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Jeff Biggers: Arizona Facing “Lethal Combination” of “Hate-Filled Speech” and “Dangerous and Easy Access to Weapons”

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“[Arizona] is a gun state,” says Tucson-based journalist Jeff Biggers. “I think we see a huge difference between the right to own a weapon to go hunting or to defend yourself and the right for mentally disturbed people to purchase semi-automatic firearms without any sort of registration or regulation.” We speak to Biggers about Arizona’s gun laws. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now, staying in Tucson, to Jeff Biggers, author and journalist who is now based in Tucson, grew up there, currently working on a new book. Jeff Biggers, as you’ve been traveling through this last two days, talk about the issue of gun control, or lack of it, in Arizona, your observations today.

JEFF BIGGERS: I think part of the grief and mourning that is pouring out here in Tucson, there is also a sense of reconsidering the sort of slippery slope, a weakening of the gun laws they have in the state, especially over the past two years. As you’ve already mentioned, in the spring of 2009, Governor Brewer, of course, passed a law that allowed concealed weapons to be allowed in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. A year later, of course, last year, she passed a law that allows us to have concealed weapons without permits, but also to sell manufactured guns and ammunition in Arizona without any federal regulations or restrictions. Today is the first day of the state legislature in Phoenix. And down the street from where they’ll be arraigning the assailant in this shooting, the state legislature is going to be dealing with these two new bills which essentially will allow concealed weapons on campus. And the people I’m speaking with, both representatives and community activists and just residents, are really beginning to reconsider this lethal combination of not only hate-filled speech, but dangerous and easy access to weapons in Arizona.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve just returned to Tucson. You grew up there and wrote a piece for the Huffington Post this weekend on your experiences with guns growing up.

JEFF BIGGERS: Right. Right. I mean, this is a gun state. I think across the nation, not only in Arizona, we all grow up with guns. I had my first gun — fired my first gun when I was eight years old at a summer camp with the YMCA here in Tucson, Arizona. And I cut my political teeth, for example, when I was 17 with Congressman Morris K. Udall, who was a very proud member of the NRA who defended gun rights. But I think we see a huge difference between the right to own a weapon to go hunting or to defend yourself and the right for mentally disturbed people to purchase semi-automatic firearms without any sort of registration or regulation.

AMY GOODMAN: [inaudible] come back, we’ll also be joined by Chip Berlet, talking about his research into the right wing in this country, as the discussion is being had, if there are conditions, as AP has reported an investigation into American Renaissance. Jeff Biggers, our guest in Tucson. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Chip Berlet joining us from Massachusetts, senior political analyst at Political Research Associates, co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, his latest piece called “Possible Racist and Anti-Immigrant Tie to Alleged Arizona Assassin.”

If you look at the videos of Jared Loughner, you see numerous numbers, you see his references to grammar as a way the government controls us, and you see this constant reference to currency. Chip, can you explain what he’s talking about?

CHIP BERLET: Well, only partially. Clearly, he’s mentally unbalanced. He picks up a lot of themes of people who are very troubled and anxious. You know, I can’t diagnose him, but I think this is someone who is disturbed.

That said, why did he pick the target he picked? And the answer, I think, is found in some of his obsessions with things like currency, with federal manipulation of money, with the idea of a second American Constitution, which is used in the Patriot and far-right movements to describe the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, which freed the slaves and gave the right of citizenship to anyone born in the United States. There are references to basically conspiracies in which the government is oppressing the people and, perhaps in his mind, engaging in mind control on behalf of vested interests who control the money. This is a longstanding right-wing conspiracy theory.

AMY GOODMAN: This issue of grammar?

CHIP BERLET: Well, as the Southern Poverty Law Center points out, comes from a Patriot icon named David Wynn Miller of Milwaukee, who has a whole website talking about the use of grammar and numbers as a way of mind control to keep people from focusing on the great Federal Reserve conspiracy theory. The idea that the Federal Reserve was created as part of a vast conspiracy is not just embedded in the minds of people who are disturbed, but it’s widely shared on, you know, Alex Jones’ website and by Ron Paul, elected representative Ron Paul. So, what we have here is a right-wing milieu in which Mr. Loughner apparently wandered through and posted information about his own beliefs.

AMY GOODMAN: Chip Berlet, one of the students in a class of Jared Loughner said that a young woman had read a poem about abortion, and he stood up and said something about killing her baby and just started to laugh. But can you talk about where anti-choice activism fits in with this?

