Customer Reviews: Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right
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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.
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on November 26, 2009
Neiwert has written a book with, I think, a somewhat misleading title. I believe that it was his effort to discuss how he believes right-wing "talk" has degenerated into a real-world and dangerous proto-fascist movement in the United States. But, the attempted anaylsis is so far ranging and delves so deeply into pre-radio/TV historical antecedent, it's rather difficult for him to hold the central premise. This is not to say the research is bad. Quite the contrary. It's very good, and contains many, many interesting nuggets of information from American broadcast history I have never seen. But, the assembly of all the data is somewhat haphazard in presentation, making the text, which is not large and written in a very accessible style, rather garbled at points. It is very easy to see his argument, less easy to follow how he seeks to prove the argument.

It is my impression that Neiwert, who freely confesses his political bias, felt rushed to get some counter-point into print as the far-right has been especially shrill since the last election. And while I can see how he might feel this urgency, he still should have taken a little more time to organize his material in a tighter fashion and eschew his "bloggy" roots. As is, he made what could have been a very good and even thoughtfully provocative book into just a "good" book. It is my hope that he will publish a second edition and correct these deficiencies. I think he is on to something very powerful about right-wing radicalization in American broadcasting, but maybe concentration on mass media in a more disciplined approach as opposed to the more "freestyle" analysis he prefers is called for. Some of his examples were a bit of a stretch. If he wants to retain his central hypothesis and current method, the simple fact is that he will have to do "more" in terms of bringing together the disparate threads he cites with more supporting research. But, it's an excellent start.

Some have noted that the book fails because he fails to discuss the monlithic tendencies of left-wing politics. I do not find this argument meritorious. The book is exclusive to a component of the American "right" (although Niewert's definition of that term is very broad indeed). It is not a comparison study. As far too many superior historians have argued, such binary comparative constructions are not always called for nor required, and all too often lead down the primrose way of false equivalencies. Works like these should stay more narrowly focused. Otherwise, it's all too often a tiresome game of "he said-she said" going absolutely nowhere. So, I think his focus is fine.

The one thing I did find especially superior about the book was, as mentioned, the historical relics from American political broadcast mass media in the last century, far more than just the usual tip of the hat to the well-known Father Coughlin and his allies, for example, past and present. It's really very interesting historical information from any point of view, even if the book's arguments are rejected. This is an author who is in the process of engaging in serious work, making "The Eliminationists" a little premature. I want to read more, however. It's a fascinating glimpse into how the American broadcast past might inform its possible future.

Recommended, but with noted reservations. A solid work, promising, worth the money, but still a work in progress that will, hopefully, one day soon be better and more comprehensively done.
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on April 8, 2009
Neiwert explains that by co-opting conspiratorial rhetoric from the farthest shores of the right, mainstream conservative talkers can inflame the passions of paranoiacs to a dangerous degree. "It's always been a problem when major league demagogues start promulgating false information for political gain," Neiwert notes. "What it does is unhinge fringe players from reality and dislodges them even further. When paranoiacs hear Glenn Beck touting One World Government and they're gonna take your gun theories, they believe then that it must be true. And that's when they really become crazy."

This is a great read for those concerned with the dangers of the radical right wing fringe.
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on May 5, 2009
Unique perspective on hate speech and actions in US history. The book chronicles the damage hate speech and rightwing groups have done, and continue to do, to our country. I am from Oklahoma City and lived through the bombing of the Murrah Building, so it was especially personal for me.
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on July 6, 2009
"The Eliminationists" will startle conservatives if they bother to read it. Progressives and liberals likely will find something new and bothersome in this book. Neiwert brings to the fore overwhelming commentary and observations, in addition to thoughts of others who delve into the national psyche, about what it means to be a social conservative in this country. He does not stroke egos in this book. He tells it like it is, and tells it like it has been and reveals an historical pattern that is as old as civilization. It all boils down to a lack of distributive justice in this country and in the western developed world. Niewert exposes the rampant breastbeating and jingoism that has made this country an imperial country likened unto the Roman Empire. In fact, serious readers should read John D Crossan's "God and Empire" as a companion piece. The two carry much the same message: Civilization is inherently unjust beginning with Cain and Abel forever after.
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on January 6, 2010
The Eliminationists is an important examination of the state of American political discourse and right-wing ideologies in this country in the early 21st century. Neiwert does an admirable job of examining the history of what he calls eliminationism in America (see Ch. 8) and using that history to explain how we've gotten to where we are today.

