Another week, another “Obama interrupted by a heckler” story. Only this time it was Michelle who received the honors. At a fundraiser in Washington, Michelle Obama was repeatedly interrupted by Ellen Sturtz, a gay rights activist demanding Michelle make President Obama sign an anti-discrimination executive order. Michelle Obama unceremoniously, but effectively shut her down by saying “Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have a choice.” The other people in the crowd chose the First Lady.
While I sympathize with her cause, someone should tell this woman, and, “Get Equal”, the group that put her there, that their tactic is a waste of time and energy (and money).
Heckling has probably been around forever. The inability for people to distinguish appropriate and inappropriate times to speak up are universal to the human condition and there will always be a person who can’t help him or herself. The use of “plants”, people put into a situation where they are specifically meant to cause a ruckus for the advancement of some agenda, is newer but still not unheard of. Presumably it is meant to bring attention to a pet cause or injustice by hijacking the spotlight from a person who already has attention. Ellen Sturtz knew this would be talked about on twitter and in blogs, that’s why she did it. Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell her that her cause isn’t the type to be aided by heckling. Gay Rights has about as much attention as any cause in the country right now. Heckling doesn’t work passed that.
In this way, heckling is like terrorism. It typically doesn’t work, it’s counterproductive to the intended goals of the person employing it, but it is incredibly common. As with terrorism, heckling is a sure way to sever any chance of ever coming to a compromise. It takes the debate away from the “issue” and into the realm of personal violations, vendettas and pride. Terrorism emboldens the victims and makes them dig in their heels because any concession is now viewed as a “win” for the other side, a side that has just violently “wronged” you. Instead of listening to the terrorists’ demands, the victims end up invading Afghanistan. Heckling elicits a similar response. Instead of listening to your concerns, the victim ignores them on principle.
The mock outrage that Ellen Sturtz expressed after the event was really the puzzler. She not only made herself look extremely rude, but if she were taken at face value (she shouldn’t be), she’s also idiotic. What did she expect Obama to do? Tracy Clayton at theroot.com put it best:
Sturtz…stated that she was “taken aback” by Obama’s response, because apparently the idea that she would do anything besides hand Sturtz the microphone and get her husband on the phone is surprising.
But like terrorism, heckling is (relatively) cheap. It doesn’t take much to get a lot of attention. If attention is all you want, whether for recruitment purposes, or simple megalomania, then it is an attractive choice. But to say with a straight face that you did this for gay rights is disingenuous. For one thing, you are heckling Michelle Obama, not her husband. She, presumably, has some sway when it comes to his opinions but probably very little in actual policy outcomes. Second, you are screaming at a President who has done more for gay rights than any other President in history and likely even the rest combined. Let’s face it, even the folk hero, Bill Clinton, presided over a presidential term that saw “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” AND “Defense of Marriage Act” passed. And George W. Bush was worse. You could be frustrated at Obama’s slowness in fully getting behind the gay rights movement (I certainly am), but this isn’t exactly the Iraqi citizen defiantly throwing a shoe at George W. Bush, Obama is a misplaced target.
So on the whole, this act of rudeness accomplished nothing. Fortunately for Ellen Sturtz, her goal of equal rights will most likely succeed anyway (and a new poll shows most people think that it is inevitable), but she will have done nothing to help it come about. If she really wanted to help she would find ways to work with an administration that has shown a willingness to work towards equality rather than grandstanding and alienating the people she needs to help her achieve her goal.
For goodness sake, sit down, shut up, and do something.
It’s a bit disingenuous that speakers at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention spent so much of their time railing against the Obama administration and its “war on guns”. After all, in the same breath they could be seen on Fox News and other outlets bragging that this year’s convention would be breaking attendance records or touting strong gun and ammo sales. If Obama was fighting a war on guns, it appears he was working for the other side.
