These are angry times in which we live. The Internet and cable television provide fertile soil for growing rage on the right and the left; both ends of the political spectrum are rife with conspiracy theories singling out scapegoats for national woes, real and imagined. And those who dare criticize the fomenters of rage themselves become targets.
So it was for the Anti-Defamation League, whose instructive report, “Rage Grows in America: Anti Government Conspiracies,” released two weeks ago, sent the extremist right into paroxysms of angry criticism.
The report documented the rapid rise of the “tea party” movement and the “birthers” and the extremism associated with both, the return of self-anointed militias and some of the more extreme talk show hosts who have made a lucrative business out of stirring up populist ire.
For this report, the ADL — which criticizes left and right with equal fervor — chose to focus on one element in this noxious tide: “anti-government hostility” crystallizing around a shared belief that President Barack Obama’s presidency is somehow illegitimate, and which associates him with evils ranging from Nazism to communism.
The report, for example, cites Glenn Beck, a TV host on Fox News, for demonizing Obama. In August, Beck urged viewers to read Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” saying the German people ignored the Nazi leader’s intentions. He warned his viewers not to make the same mistake about Obama. “Please America ... take this man for what he says.”
Predictably, some of the anti-government (and sometimes anti-Semitic) targets of the report responded with ratcheted-up invective about the ADL. But the report also garnered criticism from thoughtful, responsible voices, including Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin, who argued that the group was equating criticism of Obama administration policies with an extremist fringe.
“By choosing to frame its report on this brand of extremism in such a way as to associate all those who have opposed Obama’s policies in one way or another with the far right, the ADL has stepped over a line that a nonpartisan group should never cross,” he wrote.
We respectfully disagree. The ADL report clearly points to groups and individuals that have crossed the line between legitimate criticism of this president for his policies — many of which we dislike — and the kind of over-the-top attacks that come close to outright incitement to violence.
We recognize, as does the ADL, that the far left also reduces complex issues to simplistic, angry slogans that turn debate into meaningless shouting matches. The left, too, finds solace in broad-brush conspiracy theories.
But in today’s America, it’s the other extreme, with its unparalleled access to new forms of media and which is sometimes legitimized by mainstream politicians eager to capitalize on the fears gripping the nation, that seems to be on the march.
The ADL report is tough, but it isn’t partisan and it doesn’t seek to diminish the very real concerns many Jews have about the current administration.