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122 of 132 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good first hand look at an opposing opinion
A great read - the book moves very quickly and shows the members of these organizations as real people, not stereotypes. Given that, it is at times difficult to read as some of the views the subjects hold are well, just illogical. But the author goes to great lengths to show why they hold these views and why they are so taken with Beck, Rush, Fox News...etc. He explains...
Published on September 2, 2010 by M. Kent

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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Portrait of Reactionism
Will Bunch has written a decent piece of investigative journalism that covers large swaths of terrain already familiar to most political junkies. Even so, to read his book is instructive. Much of his effort is expended in trying to answer the question of why so many Americans have become acolytes of Glenn Beck and his hokey brand of libertarian politics. It turns out...
Published on September 22, 2010 by Kelly Cooper


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122 of 132 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good first hand look at an opposing opinion, September 2, 2010
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A great read - the book moves very quickly and shows the members of these organizations as real people, not stereotypes. Given that, it is at times difficult to read as some of the views the subjects hold are well, just illogical. But the author goes to great lengths to show why they hold these views and why they are so taken with Beck, Rush, Fox News...etc. He explains in detail the events of their lives that brought them to have such distrust for the government and specifically President Obama. I did not come away from this book with a higher opinion of any on the far right, but I appreciate the respect the author shows his subjects. They are after all, people too. As for his details on Beck, I think if one cannot see that he is portraying a character on his television and radio shows, the odds of this book changing your mind are unlikely. I am sensible enough to see that and I also know that if Beck were to retire tomorrow, there would be someone to take his place within days.

In the end he speaks about what he feels these people really fear and I think he hits the nail on the head. They fear that their way of life is vanishing and to some degree they are right. I don't agree that this should be frightening, but it is an accurate diagnosis of the source of their anger.
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67 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's A Detective Novel About The Tea Party Movement, September 7, 2010
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Susan E. Madrak (Philadelphia, PA United States) - See all my reviews
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Will Bunch has an agreeable knack for writing about people's beliefs without attacking them personally. His friendly style is a pleasure to read, and the book reminded me favorably of Jess Walters' book about Ruby Ridge, which managed to convey the heartbreaking tragedy of Ruby Ridge -- without canonizing any of the participants.

This is about another kind of tragedy: An entire class of American citizens whose fear over a changing country has led them to some irrational, paranoid beliefs. Bunch manages to make these people likable and engaging -- without giving an inch on the glaring factual inaccuracies of their attacks.

I especially enjoyed the chronological structure of the book, because it reads almost like a detective novel. Who are these people? Why do they hate the President? What are they so afraid of? By the time you get done reading "The Backlash," you'll have a much better idea. Highly recommended.
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36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Through investigative reporting, brilliant analysis, September 14, 2010
Everyone knew there would be a right wing backlash against the landslide election of Barak Obama, as there had been for Bill Clinton, only this time tinged by the nation's dark history of race relations. With prodigious skill as an investigative reporter, Bunch drills into the backlash to expose its populist roots, its promoters, and its profiteers. Most importantly, the book explains how the backlash has influenced mainstream politicians and rendered the country ungovernable at a moment when problems threaten to overwhelm us. Remarkably easy to read, written with humor and insight, The Backlash is a must read for anyone seeking to understand our current conditions.
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44 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A much-needed history of a "movement" that's dividing the US, September 12, 2010
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I happened to have been on the National Mall for Obama's inauguration. There were an estimated 1.7 million people there, and a level of excitement I'd never seen on the Mall, despite my living here for nearly a quarter century. Shortly after, I got a first taste of the anti-Obama fervor at, of all places, the Lincoln Memorial: a lady from Indiana raved of the caliber of those who attended the inauguration (which she hadn't attended). She nearly used the "N" word, which I discouraged.

Since then, volumes have flooded the market which all but accuse Obama of having written The Communist Manifesto While many of the volumes may be incomprehensible, they do have an audience. And the AM airwaves flood us with warnings of the coming apocalypse, the socialist takeover, the evils of health care reform, and people screaming to keep the government off our Medicare.

So, when a book such as this one came out, I wondered how long it would take for some of those who despise Obama to write one-star reviews. It didn't take long...

Bunch, who'd already written an eloquent exposé of the Reagan administration, Tear Down This Myth: The Right-Wing Distortion of the Reagan Legacy has several characters in his narrative. Interestingly, the lead one is fear. Second may actually be Glenn Beck. Then there's unemployment. But there are others less noticeable. He starts the book with a description of a few advocates of Glenn Beck's 9/12 movement, and members of the Tea Party. He stayed with some of them in places like Delaware and Pennsylvania. Importantly, he treated them with respect, and tried to understand where they're coming from ideologically. And that's where the issue of unemployment comes in: most were unemployed and, as he later points out in the book, therefore had time to take part in the anti-administration activities.

