Michael Wolraich's picture

    Fear and Loathing in Phoenix

    As if its draconian immigration law weren't sufficient to demonstrate Arizona's profound appreciation for its Latino minority, the state has just enacted a second law to make the point. The new law prohibits Arizona schools from teaching "ethnocentric" courses that:

    1. Promote the overthrow of the U.S. government
    2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people
    3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group
    4. Advocated ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals

    (The law threatens to eliminate popular courses like, "Future Marxist Revolutionaries of America" and "Torturing White People, Yes You Can!")

    Two weeks ago, I wrote about Rush Limbaugh's complaint that President Obama's criticism of Arizona's immigration law was racist against white people. Limbaugh's remarks represent a new form of racism that attacks minorities by calling them intolerant, racist, bigoted, etc.

    Instead of explicit racism, Limbaugh employs projection. Projection is a Freudian concept according to which people project their own feelings of hostility onto the targets of their hostility. It is a psychological defense strategy. First, projection enables you to disown your hostility by attributing to an external source. Second, it rationalizes the hostility that you do acknowledge. You convince yourself that you only hate the other guy because he hated you first.

    The new education law is another case of racism-by-projection. For example, a spokesman for Governor Jan Brewer explained that the law is intended to ban courses that teach Hispanic schoolchildren to hate white people, telling reporters,

    Governor Brewer signed the bill because she believes, and the legislation states, that public school students should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people.

    Tom Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction, was even more explicit. He said,

    The most offensive thing to me, fundamentally, is dividing kids by race. They are teaching a radical ideology in Raza, including that Arizona and other states were stolen from Mexico and should be given back.

    La Raza is the Spanish word for race. The oldest and most prominent civil rights organization for Latinos is called the National Council of La Raza. It's equivalent to the NAACP. Racist xenophobes like David Duke have long claimed that the NCLR's use of the word "Raza" proves that the organization is racist. Such accusations rationalize the xenophobes' bigotry towards Latinos--it's the Latinos who hate white people, not the white people who hate Latinos.

    As often happens when bigots indulge in projection, Superintendent Tom Horne's fantasy of anti-white, anti-American Latinos has slipped into paranoia. When he suggested that students were being taught that Arizona should be given back to Mexico, he was alluding to a popular right-wing conspiracy theory called La Reconquista.

    The original Reconquista refers to the Christian recapture of Spain from the Moors, led by Charlemagne and others. Back in the 1980s, Mexicans referred jokingly to U.S. real estate acquisitions by affluent Mexicans as a "reconquista" of the territories that Mexico lost to the U.S. during the Mexican-American War in the late 1840s. But the "Reconquista movement" is much scarier--a nefarious strategy to take back the Southwest by immigration blitzkrieg. The movement appears to have been first "discovered" in the late 1990s by a white nationalist border vigilante named Glenn Spencer. Spencer revealed an international plot by the Mexican government, the Democratic Party, the liberal press, multinational corporations, organized labor, the Catholic Church, and the Ford Foundation to establish a "fifth column" of Mexican subversives to recolonize the Southwest, which they refer by its Aztec name, Aztlan.  Spencer toured the white supremacist lecture circuit for years, but his discovery remained on the fringe until Pat Buchanan publicized it in 2006. Buchanan, being a good Catholic, dropped the Church from the conspiracy, but he kept the Ford Foundation, the corporations, and the Mexican government. He even used Spencer's "fifth column" language, writing,

    Regimes like Mexico's now look on citizens who leave to work or study in the United States as agents of influence, a fifth column inside the belly of the beast...The goals: Erase the border. Grow the influence, through Mexican-Americans, over how America disposes of her wealth and power. Gradually circumscribe the sovereignty of the United States. Lastly, economic and political merger of the nations in a binational union. And in the nuptial agreement, a commitment to share the wealth and power. Stated bluntly, the Aztlan Strategy entails the end of a sovereign, self-sufficient, independent republic, the passing away of the American nation. They are coming to conquer us.

    Once Buchanan officially approved the Reconquista conspiracy theory, the rest of the right wing quickly jumped on board, and it has become a staple of xenophobic politics, promoted by conservative media stars like Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, and Lou Dobbs.

    And now, it seems, the leadership of the state of Arizona has exuberantly embraced the narrative as well. I have often heard people dismiss pundits like Buchanan, Beck, and Limbaugh as "entertainers" who are best ignored. Arizona's recent legislation offers a stark warning of what these entertainers are capable of producing.

    Late update: This article was originally titled, "Fear and Loathing in Tuscon," but I was informed by a proud Tusconian that while the targeted courses are in Tucson's schools, the people who have a problem with them are part of the state government. Thus, the fear and loathing is really in Phoenix.


    I'm currently writing a book about right-wing paranoia, How Bill O'Reilly Saved Christmas, and Other Right-Wing Persecution Fantasies, to be published in October.



    I presume teaching an English lit course full of white people (say, a 12th-grade British literature survey, like the one my own old high school offered) is now illegal in Arizona schools.

    Also, probably any "Western Cultures" class in social studies is now illegal. Those courses not only focus on a single ethnicity (European whites), but teach the hatred of another ethnic group (the Carthaginians).

    Great post, G.

    Fuckin' Carthaginians.


    And it's Tucson, and Tucsonans, I think.

    Good post, Genghis. I initially doubted your assertion that Charlemagne launched the original Reconquista, but I looked it up and you're right. So thanks for helping fill that gap in my historical knowledge. Fascinating story. Even if it took 800 years to fully collapse, Islamic Spain appeared doomed almost from birth (poor lines of communication, restive subjects, palace power struggles, etc.).

    Never doubt me.

    I have to admit, though, I didn't read up on the full history, just the origin of term, and I don't know much about Islamic Spain. Anyone know a good book on the topic?

    PS Good to have you back, ac.

    You do know why I'm back, right? With the Flyers ending the Canadiens' heroic, quixotic, near-inconceivable run at the Stanley Cup, my brain (and those of millions of my fellow partisans) finally has some room for thoughts that do not involve hockey.

    Damn Philadelphians. Just wait till next year!

    I've read a bit about Islam in the Middle Ages, but the focus was often on the more dramatic and high-profile clashes with Christianity in the East. If anyone has read a definitive history of the Reconquista, I'd like to hear about it, too. 

    Flyers over Habs, AGAIN, counts as Reconquista, doesn't it? Cool

    That's actually quite good, quinn. It has me smiling through my pain.

    I managed to get tickets to the fourth game of the Pittsburgh series, which the Canadiens clawed their way back to win. The decibel level at the Bell Centre (especially at the end) had to violate some city bylaw. 

    I can't claim credit for that, as I'm not in Philly anymore. And I don't give a damn about hockey.

    That's good, Genghis, because the Blackhawks will beat the Flyers like a bad, bad dog. Some kind of vengeance for Habs fans, I guess.

    Yay, Chicago. Woot!

    Bad dog, baby, bad dog!

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