By now you may have heard about Byron Williams, the Oakland man who allegedly attempted to shoot up an ACLU office because he couldn’t take any more left-wing politics being jammed down his throat. Sure, you’re probably thinking, what disastrous policies of the last ten years hasn’t the ACLU had its filthy paws in? They are, after all, the most powerful, well-funded organization in the country, and the enemy of the common American. Sigh.
Let’s take a look at what Mr. Williams believed, and what may have lead him to such despair.
First of all, it’s important to say that I have no desire to mock this guy. He’s an unemployed ex-felon who wanted to start a revolution. He’s not the one with the power, is what I’m saying. And no matter how misguided I find his views and actions to be, an AP report cites one of his main complaints as not being able to get a job.
“He hasn’t been able to get a job because he’s an ex-felon and nobody will hire him,” his mother also told the Chronicle, saying that he was unhappy with his continued unemployment and “what’s happening to our country.”
All that “what’s happening to our country” talk sounds a lot like “I want my country back,” a near-constant slogan used by Tea Party members — and it also sounds a lot like white paranoia. That said, reports of Williams association with the Tea Party remains unclear, and I think is to a certain extent its beside the point.
Yes, the standard critiques probably apply here — the Limbaughs and the Becks and the FoxNewses of the world most likely stoked an irrational paranoia in Williams, leading him to believe that the ACLU (second only to ACORN on the Right’s most-hated list) was somehow a symbol of inequality and oppression in America. But what’s more important is that this guy didn’t have a job.
I’m not excusing or justifying this guy’s behavior, clearly, but when people have no prospects and they believe that the government and corporations are in collusion against the general populace — a sentiment shared to differing degrees by grassroots movements on both the Right and the Left — they will lash out.
It’s not difficult to see why the poor in this country are desperate: our country’s already fragile safety net is ever decreasing, unemployment benefits are running out for millions, Social Security is constantly attacked, two wars and massive security state programs are running at incalculable costs, and the list goes on. Regardless of Williams’ personal philosophy, these external circumstances can push people to extreme beliefs, extreme resentment, and extreme measures. It’s important to remember why somebody is down and out before calling them crazy.