A classic drama full of hatred, ignorance and irony played out this week in the forum section of right-wing Web site Free Republic, as "Freepers" tried to make sense of a church shooting in Tennessee that killed two parishioners and wounded many others. The grotesque irony of the FR discussions is that, after early posters had indulged all their bigoted guesses about the identity of the killer, they found out the gunman was actually straight out of their own demographic: a 59-year-old white man named Jim Adkisson, who left a four-page letter ranting against liberals, was known by his acquaintances to hate "blacks, gays and anyone who was different from him," left a pile of books by O'Reilly, Savage and Hannity behind in his car, and even wore a red-white-and-blue shirt to his church killing spree.
It's morbidly fascinating to watch the FR threads as the posters wriggle and bluster to try to accommodate this most inconvenient truth. And if you have the stomach to read them, you can learn a lot (perhaps more than you'd like) about the pathology of the contemporary American Right. For myself -- and I realize this will be the most profound heresy to progressives committed to the populist line -- reading these posts is a timely slap in the face, a painful reminder that maybe, just maybe, heartland Americans aren't such wonderful people at all. What you see in these posts is the oldest, deepest and meanest strain in American culture: the Ulster America founded by violent sectarians who moved westward again and again, from Scotland to Northern Ireland and then to the southern United States, then again westward into the American continent, to find a place where they could hone their hair-trigger intolerance without fear of interference from warmer, more humorous people. But that's me, and I'm often accused of "cynicism," whatever that means. At any rate, I'll present a little background on the site and then discuss a few of the posts. Make of them what you will.
For those who want to do their own analyses before reading on, here are the Web addresses of the three FR threads discussing the Tennessee shootings, in the order they appeared:
For those unfamiliar with online right-wing culture, Free Republic is a far-right Web site established in 1996. It soon found a huge, loyal audience among the right wing's most rabid, ignorant and openly fascistic voices -- or as FR calls them, "grassroots conservatives." Even other right-wing Web sites shun FR, and you'll often observe posters to these sites worrying, when online discussions become openly racist or fascistic, that they're becoming too much like "the Freepers," as FR's ranting posters proudly call themselves.
The same hatred of "liberals" that drove the Tennessee killer is on display, with unconscious irony, in the house advertisement appearing at the top of one of the forums on the church shooting. A bald eagle stands before an American flag, with the caption, "Driving liberals crazy and having fun doing it!"
The first posts reacting to the church shooting are smug gloats. Many posters were absolutely certain that the gunman would turn out to be a Muslim: