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David Neiwert

David Neiwert

Feb 22, 2021
44 tweets

I’ve been watching the right-wing narrative regarding the Jan. 6 insurrection with keen interest, and realizing that the American right again intends to resort to its well-worn “waving the bloody shirt” gambit. A thread about what that will mean. /1/44…

Turn on the Sunday shows and this is what you get— ABC: The election was stolen NBC: The election was stolen CBS: The election was stolen Fox: The election was stolen
We all know the phrase and its meaning: Someone who “waves the bloody shirt” is a demagogue whose rhetoric callously recalls violent incidents for the purpose of scoring cheap political points. /2
The phrase originated during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War. In the early years, white terrorists from armed paramilitary groups like the Ku Klux Klan roamed the Southern countryside intent on terrorizing black people and anyone assisting them. /3
Preventing blacks from voting was the primary focus of the terrorists. Their reputation for threatening people at the polls themselves was well established. /4
During this period, some 3,000 black freedmen would be murdered in the South. The majority were people lethally attacked at their homes—shot through windows and doors, and at other times lynched. /5
Most of these attacks took place at night. Black people lived in constant fear of having nighttime visitors. /6
The terrorists’ wrath was also directed at certain white people—namely, Southerners who sympathized with the Union, called “scalawags”; and Northerners who usually came to the postwar South with altruistic intentions but were hated as exploitative “carpetbaggers.” /7
These are phrases whose meanings remain with us, thanks to their enduring repetition over the decades. You’ll recall how the carpetbagger is the chief villain of “Gone With the Wind.” /8
In reality, they often were educators who were helping to open schools for black children and promoting literacy in the adult population too. This was seen as a threat to white supremacy and its rule, especially since it enhanced their ability to vote. /9
Schooling black children threatened to overturn one of the core myths of white supremacists—namely, that blacks were naturally too ignorant and stupid to be teachable, which is why they need to be under the control of their white masters. /10
So teachers were flogged and lynched, and schoolhouses burned to the ground, as the first wave of terrorism struck the newly freed ex-slave community and their helpers. /11
Some of the Klan’s most prominent white victims were schoolteachers. However, since they were white, they often were simply flogged or beaten and threatened with lynching. /12
This is where the phrase “waving the bloody shirt” originates, as explained by historian Stephen Budiansky in his terrific history, “The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomatox.” /13…
As he explains, the phrase arises from an incident in which 120 night-riding Klansmen descended on a home at which a local school superintendent was spending the night. /14
According to the legend that then became conventional wisdom in the South, the shirt from Huggins’ beating was delivered to Rep. Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts, who then waved it about as he ranted at length about the evils of the Ku Klux Klan. /15
But while Butler did deliver such a speech, at no time did he ever wave any bloody shirt in the House. /16
Nonetheless, the legend became a sneer: If any Northerner should happen to bring up the campaign of lethal terror being waged against blacks in the South in any political context, he would be dismissed as “waving the bloody shirt.” It became a common cartoon trope. /17
Soon enough, the conventional wisdom became that this very real violence was not the problem, but rather the demagogues who dared reference it, “exploiting” the tragedy for political purposes. /18
Budiansky describes the rhetorical outcome of this gambit: “The way it made a victim of the bully and a bully of the victim… the real story was never the atrocities white Southerners committed but only the attempt by their political enemies to make political hay out of it.” /19
The use of this rhetorical twist by conservatives, especially those who wish to whitewash the reality of far-right violence, has never ceased. In the 1920s, it was a common reference among defenders of the revived Klan. /20
More recently, you could hear versions of it whenever right-wing extremists would act out violently, often following the on-air urgings of right-wing pundits—who would then complain bitterly about anyone daring to connect them to the violence. /21
The most striking example—mainly because of its real-world effects—came in 2009, when the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin to law enforcement warning that right-wing extremists were becoming more active and recruiting veterans. /22…
Conservatives essentially did a kind of self-own in this instance, openly identifying with the terrorist factions identified in the report and defending them on the basis that they appeared to be normal “conservatives.” It worked. /23…
Fox News seized on the issue, running multiple segments on virtually every news show discussing the DHS bulletin. /24
Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh weighed in, declaring it an attack on conservative free speech. /25
Limbaugh also claimed the DHS report—which actually had been commissioned during the Bush administration—was an attempt to attack the Tea Party movement. /26
Joe the Plumber weighed in on it with Sean Hannity during a live Tea Party event.
And of course Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly weighed in on multiple occasions, claiming that the DHS’s scenarios—such as that disgruntled veterans could be recruited by the radical right—were factually groundless and a matter of pure speculation. /28
O’Reilly was a past master of whistling ‘red shirt’. One noteworthy 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 harm Limbaugh caused, it was people calling him out. /29
When people called out the Tea Party’s racism, the problem wasn’t the wholesale takeover of the movement by right-wing extremists, especially of the militia variety. It was anyone who happened to point that out, because O’Reilly had never heard that. /30
And then there was the classic moment when @Joan Walsh called O’Reilly out for his lethal demonization of Kansas abortion provider George Tiller. When she told him he had blood on his hands, he went ballistic: “No, YOU’RE the one with blood on their hands!” /31
Laura Ingraham and other Fox News figures quickly figured out this rhetorical gimmick and used it as well. The bigotry of the Islamophobes who tried to prevent construction of a mosque near Ground Zero wasn’t the problem, it was their critics. /32
This same patter has been going on for so long that now a majority of white people no longer believe that their racism is the problem. The problem is the other people supposedly discriminating against them by calling them racists. /33…
The strategy of pro-Trump, street-brawling white-nationalist thugs invading liberal urban center under the pretense of ‘free speech’ or the right-wing cause du jour springboarded from this conventional wisdom. /34…
Essentially, the developing strategy was designed to create a narrative that turned reality on its head by claiming the real problem facing the nation was not violent right-wing extremists, but ‘antifa’ and the ‘violent left’ in these urban centers. /35…
The narrative became official: The House in '19 held hearings on domestic terrorism, and Republicans invited Candace Owens to be their chief witness. She claimed white-nationalist terror was a Democratic fiction, and the real threat was ‘antifa.’ /36…
On Fox, white nationalists’ favorite pundit, Tucker Carlson, peddled the same garbage, claiming that the threat of white nationalist terror was a liberal “hoax,” and that making the charge (rather than enabling bigotry) was “dividing the nation.” /37…
Now, in the wake of a violent insurrection by pro-Trump Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, white nationalists and other yahoos, Carlson is singing the very same tune: The Capitol siege was no big deal, the problem is liberals trying to make political hay. /38…
We should expect to be fed another version this week when the House again holds hearings: The chief GOP witness will be pseudo-journalist Andy Ngo, whose fabulist articles and “reportage” have been building blocks in the “antifa violence” mythos. /39…
Michael Edison Hayden

