Friday, October 16, 2015

Victim Shaming, Invented Stories, Ignorance of History, and Comparisons to Lucifer: The Scary Worldview of Ben Carson

When I wrote my initial analysis of the Republican Presidential candidates, one of my critiques of Ben Carson focused on some of his previous statements.

I think that he’ll have an extremely hard time convincing voters (other than those on the far right) to vote for him, in light of statements like these:

  • “Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.”
  • “I mean, [our society is] very much like Nazi Germany. And I know you're not supposed to say ‘Nazi Germany,’ but I don't care about political correctness. You know, you had a government using its tools to intimidate the population. We now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe.”
  • “You know, we live in a Gestapo age, people don't realize it.”
  • “I think most people, when they finish [AP history], they'd be ready to go sign up for ISIS.”
  • “You know, Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And it is, in a way — it is slavery in a way because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”
  • “They've [ISIS] got the wrong philosophy, but they’re willing to die for what they believe, while we’re busily giving away every value and every belief for the sake of political correctness.”
  • Carson said he couldn't be sure “there will even be an election in 2016” if Republicans didn't go on to win [in 2014]. (His wife also said they were keeping their son’s Australian passport handy if the election didn’t go their way.)

Recently, Carson, who is currently polling second behind Donald Trump, has decided to add to this list of memorable statements. His most recent pronunciations make for great sound bites and may be delicious red meat to the base that he’s trying to capture. However, a politician who offers such blatant bullshit as a path to success is, I think, a danger to how our system is designed to operate, unless, of course, the media starts doing actual journalism and calling out candidates for the bullshit that would otherwise be accepted as truth by a voting public that often doesn’t have the means or the time to dig into each and every thing that a candidate says.

So what has Carson said lately?

First, let’s look at some of his responses to the most recent one of the more recent school shootings, this time in Oregon:

"I would not just stand there and let him shoot me," Carson said on "Fox and Friends" Tuesday morning. "I would say, 'Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can't get us all.'"

I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda thinking that maybe Carson has watched Die Hard a few too many times. Or, perhaps he thinks that the way heroic characters behave on TV and in the movies is a reflection of real life. As one of the survivors of the Oregon shooting said, “Nobody could truly understand what actions they would take like that in a situation unless they lived it”. Carson tried to walk his remarks back a bit later by saying that he wasn’t “judging” the shooting victims. But isn’t that just what he was, in fact, doing, by saying that he would have been more heroic than they had been?

Carson also offered this memorable statement in response to renewed calls for increased gun control measures:

“As a Doctor, I spent many a night pulling bullets out of bodies,” he wrote. “There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking — but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away. Serious people seek serious solutions.”

Think about that one for a minute. People killed by guns are not more devastating than “taking the right to arm ourselves away”. I don’t know. Dead bodies, ripped apart by gunfire, seem pretty devastating to me, especially when we remember that nobody is looking to take away the right to arm ourselves. Rather, people are looking for ways to reduce gun violence, looking for ways to limit access to guns by those with mental conditions or who are a danger to themselves or society, looking for ways to limit access to military style weapons or to armor piercing bullets, all in order to have fewer bodies for doctors like Carson to pull bullets out of. What I find devastating is that people like Carson are so willfully blind to what the real issues are or are so willing to fear-monger and give voice to those who really do fear a government attempt to take away all guns.

Carson talks about “serious people” seeking “serious solutions” but he can’t even seriously articulate the issue. And what is Carson’s “serious solution” to the problem of gun violence in America? Let’s read what he says on his website:

It was no accident that our Founding Fathers enshrined the right to own firearms as the 2nd element of the Bill of Rights, immediately after establishing our free speech rights. I cannot and will not support any efforts to weaken The 2nd Amendment.

The 2nd Amendment is a central pillar of our Constitution. Our Founding Fathers added it explicitly in order to protect freedom in the United States of America. It provides our citizens the right to protect themselves from threats foreign or domestic.

That’s it. That’s Carson’s “serious solution”. Hmm. Perhaps he’s not really one of those “serious people” about whom he speaks? Or perhaps he doesn’t really think that people being slaughtered in our schools, churches, and movie theaters is a serious problem.

Anyway, Dr. Carson was just getting started…

You see, to prove that he wasn’t judging victims of mass shootings, Carson decided to “share” the episode of the time that he went to Popeye’s for dinner and was held at gunpoint (he had to explain, further, why he, a vegetarian, was going to Popeye’s in the first place). Others have written about this episode in more detail, so I’ll just provide a quick recap of the important bits. When pressed, Carson’s campaign explained that the details about the episode were contained in Carson’s book. Only, they aren’t. And when pressed for more details, the campaign said that they wouldn’t take any more questions on the subject. And when others, like the Baltimore police (where the incident is said to have taken place), looked into the episode, they could find no evidence of it. Plus, it’s worth noting that Carson didn’t fight the alleged assailant; rather he told the guy with the gun to target the Popeye’s employee behind the cash register. For more details, read this full recap from Snopes. But, hey, it must be true because Carson said that he is a “God-fearing Christian, it’s something that happened. It’s not something I made up.”

