Backtalk

Our May/June cover package on Rush Limbaugh (by Molly Ivins, Stephen Talbot, and the folks at Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) brought forth comments from across the political spectrum. We also received feedback on crime--both domestic and international--and on everyone's favorite senator, Jesse Helms.

FOOLS RUSH IN

Congratulations to Molly Ivins for aptly describing Rush Limbaugh's contributions to hatred in politics ("Lyin' Bully," May/June). But Rush is just the tip of the iceberg. In Colorado Springs, conservatives can tune in to G. Gordon Liddy for morning coffee, Limbaugh for lunch, and an afternoon of "tough listening" with local KVOR talk radio host Chuck Baker, who advocates the "cleansing" of government.

Broadcasting from the Monument Gun Shop last August, Baker held court with Linda Thompson, self-proclaimed acting adjutant general of the Unorganized Militia of the United States. Thompson promoted (and later aborted) an armed march on Washington to remove "traitors" in Congress; Baker assured her that military personnel "will come over to our side."

Baker asked what should be done about "big brother" cameras (used to improve traffic flow during rush hours) overlooking Interstate 25. "Shoot 'em out!" Thompson ordered. "Just shoot 'em out!" Within a few days, snipers annihilated the cameras.

Baker not only sanctions militias, but provides phone numbers and contacts on the air. He also urges callers to complain to their congressmen: During one sizzling September show, a group of men, with guns strapped to their hips, stormed Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell's district office in Colorado Springs.

After another show, Baker fan Francisco Duran (who was also linked to a local militia) called Sen. Campbell's office and threatened to go "to Washington to take someone out." Six weeks later he tried to do just that--firing nearly 30 bullets at the White House on Oct. 29. Taking an abrupt hiatus from the airwaves, Baker ranted that he was unfairly blamed for Duran's shooting spree. "So what if the jerk, the wacko, the creep, this piece of crap shot up the White House," he said. "If he thinks I and Rush Limbaugh are the reason he went there, the man needs psychiatric counseling to the first degree." But it didn't stop Baker from musing that he really isn't that influential--not compared to the talk radio host who inspired a listener to crash his plane on the White House lawn. All Baker had the power to do, he said facetiously, was spur some guy who couldn't even shoot straight to go to Washington.

Liddy and Baker are revered today on the "patriot" circuit as Walter Cronkite was by mainstream American television audiences. Hate talk is a major communications link in the patriot/militia movement from coast to coast, spreading paranoia about black helicopters hovering over backyards, and encouraging new militia recruits to "defend the U.S. Constitution" against the New World Order.

Leslie Jorgensen
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Stephen Talbot says liberals are wrong to believe Rush Limbaugh is still the "in-your-face ranter" who "ridiculed feminazis" and "mocked people dying of AIDS" ("Wizard of Ooze," May/June). How about just a few examples of Rush's "kinder and gentler" humor over the past several months:

  • "Well, you know, [AIDS] is the only federally protected virus. It does have civil rights." (Feb. 23, 1995)
  • "[He] was lauded as a hero!" said Rush, shortly after MTV star and AIDS activist Pedro Zamora died from complications of AIDS. "Imagine, in America today you catch a venereal disease and they make you a hero.. . . I don't think it's virtuous to catch a venereal disease." (Dec. 24, 1994)
  • "It's the way I look at the feminist movement," Rush said when asked about the term "feminazi." He described the word as "funny," and said it was a "highly descriptive, colorful term." (April 27, 1995)
  • "Would I be excessive here if I were to opine that [the Benjamin Chavis affair] possibly could do more damage to the NAACP than anything the Klan has done in the last 15 or 20 years?" (Aug. 3, 1994)

Mr. Talbot had two extraordinary opportunities to shine the light of truth on Rush: in his article in Mother Jones and in his "Frontline" documentary. Sadly, the light went out too soon.

Brian Keliher, Publisher/Editor
Flush Rush Quarterly
San Diego, Calif.

I believe that Stephen Talbot's description of the Limbaugh audience is extremely accurate. I myself am the 37-year-old SWM, college-educated owner of a national advertising representative business. People such as myself are pro-small business, and share equal disdain for the government that promotes gender and racial quotas at the expense of qualified individuals, and for the large corporations full of empty suits that lay off thousands of workers while simultaneously announcing record profits.

The mood on Main Street is total alienation from America's institutions in general. And since we enterprisers cannot trust institutions to take care of us, we turn to the only person we can trust--ourselves--to take care of our financial, retirement, health, and security needs. Rush Limbaugh is the voice of this pending revolt.

Frank Strazzulla
Moorpark, Calif.

We relished your Rush stories. But a clarification is in order: We did not spend two years checking up on Rush Limbaugh's false and foolish claims. It took us only about five months to assemble our book The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error. If we'd wasted two years enumerating Limbaugh's errors, it would have led to a monotonous, interminable book.

Jeff Cohen, Executive Director
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
New York, N.Y.

Maybe the next generation will be hip to guys like Rush....

Upon seeing the Rush Limbaugh cover of the May/June issue fresh from the mailbox, our daughter asked with all the sincerity and innocence of a 3-year-old, "Is he an evil spirit?"

I could only reply, "Well, yes." Congratulations to Philip Burke for capturing Rush's true essence in his painting.

Susan Sherman

The 20 million Rush Limbaugh listeners are not the lockstep "dittoheads" his detractors describe. Our ongoing, nonpartisan research of talk radio and its listeners indicates that Mr. Limbaugh's audience consists of a diverse cross section of politically interested Americans, some of whom find him always right (20 percent), most of whom find him sometimes (or to be more precise, "somewhat") right (50 percent), and many of whom find him "somewhat" always wrong (30 percent).

Millions of his listeners actually express hatred of him. But they listen. The common denominator attracting all of the listeners is summed up in the common statement, "He's entertaining, and he makes me think."

Michael Harrison
Editor, Talkers Magazine
Longmeadow, Mass.

I find Limbaugh to be bombastic, bigoted, and egotistical--but I think the Ivins and Talbot pieces went in the wrong direction, with one minor exception. Ivins was right at the end. The best thing to do is poke fun at Limbaugh's own pomposity--which makes me wonder why she didn't do that herself.

Sherman Dorn
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, Tenn.

I take great exception to your discussion of Limbaugh listeners as "bubbas." Here in the Midwest, most of us bubbas know better than to take a jackass comedian seriously. We work, chew tobacco, scratch, play ball, and enjoy life. We're not a bunch of pathetic "dittoheads" in tight suits!

Limbaugh is a great satirist. He plays the part of a know-everything, simple-answer-for-everything clown. But I don't think for a minute he has anything real to say about anything more important than a new pizza.

Michael Wood
Mi96051040@aol.com
Cincinnati, Ohio

Mother Jones' series on Rush appeared in a number of Internet newsgroups, including alt.fan.rush-limbaugh. Rush can't control the mike on these newsgroups--if he could, this series of articles would not have shown up.

Liberals may argue with dittos on these newsgroups for as long as their time and money hold out. However, it helps to wear your "flame retardant" outfit. You will be verbally attacked by the cult and may receive personal e-mail suggesting that you take your arguments to a more "suitable" forum. So just ignore the flames, type away, and enjoy the give-and-take (and be amazed by the number of dittos who can give but not take).

Who needs talk shows? The Net is more democratic anyway.

Henry E. Kilpatrick Jr.
Arlington, Va.

I would like to point out the value of not only education, but action.

In 1994, Rush became the spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission. After several months of grassroots action and a boycott, he was dropped as the spokesperson. At this moment, Rush is featured on a Pizza Hut commercial. Why not tell Mother Jones readers to boycott products he endorses, such as Pizza Hut? The only way we will shut him up is to target the businesses that feed his funding.

Robin A. Scholetzky
Albany, N.Y.

CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR

Anyone seeking evidence of the collapse of liberalism need look no further than Michael Castleman's essay ("Opportunity Knocks," May/June). Castleman, along with a large proportion of "liberals," have barricaded themselves into their comfortable homes with their Macintoshes and televisions only to come out warily in search of a decaf latte at Starbucks.

Castleman premises the essay with a self-congratulatory note about his refusal to join the exodus of families from cities into the suburbs. His neighborhood, writes Castleman, is an urban oasis in which a diverse group of people live in harmony. What follows, though, is an ode to a suburban mind-set in which everyone is seen as a potential thief, and the only reason to interact with neighbors is to form a group which agrees to keep its eyes peeled for outsiders. Even these neighborhood watch meetings are not truly safe, as Castleman suspects his fellow crime warriors to be criminals themselves. I would much rather live in the suburbs than have some paranoid guy hitch up his pants and try to get "neighborly" with me or my family in order to form an alliance against people who don't (nudge, nudge) "belong."

