language was designed to raise doubts in some, even at the risk of raising hate in others. Such language is most certainly not exculpatory for these neo-Nazis, but is certainly a mitigating factor. I recognized all along, what Mr. Cowart and Mr. Schlesselman did not recognize, that the Ayers story was merely an attempt at character assassination, not real assassination. It was merely a revival of McCarthyite smear tactics, but no one told the neo-Nazis it was just a smear campaign. The confusion should not let Cowart and Schlesselman off the hook for their criminal acts and intents, but neither should it excuse the shameful acts and intents of those who stoked their hate.

Michael Sean Winters

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9 years ago
Thank you for stating it so well. The responsibility lies at the feet of those who chose a path of character assassination and hate-mongering. They are a desperate group who are truly out of ideas.
9 years ago
Proposing a causal relationship between Sarah Palin's unfortunate harping on Obama/Ayers and what happened in Tennessee is awfully presumptuous. What I have read about this alleged plot suggests two young men who embraced the neo-Nazi worldview wanted to slaughter black Americans, capping the whole horrifying exercise by killing Sen. Obama, the most prominent symbol of black hopes and aspirations since Dr. King. I doubt Gov. Palin's remarks functioned as some sort of tacit encouragement to them. I doubt they needed any encouragement at all. Though I am certain Mr. Winters is right in saying their lawyers will make this silly argument.
9 years ago
Mr. Winters-- Your anger, which I share, at the neo-Nazi plots are justifiable. However, to link them to Sarah Palin's criticism of the Obama-Ayers connection is without merit. Asking questions about how deep a candidate's connections are to a known and unrepentant extremist who used violence as a political statement is legitimate. One can argue that they are not particularly relevant when the country is facing many difficulties, but one cannot say these are questions that should not be asked. More importantly, your proposition that these questions somehow imply a racial attack are indefensible. Where in Sarah Palin's words are you picking up on racially charged language? If you have evidence of this, then please, for the good of the country, produce it. Finally, in a previous version of this blog post this morning, you linked Sean Hannity and Mark Stricherz in their defense of Palin to this scheme. The former is the Cafeteria Catholic of the Right who I am usually loathe to defend, but for God's sake, what do you have against Stricherz? This is beneath someone whose political analysis is usually described as astute and especially one who is a Christian.
9 years ago
To assasinate a high profile target, this takes about the same mentality as being a brick. How many cameras are focussed in on Mr Obama, the guy can barely go to the bathroom by himself. This "plot" might be more of a "plot" to spend Christmas with friends, in the Dept. of Corrections. I used to watch the Jerry Springer Show, when he used to have "neo-nazis" on it, then Jenny Jones would have them on and then Sally Jessie Raphael. To piece together something so brain dead, has to be a mental illness. There are alot of nuts in this country, and then there are alot of guys that want to spend the holidays with their best friends, no matter where they are at, be it at home or behind bars. Turkey always tastes better when your'e among friends.
9 years ago
Very well stated. While certainly not directly encouraging the actions of morons like these, Governor Palin's comments help to create an atmosphere in which poisonous seeds can grow. It's high time for everyone to ratchet back the disgusting rhetoric of division and start talking in terms of the actions which will bring all Americans together to fix the mess left by the present administration.
9 years ago
Michael Sean Winters writes that I am an ally of Sarah Palin. I have written about Mrs. Palin twice, on my blog www.newcatholicpolitics.com. The first post, from Aug. 29, is titled "Palin is Too Inexperienced" [to be Vice President]. The second post, from Sept. 2, notes that while "Palin herself and her pro-life credentials are commendable, her political philosophy is not consistent with Catholic social teaching." Winters' claim is without merit.
9 years ago
I have made it a practice not to reply to comments, but what with the World Series going on, I feel it permissible to take a swing at the slow ball over the plate Mssr. Stricherz has thrown my way. How very curious that of all the weighty matters at issue, he should choose to focus on my statement that he is "an ally" of Governor Palin. I stand corrected. He is not, generally, an ally of Ms. Palin. He was only an ally when it came to the task in which they both engaged of character assassination and hate-mongering by bringing up Bill Ayers long after it had been demonstrated that no meaningful relationship existed between the Sen. Obama and Mr. Ayers and that the only reason to bring Mr. Ayers up was to suggest that Obama was un-American. Today, he and Palin and all who trafficked in the calmuny profess themselves "shocked, shocked" to find that racists responded to their hate-mongering with hate. Next thing ya know, they will discover gambling is going on in Las Vegas!
9 years ago
"Today, he and Palin and all who trafficked in the calmuny profess themselves "shocked, shocked" to find that racists responded to their hate-mongering with hate." Please clarify, Mr. Winters: Where is it written that these men were prompted to devise their plot because of Palin's Obama/Ayers remarks? I am not seeing this connection proposed anywhere beyond speculative blog postings. Absent any real evidence of a link, it seems like a cheap and unsupportable way to make a point.
9 years ago
One can argue that connecting Gov. Palin's remarks to these disturbed individuals is a stretch ... until you listen to the response of her audience. Painting Sen. Obama as a friend to terrorists, socialist, Marxist, anti-American, or whatever they're trying this week whips crowd into a frenzy that is frightening. No, it's not a stretch at all.
9 years ago
Michael Sean Winters in his post gives us a perfect example of left-wing McCarthyism. Ironically, Stricherz should feel honored to be smeared in such a patently unfounded way.
9 years ago
In case anyone was wondering, this is what ''Palin Derangement Syndrome'' looks like. First, there is zero evidence that these criminals had ever heard Governor Palin make any remarks about Senator Obama; for that matter, there is zero evidence that they even know who Sarah Palin is. All of the available evidence suggests that they were only interested in killing Barack Obama because he was a famous black man. Unless you want to blame Sarah Palin for the fact the Barack Obama is black, there is zero basis for associating her with this incident at all - which is surely why Michael Sean is the only man in America to do so. Second, Sarah Palin did not claim that Barack Obama palled around with foreign terrorists; she explicitly referred to the fact that Barack Obama has a long-standing relationship with Bill Ayers, a self-confessed unrepentant domestic terrorist. If anything, Governor Palin was understating this relationship by using the phrase ''palling around''. They jointly controlled a $150 million educational fund and served together on a foundation board, doling out funds to such worthy beneficiaries as the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and PLO representative Rashid Khalidi. Of course, Obama says that Ayers is just some guy who lives in his neighborhood, which is presumably why Michael Sean contends that ''it has been demonstrated that there was no meaningful relationship between Obama and Ayers''. Sane people respectfully beg to differ. Finally, I certainly hope that Michael Sean is the only person in this country who considers exposure to political speech a mitigating factor for racists who target presidential candidates for assassination. I imagine that even the would-be assassins would be embarrassed to make such an inane assertion. But then again, anyone who has convinced himself that Barack Obama is the pro-life candidate in this race is capable of believing anything.

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