The mainstream tolerance of right-wing extremism

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While denouncing suicide bombers is the bread and butter of U.S. politics, there was barely a murmur of outrage last February when a suicide bomber flew a plane into a Texas office building, killing one office worker and injuring 13 others.

The extraordinarily muted response can only be explained by the fact that the suicide bomber, Joe Stack, had made it clear his anger was directed against U.S. tax authorities -- an anger shared by many powerful interests on the right.

Accordingly, politicians and media commentators -- ever deferential to the right -- treaded carefully. An interviewer on ABC's Good Morning America even asked Stack's adult daughter if she considered her father a hero. (She did.)

A similar tolerance towards violence and intimidation from the right is evident in the response to the attempted assassination of Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

While there's been much outrage over the Tucson violence, there's been a reluctance among mainstream commentators and politicians to pin the blame where it belongs -- on the kind of hostile, right-wing extremism that implicitly promotes political violence.

Of course, there's been plenty of talk about today's "toxic politics" and references to the "lock and load," gun-crosshairs imagery used by Sarah Palin and other Tea Partiers. But commentators typically insist that toxic politics exist at both extremes of the political spectrum.

This deliberate neutrality is highly misleading. There may be leftists using similarly threatening language, but such individuals are not tolerated in any mainstream political party, nor are they given endless exposure on the nation's airwaves.

The Tea Party crowd, on the other hand, dominates U.S. cable news, gets a pass when it uses violent imagery and now appears to dominate the Republican party.

This acceptance of threatening, right-wing extremism was evident early in Barack Obama's presidency when protestors carrying AK-47s were allowed to walk about freely at Obama rallies.

Emboldened, Tea Party candidates like Sharron Angle openly referred to "second amendment remedies" -- suggesting that the constitutional right to bear arms might be the way to block Obama policies.

Giffords' office door was smashed after she voted for Obama's health-care plan, and her Republican opponent, Jesse Kelly, urged voters to "help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office: Shoot a fully automatic M-16 with Jesse Kelly."

It's easy to imagine how a deranged youth might act out a real-life variation of the Republican suggestion to "shoot a fully automatic M-16" to "help remove Gabrielle Giffords."

In Canada, there's now a similar tolerance for violent talk from the right -- talk that goes even beyond the gun imagery of the Tea Party.

Last fall, Tom Flanagan, a former close adviser to Stephen Harper, told CBC host Evan Solomon that he thought Wikileaks founder Julian Assange "should be assassinated, actually. I think Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something."

Viewer Janet Reymond sent Flanagan an email protesting his advocacy of assassination, and received a one-line email back saying "Better be careful, we know where you live."

Flanagan, who teaches political science at the University of Calgary, later apologized, calling his words "glib and thoughtless."

Imagine how long the CBC would tolerate a leftist commentator calling for the assassination of a public figure (if there were leftist commentators on the CBC, that is).

But the University of Calgary has said no disciplinary action is considered against Flanagan who is still, unbelievably, a regular CBC commentator.

Linda McQuaig is author of It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet and The Trouble With Billionaires. This article was originally published in The Toronto Star.

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