The article was clearly written for a white, middle-class audience and assumes a shared paranoia about crime, specifically at the hands of nonwhite, non-middle-class people. Castleman writes that he avoids young black men because he believes that they are more likely to attack him. He is unapologetic about his blatant stereotypical and racist attitude towards African-Americans, instead complimenting himself for the logic of his actions.

It is clear that crime is on the minds of most Americans, but the fears of an upper-middle-class white guy do not belong on the pages of Mother Jones.

Edward Smock
Wesleyan University
Middletown, Conn.

On the face of it, one might want to be neighbors with Castleman. He's straightforward, speaks his mind, believes in and acts for neighborly sociableness, and speaks honestly about the effects of violence in his life and upon his family. These are serious things and command respect. As a householder in Noe Valley, he is all for watchful neighborliness with bona fide members of what he calls the "astonishingly diverse" neighborhood. And in general, he seems to prefer to engage people directly rather than calling for outside help on matters that pertain to the block. Only when he begins to speculate about crime's causes does the not-in-my-parking-space indignation begin to leak.

Noe Valley is an on-the-hill neighborhood where, Castleman notes, houses sell for half a million dollars. Its serious problems are not street crime, but the declining budgets, shortened hours, and withdrawal of white students from the wonderful local middle school; the lack of safe, funded activities and places in the community where actual young people can gather; and the real estate and banking practices which drive up the price of housing.

If Castleman is serious about organizing against crime, what about putting support into the school and other youth services? What about addressing the real estate practices and bank funding policies that make home ownership so exclusive? How about building alliances with community groups and activists to acknowledge the much larger common community interests? And how about taking a good hard look at your attitudes?

You can't have a real neighborhood party based on fear. Nor one where the host checks the silver and the window latches after you leave. This article is not about hardening the target, but hardening the heart.

Allan Creighton
Oakland Men's Project
Oakland, Calif.

Whatever their other differences, liberals and conservatives seem united in one assumption: With the correct policies, government could dramatically reduce crime.

The fact is, government already has done most of what it can ever do to fight crime. Laws against nearly every conceivable offense have long been passed; it is hard to see how making punishments more severe will have much effect. Nor is it clear that government efforts to fight poverty and racism have done anything to make the country safer.

Ultimately, all neighborhoods--affluent or poor--become safer or more dangerous because of the efforts of the people who live in them. Safe neighborhoods are organized. Liberals may be uncomfortable with the idea of citizens exercising any form of social control. But as crime rates rise, some force inevitably will step in to maintain order. Better concerned neighbors using peer pressure than a heavily armed government using courts and prisons.

Tucker Carlson
The Heritage Foundation
Washington, D.C.

Michael Castleman provides some good examples about ways in which neighborhoods can come together in crime prevention efforts. But his suggestion that "reducing criminal opportunity is our best bet for controlling crime" because of the difficulty of addressing poverty and racism raises a false dichotomy.

Many of the problems associated with racism and poverty have worsened in the past 20 years due to conscious decisions made by policymakers. These include policies regarding taxation, economic development, sentencing, and drug abuse, all of which have combined to reduce the chances of meaningful change in low-income communities.

So, yes, we need to see more attention paid to working with one's neighbors and communities on locally based crime prevention. But while we're doing this, let's also organize our neighbors to try to affect some of these larger policy issues.

Marc Mauer
Assistant Director, The Sentencing Project
Washington, D.C.

I'm not sure what drew me to Michael Castleman's article since the "crime issue" is not one of my personal favorites, but somehow, I had to read it. I'm glad I did. It was a relief to find that there are still some human beings who still sound like, think like, and feel like human beings. I don't think I've ever heard or read a more down-to-earth, thoughtful approach to the issue.

As with all issues, the debate is fought between the loudest, most extreme faction of the left and right. Somewhere in the middle, the bulk of humanity gets lost. The reasonable approaches available to reasonable people during their day-to-day lives never get heard above the clamor.

John Arndt
HSEAS@aol.com
San Anselmo, Calif.

