Glenn Beck and his co-conspirators are at it again, this time demonizing an elderly college professor who is now being threatened with physical violence by Beck’s fans.

The speed of these hate campaigns is extraordinary. Although Beck has been attacking 78-year-old Frances Fox Piven for some time, he’s recently stepped up the rhetoric, and it’s working, as the NYT’s explains:

Her name has become a kind of shorthand for “enemy” on Mr. Beck’s Fox News Channel program, which is watched by more than 2 million people, and on one of his Web sites, The Blaze. This week, Mr. Beck suggested on television that she was an enemy of the Constitution.

One…threat, published as an anonymous comment on The Blaze, read, “Somebody tell Frances I have 5000 roundas ready and I’ll give My life to take Our freedom back.” (The spelling and capitalizing have not been changed.)

Remember Van Jones, a distinguished civil rights activist and lawyer attacked for calling Republicans “assholes” and linked by the Right to, of all things, communism? His professional execution was so fast there wasn’t time for a blindfold.

And ACORN? ACORN? I don’t mean to unnecessarily disparage that organization, but after years of campaign work I never really considered them all that effective. But according to the Right’s Deadly Demonizing Device, ACORN was a powerful, popular front organization out to destroy America. Boom. End of ACORN.

The human brain is wired to give preference to negative information. It’s better to run from the lion that isn’t there than be caught by the lion that is there. So mentally accustomed are we to this that Bush’s old Weapons of Destruction routine was a lay-down. Not there after all? Who cares, at least we weren’t eaten by any WMDs.

The rise of mass communications, however, turned a one-time evolutionary advantage on its head. The ability to instantly produce fear among millions of humans endangers our very survival.

We’ve come to the point where a crackpot with a TV platform can generate threats of violence against a 78-year-old college professor simply by calling her an “enemy” and citing a few decades-old papers in which she advocated for the poor.

Frances Fox Piven, Van Jones and ACORN are not real threats to, well, anything. But the Deadly Demonizing Machine works best on the innocent. Guilty people are prepared for attacks. The innocent are caught off guard, their worlds are turned upside down. Evidence of their innocence is everywhere. How is it so easily overlooked?

Glenn Beck is not innocent. His angry, hate-inspiring and violent attacks on fellow Americans do pose a threat. Where is the danger-recognizing part of our brains when we need it?

Like I said, the guilty are harder to convict than the innocent. Also, in the land of free speech, many want to believe there is no possible causal connection between speech and violence.

Speaking of causation, for the most part liberal-minded people understand complicated, systemic causality. We know there’s more to public acts of violence than the single exhortation to violence from Beck or anyone else. Because we recognize the complexity, we are reluctant to press the case against the Becks of the world, even when they’re guilty. The conservative mind is much more focused on direct causation. Van Jones’ presence in the White House is directly linked to the fall of America. Beginning, middle and end of story.

We’re going to have to find a way to neutralize the Deadly Demonizing Device, and we’re going to have to do it soon. Pleas for mercy and calls for civility aren’t enough. Demonizing the demonizers only adds credibility to the whole sick process.

Maybe we need a massive, anti-fear campaign on the level of anti-smoking campaigns, or anti-litter campaigns. We’re going to have to fill the media sphere with daily reminders that others are trying to poison us with hatred, provoking fear when there’s nothing to fear but fear itself. Reason alone won’t get us through this.

Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith