The Terrorist Threat: Right-Wing Radicals and the Eliminationist Mindset
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JH: People they deem to be inferior.
DN: Deemed inferior, or not even human. That is a critical aspect of eliminationist rhetoric. It often depicts the opposition as subhuman -- comparing them with vermin, diseases or carriers of diseases. I think for me the classic historical expression of eliminationism in America was Col. [John] Chivington's remarks prior to the Sand Creek Massacre, where he urged the white Colorado militiamen to kill all the Indians they encountered, including women and children. He said, "nits make lice." That to me is pretty much a classic eliminationist statement.
We certainly saw it through the lynching era in America, because the same sort of rhetoric was aimed at African Americans. We saw it between 1900-1942 directed at Asian Americans, particularly Japanese. Then more recently, we have had eliminationist rhetoric and behavior directed towards gays and lesbians and other minorities. This often expresses itself in the form of hate crimes.
JH: In the book, you discuss the connection between eliminationism and fascism. Can you dig into that a little bit for me?
DN: Well, eliminationism is of course longstanding thing. It's not just something new. We have a history of it in the United States, and not just here -- it's a global phenomenon. It's rooted in tribalism, and it goes way back.
The connection to fascism is fairly obvious. I got the term "eliminationism" from Daniel Goldhagen, whose book, Hitler's Willing Executioners, is an examination of how ordinary people facilitated the Holocaust. A pretty good book -- there are some problems with his thesis, but the concept of eliminationism was an important one that I pulled out of the work.
It's fundamental to the fascist world view, because fascism's core project is what Roger Griffin calls palingenesis, which is the phoenixlike rebirth from the ashes of the great national heritage. In order to achieve that rebirth, they have to eliminate and destroy -- they have to burn down what exists, and that includes eliminating those who are the cause of their problems. So for the German fascists that was Jews and communists and socialists. They did indeed proceed to eliminate them.
But as I mentioned in the book, I was reading Goldhagen's book at the time that I was doing research on my book about the Japanese American internment, and I was really struck by the similarities of what he was talking about -- with the sort of rhetoric directed at Japanese Americans that I was studying and pulling out of archives during the same time.
Incidentally, it's really striking how similar the kinds of things that the jingoes and nativists were saying about Japanese back in 1920, with what they are saying about Latinos today -- that they bring disease, that they don't want to speak English, that they will never fit in, that they will never be real Americans, and most of all, that they are secretly planning to invade the country and take it over and kill all the white people ... or something like that.
JH: Now, there tends to be a counternarrative on the right. You talk in the book about Michelle Malkin and her thesis about deranged liberals.
DN: "Unhinged" is her word.
JH: Right, unhinged liberals. The argument is that their discourse is just as bad or dangerous, only it comes from a different ideological perspective. How would you respond to that?
DN: Well, the main difference is that when it happens on the left, it tends to be minor characters -- fringe actors -- not people in leadership positions. People on the left in leadership positions tend to try to be pretty responsible in their rhetoric, mainly because they know they will be viciously attacked if they don't. On the right, it's pandemic for people in leadership -- leading pundits, leading politicians, leading religious figures -- all kinds of folks are doing this. It ranges from Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter -- who all claim audiences of millions of people -- as opposed to the kind of people that Malkin cites who are fringe commentators on blog sites.