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Scapegoat

Caution: this article contains disturbing imagery.

I’m reading Georgia Odyssey by James C. Cobb, a history of the state of Georgia. I just got through a particularly difficult to read section on the post-reconstruction period. The accounts of starving children are terrible but the accounts of torture, mutilation and burning of black citizens at the hands of white mobs are more chilling still. It’s hard to come to terms with a host of things that people, perhaps my own ancestors, did.

We perhaps think of the lynch mob as a spontaneous expression of mob violence, and it was that, but it was often premeditated and well-organized. Sometimes thousands showed up for a lynching and picnic. Sound recordings of tortured victim screams were made, and people paid 5 cents to listen to them. Prominent political leaders defended lynching as necessary to deter race riots and what they believed would be the wholesale rape of white women. In fact the significant race riot in Georgia was a murderous rampage of white Atlanta men against blacks in 1906.

René Girard in his book The Scapegoat (among several) discusses mob violence, and says that tension builds up in the community between groups with conflicting interests, groups that could not in reality oppose each other, but could become reconciled through periodic acts of violence against a low-class member, an outsider or a stranger. In post-reconstruction Georgia the real conflict was between the rich small town man who owned the store and the mill, was a director in the bank, and effectively enslaved the tenant farmers (black and white) through the sharecropping system, flimflam accounting, and usurious interest rates.

So what does this have to do with Obama conspiracies?

In 21st century America, we are passing through the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Unemployment is still bordering on 10%. The conflict between the extremely rich and the desperately poor and unemployed is real, and there is again an extreme credit crunch. The unemployed in the country really can’t beat up the directors of  Lehman Brothers (AIG, Behr Stearns and Goldman Sachs) for redress of their situation, and while occasional acts of violence against low-class individuals still happens, they are in the main investigated and the perpetrators punished.

What’s needed is violence that, like the old time lynch mob, is a community activity and that has no consequences. I think I saw it happen yesterday, reading comments on WorldNetDaily. Commenters there were virtually wallowing in mud and excrement contesting who could degrade themself the most in insulting the President. I’ve written about this before:

And look at how the birthers try to paint Barack Obama as an “outsider,” a “foreigner,” and not a “real American.” The stranger, or the low-class person is the prototypical scapegoat victim of mob violence. I believe that much of the most extreme anti-Obama rhetoric is using him as a scapegoat to release tensions (albeit only temporarily) stemming from the people’s frustration over their inability to get at the real causes of their anxiety.

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40 Responses to Scapegoat

  1. avatar
    CarlOrcas June 17, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    The extent to which WND will go to give voice to its fantasies is amazing. Today they have a Joseph Farah “interview” of an Obama impersonator. It’s painful to watch but the birthers love it and many of them lace their comments with their own fantasies of violence against Obama.

    The economy certainly doesn’t help but I have a terrible feeling that race is at the real heart of the most virulent stuff.

    Just when we think we’ve come a long way we find out many among us haven’t made the trip.

  2. avatar
    Arthur June 17, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    If you’re interested in testing the scrofulitic cesspool of birther calumny regarding President Obama’s mother:

    http://obamareleaseyourrecords.blogspot.com/2012/06/snopes-scrubs-article-on-obamas-mamas.html#comment-form

  3. avatar
    Scientist June 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    CarlOrcas: Just when we think we’ve come a long way we find out many among us haven’t made the trip.

    Except that despite the haters, Obama got elected and is a mild favorite to be re-elected. If he loses it will be because of the economy not the haters. The strides made just in the last 30 years are amazing. Don’t lose the forest for the trees.

  4. avatar
    JPotter June 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    Arthur: If you’re interested in testing the scrofulitic cesspool of birther calumny regarding President Obama’s mother:

    Yeah, there’s been more of the same at Amazon, but thankfully low-volume.

    The stuff at WND is breathtaking. They’ll tolerate anything, so long as it’s aimed in the ‘right’ direction.

