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From Birchites to Beckites
on June 29, 2009
Back in 1962, within shouting distance of my neighborhood in Pasadena, California, lay that hotbed of anti-liberalism: Orange County. Back then, Orange County was home to Goldwaterites, hell and damnation religionists, John Birchers and other right-wing groups. Nowadays, it's home to many of their successors.
We often saw Birchite handbills and posters which warned about the Communist conspiracy that was overtaking a weak, emasculated Liberal America. We found the Birchers mysterious, furtive, and frankly, didn't pay much attention to them. But then along came the Birchite campaign against the fluoridization of the drinking water in southern California.
My father, a dentist, having seen the positive effects of fluoride on his patients' teeth, could not believe that a policy which had clear, visible and demonstrable benefits, could be opposed on the outlandish, unscientific grounds that fluoridation was a Communist plot to emasculate American men. Under the pressure of the Birchites' pamphleteering and local publicity stunts, a number of my father's patients actually became worried enough about fluoride to confess their fears about the dangers of fluoride in the drinking water. He attended public meetings on the issue and was shouted down by Birchites. He even lost a few patients over it.
With the aid of the THE ELIMINATIONISTS: HOW HATE TALK RADICALIZED THE AMERICAN RIGHT, I can see now that water fluoridation is an early example of right-wing eliminationism as described by David Neiwert in this important book. One can see in fluoridation in nascent form, a scare campaign that calls into question liberal government's motives, draws together people with disparate beliefs into the same anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-secular crusade, and effectively stops any reasonable cross-border discussion from taking place.
I can now see in this campaign how right-wing scare campaigns came to both target the body to induce maximum terror and obedience, and came to stop any form of reasonable discussion: Birchers identified fluoride as Liberal plot intended to weaken or kill Americans. The answer? Flouride must be eliminated from the water supply. And by extension, liberal policies. (Admittedly, this early example is almost quaint as compared to the language and strategies we hear nowadays. The Birchites stopped at Liberal policies, but as Neiwert points out, the new right wing goes all the way to advocating the elimination of liberals altogether.)
The justification for the war in Iraq targeted the body, too, of course. The horrific effects of chemical weapons used by Saddam Hussein were invoked first as emblems of Iraq's evil -- weapons the US helped supply in the 80s. Then we were told a tale of a smoking gun that was a mushroom cloud -- a nuclear attack on America coordinated by the stealthy, anti-Christian agents of Al Queda. In nearly every case, the eliminiationist strategy is to offer a false Either/Or choice: Life (conservatism) or Death (liberalism). How many times did you hear this justification for the war in Iraq: "We've got to fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here."
THE ELIMINATIONISTS also includes with an especially good discussion of Jonah Goldberg's pernicious screed "Liberal Fascism." He aptly cites Robert O. Paxton's "Anatomy of Fascism" -- another must-read dissection of right wing tactics. All in all this is a necessary and important book that will help readers to guard against the predations of the eliminationist tendencies of the right-wing. As Neiwert points out, the John Birch Society and its many offspring have since 9/11 gone mainstream in the voices of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, et. al., and all those who follow their lead. And, as we've recently seen, they're not going away anytime soon.