MSNBC host Alex Wagner appeared to tie Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to ObamaCare opposition and libertarianism on Wednesday’s Now, with liberal guests Jared Bernstein and Mark Potok taking part in the anti-conservative argument. Wagner suggested that ObamaCare “extremism would seem to be of a piece with this radicalized rhetoric” that influenced the terrorist Tsarnaev.
Bernstein, a former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, argued that one “could draw a line” connecting the terrorist attacks in Boston to “vehement opposition” to the president’s health care law. And Mark Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, added:
I think when you hear someone like Rush Limbaugh really talking in bitter ways about poor people, calling them names. You know, we’re coming very close to identifying those people as black, that what Obama is really doing is handing free health care, free welfare and so on to black people. People who are not like the rest of us, or so the narrative goes. So I think that’s how these issues really get conflated.
Wagner had kicked off the segment with a report that the deceased older Tsarnaev brother was a “fan” of radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Jones gained attention in June for erupting on BBC One’s Sunday Politics over government-built “FEMA camps.”
While Jones identifies as a conservative, it seems absolutely ludicrous to tie him to anyone in the Republican Party. Jones was an early “truther,” believing the government was complicit in the 9/11 attacks. He also believes in the “New World Order” conspiracy. Again, hardly your average conservative or Republican.
The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim, to his credit, acknowledged as much. Grim cautioned the panel:
You don’t want to call any of these things really left or right because it discredits the whole idea of a left or right.
Grim also pointed out that Tsarnaev listened to bands who identify with “far, far left” conspiracies, such as the “conspiracy to put flouride in water.” The overall point that Grim seemed to make, though, was that it’s wrong to identify Tsarnaev with either Republican or Democratic politics.
That didn’t stop Bernstein, Wagner, or Potok though. Wagner even connected libertarianism to the attacks, asking Potok how the “dove-tailing” between a “radical libertarian agenda” and “southern racist post-neoconfederate attitude towards governance” inform American politics.
Suffice to say, Wagner’s segment had it all: accusations of racism because Republicans oppose an Obama policy, vitriol against a conservative ideology, and – to top it all off – ominous links between conservatism and terrorism. Stay classy, MSNBC.
See the full transcript below:
Now with Alex Wagner
August 14, 2013
12:27 p.m. Eastern
ALEX WAGNER: But the bombing suspects may not have been the radical jihadists they were initially believed to be. Older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev was reportedly a fan of far right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. This guy:
ALEX JONES [on BBC One’s Sunday Politics, June 9]: Hey, listen! I’m here to warn people. You keep telling me to shut up. This isn’t a game, okay? Our government, the U.S. is building FEMA camps. We have an NDAA where they disappear people now.
NEIL: [Unintelligible] past eleven. You’re watching Sunday Politics.
JONES [cutting off host Andrew Neil]: Liberty is rising! Liberty is rising!
NEIL [laughing]: We have an idiot on the program today. Coming up...
JONES: Freedom will not stop! You will not stop freedom! You will not stop the republic! Humanity is awakening!
WAGNER: Today, Alex Jones’s YouTube channel has over 300 million views. According to the Wall Street Journal, Tsarnaev also read white supremacist publications including “The First Freedom,” an Alabama-based paper that espouses equal rights for whites. As Salon’s Alex Seitz-Wald writes, “Tsarnaev illustrates how 21st century anti-government conspiracism melts down typical ideological barriers in a postmodern stew of various radicalisms, united by a common deep distrust of the government.” Joining us now is senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mark Potok. Mark, thanks for joining us. We’ve had you on before to talk about the rise of hate speech. But I feel like this piece, the idea that Tamerlan Tsarnaev may have been influenced and motivated by some of the stuff that is happening domestically right here, in terms of far-right conservative fringe movements, is fairly shocking. Tell us, if you will, a little bit about the rise of hate groups in the recent past.
MARK POTOK: Well, we’ve seen an enormous rise, not only in hate groups but in so-called patriot groups or militias really dating back to when Barack Obama first appeared on the political scene in the United States in the fall of 2008. Starting right then we really saw these groups start to expand very rapidly. I think largely in response to the idea that the United States is becoming less white, is demographically not going to be dominated by whites as it has been for most of its history. Listening to what – to the – what Tamerlan Tsarnaev read and so on, I think what it shows you in part is that these guys were significantly more Americanized than many of us thought. They had very much gone down the kind of rabbit hole of conspiracy thinking and absorbed all kinds of ideas, you know, the world is not as it seems, and so on. That’s a very American preoccupation.
WAGNER: And Mark, it’s sort of an interesting confluence. We talk about this happening in some sectors of the American political scene, which is the dove-tailing between sort of a radical libertarian agenda and a sort of southern racist post-neoconfederate attitude towards governance and that view informing a certain sector of American politics. Is that recent?
POTOK: Well, I think it, again, is very much tied to the rise of Barack Obama. You know, certainly the militia movement back in the 1990s saw the government as the enemy, the government of the – of course, personified by a relative liberal, Bill Clinton. Now, I think that has sort of redoubled in the sense that not only is Obama relatively liberal, a Democrat obviously, but he is a black man and represents this very major change out there. So, you know, initially I think there was some reluctance to be openly racist toward Obama. But that, I think, has more or less dissolved in the last four or five years. You know, it begins with talk about he’s really a Muslim, he’s really a Kenyan, he’s not like us. But very soon we get to the place where we’re talking about Obama fostering the genocide of white people, with Obama encouraging – an outfit like World Net Daily says every day – black mobs to attack white people, that kind of thing.
RYAN GRIM: Just in the way that the, kind of, mainstream left and right come together on some points – prison reform, legalization, whatever. Some of these nuttier conspiracy theorists actually kind of come around, it’s not really a spectrum anymore. Tamerlan listened to some different bands, etcetera, that would be more associated with the far, far left – you know, talking about the conspiracy to put fluoride in the water.
GRIM: And who did 9/11.
GRIM: You don’t want to call any of these things really left or right because it discredits the whole idea of a left or right. But they are more associated with the left, those particular ones, chemtrails, that kind of –
WAGNER: Although the Free Press is decidedly more aligned with conservative –
GRIM: Oh, no question about it.
WAGNER: Than the left.
JARED BERNSTEIN: Washington is broken. And so you’re right, there is a dysfunctional government. There are, by the way, people who go to Washington and say, essentially, “send me to Washington and I’ll make sure it stays broken.” And many of those people are being supported by, as we have talked about earlier today, those who say “we want Washington to stay broken.” I think you could draw a line. I’d be interested if Mark agrees with this. I think you could draw a line to what we’re talking about and this vehement opposition to ObamaCare. I’ve heard members of Congress talk about ObamaCare as if it’s the most evil thing to come down the pike since I don’t know when. There is a kind of obsession with this, and a view of it as government taking over your lives that is completely contrary to what’s actually going on.
WAGNER: You know, Mark, and I don’t want to conflate, sort of, conservative resistance to government programs with radical, sort of, terrorism at all. But to Jared’s point about the language and the rhetoric and the sort of emotional center to much of this argument, I mean, the sense that ObamaCare is effectively ripping up the United States Constitution and it represents the end of America. This extremism would seem to be of a piece with this radicalized rhetoric that we see in other corners of American society.
POTOK: Yeah, I think that’s very true. I think when you hear someone like Rush Limbaugh really talking in bitter ways about poor people, calling them names. You know, we’re coming very close to identifying those people as black, that what Obama is really doing is handing free health care, free welfare and so on to black people. People who are not like the rest of us, or so the narrative goes. So I think that’s how these issues really get conflated.