THE PLANK JUNE 11, 2009
Ben Smith, noting that James Von Brunn might potentially have considered targeting The Weekly Standard, writes:
The suggestion that the Standard may have been a target complicates any view of the racist shooter in contemporary left-right terms. Von Brunn's white supremacist roots put him under the rubric of a "right-wing extremist," but the substance of his views -- which included everything from believing that President Bush may have been in on the September 11 attacks to denying that President Obama is an American citizen -- are too far on the fringe to fit into conventional political classification.
I'm not sure what he's talking about here. First, the "conventional political classification" is a rubric that accounts for extremists on the far right or left who abhor Democrats or Republicans. Ralph Nader has a lot of bad things to say about the Democratic Party, but that doesn't make him hard to classify on the left-right spectrum.
Second, a certain strand of conservative thought is comfortable with most of the tenets of Republican doctrine with the exception of free trade and, especially, Jews, Israel, and neoconservative influence. Pat Buchanan is the emblem of this brand of conservatism. Buchanan is generally a Republican partisan except for Jewish/Israeli/Middle Eastern issues where he takes strong exception. Von Brunn is pretty clearly a violent and more extreme adherent of Buchanan's basic worldview. That he would detest a neoconservative institution like the Standard isn't "complicating" or surprising at all.
Third, it's somewhat apparent from Von Brunn's writing that he did identify with the Republican Party on some basic partisan questions. He cheered conservatives for getting Dan Rather fired, believed Sarah Palin was unfairly hounded by the media, and so on. Indeed, if there's anything surprising and disturbing about Von Brunn's beliefs, it's that he identifies more closely with the Republican Party than I would have thought a radical white supremacist would. This may be a sign that the GOP has become more appealing to radical right-wingers than it once was, but it could also be an anomaly.
Update: Ben Smith clarifies:
I'd suggested earlier that James Van Brunn defies easy left-right classification
because he'd targeted the Weekly Standard, and Jon Chait makes the fair point
that the fact that the new information doesn't mean the shooter is incoherent or
doesn't fit into the extreme edge of the Buchananite right.I could have
been more precise: It's not that Von Brunn doesn't fit into an established
tradition; it's that he doesn't fit easily into the current, mainstream
left-right political spectrum, a point Jamie Kirchik also tries to
make.Indeed, he's so far out to the right that he seems to despise most
of what we consider the right: The Washington, D.C. Fox News Affiliate reports
that his notebooks included "a Fox News location" among potential targets. That
could also be coherent with an extreme Buchananite, but it's far enough out that
it seems silly to suggest he's really an "extreme" version of, say, a Fox News
Republican, rather than the product of an ideology with different roots.
James Kirchick Responds: "A Right-Winger, with Issues"
Jonathan Chait Responds: "More on Von Brunn"
Damon Linker Responds: "Who's Right? What's Left?"
Jonathan Chait Responds: "Liberal Fascism Reductio Ad Absurdum"