  5. avatar
    CarlOrcas June 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    Scientist: Except that despite the haters, Obama got elected and is a mild favorite to be re-elected. If he loses it will be because of the economy not the haters. The strides made just in the last 30 years are amazing. Don’t lose the forest for the trees.

    You are absolutely correct. I probably should have used “some” instead of “many”. The number is small but they are a noisy bunch.

  6. avatar
    Thrifty June 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    I’d heard of the large number of lynchings in the country after Reconstruction ended. Tragic. I think that it’s a sign of progress that the same rage that previously found an outlet in acts of violence now has an outlet in nonviolent speech. It may be horrible and hateful, but at least it’s just words. As the saying goes, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

  7. avatar
    misha June 17, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    Congressman Mike Coffman: Obama in his heart ‘not an American’

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4sSiqK2tZ8

  8. avatar
    CarlOrcas June 17, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    Thrifty: I’d heard of the large number of lynchings in the country after Reconstruction ended. Tragic. I think that it’s a sign of progress that the same rage that previously found an outlet in acts of violence now has an outlet in nonviolent speech. It may be horrible and hateful, but at least it’s just words. As the saying goes, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

    I’d have to check but I believe the last lynching in the U.S. occurred shortly after World
    War II…..within many of our lifetimes.

  9. avatar
    CarlOrcas June 17, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    misha:
    Congressman Mike Coffman: Obama in his heart ‘not an American’
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4sSiqK2tZ8

    Here is the Congressman’s lame apology:

    “I misspoke and I apologize. I have confidence in President Obama’s citizenship and legitimacy as President of the United States. I don’t believe the president shares my belief in American Exceptionalism. His policies reflect a philosophy that America is but one nation among many equals. As a Marine, I believe America is unique and based on a core set of principles that make it superior to other nations.”

    How ignorant can one be to think that our “core set of principles” are unique to this place and time?

    And never mind that our “core set of principles” didn’t allow people like Barack Obama to participate in America’s “exceptionalism” less than a century ago.

  10. avatar
    Majority Will June 17, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    CarlOrcas: I’d have to check but I believe the last lynching in the U.S. occurred shortly after World
    War II…..within many of our lifetimes.

    You might have missed the burning of Mississippi in the 1960s.

    Lynching in the United States:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_in_the_United_States#After_the_Civil_Rights_Movement

  11. avatar
    Scientist June 17, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    CarlOrcas: The number is small but they are a noisy bunch.

    Yes, they can be noisy. But we must always remember that not only are their numbers small, but they are declining (certainly as a percentage).

  12. avatar
    bgansel9 June 17, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    CarlOrcas: I’d have to check but I believe the last lynching in the U.S. occurred shortly after World
    War II…..within many of our lifetimes.

    There’s a picture I saw recently of a little girl outfitted in a dress and saddle shoes/bobby sox, sipping on a soda through a straw I believe, with a hanged black man (obviously dead) suspended from a tree behind her. There are other people in the pose as well. I’ll see if I can find it.

  13. avatar
    bgansel9 June 17, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    This is not the same picture, but it’s similar. This is the 1930’s: http://www.worldsfamousphotos.com/2007/03/18/the-lynching-of-young-blacks-1930/

  14. avatar
    bgansel9 June 17, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    Here’s another one, not the same image I saw, but, again, very similar and from 1935. Apparently lynchings were family affairs:

    http://livingbehindthegates.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/lynching1935.jpg

    (I didn’t link to the site it was found on, as the picture appeared very far down on the page and without a general post page to link it to).

  15. avatar
    bgansel9 June 17, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    CarlOrcas: I’d have to check but I believe the last lynching in the U.S. occurred shortly after World
    War II…..within many of our lifetimes.

    I just found a site that has pictures of lynchings. I found one from 1960. I didn’t look at all of them. They apparently have quite a few.

    http://withoutsanctuary.org/main.html

  16. avatar
    Majority Will June 17, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    bgansel9: I just found a site that has pictures of lynchings. I found one from 1960. I didn’t look at all of them. They apparently have quite a few.

    http://withoutsanctuary.org/main.html

    Once again, lynchings in the south in the 1960s . . .

