I had been unaware of the existence of a writer named William Rivers Pitt before yesterday, and I now I will look back on those days of naive and blissful ignorance with nostalgia and deep mourning for innocence lost. The face of unreasoning hate and bigotry is always ugly, but one seldom encounters such purple-complexioned, vein-popping, spittle-spewing fury on the web, especially from a published author with a vocabulary exceeding “Deliverance” levels. I had been aware of the website Truth-Out, a hard Left commentary site that I now know exercises no editorial discretion whatsoever.
Mr. Pitt’s rant is entitled “The Wrath of Fools: An Open Letter to the Far Right,” which, if it were written by anyone with a history of the relative moderation of, say, Richard Cohen, Nancy Pelosi or Bill Maher, I would assume was satire. The first part of the title unintentionally describes the letter itself, and the second part is a lie: there are two kinds of open letters, the legitimate variety being one that is genuinely intended to present an argument to an individual or group. This is the other kind, aimed only at the most furious and hateful enemies of an individual or group, calculated to make them more furious and hateful yet.
The letter makes it clear that Pitt, among other things, regards not merely the far right but conservatives generally as the personification of irrationality and evil: when your definition of “hard right”and its allies manages to encompass the mainstream media, you are so hard to the left that virtually the whole world seems rightward, and coming to get you. He believes that the threat of terrorism is a lie, that Al-Qaeda is innocent of the 9-11 bombings, and most immediately, that American conservative ideology is directly responsible for the deaths and mayhem in Tucson. The latter by itself, especially in a post published last Monday, would be be unremarkable, if not excusable. But Pitt’s diatribe is despicable on its own term. “Words matter!”, he insists, and then calculates his own words to ignite as much unreasoning hatred against his choice of enemies as he asserts that the words of various voices on the Right created in the diseased mind of Jared Lee Loughner.
It is, in the end, a tour-de-force of bigotry. Pitt touches all the tell-tale bases, even claiming, at one point, that some of his best friends are conservatives. And of course, as one would suspect (as I read the rant, I found myself wondering when this claim would finally appear), he believes all conservatives are, at their core, racists, motivated by resentment that a black man is president. He lumps the mild voices on the Right with the shrill (I am as certain that Pitt has actually listened at any length to the conservative commentators he condemns as I am certain that none of them would read one of his books), and in the dishonest tradition of hate-mongers through the centuries, represents the most extreme examples he can find as typical of his target’s words and conduct.
At a taping yesterday of a special gathering of Tucson citizens, including witnesses, victims, and heroes of the shootings, one of those wounded, J. Eric Fuller, was arrested when he made an apparent death threat to a Tea Party official who was participating in the discussion. It is far, far more likely that Fuller read Pitt’s open letter than it is that Loughner saw Sarah Palin’s unjustly infamous campaign map, and this, one has to conclude, is what William Rivers Pitt wanted. Words do matter, as his essay reminds us, and his words were calculated to create exactly the kind of white-hot hatred that can lead to more Tucsons, perpetrated by individuals whose minds have not rotted, like Loughner’s, but been intentionally poisoned.