The gun industry has always relied on fantasy to sell their products. That isn’t surprising, nor unique. Many products are marketed by implicitly or explicitly cultivating the consumers deepest fantasies and desires. When you watch a gun commercial, even in my article called “When guns are toys“, you are seeing the world the way the gun industry thinks will encourage you to buy their product. They’ll emphasize personal security and peace of mind:
or play upon men’s desire to appear masculine:
And both of these feed off of fear. The gun industry should be thanking Obama.
Wayne LaPierre, the Vice President of the NRA, has the thankless job of defending gun manufactures full time (even when a boy walks into an elementary school and kills 20 children and the nation seems poised to finally have enough with guns). Stunningly shrewd, his audacity and ability to take the long view, reminds me of a young Karl Rove. The difference being, where Rove wanted to be kingmaker, LaPierre sits on a throne of private industry. I wonder who wields more power. I’m, of course, disgusted by Wayne LaPierre’s apparent indifference to anything but winning (parodied hilariously by the Onion), but admire his Frank Underwood-esque ability to turn even the worst odds in his favor. I wonder how far gun control legislation would have gone if less gun deaths paid better.
During the convention, a gaggle of past and future Republican presidential candidates (and Ted Nugent, because integrity is for Comic Con) one by one took the stage and kissed the ring that could launch their careers all the way to the White House. Of course, words of praise for President Obama were sparse. Instead, most focused on creating an environment of fear that makes the crowd hold their guns a little tighter and their wallets a little looser. Obama. The boogie man.
“People like you all over this country have been standing up for freedom and standing up to the media for decades. And for decades the media and the political elites have lied about us, demonized us and attempted to marginalize our Second Amendment freedom . . . But NRA members have stared those anti-gun elitists straight in the eye,” LaPierre said.
After LaPierre’s heated talk, Rick Perry brought a much-needed gentler tone to the event . . . although the noisy 30-second intro video of the governor shooting a semi-automatic assault rifle certainly got the crowd’s attention.
While he very briefly mentioned his fond memories of hunting as a child, Perry mainly stuck to a safe blend of Lone Star and Second Amendment boosterism.
Sen. Ted Cruz was up next, stepping up to the podium amidst massive applause and cheers of “Cruuuuuz, Cruuuuz” — a chant that sounds like booing at first, not unlike the “Bruuuuuce” cheers you’d hear at a Springsteen concert.
Like LaPierre, Cruz opted for more fiery rhetoric that was aimed largely at Obama’s recent failed efforts to enact stricter gun control laws. Cruz is among a group of senators recently targeted by the Michael Bloomberg-led group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which reports that he received more than $79,000 in contributions from the Washington gun lobby.
No one had as much contempt for the President than Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum — who scorned Obama for saying in 2004 that small-town Pennsylvanians “cling to guns or religion” after years of empty federal promises. Santorum followed with a rather odd tirade about the Europe and the French Revolution.
“Their rights in France didn’t come from a Creator. No, this was a secular, godless, anti-clerical revolution,” he said, noting that Europeans today don’t go to church. “Churches are empty there, owned and operated by the government.”
After another 90 minutes of speeches — including a video message from Paul Ryan, an angry talk by Fox News pundit Jeanine Pirro and a visit from Bobby Jindal — the event closed with the one-and-only Sarah Palin, who came equipped with her usual attacks on the “lamestream media” and Washington careerists.
I don’t doubt they are not fans of Obama, but people like Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan have built their political careers (or in Sarah Palin’s case, entertainment career) off the back of Obama Bashing. They’ve made it a full time job, complete with speaking engagements and best selling books. Sarah Palin, especially, must be at least somewhat relieved that President Obama gave her a chance at four more years of relevance. As she’s proved over the last few years, she is pretty much only good at spinning crowds into frothing frenzy over the “liberal agenda”. It’s as precarious a place as it is lucrative. Remember, a parasite dies if its host dies.
Privately, Wayne LaPierre must also be absolutely smitten with Obama’s re-election. It signals four more years on the gravy train. Recall that a gun manufacturer is most successful when they can harness the power of fear as a key motivator to buying. Add to that fear, the peculiar human anxiety inducer known to psychology of loss aversion that can be exploited for even more profit, and you’ve got a recipe for record sales. Things like Sandy Hook become catalysts for MORE guns, not less.
