From Tucson to Venezuela: Using the Banner of “Free Expression” to Spread Hate

From the terrorist lynchings carried out by the Ku Klux Klan to the more recent “hate crimes” perpetrated against non-white, nonstraight, immigrant communities across the US, violence has been the palpable result of a coordinated campaign of bigotry and fear that has been the mainstay of right-wing media discourse for decades. Venezuela, by way of comparison, has also been no stranger to political violence. 

Shortly after the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, the militant Black Nationalist and member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, referred to the politically motivated murder in Dallas, Texas as a case of “the chickens coming home to roost”.

The civil rights leader, who famously advocated the use of “any means necessary” to combat the terrorism and inequality that has afflicted African American communities in the United States for centuries, was quickly condemned for his remarks by the mainstream media.

He was also sanctioned by the then head of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, and would soon leave the ranks of the US Muslim sect after adopting a more inclusive approach to the advancement of social justice in the US and internationally. 

Although many in the media interpreted Malcolm X’s comments regarding the Kennedy assassination as an apology for the murder, he clarified his remarks during a subsequent interview, stating that his use of the adage was intended to highlight the fact that Kennedy’s “assassination was a result of the climate of hate” that plagues the United States.

Indeed, Malcolm X himself, along with numerous other civil rights leaders including Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr., would also soon fall victim to this very climate of hate, being gunned down in calculated offensives perpetrated against progressive activists by the US right-wing.


This type of hatred, of course, has not only led to the murder of high profile political figures. Countless others have also been victimized by the intolerance that has emanated, historically, from the United States’ conservative and fundamentalist establishment.

From the terrorist lynchings carried out by the Ku Klux Klan to the more recent “hate crimes” perpetrated against non-white, nonstraight, immigrant communities across the country, violence has been the palpable result of a coordinated campaign of bigotry and fear that has been the mainstay of right-wing media discourse for decades.

On Saturday, this hatred claimed 20 more victims in what could be considered yet another example of “the chickens coming home to roost”. 

During an event with constituents in Tucson, Arizona last weekend, Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was attacked by an armed assailant who opened fire, killing 6 by-standers and wounding 12 others.

Among the dead were a federal judge and a 9-year old child.


Giffords, who was critically wounded in the rampage, had earned the ire of right-wing Tea Party members by supporting President Obama’s health care reform bill and opposing Arizona’s draconian immigrant legislation which legalizes racial profiling.

Although the exact motivations of the assailant have not been determined, his actions fit into a pattern that can be associated with an aggressive witch hunt being carried out against politicians in favor of Obama’s plan.

On a map published on her webpage, former vice presidential candidate and paragon of republican conservatism, Sarah Palin, explicitly targeted Giffords using the cross-hairs of a gun to identify her congressional district.

And Jesse Kelly, Giffords republican opponent in last November’s elections, is reported to have held fundraising events where, according to the Associated Press, “he urged supporters to help remove Giffords from office by joining him to shoot a fully loaded M-16 rifle”.

Predictably, Palin and her extremist, gun-toting allies are now scrambling to distance themselves from the barbarism of last Saturday’s crimes.  But they, along with the ultra-conservative mouthpieces that preach hate on a daily basis to millions of Americans through radio and television media, are ultimately the one’s responsible for the political violence that has increased notably over the past year.

In fact, in just the first three months of 2010, more than 40 cases of violence or threats of violence had been reported by congressmen supporting Obama’s health care bill while, just after the bill’s passage, Giffords’ office was vandalized and gunshots were blasted through its windows and doors.


Venezuela, by way of comparison, has also been no stranger to political violence.

During the nearly 30-year dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gomez that ended in 1935 and that of Marcos Perez Jimenez in the 1950s, left-wing activists and sympathizers were systematically hunted down, tortured and assassinated.

The same held true during the country’s period of “representative democracy” from 1958 – 1998, albeit in a lesser degree.

When former Army Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez won the nation’s presidential elections by a landslide vote in 1998 and embarked upon a plan of progressive reforms in the country, it seemed that Venezuela had turned the corner en route to a more democratic society.

The country’s pattern of political violence began to resurface, however.

Chavez’s program – based on redistribution of the nation’s massive oil wealth to the economically disadvantaged – prompted the country’s right-wing opposition to mobilize against the new president, using a media campaign of hatred and vitriol to demonize the leader.

As a culmination of this campaign, in 2002, the private media and its allies in the business community orchestrated a bloody coup d’etat that left at least 17 civilians dead. Chavez survived the coup but the same hatred was employed later that year to push forth an oil-industry lockout, crippling the nation’s economy and causing widespread hardship.

And the violence has continued.

In 2004, the public attorney in charge of investigating the coup, Danilo Anderson, was assassinated by a car bomb while in 2005 and 2006 congressman Braulio Alvarez, leader of Venezuela’s land distribution program, was attacked and shot by armed assailants.

With respect to the land reform, just this past October, Feliz Castillo was added to a list of over 200 landless farmers who have also been assassinated since the program began in 2001.


Much of the Venezuelan right’s virulence and antagonism against the reforms of the democratically elected Chavez government continue to thrive in the private media.

The Chavez administration has attempted to respond to these acts, however, by passing the Law of Social Responsibility in Media, which seeks to outlaw messages interpreted to be inciting hatred, calling for the assassination of public officials, or causing civil unrest.

A recently passed reform to the law extends the prohibitions to the Internet calling for, according to the government, “sanctions against those who use the Internet to incite hate, criminal activity, war propaganda, alterations in public order, homicide; or advocate to disobey constitutional authority”.

Of course, the Venezuelan government has come under  fire internationally for these measures in what Chavez foes claim to be a “clamp down” on freedom of speech. This, ironically, includes democratic members of the US Congress, who, as privileged members of the United States’ political establishment, have perhaps forgotten the lessons of JFK and what it means to be caught in the cross hairs of extremists who use the banner of “freedom of expression” to spread hatred and fear.