    Lynching in the United States:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_in_the_United_States#Civil_Rights_Movement

  17. avatar
    Northland10 June 17, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    CarlOrcas: I’d have to check but I believe the last lynching in the U.S. occurred shortly after World
    War II…..within many of our lifetimes.

    Even into the 1980s;

    http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/case-docket/donald-v-united-klans-of-america

  18. avatar
    Keith June 17, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

    Northland10: Even into the 1980s;

    http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/case-docket/donald-v-united-klans-of-america

    As long as we are doing the one-up-manship thing… how about 1998?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_James_Byrd,_Jr.

    and

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Shepard

    And finally, Lest We Forget: Strange Fruit

  19. avatar
    Majority Will June 17, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    Keith: As long as we are doing the one-up-manship thing… how about 1998?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_James_Byrd,_Jr.

    and

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Shepard

    And finally, Lest We Forget: Strange Fruit

    You win?

  20. avatar
    Thrifty June 17, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    Well yeah but that was over 60 years ago. Of course hate crimes still happen, but they’re rare nowadays. When they do happen, the reaction, by and large, is “that’s horrible”. It’s not a public spectacle or a social event. That’s my point.

    CarlOrcas: I’d have to check but I believe the last lynching in the U.S. occurred shortly after World
    War II…..within many of our lifetimes.

  21. avatar
    Keith June 17, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    Majority Will: You win?

    Not sure I want the trophy, thanks.

  22. avatar
    CarlOrcas June 17, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    Majority Will: You might have missed the burning of Mississippi in the 1960s

    No, I didn’t miss the 60’s but I’m not familiar with the term as it regards lynchings.

  23. avatar
    CarlOrcas June 17, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    bgansel9: just found a site that has pictures of lynchings. I found one from 1960. I didn’t look at all of them. They apparently have quite a few

    There are tons of thems. Very sad.

  24. avatar
    CarlOrcas June 17, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    Majority Will: Once again, lynchings in the south in the 1960s . .

    Yes….depending on the source….there are some listed even later. Here is a compilation of them by the year from Tuskegee Institute:

    http://faculty.berea.edu/browners/chesnutt/classroom/lynching_table_year.html

  25. avatar
    CarlOrcas June 17, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    Thrifty: Well yeah but that was over 60 years ago. Of course hate crimes still happen, but they’re rare nowadays. When they do happen, the reaction, by and large, is “that’s horrible”. It’s not a public spectacle or a social event. That’s my point.

    I believe the FBI has recently reported hate crimes are up….driven by crimes against Muslims and Latinos.

    But you’re right about the public’s reaction and that’s good.

  26. avatar
    Majority Will June 18, 2012 at 2:15 am #

    CarlOrcas: No, I didn’t miss the 60′s but I’m not familiar with the term as it regards lynchings.

    The Mississippi civil rights workers murders and the 1964 Events of the Mississippi Burning Case:

    The Mississippi civil rights workers murders involved the lynching of three anti-racism and social justice activists near Philadelphia in Neshoba County, Mississippi on June 21, 1964, during the American Civil Rights Movement.

    In 1989, on the 25th anniversary of the murders, Congress passed a non-binding resolution honoring the three men; Senator Trent Lott and the rest of the Mississippi delegation refused to vote for it.

    (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi_civil_rights_workers_murders)

  27. avatar
    G June 18, 2012 at 2:31 am #

    While I understand your point about it is better to merely deal with ugly words than ugly acts.

    Yes, to that general point, it is fairly easy to agree.

    However, in response to your statement and to this article in general, I find it both extremely sad and disturbing that folks can carry such petty ugliness in their hearts and not suffer and endless pang of regret and shame for such. Where is one’s conscience, I ask?

