Changing the Subject: The World Is Object, Those Who Would Change It Are Subject. For Really Big Change, Change the Subject

From classicliberal2 at Left Hook:

Setting the Record Straight on “Jack-Booted Thugs”

I’m still not really up to writing much, or well, but an item over at Media Matters caught my eye tonight, and I felt compelled to offer some thoughts on it.

Adam Shah of Media Matters For America offers this as his set-up:

    National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre is the last person a responsible media outlet should have on its airwaves to comment on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). That’s because LaPierre once referred to ATF agents as “jack-booted government thugs” and reportedly called for “lifting the assault weapons ban to even the odds in the struggle between ordinary citizens and ‘jack-booted government thugs.’”

Shah’s framing can be read in such a way as to suggest that anyone who would call government agents “jack-booted government thugs” is inherently nuts. The gripe I have with this is that government agents frequently are jack-booted thugs. That LaPierre said so isn’t why his comments were problematic.

LaPierre is a reactionary who deals in the nuttiest sort of black-helicopter conspiracism. His rhetoric, offered in the 1990s, is indistinguishable from that of the militia movement that grew like a cancer in that same period, and it’s this context that elevated his “jack-booted government thugs” comment from a truism to an eye-raiser.

But it takes some space to explain why….

The full discussion is worth reading, but skipping down a bit, we get to the part where he gets to the LaPierre writing a letter where he refernces the Koresh cult, which the rightwing militas portrayed as a bunch of innocents attacked by the government for no reason:

LaPierre was opportunistically playing to this sentiment when he made his “jack-booted government thugs” comment. In the same letter in which he wrote those words, he even made explicit reference to the action against the Koresh cult, and, further, added

“Not too long ago, it was unthinkable for federal agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms to attack law-abiding citizens. Not today.”

Of course, such a thing hadn’t been “unthinkable” to left-wing political parties, the civil rights movement, radical groups, labor unions, anti-war groups, and more other non-conservative and anti-conservative groups than can be named–they’d been on the receiving end of government violence for over a century, by that point. It was only “unthinkable” to white Christian conservative good ol’ boys who had never been subjected to it. LaPierre was part of a cadre of reactionaries who, for purposes of political expediency, was trying to make it thinkable to them. The world learned how thinkable some of them found it when a fertilizer bomb went off in front of a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing hundreds.

I couldn’t agree more. After all, it wasn’t the ATF necessarily, but when gov’t agents came for Fred Hampton and scores of other Black Panthers, they were indeed jack-booted thugs.

There’s a vitally import point here, wrapped up in who LaPierre and his audience are, that usually seems incredibly abstract & philosophical to many. To wit: all discourse is embedded, embodied, contextual. It is NEVER trascendent and disembodied no matter what it might pretend. It is NEVER simply about objects devoid of context in philosophical Cartesian space. There is always a subject who speaks and a subject spoken to. American rightwing “anti-government” rhetoric ALWAYS comes out of a discourse where the speaking subject and the audience subject are white (even if it gets picked up by minorities and repurposed because of its white-supremacist cultural credibility).

There is nothing whatsoever abstract & philophical about this, of course, and feminism in particular has done a good deal to make awareness of this commonly available to everyone. But this doesn’t just apply to white supremacists. Far from it. It applies to classic liberalism as well, as Mike Konczal pointed out this week at Rortybomb in a piece titled “International Woman’s Day, Wendy Brown, and What Feminist Theory Can Do For You.” In it, he refers to an article by Brown:

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