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:
- The demonization of Barack Obama – December 23, 2009
- “It’s an insult to his mother” – August 25, 2009
- Scapegoats and lynch mobs – March 2, 2009
- The President is a ni– – November 11, 2009
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.