I’m not surprised that no one in the NRA would publicly admit to the beneficial nature of Obama in the White House, after all, a placebo only works when the ones taking the pill don’t know its just sugar. What I do wonder is what the NRA – and the gun manufacturers who run it – desire for the future. It’s still early but a Hilary Clinton presidency could be another treasure chest. But perhaps they just yearn for the sleepy Bush years when sales were steady but the world seemed safe for arms dealers every where.
If it feels like I’m being too harsh on the NRA and its political spotlight seekers, that’s because I know that they are incapable of taking it personally. If they could be shamed into self reflection it would have happened already. That’s why you get the Sarah Palins, the Rick Santorums, and yes, even the Wayne LaPierres as speakers at this convention, they lost their souls long ago and are cursed to walk amongst the living in a constant fight for attention. As they climb up onto that convention stage and squint into the glare of spotlights, they wonder what they’re doing there. Desperate to stop, but not knowing how, they adjust the mic, and as loud as they can, begin to talk fearing they might hear the doubt in their voice.
We believe that within the chaos caused by the Boston Marathon explosion, two young men were wrongfully accused of something they did not do, and one of them has lost his life before even getting the opportunity of a proper trial.
So begins the Change.org petition created by Anita Temisheva in support of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged “Suspect #2” in the Boston Marathon bombings and the rolling chaos that spilled into the streets of residential Boston later that week. As of writing this her petition has over 13,000 signatures. Most of those who put a reason do not cite clemency or mercy but instead a steadfast belief that the Tsarnaev brothers were set up.
On Twitter, the movement has manifested itself under the hashtag “#FreeJahar” and it’s gotten so much traction that at times that hashtag can be found trending world wide. I won’t cite individual tweets because I don’t believe reading them out of context would be useful to understanding their arguments. In many cases, the #FreeJahar supporters have their hands full with countless people sending vitriolic messages to them in response to their opinions and so meaningful dialogue has shut down. Instead, I will try to paraphrase their arguments.
First though, I think it’s important to distinguish these people from an entirely separate group of people who have been clumped together with them. The #FreeJahar movement does not appear to be linked to terrorist sympathizers, fanatics, or those active in the Jihadist movement (source). Instead, the movement consists of, as Spencer Ackerman puts it in his article for Wired magazine, “a mix of conspiracy theories, sympathy for Tsarnaev and skepticism of the official narrative surrounding the 19-year-old’s arrest.” In other words, most simply can’t believe that the person the FBI has identified would be capable of doing the things he’s accused of. Predictably, his parents are among those who think he has been wrongfully charged. His Mom has said “I am really, really, really telling you this is a set-up.” His father agrees. But that circle of disbelief has expanded past his circle of family and friends that knew him into a wider net, the internet. It’s a phenomenon we didn’t see during 9/11 and it demands an explanation.
The case against the Tsarnaev brothers looks pretty solid. At around 2:45 p.m. on April 15th video from surveillance cameras shows what appears to be one of the Tsarnaev brothers slipping off his backpack and leaving it on the ground. Several minutes later the bomb explodes and the man believed to be Tsarnaev can be seen casually walking away while panic engulfs the crowd. The following Friday a man is carjacked in Cambridge. The two men ask the man if he heard about the Boston explosion and then one of them says “I did that.” Later, in the firefight and manhunt that ensued, explosives similar to those used in the bombings are recovered by the police. Finally, when Dzhokhar woke up at the hospital he admitted his involvement in the bombing, citing religious motivations. Along with the very public nature of these actions, there is truckloads of physical evidence placing the two brothers at the scene of the crimes on Friday, and at least circumstantially, at the marathon itself. None of this matters of course to the supporters of the #FreeJahar campaign. Any piece of evidence used in support of their guilt is either dismissed as false or turned around and used as further support. Some go so far as to say that the brothers oftentimes harebrained schemes are proof positive that they were innocent until framed.