    Further, although I pragmatically find it better that we are mainly dealing with just a bunch of ugly loudmouths, I do not share your “optimism” that it in any way is representative of some “improvement” in the base nature of the human condition.

    The petty and ugly hearted have always been full of ugly words and thoughts. The internet just gives them a bigger platform for their voices as well as a “gathering place” for them to find comfort and team up with their fellow bullies.

    However, the craven cowardice inherent in bullying, along with the strength of a society that doesn’t tolerate such brazen acts of violence are the REAL reasons that we don’t see these depraved hearts act out their sick anger and fear based fantasies. Sadly, I don’t have much faith that “humanity” as a whole has really improved to behave better. The bullies only don’t do bad things because they fear getting caught and punished. Nothing more.

    Thrifty: I’d heard of the large number of lynchings in the country after Reconstruction ended. Tragic. I think that it’s a sign of progress that the same rage that previously found an outlet in acts of violence now has an outlet in nonviolent speech. It may be horrible and hateful, but at least it’s just words. As the saying goes, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

  28. avatar
    CarlOrcas June 18, 2012 at 3:12 am #

    Majority Will: The Mississippi civil rights workers murders and the 1964 Events of the Mississippi Burning Case:

    “Mississippi Burning” is the title of a movie loosely based on the murders. I do not recall the term ever being used to describe the real murders before the movie was released.

    Majority Will: The Mississippi civil rights workers murders involved the lynching of three anti-racism and social justice activists near Philadelphia in Neshoba County, Mississippi on June 21, 1964, during the American Civil Rights Movement.

    They were shot to death not hung.

  29. avatar
    UFC 147 live June 18, 2012 at 4:54 am #

    When someone writes an piece of writing he/she keeps the idea
    of a user in his/her brain that how a user can understand it.
    So that’s why this post is perfect. Thanks!

  30. avatar
    Thrifty June 18, 2012 at 7:29 am #

    G, I think you’re missing my point. My point isn’t that humanity is getting better. My point is that the ugly and hateful element of humanity is still there and probably always will be, but they’ve turned that hatred to a less destructive outlet (words instead of actions). They’ve moved, mostly, from the proverbial sticks and stones to words.

    G: However, the craven cowardice inherent in bullying, along with the strength of a society that doesn’t tolerate such brazen acts of violence are the REAL reasons that we don’t see these depraved hearts act out their sick anger and fear based fantasies. Sadly, I don’t have much faith that “humanity” as a whole has really improved to behave better. The bullies only don’t do bad things because they fear getting caught and punished. Nothing more.

  31. avatar
    Majority Will June 18, 2012 at 7:38 am #

    CarlOrcas: “Mississippi Burning” is the title of a movie loosely based on the murders. I do not recall the term ever being used to describe the real murders before the movie was released.

    They were shot to death not hung.

    Or hanged.

    Lynching (v.): The practice of killing people by extrajudicial mob action.

    Lynch law – the assumption of extrajudicial authority. Originally any sort of summary justice, especially by flogging.

    Lynching is an extrajudicial execution carried out by a mob, often by hanging, but also by burning at the stake or shooting, in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to intimidate, control, or otherwise manipulate a population of people.

    Lynching, as a form of punishment for presumed criminal offenses, performed by self-appointed commissions, mobs, or vigilantes without due process of law took place in the United States before the American Civil War and afterwards, from southern states to western frontier settlements. The term “Lynch’s Law” (and subsequently “lynch law” and “lynching”) apparently originated during the American Revolution when Charles Lynch, a Virginia justice of the peace, ordered extralegal punishment for Tory acts.

    (source: wiki)

  32. avatar
    Scientist June 18, 2012 at 7:53 am #

    G: Sadly, I don’t have much faith that “humanity” as a whole has really improved to behave better. The bullies only don’t do bad things because they fear getting caught and punished. Nothing more.