CHIP BERLET: Well, if you’re walking in the shoes of a person who believes this set of stories, abortion, gay rights, sexual liberalism are all part of a plan to destroy America by reducing its moral backbone and allowing godless ideas and alien ideas to infiltrate the country and destroy America as God’s new promised land. So, within certain groups of the Christian right who are militantly anti-abortion, the idea is that this is all part of the same fabric of secular humanist, liberal treason. And it’s this idea that the Democrats and the liberals and the leftists are treasonous, which is creating this atmosphere of demonization and vilification.

Back in June of 2009, I wrote a report called “Toxic to Democracy,” which said — and I’ll quote it — “Aggressive right-wing rhetoric targeting Democrats as treasonous encourages some unstable people to act out in aggression or violence.” So this was predictable. Sara Robinson, David Neiwert, Mark Potok, dozens of reporters who study the right wing have been predicting the outcome of this wave, this “Becking” of America, where the Glenn Becks, the Ann Coulters, the Bill O’Reillys talk about abortion, talk about gay rights, talk about healthcare, talk about the Democrats as traitors to America who have to be stopped.

AMY GOODMAN: Investigators are also exploring suspected links between Loughner and American Renaissance, a group known for white supremacist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic rhetoric. Can you explain who they are, Chip?

CHIP BERLET: Well, I can by starting to say that that report was woefully researched and contained numerous errors of fact. American Renaissance is a tuxedo racist group of scholars and intellectuals. It is white supremacist. It is eugenicist. It believes in bloodline purity in America. But they had a major struggle over anti-Semitism, and the anti-Semites were thrown out. The reference in that so-called government report to the Zionist-occupied government, that’s the rhetoric of the neo-Nazi movement. So, again, what we have here is a government document allegedly being circulated which misunderstands the politics of the situation, and it’s just an error. It’s entirely possible Mr. Loughner read their newsletter. It’s entirely possible he visited their website. There is evidence that he’s obsessed with immigration and natural-born Americans, natural law citizens as opposed to constitutional citizens, by which the right wing means black people. But that was a bogus report.

AMY GOODMAN: The reference to a second American Constitution in his writings?

CHIP BERLET: Well, the second American Constitution or the second United States Constitution, as he called it, is a reference to the post-Civil War Reconstruction amendments — the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. And this is part and parcel of the Patriot movement and the militia movement and the Posse Comitatus movement — racist movements, in this case, who believe that this completely overturned the pre-existing constitution, so it became a second American Constitution, based on this false notion of equality. And so, the second American Constitution then begs the question of the need for a second American Revolution to overthrow the bogus government in Washington and restore the natural rights to white citizens and replace the original Constitution, which has been superseded by this fake equality Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: Chip, of course, this is all speculation, although there is a lot of writings of Loughner on his MySpace page, which was pulled down, and other places online, but the fact that Congressmember Giffords is the first Jewish Congress member to be elected from Arizona?

CHIP BERLET: Well, again, it’s all speculation, but if there was a connection, it would be the idea that Jews own the banks, that there’s a Zionist world plot to control the money supply, and that part and parcel of this conspiracy involves the Bilderberg banking group, the Rothschild family, the Schiff family, and traitorous politicians who are in league with the Jew bankers.

AMY GOODMAN: Is what he says, or what that theory talks about.

CHIP BERLET: No, it’s not what he says. It’s what reading for 30 years right-wing literature I can pretty much parody they’re crazy theories and their disgusting bigotry. So I apologize. That is the racist anti-Semitic interpretation of the federal government conspiracy. But the whole spread of conspiracy thinking in America fuels this tendency.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to wrap up with Jeff Biggers in Tucson. We just have 30 seconds, Jeff. Where you go from here in Tucson?

JEFF BIGGERS: I think that’s a great point. I think there’s a great concern just about the future of participatory democracy. I think, as Sheriff Dutnick pointed out, we have a radical right state legislature who is really obsessive and hell-bent on having some sort of confrontational defiance of federal authority. And many people here in Tucson are really trying to come to grips of how there can be more public events to have greater access to politicians, and that really has been jeopardized with this sort of shooting, that ultimately in the future we’re going to be having less access to our elected officials —

AMY GOODMAN: Three seconds.

JEFF BIGGERS: — and more influence, even more influence with the gun lobby and other lobbyists.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Biggers and Chip Berlet, I want to thank you all for being with us. We’ll continue this discussion tomorrow.

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Chip Berlet on “The Becking of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords”

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