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78-Year-Old Threatened With Death After Glenn Beck Attack Fears Violence: "It Only Takes One Person Who Is a Little Deranged"

"It's a big county and there's all kinds of people.," said progressive writer Frances Fox Piven in response to the violent rhetoric launched her way after being targeted by Beck.

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The violent taunts (“We should blowup Piven's office and home”) have made Piven “wary,” but she remains unbowed.  “I think what the death threats are intended to do is extort silence from me. Although I think there is danger out there. I think most of them are simply ridiculous.”

Piven’s troubles began in 2009 when Beck zeroed in on her work from four decades ago and held it up as proof of how radical liberal forces had been unleashed with Obama. Since Piven doesn’t watch much cable television (her taste runs more toward Masterpiece Theater,) it was the professor’s students who informed her about Beck’s increasingly agitating commentary, and the far-flung conspiracies she was supposedly fueling.  At first, the attention was almost humorous. In fact, Piven’s students taped a copy of Beck’s  Tree of Radicalism and Revolution chart, which featured Piven, to the door of her university office, as kind of a joke. 

“My first reaction was that it was a paranoid fantasy in a way so bizarre and so unreal that it was comical, that I was I was collapsing the economy and was responsible for Barack Obama’s election, and ACORN, and the Cloward-Piven strategy had caused the financial crisis? Those are crazy theories, but they’re handy theories,” she said. “They make sense to people who find the world very confusing.”

But whatever humor was attached to Beck’s early fascination with Piven quickly wore off, as the host’s obsession stretched on for  weeks, months, and  entire seasons of the year.

“Why did he pick me?” she still wonders. “He seems very attached to me. There are so many other potential targets, people who are further to the left than me, more inflammatory than me,  or more important to movements than I am.”

Indeed, even if you read portions of Pivin’s half-century of work on political movements and protests in America and interpreted it in the most sinister way possible, as Beck would prefer, that still doesn’t explain the talkers’s almost 18-month–long obsession with a  social scientist.

Meaning, regardless of her writings, Beck has never come close to explaining how an elderly and relatively unknown college professor would warrant the type of breathless, and at times, hysterical warnings he’s issued about Piven’s supposed villainous, all-consuming power. 

As for the current culture of fear and persecution that pervades the right-wing movement, it reminds Piven of the McCarthy era. But she notes today’s craze is different in one key way -- it’s almost entirely media-driven. It’s a handful of right-wing pundits who are crusading against Piven, not politicians. 

What’s similar though, is the trademark fear. “Paranoia, and paranoid theories of the sources of our troubles, has been a recurrent staple of American politics,” said Piven.  “I think the toxicity of the Tea Party poison is a reaction to the election of Barack Obama, but it’s also true the country is turning darker and the demographics of the country are changing.”

As for Beck’s incessant demonization of an elderly, semi-obscure private citizen, Piven, a proud liberal, doesn’t think his rants should be silenced. “We have to allow somebody like Glenn beck to say that. But other alternative explanations have to be generated and be given the kind of publicity that his craziness gets. I don’t think we can stop him from spinning paranoid theories. Although maybe we can stop him from running a blog that doesn’t take down death threats. “ (The Piven threats were eventually removed.)

What Piven really wants though, is to get back to work; to get back to her writing.  The Beck attacks though, take up her time. “I would like to work, but if this continues I won’t be able to because I’m not going to just duck and ignore it.”

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