Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported, FBI Smashes Alleged Radical-Right Terror Plot in Texas. It told the story of Robert James Talbot Jr, who seems to be a right wing nutjob. He was soliciting people via Facebook to recruit men “to restore America Pre-Constitutionally and look forward to stopping the Regime with action by bloodshed.” His rhetoric is all like that. For example, he wrote, “[W]e will send that white house worthless piece of dirt and his Muslim brotherhood a message they will never forget.” Charming stuff.
What’s bothersome, but hardly surprising, is that there is nothing very different from what he wrote than what one hears on right wing hate radio. He is talking about armed rebellion. But otherwise, it is filled with the same nonsense about the Muslim Brotherhood and how the current government—”Regime”—is invalid. And most of all, there is just a loony amount of anger.
It all reminds me of the end of Pulp Fiction, where Jules tells Pumpkin, “The truth is you’re the weak.” I see Talbot as the weak—a lost soul who doesn’t know what to think or to do. And he’s been marinating in a toxic stew of conspiracy theories and anger. What, in the end, are Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage ranting about? If things really are as terrible as they say, is Talbot so wrong to think that revolution is the answer?
None of this is to apologize for Talbot. There is little doubt that he is a very bad guy. I can well imagine him torturing small animals as a child. But one doesn’t become a revolutionary in a vacuum. How long as a society are we going to allow the conservative rage machine to continue on? I’m not talking about laws here. I’m talking about making such rhetoric socially unacceptable.
Two years ago, after Andrew Breitbart died, I wrote, Death as Public Good. In it, I criticized those liberals who said, “Sure, he published vile things and made society a worse place. But in person, he calmed down and was a nice guy.” That’s the problem. Look at Bill O’Reilly. He pays no social price for the venom he spews publicly. He’s still invited onto The Daily Show and accepted as a normal member of society. And when someone like Talbot goes on tilt, no one blames O’Reilly or the social system that created him.
Conservatives are fond of ranting about radicalization of Muslims. But every day on television, radio, and the internet, there are very loud voices radicalizing conservatives. And it is generally not mentioned. It is off limits because those doing the radicalizing are not clerics or politicians; they are celebrities making millions of dollars. O’Reilly claims he is just “playing a character.” And that’s why we all have to pretend that he’s a good man, whereas Talbot is supposedly just a bad apple. While it may be true that Talbot was born bad, the billion dollar right wing outrage machine made him worse.
There is another, and quite different, aspect of the story that bothers me. Talbot only managed to recruit three guys—all of them undercover agents. In this case, I’m glad they got him and that now he’s in a jail cell where he can’t hurt anyone. He could easily have become another nut with a gun murdering people at a shopping mall. But this is hardly a terror plot that was foiled. For example, the acts of terrorism Talbot was plotting depended upon the agents providing the tools—in this case C-4 explosives. This is what we see in almost all such cases. It would appear that potential terrorists are also quite incompetent.