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"Waving the bloody shirt": Conservatives use a tried and examined tactic to gentle up the general public with gasoline

The sentence has become somewhat useless in recent years, but its core idea is one that has been with us for 150 years and longer: someone who "waves the bloody shirt" is a demagogue whose rhetoric is ruthlessly reminiscent of violent incidents cheap political Score points.

It addresses a selectively skeptical part of human nature that is fended off through blatant manipulation, but it has the effect of reversing reality and whitewashing violence and moral guilt: it does, as historian Stephen Budiansky explains in The Bloody Shirt: terror After Appomatox, a victim of the tyrant and a tyrant of the victim. "

The Klan and other southerners who followed suit murdered numerous black people in their homes during the reconstruction.

The sentence was written during the reconstruction after the civil war. In the early years, white terrorists from armed paramilitary groups like the Ku Klux Klan roamed the southern countryside to terrorize blacks and anyone who helps them. The main focus of the terrorists was that blacks could not vote. Its reputation for self-threatening people in the elections was well established.

During this time around 3,000 black freedmen would be murdered in the south. The majority were people who were fatally assaulted in their homes – shot through windows and doors and lynched at other times. Most of these attacks took place at night. Black people lived in constant fear of night visitors.

The anger of the terrorists was also directed against certain whites – namely southerners who sympathized with the Union, so-called "Skalawags"; and northerners, who usually came to the south in the post-war period with often altruistic intentions, but were widely despised as exploitative "carpet baggers". These are sentences whose meaning remains with us thanks to their decades of repetition. (You will remember how the carpet bagler was the main villain of Gone With the Wind.)

In reality, they were often educators who helped open schools for black children and promote literacy among the adult population as well. As historian Eric Foner states in "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863–1877": "Carpet excavators generally supported measures to democratize and modernize the South – civil rights laws, aid for economic development, building of public school systems."

Southern whites attacked school teachers and burned schools for black freedmen like this one in Memphis, Tennessee.

This was seen as a threat to white supremacy and rule, especially as education improved the electoral skills of the freed slaves. Schooling Black children threatened to overthrow one of the core myths of white supremacists – that blacks were inherently ignorant and stupid to be educated and therefore must be under the control of their white masters.

Teachers were whipped and lynched, and schoolhouses burned down as the first wave of terrorism struck the newly liberated ex-slave community and their helpers. Some of the clan's most famous white victims were teachers. However, because they were white, they were often simply whipped or beaten and threatened with lynching.

This is where the sentence "Waving the bloody shirt" arises, as Budiansky explained in his great story "The bloody shirt". It was borne by an incident in Monroe County, Mississippi, in March 1871, in which 120 night rider Klansmen descended on the house of George Ross, where a local headmaster named Allen Huggins, a former Northerner, was spending the night urging Ross, " to bring out the man who was in the house ":

Huggins looked out the window and saw, in the bright moonlight, the porch full of men in white hoods and robes. They told him that if he did not come out to receive their "warning" they would burn the place down.

Ross – "a good, respectable Democrat" – asked Huggins to do what they asked and to spare his frightened wife and children. After promising that "no hair of your head should be injured," Huggins agreed to go down to the gate to hear what the men had come to tell him. It was just that. The men – whom Huggins would later call "gentlemanly companions, men of cultivation, well educated, a very different class of men than I'd ever thought I'd meet in a Ku Klux gang" – didn't like his "radical ways". They said. As superintendent of schools for the county, Huggins had set up a public school and was trying to "educate the negroes," they said. They had held out for as long as they wanted. Now he had ten days to go – leave the county, leave the state altogether – or be killed.

Huggins replied that when he was good and ready to go, he would go.

So the men marched him down the street, and when they reached a small hill a quarter of a mile away, one of them came up to him, from where the horses were held, and in his hand was a sturdy stirrup leather. And without further ceremony, he began to hit Huggins with all his might with the stirrup. … When he came to, the men pointed their pistols at him and repeated their warning that if one of them looked at him in ten days, he would be a dead man.

Legend has it that then became conventional wisdom in the South, the shirt of Huggins' beating was given to Massachusetts Republican Congressman Benjamin Butler, who then waved it around as he ranted at length about the evils of the Ku Klux Klan. But while Butler was making such a speech, he never waved a bloody shirt around the house.

The "bloody shirt" was a popular political cartoon used to attack reformist Republicans.