Then there's the Oath Keepers, an organization founded by a Yale graduate who's a zealot. The member of that organization whom Bunch spoke with wasn't the founder, but a former police officer who'd been terminated apparently for her zealotry. Their strategy is to take an oath consisting of items they would refuse to transcend the Constitution--which Bunch suggests isn't happening anyway.

A more interesting group whom Bunch spent some time with is a gun fair in Kentucky. I could relate with that for a couple of reasons one of which is a couple of those whom Bunch spent time with were from a portion of the country with which I'm familiar. The other is based on an argument I got into with a nephew who, in 2004, exposed that he's a Republican based on the issue of gun control. When I pointed out that the Democrat and Republican stand on that issue was identical, he didn't rethink the issue.

An important dimension of the gun fanatics fanaticism is based on that: while they rant on their fear of Obama taking our guns from us--to the degree that some law enforcement personnel have lost their lives, something Bunch also tactfully covers--it's all based on false information, i.e., bad propaganda!

I would be a liar if I didn't mention the primary role Glenn Beck plays among these other "characters." It's almost as if the book is another volume exposing Beck as the charlatan he is. But that exposure is appropriate to the subject matter of the book! Indeed, a couple of chapters cover those dubious companies who sponsor Beck and his post-apocalyptic sales pitches--and even whole CPAC gatherings which are based on the same nonsense!

As I go over what I've written on this fine volume, I regret that I can say so little; I've already reduced it by a few paragraphs! It's one of those books in which I almost used up a highlighter. (Actually, I read it on my kindle so I have to use the highlighter more as a metaphor). There's so much material in the book, and it's so important pertinent to what's going on in our country today: charlatan shock jocks seen as political gurus; complete nonsense making up much of what should be an honest dialogue if we really are a democracy. Even racism. As a veteran of civil rights law, I get tired of that word being thrown around too easily. But Mr. Bunch asks in a few places, what else could be the basis for the degree of hate, based on false information? I've asked the same, since my encounter with that Indiana lady in the historical portion of the National Mall.

Incidentally, Mr. Bunch does appeal to the reader in the last chapter to attempt to understand those with whom he talks. I try to do that, but, as you can see here, first, many who would never read a book such as this are the first ones to review" it. And, as I've argued on many a blog, it's pretty hard to argue with the comically irrational. But I will try to abide by Bunch's advice thereby, one hopes, getting some to rethink their stance.

I don't know that any on the right will be willing to read this text. It'll unfortunately probably be the material found on the shelves of those with political leanings like those of Mr. Bunch who is, incidentally, a real journalist (not a shock jock or tabloid presentor). And it will be among the books assigned by academics. I do, however recommend it. I guarantee it will be on the reading lists of historians two centuries from now who're trying to understand the divisions of the Americans in the early 21st century.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Portrait of Reactionism, September 22, 2010
Will Bunch has written a decent piece of investigative journalism that covers large swaths of terrain already familiar to most political junkies. Even so, to read his book is instructive. Much of his effort is expended in trying to answer the question of why so many Americans have become acolytes of Glenn Beck and his hokey brand of libertarian politics. It turns out to be a more difficult task than one might expect. To begin with, many of those who self-identify with the "Tea Party" say that they are motivated by existential threats that are impossible to substantiate. Wading through the clutches of conspiracy theorists and profiteers of the apocalypse that populate the right-wing fringe, Bunch ultimately reaches some predictably pedestrian conclusions: people are motivated by fear and uncertainty, and their prophets are driven by profit.

Even though Bunch is an avowed progressive, he does a fairly decent job of presenting his case in a relatively objective and straightforward manner. Oddly, as someone who is more sympathetic to liberal ideology generally, by the time I finished the book I found myself less alarmed by the rise of Tea Party activism than I had been previously. Perhaps I'm naturally sympathetic to those who find themselves on the political fringe; which, incidentally, is an impulse manipulated to great advantage by those tasked with bringing fresh recruits into anti-government, anti-elitist, and anti-establishment movements. Mine is, to be sure, a sympathy for the underdog. Even as Bunch desperately tries to convey a sense of import in all this Tea Partying, the unmistakable and lasting impression is that this is a party of outliers and disgruntled misfits who mainly serve the purposes of those who are in the business of selling fear.

