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How Right-Wing Bullies Blame and Attack the Victims of Violence and Oppression

The right-wing exploits tendencies toward victim-blaming to advance its worldview. But are Americans wising up?

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At Salon earlier this year, David Sirota noted that from the Southern Strategy onward, to current-day GOPers asking Iraqis for reparations after we invaded and destroyed their country, blaming the victim has been an important part of the right-wing modus operandi (and he also cites Ryan):

The list seems endless. From  demonizing Occupy Wall Street protesters  to bashing unions already under pulverizing corporate assault, the Republican Party is today organized around the politics of scapegoating the least powerful among us — and that’s a problem for the GOP’s opponents, because history shows that kind of politics works.

Yes, as crass tactics go, victim blaming has, unfortunately, been a reliable bet. From the mid-1960s to the beginning of the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s (as I demonstrate in my recent  book), blaming the victim became the backbone of the ugly but electorally powerful backlash to the civil rights movement — a backlash that sociologist  William Ryan  famously identified as ”justifying inequality by finding defects in the victims of inequality.”

This sounds pretty grim--and accurate. However, there may be some optimism to be found in today's grassroots activism. The movement declaring "I am Troy Davis," the Million Hoodie marches, and year's SlutWalks were all explicity organized to create outlets for empathy and identification with victims. Occupy Wall Street's "We Are the 99%" Tumblr created an opportunity to humanize victims of the economic downturn. All these protests "went viral." The fact that this is all happening at once is remarkable; although injustices are continuing and in some cases worsening, there are near-simultaneous outpourings to explicitly reject victim-blaming and declare solidarity with the unfortunate, the oppressed, the injured.

Our society has done a terrible job fighting the stain of racism, as this case clearly indicates. But the fact that so many are standing up and refusing to buy the victim-blaming script at this moment in time offers hope. Instead of seeing the world as just, protesters clad in hoodies are saying they want justice. And their voices are being heard.

Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published at the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, Jezebel and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @fellowette and find her work at

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