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People who use social media to organize often refer to the crucial moment when someone steps out of the blogosphere and converts their online communication into real-life action.
Sadly, accused murderer James Von Brunn did just that Wednesday when he shot and killed African American security guard Stephen P. Johns at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
In a place meant to honor the millions who died in the Holocaust, Von Brunn set out to make his lifelong vow of hatred for Jews horribly real. After shooting Johns, Von Brunn was shot and wounded by other guards before he could make good on his plans to kill others at the museum.
From his extensive writings on the Internet and from notes later found in his car, Von Brunn’s rampage appears to be linked to President Barack Obama’s appearance last week at the notorious Buchenwald death camp in Germany. In a speech there, Obama and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel denounced so-called Holocaust deniers (like Von Brunn) who say it never happened.
The ugly truth is that the number of threats against Obama have skyrocketed since Americans elected him in November. One noted criminologist even chalked Wednesday’s murder up to what he called “the Obama effect,” which attempts (rather clumsily) to describe the uptick in racial trash-talking since Obama became the country’s first black president.
It’s quite evident that the Internet provides a ready forum and handy organizing tool for the rising number of racist, anti-Semitic haters out there.
I’m not saying people don’t have the right to say what they want on the Internet. I would never say that.
But I do want to express my disgust at those who pooh-pooh the connection between the hateful things people write online and actual events like the murder of Johns – and the possible murder of many others – at the Holocaust Museum.
The groups who track hate online on sites like the one Von Brunn maintained have long warned that events like this were coming.
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center told the Los Angeles Times that the nonprofit group had tracked a sharp increase in what it considered right-wing hate groups over the last eight years — from 602 to 926.
A “confluence of factors,” Potok told the Times, appeared to be fueling the growth — including anger about nonwhite immigration, concern over the deteriorating economy, fears of new restrictions on firearms, and the election of the first African American as president.
“We may well be seeing a perfect storm of factors that favor this movement,” Potok said.
Contrast that with those on the right, many of whom simply laughed a few months ago at a Department of Homeland Security report that warned economic and social conditions “presented unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment.”
Now there’s no excuse – we know it’s real. So can we please stop pretending that the hate people spew online means nothing?
Check out this great read from PBS’s excellent Mediashift website about the crucial role the blogosphere plays in media criticism. My favorite line is about bloggers crashing the gates traditionally kept by the so-called “legacy” media:
Here comes the crowd, and in many instances, they’re not very happy and they have cheap global distribution for their thoughts. And you won’t like them when they’re angry.
Give it a read!
If it’s Friday, it must be time to connect the dots after a particularly tumultuous week.
A couple of local institutions took major hits – not the least of which was the governor’s office. For starters, the Washington Post suggested that Gov. Bill Richardson’s days on the national stage may be over.
Whether anyone should ever count Richardson permanently out of consideration for higher office is debatable – our esteemed governor has persevered after many setbacks in a remarkable career. Richardson is smart, engaging and incredibly well-connected. And let’s not forget, there’s trouble in North Korea and an American hostage in Iran right now that probably only he can pry loose.
A Right Jab
The Albuquerque Journal’s Win Quigley took some potshots at Richardson that didn’t go over well with former Albuquerque mayor and media watchdog Jim Baca, who said he’s noticed an inordinate number of hits on Richardson lately in the Journal. Saying the city’s remaining daily paper is turning into a (gasp) blog, Baca suggested the Albuquerque Journal change it the name of its “UpFront” series of columns to “The Grudge Report.”
The mayor’s office took some hefty blows this week, too, with a story in Tuesday’s Journal detailing alleged wrongdoing in connection with an airport contractor at Double Eagle Airport. According to the story, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into Bode Aero Service’s allegations that Mayor Martin Chavez retaliated against them after it refused to provide free or discounted services for Chavez during his aborted run for Senate last year.
Add to that the Journal’s extensive coverage of the legal battle that’s brewing with the City Council over a $6.5 million swimming hole the mayor wants at Tingley Beach, and it’s not likely the mayor is enjoying reading the newspaper much lately.
The contiguous thread here is the Journal, still far and away the best-read of all print newspapers in Albuquerque, N.M.
Despite the malaise affecting newspapers everywhere, the Journal is still chugging along. But it took some hits this week, too. Yep, there’s only one big newspaper in Albuquerque, but now there are lots of little blogs that can take potshots of their own.
In addition to Baca’s commentary, there was this from blogger and middle school teacher Scot Key, calling attention to a story that the Journal ran this week detailing some of the reasons why an earlier story it published a few weeks ago was pointless and wrong. The original Journal story, which printed the name of every elementary school teacher in APS next to arguably meaningless test scores from their students, understandably alienated a large number of hardworking teachers who felt they were held up to public ridicule for no good reason.
Ink by the Barrel?
Despite once being part of the mainstream media machine, I sure as heck am enjoying the lively give and take between the media behemoths and the smart, scrappy bloggers that goes on these days.
No matter the issue, no matter the political stripe – the tempest kicked up by Key’s blog and Baca’s blog and the criticisms and commentaries raised by the many, many other New Mexico-based blogs just underscores the point – the media game has changed. It’s no longer a one-way communication street, where people timidly submit their information to the daily paper and hope everything comes out alright.
And picking a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel isn’t quite as futile as it used to be.
Congratulations to Democracy for New Mexico, FBIHOP and Heath Haussamen for making this year’s Best State Political Blogs list – an honor role produced by Washington Post blogger, Chris Cillizza (The Fix).
Between these three, we’ve gotten the whole package — penetrating analysis, unabashed activism and courageous reporting. And they’ve pursued their on-line craft with unflagging integrity. (Whew. Chewed up a lot of adjectives there.) Barb, Matt and Heath have reshaped our state’s political landscape for the better — much to the consternation of the powerful and well-connected.
And let us not fail to recognize the fourth blog that made the list. Give Joe Monahan his due. Please. Day in and day out, he does produce THE reliable house organ for his anonymous “alligators” – the good-old-boy-lobbyist/entrenched-politico class of New Mexico.