The almost inevitable obsolescence of the backlash against the Obama administration assumes a kind of omnipresence throughout the book, as Bunch relentlessly references the demographics involved: senior citizens, the unemployed, old school social conservatives, white people, more senior citizens, etc. The available polling data indicates that, over the long term, traditional liberal values and classic freethinking are shaping the country's political future (i.e., increasingly open-minded attitudes towards homosexuality, non-theism, anti-xenophobic immigration policy, health-care reform, environmental law, the rights of women and children, etc.); meanwhile, the expanding Latino population and the social values of younger generations of Americans are threatening to swamp the old political worldview of which "The Backlash" appears to be but a vestigial polyp. Viewed in this light, its hard not to feel some sympathy for the those who insist on haplessly protesting modernity.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Towards civility, October 9, 2010
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Malvin (Frederick, MD USA) - See all my reviews
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"The Backlash" by Will Bunch is an intrepid piece of investigative journalism and analysis about the right wing political backlash to the election of the nation's first African-American president. Mr. Bunch ingeniously ingratiates himself with a number of right wing organizations in order to gain insight and report his observations about the movement to us. Written with compassion and intelligence, Mr. Bunch's book alerts us to the challenge of achieving consensus and civility in a rapidly changing America.

Mr. Bunch suggests that an underlying source of right-wing political rage is the reality of working class economic insecurity. Many of the activists with whom Mr. Bunch interacts are aging or retired Baby Boomers who have been dealt the cruel fate of joblessness and economic adversity. Eschewing politics for most of their lives, many are easy marks for organizations such as the 9-12 Project, Oath Keepers and the Tea Party who generally offer easy answers to complicated questions. More troubling, others seem to be motivated by nothing less than sheer racial prejudice towards those who they believe are to blame for their troubles, such as immigrants and minorities.

No doubt this underground investigation sorely tested Mr. Bunch's patience, if not his sanity. To his credit, Mr. Bunch faithfully records the frequently misinformed if not paranoid views of the hapless, uneducated masses. Fortunately for us, Mr. Bunch kept his cool so that he could amass plenty of material for his book; and then evened the score with his pen. Throughout the book, Mr. Bunch is quick to refute the lunatic conspiracy theories and misinformation that seems commonplace among right wingers about Obama's birth certificate, United Nations troops on U.S. soil, gun confiscation rumors, and so on. In this sense, Mr. Bunch's book is practically a work of cultural anthropology that minutely describes its subject while critiquing its peculiar worldview.

Therein lies the value of Mr. Bunch's book. It seems that America's failure to provide decent primary education, health care and meaningful employment is producing a growing mob of disaffected, alienated people whose inarticulate anger represents a threat to society as we know it. Mr. Bunch writes that even as the far right's opposition to health care reform succeeded in forcing compromise legislation that is more of a boon for the insurance industry than social progress, the movement is increasingly flirting with quasi-religious charlatans such as Glenn Beck (see also Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance) who promise their followers a kind of messianic deliverance from what is believed to be the deprivations of the liberal state. In this manner, the movement is at once exploited by those seeking to make a quick buck; while it is also being prepared for a kind of counterrevolution with unpredictable consequences.

I highly recommend this book to everyone.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Old-fashioned investigative journalism is back!, September 14, 2010
Excellent foray into the weird and wacky world of the ultra-right wing. Definitely a timely read. It takes you behind the scenes of the infamous tea party rallies where he gets up close and personal with these people who keep chanting that they "want their country back" and gives us insight into what they mean by that.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beneath the Doom and Gloom Lies Money, December 30, 2010
There are many things that connect us all, no matter where we live, what color we are and which God we believe in. One of the deepest and most integral of those connections is fear. We all have it, whether it's worrying about the spread of Communism, the shortage of scientific breakthroughs toward a cure for cancer, or maybe just late night jitters about the foul-smelling thing hiding underneath the bed. Most of it can be boiled down to a simple phrase, "fear of the other". While some fears can be debated and argued as being justified, the underlying problem with fear is that once someone or something knows what your fear is, it can be used against you as a weapon. People throughout history have made their livelihoods based on that fact alone and it is on proud display here in the present day inside the formation of the Tea Party movement and the outlandish opposition to Barack Obama.

The Backlash by Will Bunch is a well thought out and deeply researched journey into the heart of the fear that sprung forth like snakes-in-a-can upon the inauguration of our new President. While many progressives and liberals clamor from the sideline, poking fun at the Tea Party and their growing membership, Bunch takes the honorable mission of tracing the movement to some of its more humble beginnings and the people actually at the ground level. What he discovers is real people with real fears who are being co-opted by big business and private interests in order to stop the change promised by the new administration.