    But the fact that those who commit such crimes face prosecution is a major step forward. The fact that Milosevic and Charles Taylor and the Rwandan genocidaires can be convicted in front of the whole world is a real victory. Of course no punishment can possibly make up for their crimes, but even those stone-cold killers seems to fear their date with justice, since they usually work pretty hard to hide from the ICC. Same is true of domestic haters; they always seem to look puny and weak when the cuffs go on. That’s a good thing.

  33. avatar
    Majority Will June 18, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    CarlOrcas: They were shot to death not hung.

    Originally, lynching was punishment by flogging.

  34. avatar
    CarlOrcas June 18, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Majority Will: Originally, lynching was punishment by flogging.

    In this context and the history of this country I think most people you run into will think of a hanging when you talk about someone being lynched.

  35. avatar
    Majority Will June 18, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    CarlOrcas: In this context and the history of this country I think most people you run into will think of a hanging when you talk about someone being lynched.

    O.K., CarlOrcas. You win. Uncle.

    Please correct the wikipedia entry on lynching. Thanks.

    What most people think is what is important here.

  36. avatar
    JPotter June 18, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    CarlOrcas: In this context and the history of this country I think most people you run into will think of a hanging when you talk about someone being lynched.

    Hmmm …. I always thought any sort of crowd-sourced vigilante action that resulted in execution(s) was a lynching. The mob will use whatever is at hand. Probably quite a difference in methods and organization betwen truly spontaneous lynchings, and those only planned to appear spontaneous.

  37. avatar
    Majority Will June 18, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    JPotter: Hmmm …. I always thought any sort of crowd-sourced vigilante action that resulted in execution(s) was a lynching

    You must not be most people.

  38. avatar
    JPotter June 18, 2012 at 11:52 am #

    Majority Will: You must not be most people.

    Got me there. I appear to be only one people. Now utterly exposed as such.

  39. avatar
    Patrick McKinnion June 18, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    It’s not surprising. Dr. Orly has said in the past that she wants President Obama “sent to the gallows”. And there’s a whole range of other birthers have have publicly stated they’re willing to pull the rope or pull the trigger if it means President Obama’s death.

    Lynching was seen as a traditional punishment for African-Americans that got “uppity” or “above themselves”. What we see among the birthers is that same mentality and desire.

    (You see much the same issues with their hatred of Stanley Ann Dunham. SAD is seen as a “race traitor” who sullied herself and therefore deserves her fate)

  40. avatar
    G June 18, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    Thrifty, I understand your points. My argument was similar to what Scientist aptly stated:

    Scientist: But the fact that those who commit such crimes face prosecution is a major step forward. The fact that Milosevic and Charles Taylor and the Rwandan genocidaires can be convicted in front of the whole world is a real victory. Of course no punishment can possibly make up for their crimes, but even those stone-cold killers seems to fear their date with justice, since they usually work pretty hard to hide from the ICC. Same is true of domestic haters; they always seem to look puny and weak when the cuffs go on. That’s a good thing.

    In other words, all that has really changed is the platforms of communication/awareness (both a good and bad thing in how they are applied) AND the societal advances which have led to an increased support for and understanding that those who commit such crimes face prosecution.

    I realize that my initial statements come across much more negative than I intended. I *do* agree completely with the emphasis that Scientist makes that such an increase in preventative laws and punishments is a good thing indeed.

    I guess I was just trying to counter any over-confidence in these “good things” being mentioned by trying to remind and stress that the underlying dark intentions still remain in sufficient levels within the overall populace to remain as an ongoing serious concern.

    I guess what I’m really trying to point out is just that we remain vigilent and not let our guard down on the true dangers that are out there, even when there are broader overall signs to encourage cautious optimism.

    Thrifty: G, I think you’re missing my point. My point isn’t that humanity is getting better. My point is that the ugly and hateful element of humanity is still there and probably always will be, but they’ve turned that hatred to a less destructive outlet (words instead of actions). They’ve moved, mostly, from the proverbial sticks and stones to words.