Nonetheless, the false legend has been adopted not only as conventional wisdom, but also into derision: Should a northerner bring up the campaign of deadly terror against blacks in the south in a political context, he would be dismissed as "waving the bloody shirt." "It became a political matter of course, exercised first by the Southern Democrats in Congress to keep Republicans' attempts to sustain reconstruction and holding the Southerners accountable for their mass violence, and then by the much broader population to reject it general cartoon trope.

It soon became conventional wisdom that this very real violence was not the problem, but the demagogues who dared to refer to it and "exploit" the tragedy for political ends. Budiansky describes the cultural result of this rhetorical manipulation:

For the white conservative southerners, outrage was never the act they had committed, only the insolence to have those acts against them. The outrage was never the “masculine” infliction of a “well-deserved” punishment against Poltroons, only the astute and sniffling wail of the recipients of their anger. And the indignation was never the aristocrat's violent defense of “honor”, ​​only the vulgar excitement of his socially inferior. "The only article the North can keep to itself is the white feather it has won in every battle," said one southerner of the Sumner Brooks affair. Only a coward would enjoy a token of his own defeat.

The bloody shirt captured the reverse of the truth that would characterize the warped memories of reconstruction that the nation would hold for generations. The way in which it made a victim of bullying and a bully of the victim turned the blood of their African American victims into an affront to southern white decency, transformed the act of southern white violence into wounded southern innocence; The way it suggested that the real story was never the atrocities committed by southern white people, only the attempt by their political enemies to make political hay out of them. The mere suggestion that there was a partisan motive behind the telling of these stories was enough to convince most white southerners that the events never happened, or were exaggerated, or that they were conspiratorially constructed by the victims themselves, out of sympathy or political To gain advantage.

The use of this rhetorical manipulation – which is inherently underhand, misleading, and abusive – by conservatives, especially those who want to whitewash the reality of far-right violence, has never stopped. In the 1920s, it was a common reference among defenders of the revived clan. The era of lynching between 1867 and 1940, in which thousands of blacks were unceremoniously and horribly murdered, was justified by its apologists as a need to defend "white femininity" – that is, it was necessary to prevent blacks from becoming white women to rape.

More recently, versions of right-wing extremists have been heard to act violently, often at the urging of legal experts who then complained bitterly about anyone who dared associate them with the violence. The most striking example – largely because of its real-world impact – was in 2009 when the Department of Homeland Security issued a law enforcement bulletin warning that right-wing extremists were becoming more active and recruiting veterans.

Conservatives essentially went self-employed in this case, openly identifying with the terrorist factions identified in the report, and defending them on the basis that they appeared to be normal "conservatives" – and that the real problem was the DHS analysts they claimed were careful to suppress right-wing views. It worked.

Fox News took up the problem and ran multiple segments on virtually every news show discussing the DHS bulletin. Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh weighed in, declaring it an attack on conservative freedom of speech. Limbaugh also claimed that the DHS report, which was actually commissioned during the Bush administration, was an attempt to attack the tea party movement. Joe "the plumber" Wurzelbacher, who appeared with Sean Hannity at a tea party rally on Fox, commented, "Am I an extremist because I said," In God we trust "?"

Glenn Beck stepped in, and Byron York of the National Review added his two bits. Again the narrative was repeated: the problem was not right-wing recruitment and terrorism, but whether the government – or anyone else – had ever warned about them. And of course, Fox News’s Bill O'Reilly has interfered on several occasions, claiming that the DHS scenarios – such as disgruntled veterans being recruited by the radical right – were factually unfounded and pure speculation.

O'Reilly was a former master at whistling a version of the "Bloody Shirt" music. A notable example of this was when he came to the defense of Rush Limbaugh after he was denied the chance to own an NFL team. The problem wasn't the damage Limbaugh had done, but the people who called him out.

When people proclaimed the tea party racism, O'Reilly did not think the problem was with right-wing extremists, particularly the militia, taking over the movement. It was someone who pointed it out because O'Reilly had never heard of it.

And then there was the classic moment when Joan Walsh of Salon O'Reilly called about his deadly demonization of the Kansas abortion company, George Tiller. When she told him that he had blood on his hands, he took a ballistic approach: "You are misled, you have blood on your hands because you portrayed this man as a hero when he killed late babies for occasional reasons!"


Laura Ingraham and other Fox News characters quickly figured out this rhetorical gimmick and used it too. The bigotry of the Islamophobes trying to prevent a mosque from being built near Ground Zero was not the problem, but its critics. / 32

– David Neiwert (@DavidNeiwert) February 22, 2021

Laura Ingraham and other Fox News characters quickly figured out this rhetorical gimmick and used it too. The bigotry of the Islamophobes trying to prevent a mosque from being built near Ground Zero was not the problem, but its critics.