One of the first things most people were introduced to when they saw the Tea Party crash onto the political scene was their fascination and fervor for protest signs and costumes. While this might have increased their news coverage, it also quickly devalued their message. From the subtle to the incredibly overt, racist slogans and imagery littered the reports of the fledgling movement giving an overall impression that everyone involved had the same color-coded mission, to purify the White House, and by extension, the country as a whole. On one side of the cable news spectrum (MSNBC, CNN, BBC, etc...) the Tea Party was characterized as rednecks that time had obviously left behind, while the other side (championed by Fox News) raised them onto the pedestal of patriots and grassroots revolution hailed as "real America". The problem here is that neither description is true, but labels are sticky and even removed they can leave a nasty residue behind.

Another factor behind the proliferation of the "real America" illusion was those pundits and political commentators who saw the Tea Party as the lightning-in-a-bottle moment they were waiting for. Once they grabbed onto the coattails of fear inside the Tea Party, people such as radio/TV/internet phenom Glenn Beck wove those coattails around and around into each other until the fear escalated into paranoia, which in the ratings world is a wonderful thing. Beck had actually boiled it down to a simple equation, the bumper-sticker solution to all the fear in the country:

"On his November 23, 2009 show, Beck went back again to the theme of a looming economic meltdown and recommended to his listeners what could just as well be a mantra of the right-wing movement in this new decade: "The 3 G system" of "God, Gold and Guns.""

Beck skyrocketed in popularity and influence, like many of the voices from the outer right-wing fringe, preying on the fears of people feeling like their country was forgetting about them. He wheeled out his chalkboard day after day, giving his viewers something familiar from their childhood, a symbol of learning which they all believed would never lie to them. Beck littered the surface of the chalkboard with various historical people and moments, drawing incredibly slippery and weak connections between them to prove any conspiracy theory he imagined that morning. Worse than that were those occasions where he blatantly misrepresented the views of historical figures to grant his own ideas more credence. Bunch illustrates that nicely in this section:

"Beck - and probably many of his listeners - would be turned off by many of the views of the real Thomas Paine. For one thing, while Beck has tried to argue that America's true roots lie in Christianity, the real Thomas Paine was a Deist who loathed organized religion, writing in "The Age of Reason" that all churches "appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."

You can be sure that particular quote from Paine never graced the esteemed surface of Beck's chalkboard.

This is the thrust of Bunch's message, that much of the Tea Party is being towed along by puppeteers and plagiarizers, purposely mis-informing them to wean the money from their wallets and the devotion from their hearts. The fervent devotees of the Tea Party should not be written off as a joke, especially since some of them actually won seats in our government during the last election. They should be listened to, but filtered through a lens of mis-appropriated fear. If we do not try and understand where they are actually coming from, people like Beck and his cohorts will continue to wield them like a bludgeon against the wall of this country until its inevitable collapse.

The Backlash by Will Bunch is a staggeringly human look into the real fear behind the so-called grassroots revolution of the Tea Party and how it has been co-opted, controlled and ultimately, how it will be condemned.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting news about some of the background of the misinformation being spread., October 16, 2010
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This seems to be a factual report of the author's forays into the world of Tea Party politics and other more radical right wing movements. The author seems to be looking at it from a more liberal side, but I think he is being fair.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Responsible, even-handed analysis in a 24/7 media cycle, January 19, 2011
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The Backlash is an extraordinary piece of reporting by Will Bunch. In today's 24/7 media cycle it is refreshing to be able to take a step back and analyze, with real-world examples, just how we got to this point of such toxic political discourse. Clearly, Bunch falls on the side of the debate that places much of the blame on Rightwing extremism and unfounded conspiratorial chatter from the Right (i.e. Glenn Beck, Fox News, etc.). It would be easy to dismiss this book as simply playing the blame game and many critics would undoubtedly cite The Backlash as an example of Palin's "lamestream media" accusing Conservatives and the Republican Party of inciting violence. However, the reader soon learns that Bunch goes out of his way to explain that the Glenn Becks and Sarah Palins of the country are not directly to blame for anyone else's actions. Rather their words contribute to a climate of fear, hostility, and mistrust that pollutes our political discourse and have the potential push certain individuals to the breaking point. In this respect, The Backlash is a very responsible, even-handed piece of journalism.

One of the strongest aspects of The Backlash is the many real-world examples that Bunch reports on to back up his claims. Unlike many talking heads and loud-mouthed voices on the internet, Bunch actually spends considerable time with those he considers the "victims" (my word) of our current politics. He is respectful and allows the individuals to speak for themselves and give their own opinion. He calls them out when they are wrong, but I do not recall anywhere in the book where Bunch makes fun of or diminishes the ideas and values of those he reports on. It is quite the opposite: Bunch believes that there are many legitimate concerns within the Tea Party and other groups (and just as many illegitimate conspiracy theories), and he seems to understand how and why such people believe the things they do. He is most critical of those with the most prominent public platforms; those that seem to have the most power in our political discussions.
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The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama
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