Michael Castleman responds: I expected to receive dozens of personal attacks from Mother Jones readers for the liberally incorrect positions in my crime essay, but only a few correspondents castigated me for my race, class, and personal program of keeping my doors locked and my eyes peeled. I hope this indicates that most readers share my basic view that safety is not some gift granted by God, wealth, white skin, or an ex-urban zip code.

Rather, safety is something we create in our own communities, whatever our class or race. People terrified by crime rarely have much interest in addressing the profound social problems Marc Mauer's insightful letter mentioned. But as people learn that street smarts, target-hardening, and neighborhood organizing substantially reduce their crime risk, I believe they also become more open to progressive perspectives on social justice.

NEW MAFIA ORDER

Frank Viviano's piece ("The New Mafia Order," May/June) provides a disturbing picture of the rise of major criminal organizations as significant actors in local and international politics. Unlike much of the nonsense that appears in Mother Jones' pages, this is a sober and sobering piece. Generally thought of as marginal figures, the emerging criminal organizations in various parts of the world are increasingly able to threaten the economic, social, and political existence of states and to defy international norms and ideas of order and justice.

The rise of major criminal organizations contributes to a problem of growing ungovernability in many parts of the world. Either from incompetence or malfeasance, governments in many countries are unable to provide peace, justice, or security for the majority of their people. The consequences can be seen in declining civil order, economic infrastructure, and social equity; and a corresponding rise in violence, unrest, and social disintegration. Into this mix, major criminal groups are adding a further disruptive ingredient.

The international community and individual states are little prepared to deal with this threat. Few are prepared to understand or admit that criminal organizations can have broad political influence, while some still argue that there is no such thing as the mafia. Blinded by this conceit, leaders in a number of countries have been ill-prepared for the rising tide of criminal groups that, riding a wave of money and violence, have infiltrated the political and social order of countries such as Italy, Colombia, Russia, and increasingly Mexico. Even Chinese authorities are losing control of south China to major criminal groups, who also exercise great influence in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and much of Southeast Asia.

Individual countries and members of the international community must take action to counter this growing threat. One of the first steps must be to develop an international recognition of the threat. The best vehicle for this is an international agreement on organized crime that strengthens investigative and prosecutorial initiatives, information-sharing, and money-laundering and asset-forfeiture frameworks. Many local governments are simply unable on their own to counter threats to their national well-being from wealthy, vicious criminal organizations. We need a more concerted effort.

William J. Olson, Senior Fellow
National Strategy Information Center
Washington, D.C.

Having spent half my life living and working in Russia, most recently building a Russian telecommunications company, I have seen the corruption of the Communist Party become the corruption of racketeers outside the government. And, where once the party dominated all aspects of life in Russia, today the influence of organized crime pervades.

While the establishment of an FBI office in Moscow was a flashy political statement, the most important role for the United States in helping Russia escape the powerful hold of the mob is to be a stalwart partner in Russia's troubled reform process. In part, this means increased support for U.S. businesses in Russia that are helping the Russians establish a legitimate business culture.

Though not a panacea, the creation of a regulatory, economic, and political climate that encourages, rather than hinders, legitimate foreign investment in Russia would do more to solve Russia's organized crime problem than thousands of G-men scouring Moscow. Here the Russians are going to have to help themselves. The Russian regulatory environment is so unpredictable that few companies have the stomach for it. If they fail to make Russia a more hospitable place for legitimate business, the mob will continue to fill the void.

James L. Hickman, Chairman
International Business Communication Systems, Inc.
Santa Barbara, Calif.

GREAT WHITE DOPE

Until recently Helms' far far-right rantings have been sometimes ridiculous and sometimes paranoid ("What You Need to Know About Jesse Helms," May/June). But now Helms is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with his own right-wing network of intelligence operatives unaccountable to the State Department or the CIA.

However, Jesse Helms can be beat in 1996. With the exception of Oregon's Bob Packwood, he is the most vulnerable Republican senator. As Southern political experts Merle and Earl Black have written, "Helms must always 'campaign the hard way' because his 'old-style racism' alienates such a large chunk of the voting public in North Carolina." A month-old statewide poll shows that 52 percent of voters rate his performance in negative terms: only fair (24 percent) or poor (28 percent).

The North Carolina Project to defeat Jesse Helms plans to define Helms for the voters while the challengers fight out the primary. Imagine what terror Chairman Helms would cook up with a President Gramm, Buchanan, or Dole.

Christopher Scott, President
North Carolina AFL-CIO
Raleigh, N.C.