The same chatter went on for so long that now white conservatives no longer believe that their racism is the problem. The problem is that other people are supposedly discriminating against them by calling them racists. A 2011 study found that "Whites believe they have replaced blacks as the main victims of racial discrimination in America today".

Since Donald Trump's rise to the White House in 2016, much of the conservative political strategy to encourage the spread of white nationalism has been based on a similar type of gas lighting. The strategy of pro-Trump brawl against far-right thugs who invade liberal urban centers on the pretext of "free speech" or the right-wing cause sprang from this conventional wisdom. In essence, the tactic was intended to create a narrative that turns reality on its head by claiming that the real problem facing the nation is not violent right-wing extremists, but "antifa" and the "violent left" in these urban centers.

The narrative became official in 2019: the House was holding domestic terrorism hearings, and Republicans invited demagogue Candace Owens to be their lead witness. She claimed that white nationalist terror was a democratic fiction and that the real threat was "Antifa".

"The bottom line is that white supremacy, racism, white nationalism, words that once had real meaning are now nothing more than electoral strategies," she said. “Every four years, the black community is offered handouts and fear. Flyers and fear. Reparations and white nationalism. "

On Fox News, favorite white nationalist pundit, Tucker Carlson, sold the same rubbish, claiming that the terrorist threat to white nationalism was a liberal "hoax" and that the prosecution (rather than promoting white nationalism) " column ". ”

"Attacking people for their race is just like destroying a country," he said. “That's what the Democrats do. They know they do, it's obvious they just don't care. "

Now, after a violent uprising by Pro-Trump Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, White Nationalists, and other Yahoo! Carlson is singing a new verse to the same old tune: The Siege of the Capitol wasn't a big deal, the problem is that the Liberals are trying make political hay with it.

"You may have thought you were a decent American in good standing," he remarked. “Ten years ago no one in this country would have called your views extreme. They weren't extreme back then. You don't think they're extreme now, you've always viewed yourself as a fairly moderate person – live your life and get on with others. Oh ho, that's not possible now – because the rules have changed. You are now a dangerous insurgent. You are no different from a bloodthirsty Pashtun in Helmand Province or an ISIS terrorist in Erbil! You are part of a guerrilla uprising. "

Predictably, similar rhetoric was fed to the public this week when the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held new domestic terrorism hearings following the January 6 riot. The main witness of the GOP was the pseudo journalist Andy Ngo, whose fabulous articles and "reports" were the main building blocks of the myth of "anti-fascist violence".

Unsurprisingly, Ngo called last summer's protests against police brutality a "riot" and the violence that resulted was solely the product of "antifa" and "terrorism" by the Black Lives Matter. A Republican congressman played a video of the summer protests and then wanted to know if the scenes fit the definition of domestic terrorism (note: not). Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert attempted to claim the January 6 riot was primarily the fault of a Black Lives Matter activist – who was, in fact, a man who had organized rallies with Proud Boys and militiamen.

All of this fits in perfectly with the views of Republican voters. A recent poll found that 58% of Trump voters believe the January 6 riot was indeed the work of "Antifa". Because of course they, not violent right-wing extremists, are the real problem.

Consistent repetition of the big lie that Joe Biden fraudulently won the Republican election on Sunday showed that they are all lining up to promote their gas-lit narrative of innocence. Equally disturbing was the realization that none of the mainstream media interlocutors she was talking to was even willing to face this lie.

All of this gives us an idea of ​​what to expect from Republicans for the foreseeable future. The narrative will develop into something like this:

The January 6 uprising was understandable and indeed necessary, and a patriotic act because good Americans thought the elections were being stolen.
The Democrats who want to shame these good people for their patriotism should be ashamed.
Plus, they're the ones trying to split the country with all of their identity politics and pronouns and Black Lives Matter things and violent anti-fascist thugs. Antifa and BLM are the violent ones, not the MAGA people.

Rely on this to become the running Fox News storyline for the next several months, and the foundation for rationalizing Republicans for their support for the disinformation and inflammatory rhetoric that led to the uprising. This is how the "waving in the bloody shirt" test tube has always worked: turn reality upside down, turn the victims and perpetrators around, and then feign indignation. And by the time Americans wake up and find that they are gas lit, it probably always will.

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