A Rage No One Should Be Stoking

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Kill him": the battle cry of a lynch mob and words yelled out by a man at a Sarah Palin rally in Clearwater, Fla., this month, according to my Post colleague Dana Milbank.

Some observers claim that the proposed killing was directed not toward Barack Obama but at Bill Ayers, the co-founder of the radical Weather Underground that bombed public buildings during the turbulent Vietnam era. Ayers, now a college professor who has served with Obama and other noted Chicagoans in civic enterprises -- and hosted a campaign event for Obama's initial run for the state legislature -- is being portrayed by John McCain's campaign as Barack's bosom buddy, the facts notwithstanding.

Whether the call for assassination was aimed at Obama or Ayers is immaterial. It represents a dangerous new low in American politics.

Tell a rabid audience that Barack Obama is "palling around with terrorists" (as Palin has done), imply that Obama is friendly with people out to destroy America (as she also has done) and what do you expect?

The ugliness is stunning.

Milbank also reported that in Clearwater, one of Palin's supporters shouted a racial epithet at a network soundman and told him, "Sit down, boy."

This month, an angry white man was arrested in Monroe, La., after allegedly threatening election officials who had not sent him a voter registration card. He badly wanted to cast his vote, he told police, so that he could "keep the nigger out of office."

Dangerous stuff. That's why Georgia Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon, spoke out.

It is no accident that the English-language operation of al-Jazeera, the Arab-language news network, tried to capture and broadcast to the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere a glimpse of America's more sinister side.

Al-Jazeera found it in St. Clairsville, Ohio, a white, working-class community that was the site of an Oct. 12 Palin rally.

Armed with a video camera and a hand-held mike, interviewer Casey Kauffman -- who by appearance could pass as a Buckeye State native -- recorded the following observations about Obama:

From an older white woman: "I'm afraid if he wins, the black [sic] will take over. He's not a Christian. This is a Christian nation! What is our country gonna end up like?"

An older white man: "When you got a Negro running for president, you need a first-stringer. He's definitely a second-stringer."

A young white man holding a child: "He seems like a sheep -- or a wolf in sheep's clothing to be honest with you. And I believe Palin -- she's filled with the Holy Spirit, and I believe she's gonna bring honesty and integrity to the White House."

An older white man: "He's related to a known terrorist, for one."

An older white man: "He is friends with a terrorist of this country!"

An older white man: "He must support terrorists! You know, uh, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. And that to me is Obama."

A young white woman: "Just the whole, Muslim thing, and everything, and everybody's still kinda -- a lot of people have forgotten about 9/11, but . . . I dunno, it's just kinda . . . a little unnerving."

A white woman: "Obama and his wife, I'm concerned that they could be anti-white. That he might hide that."

An older white woman: "I don't like the fact that he thinks us white people are trash . . . because we're not!"

The video also shows an Obama supporter, identified only as Taylor, waving a placard on a roadside, greeting motorists as they traveled to the Palin rally.

Taylor told al-Jazeera that he's been shocked by his neighbors' reaction. "I've been called the N-word, I've been called a Muslim, I've been called un-American," he said.

"I'm worried that these people . . . the tension is getting thicker and thicker, when people like that . . . it's starting to scare me. . . . To be specific," Taylor said, "I'm afraid some of these people might try to hurt Obama."

With Palin's supporters chanting in the background, Kauffman tells viewers that the divisive nature of this year's presidential campaign has brought into the open what is usually discussed behind closed doors in America. "It's a reminder," intoned Kauffman, "that hate and fear are powerful forces in American society."

Was this fodder served up by al-Jazeera to feed anti-American sentiment overseas?

To be sure. But the camera didn't lie.

Did al-Jazeera, however, record the whole truth?

Do those Ohio residents, or the Florida Palin supporter who snapped "Sit down, boy," or that angry man in Louisiana who wants to "keep the nigger out of office" represent today's America?

Or are they part of a dwindling breed of die-hards who have seen their best days? I believe they are the latter.

But we, and the rest of the world, will know more on Nov. 4.

ยท

Last week, in writing about the stewardship of troubled youths by the D.C. Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services, I reported a recent assault by juveniles on a correctional officer at the agency's Oak Hill facility.

Yesterday, I learned that another correctional officer at Oak Hill had been severely beaten and taken to a hospital in Laurel. Hours after I inquired, DYRS told me: "We can confirm that a physical altercation occurred this afternoon, at [Oak Hill], between a staff member and a youth. There are conflicting accounts as to who initiated the incident, staff or youth. Staff requested that we call an ambulance, which we did, and the staff member involved was transported to the hospital. The incident is currently under investigation."

As of last night, the officer's family was with him at the hospital.

DYRS continues to say that it cannot provide a count of youth assaults against staff this year or in 2007.

kingc@washpost.com

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