I think this book does two main services:

1. It provides readers with a clear understanding of the nature of both eliminationism and one of its specific manifestations: fascism (see Ch. 6). This is incredibly important after the term "fascism" has been used and abused by both the Left and the Right for decades. Neiwert's deconstruction of the nonsensical, factually incorrect assertion that fascism is somehow a "left-wing" movement is especially apt.

2. It illustrates that eliminationism has existed, both overtly and under the surface, since well before the founding of the United States. As such, creeping extremism and the seeds of fascism can indeed threaten any democracy or republic, including America, unless its citizens remain vigilant and fight back with reason, respect, and firm resolve. The author does this without hysterically claiming that the American Right has already entered a fully realized fascist condition.

In spite of the value of this book, I think it is missing some essential elements that perhaps a second edition could address. First, many of the facts and examples are repetitive and don't add value to the overall text; this is likely a result of poor editing. Second, I think the subject matter of the individual chapters could be tied together better; currently, there are sections of the book that strike me as being a hodge-podge of important information that is lacking in coherence. Third, Neiwert needs to better define the terms he bandies about; a simple glossary at the end of the book could solve this problem.

For more context of many of the events and history that Neiwert mentions in The Eliminationists, I recommend three books: A Force upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate ; With a New Foreword by the Author;The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right; and Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. For an in-depth look at the personal, human consequences of extremism and the mainstreaming of campaigns of hatred, see Neiwert's excellent Death on the Fourth of July: The Story of a Killing, a Trial, and Hate Crime in America.
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VINE VOICEon July 25, 2009
Neiwart has a good thesis, but it's as though his editor said, "this is not enough... add more pages".

Neiwart begins with observations from his childhood in Idaho and his early career covering the right wing militia groups for which Idaho has been known. He was in a unique position to get a close up view of the fringe elements of the far right. He watched this more closely than most of us who wonder how it got so extreme that one day we noticed a Fox News pundit suggesting that candidate Obama should be assassinated.

The thesis is that conservative media's talk and news shows give a mass audience for the ideas once only circulated in circles of extreme, and sometimes criminal, elements of the right. Mainstream conservatives, who see the denigration of liberals either to their liking or advantage, either tacitly accept or amplify the message. Today's rhetoric directed against liberals and Democrats is dehumanizing and sometimes signals the acceptability of violence. Now it's common to hear prominent Democrats, liberals and even the President of the US called traitors and terrorists and hear veiled threats under the guise of news.

Neiwert suggests that mainstreaming these incendiary messages leads to violence such as that against abortion providers, liberal churches and the US government (Oklahoma City being one example).

The discussion of the eliminationist streak in American history and fascism in general is where the narrative breaks down. Neiwart shows how eliminationism and hate talk have been in the country since its founding. His arguments on the treatment of Native Americans, former slaves and immigrants are supported by long quotes. The examples he gives, some of which are interesting (such as the description of "sundown towns") are so fragmented in selection that they detract from the important material.

I would like to see this re-done with less text devoted to history and the long quotes on fascism summarized. I'd like to see some research incorporated. For instance, John Dean's book Conservatives Without Conscience informs a lot of this. The points made there and the research behind it are highly relevant.
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on June 12, 2009
This guy is obviously on to something about destructive political rhetoric but he weakens his case by focusing on one part of the political spectrum. The extremist style exists all around the political universe and it's characterized by a certain kind of thinking. I would suggest that he should have considered the following:

1. Extremists tend to believe that it's OK to do what would otherwise be instantly recognized as bad things in the service of a good cause. This may include shouting down speakers, harassment, intimidation, threats, censorship, and even violence in some cases. Defeating heretics, deniers, critics or other "enemies" becomes an all-encompassing goal to which other values become subordinate. In this case, for extremists the end justifies the means.

2. The use of slogans, buzzwords, epithets and clichés are common among extremists. Complex issues and problems are dramatically simplified. These cognitive shortcuts are necessary for the extremist temperament in order to avoid awareness of troublesome facts and to bolster group solidarity.

3. An emphasis on emotional responses and corresponding devaluation of reasoning and rational analysis is a frequent extremist trait. Extremists have an unspoken reference for propaganda and persuasion, which they may call education or "consciousness-raising." Harold D. Lasswell, in his book Psychopathology and Politics says, "The essential mark of the agitator is the high value he places on the emotional responses of the public."

4. Extremists often practice and openly advocate flagrant double standards. They generally tend to judge themselves, their interest groups, and their allies in terms of their intentions, which they view generously, and their opponents by their acts, which they view very critically. They want you to accept their claims on faith or authority, but demand strict proof from those of their opponents. They tend to view arguments that call their premises into question as hostile propaganda or provocation.

5. Confusing of mere similarity with essential sameness is a common extremist trait. Hence, for the extremist socialized medicine may be just like Communism or the appearance of ethnic pride is just like Nazi Germany. Instead of trying to understand complex phenomena in its own context, they tend to associate it with a God word or a Devil word.

6. Extremists often attack the character or reputation of an opponent rather than deal with the more concrete issues and views he presents. Through this kind of character assassination or ad hominem attack, they may question motives, qualifications, associations, personality, mental health and so on as a diversion. In some cases these matters may not be entirely irrelevant, but they shouldn't obscure the issues in question.

7. Some extremists tend to identify themselves in terms of their enemies, i.e., whom they hate and who hates them. Accordingly, extremists may become emotionally bound to their opponents in a strange symbiotic relationship, where they lives have meaning primarily in terms of conflict and opposition to one another. Because they view their opponents and unprincipled and powerful, they tend, perhaps subconsciously, to emulate them and adopt their tactics.

8. A Manichean worldview tends to characterize many extremists, in which they see the world in absolutes of good and evil, for them or against them, with no middle ground or intermediate positions. Issues tend to be framed in terms right and wrong, with the "right" position coinciding with their interests. Their slogan is "those who are not for me are against me."

9. Hypersensitivity and vigilance are hallmarks of the extremist style. They may perceive hostile innuendo in casual comments; imagine hostility and rejection "concealed" in honest disagreement and dissent, and manage to discover "subtle" manifestations of one thing or another in ordinarily innocuous events.

10. An inclination toward groupthink permeates extremist organizations. They are prone to the kind of inward-looking group cohesiveness that Irving Janus discussed in his book, Victims of Groupthink. This involves a strong tendency to conform to group norms and to preserve solidarity at the expense of dealing with conflicting evidence and disquieting observations or criticisms that may call into question their shared assumptions and beliefs of the group.

11. Finally, extremists often have problems tolerating ambiguity and uncertainty. Indeed, the ideologies and belief systems extremists tend to adopt often represent grasping for certainty and absolute truth and security in an uncertain world.

I think this kind of ideology-free approach suggests a sense of fairness and even-handedness I didn't get from his book.
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on October 18, 2009
Footnotes and other source documentation make "The Eliminationists" a
credible read. Neiwert emphasizes through historical research the insidious way
the far right is making its way into mainstream conservatism. Exaggeration
and misinformation are its hallmarks. The misuse of common loaded words --
socalist, leftist, Nazi, liberal -- is examined in context. It's one thing to argue
with your opponent (democracy and free 'civil' speech in action) and another
thing to want to eliminate your opponent.

Maybe Neiwert stretches his point, but as one who has attended right-wing meetings for years he has the experience to back up what he says.
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on August 20, 2013
This book is a must-read for anyone who wants a more thorough and truthful understanding of the Tea Party, Christian extremist, legislative agenda; along with the origins of their ideology and theocracy, and the long-term plans these people have for our country.
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