Michael Edison Hayden

Andy Ngo is objectively a poor writer and a limited thinker. He is an "editor-at-large" for a Canadian junk news website that runs one source stories on people's tweets. The GOP wants him there to distract you from their own connection to far-right hate groups.
Of course, it doesn’t help that 58 percent of Trump voters believe that the Jan. 6 insurrection was actually the work of “antifa.” Because of course they, not violent right-wing extremists, are the real problem. /40…
Then there were the Republicans on the Sunday shows, all claiming that Biden had stolen the election. And none of the hosts pushing back on the lie. And you could see all the strands of the narrative coming together. /41…
Turn on the Sunday shows and this is what you get— ABC: The election was stolen NBC: The election was stolen CBS: The election was stolen Fox: The election was stolen
The narrative will evolve into something like this: The Jan. 6 insurrection was understandable and indeed needed and a patriotic act because good Americans thought the election was being stolen, and besides antifa are the violent ones, not MAGA folks. /42
And the Democrats who want to shame those good folks for their patriotism should be shamed and shunned; after all, they’re the ones trying to divide the country with all their identity politics and pronouns and Black Lives Matter stuff and violent antifa thugs. /43
Count on something like that on Fox News over the next few months. It’s how the “waving the bloody shirt” schtick has always, always worked. And until Americans wake up and realize they’re being gaslighted, it probably always will. /44
David Neiwert

David Neiwert

Author, 'The Age of Insurrection: The Ongoing War on American Democracy,' in bookstores June 2023 (Melville House). Staff writer @DailyKos. I block shitheads.
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