What interests me is not that there are people who believe the brothers were framed but why this particular instance of conspiracy thinking is so attractive (and judging by the prevalence of supporters it’s pretty attractive). First I want to talk about how information is disseminated in today’s world.
Twitter and Facebook, not online new sources, have replaced newspapers. It’s not only that we live in a time where information changes so fast that print media can’t keep up (I would argue it doesn’t have to but I’ll save it for another
article), but also the very ingestion of information has changed. In previous eras, information was made available in large chunks (such as in books, newspapers, or pamphlets) that were meant to be read in full before they could be fully understood. It’s how we are still taught to write essays in school: A thesis statement, supporting paragraphs, and finally a conclusion. Those days are gone. We live in the age of 140 characters. If the information can’t be conveyed within the confines of those 140 characters, it’s not going to be widely read. Facebook is even worse. Ideas are reduced to a picture and a caption. The merits of a particular argument can’t be weighed because they aren’t even acknowledged. And like a bacteria, the antidote of real reporting and fact checking can’t keep up because the misinformation evolves so fast. It’s in this hazy, fact checking starved world that things like #FreeJahar thrive. Suddenly a picture really is worth a thousand words. Show the picture and the audience is left to their own devices to fill in the words, often times with their own preconceptions or expectations.
That’s the second catalyst for a conspiracy: we already had an idea of who would do this before it happened. The perpetrators of this crime were very different than what we expected them to be. Sure, they were Muslim but they were also white; they were assimilated Americans, both culturally and legally; they were young; they seemed normal. It’s a lot different than the guys we saw on 9/11, or the shoebomber, or 24, or Homeland, and they don’t look Iranian. Our expectations were thwarted and it makes us skeptical. We watch with the same uneasiness that an audience watches a magician walk into one box and emerge from another. That’s not right, our brains scream, that’s not how things are supposed to be. This, I think, is really the heart of the conspiracy. We are in disbelief that someone like US could do something like THAT. Dzhokhar could be one of our sons. Or one of our children’s classmates. To borrow a phrase from President Obama, “If I had a son, he would look like Dzhokhar.” and that’s heart breaking. I don’t blame people for feeling betrayed.
The brothers resemble mass murders much more closely than they do Islamic terrorists (and in America we define those two things very differently). If these boys hadn’t been Muslim then we probably wouldn’t have labeled them terrorists at all. After all, the Aurora shooter wasn’t viewed as a terrorists. Neither was Jared Loughner who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 other people in Arizona. The motive for the Aurora shooting remains vague but Jared Loughner was certainly motivated by political reasons. Senator Lindsay Graham never called for his Rights as an American Citizen be stripped from him in the wake of his massacre the way he suggested Dzhokhar’s be. So now we have a conflict. On the one hand we have typical American young men, going to parties, going to school, quoting Jay Z on twitter. On the other, they have been labeled terrorists by their government and placed in the category of radical Islamic extremists. I can forgive people for feeling a bit of disbelief at those disparate categories colliding like they did on April 15th.
What isn’t excusable to me is to ignore the lessons that this heinous act can teach us. Some people payed a high price for this lesson, I would say too high a price, but sticking our heads in the sand will not make up for it. As we get further into the 21st century and technology enables us to be increasingly interconnected with the rest of the world we are learning again and again that there aren’t any easy solutions. The problems we once thought were black and white are many shades of gray (I’ll refrain from making a 50 Shades of Grey joke, we’ve come too far). The Boston Marathon bombing is another example of the messiness of trying to attribute specific characteristics to predicting an act of violence. It can be frustrating to admit that we are largely clueless when it comes to anticipating attacks but keeping a realistic perspective is imperative. If we are looking only for one thing it’s far too easy for people who don’t fit that mold to slip through the cracks. In a way we are all #FreeJahar devotees. As we cast a weary eye towards the bearded man with a turban sitting three rows ahead of us, we missed the Tsarvaev brothers sitting next to us. If we even noticed them at all, we may have even said to ourselves: “No, not them. They look just like me.”