Carson also wants kindergarten teachers to have access to guns in their classrooms:

“If I had a little kid in kindergarten somewhere would feel much more comfortable if I knew on that campus there was a police officer or somebody who was trained with a weapon. I would feel more comfortable,” Carson said in a new interview with USA Today’s Capital Download. “If the teacher was trained in the use of that weapon and had access to it, I would be much more comfortable if they had one than if they didn’t.”

Educating a group of 30 six-year-olds is easy, so let’s give the teacher the responsibility to be able to defend those children from people armed with military-style assault rifles, too.

Furthermore, apparently Carson doesn’t limit his victim-shaming just to victims of mass shootings (I wonder if he blames the Sandy Hook kids for not attacking their murderer). Nope. That would be too easy. No. “God-fearing Christian” Ben Carson also thought it would be a good idea for a little ahistorical victim shaming aimed squarely at the Jews who apparently allowed Hitler to kill them in the Holocaust. Seriously.

Ben Carson, a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, blamed the Holocaust on Nazi gun control in an interview on CNN Thursday.

Host Wolf Blitzer read a section from Carson's book, A More Perfect Union, in which Carson writes:

German citizens were disarmed by their government in the late 1930s, and by the mid-1940s Hitler's regime had mercilessly slaughtered six million Jews and numerous others whom they considered inferior … Through a combination of removing guns and disseminating deceitful propaganda, the Nazis were able to carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance.

“I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed,” Carson elaborated in the interview. “There’s a reason these dictatorial people take the guns first.”

The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors and responds to anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, has long opposed the use of Nazi comparisons in the U.S. gun control debate. “The idea that supporters of gun control are doing something akin to what Hitler’s Germany did to strip citizens of guns in the run-up to the Second World War is historically inaccurate and offensive, especially to Holocaust survivors and their families,” Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director at the time, said in 2013.

Conservatives have a history of comparing gun control advocates to Hitler and the Nazis. The ADL’s 2013 comments were provoked by The Drudge Report’s choice to use an image of Hitler to illustrate news that President Barack Obama was pursuing limited gun control measures after 20 first-graders and six school staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, were murdered by a gunman.

Many historians disagree with the idea that armed German Jews could have prevented the Holocaust. And as Alex Seitz-Wald, a journalist then writing for Salon, explained in 2013, the full story of Nazi gun regulation is more complicated than Carson and his ilk might like:

University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt explored this myth in depth in a 2004 article published in the Fordham Law Review. As it turns out, the Weimar Republic, the German government that immediately preceded Hitler’s, actually had tougher gun laws than the Nazi regime. After its defeat in World War I, and agreeing to the harsh surrender terms laid out in the Treaty of Versailles, the German legislature in 1919 passed a law that effectively banned all private firearm possession, leading the government to confiscate guns already in circulation. In 1928, the Reichstag relaxed the regulation a bit, but put in place a strict registration regime that required citizens to acquire separate permits to own guns, sell them or carry them….

[Hitler’s] “1938 revisions completely deregulated the acquisition and transfer of rifles and shotguns, as well as ammunition,” Harcourt wrote. Meanwhile, many more categories of people, including Nazi party members, were exempted from gun ownership regulations altogether, while the legal age of purchase was lowered from 20 to 18, and permit lengths were extended from one year to three years.

The 1938 law did ban Jews from owning guns. But as the ADL explained in 2013, “the small number of personal firearms in the hands of the small number of Germany’s Jews (about 214,000) remaining in Germany in 1938 could in no way have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi German state,” which eventually conquered most of Europe.

I could go on and on, cite historian after historian about just how wrong Carson is (not to mention how offensive his comments are). Allow me instead, to offer just a few articles for you to read: Ben Carson Is Wrong on Guns and the Holocaust by Alan E. Steinweis, professor of history and Holocaust studies at the University of Vermont, From Guns to Migrants: Not Everything Is Like the Holocaust by David Frum, and Why Ben Carson's Rant About Gun Control and the Holocaust Is So Dangerous by Jay Michaelson. And this statement from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is worth noting:

Nazism represented a singular evil that resulted in the murder of six million Jews and the persecution and deaths of millions of others for racial and political reasons. Comparing contemporary situations to Nazism is not only offensive to its victims, but it is also inaccurate and misrepresents both Holocaust history and the present. The Holocaust should be remembered, studied, and understood so that we can learn its lessons; it should not be exploited for opportunistic purposes.

Of course Fox News’ favorite purveyor of psychiatric malpractice, Dr. Keith Ablow (and really, how does he still have a license?) thinks Carson is precisely right: Why Ben Carson is right about Jews, the Holocaust and guns. After reading the articles cited above, it may be instructive to read Ablow’s essay to try to understand the mindset of the far-right gun advocates who, I think, would prefer a society in which every one of his is armed 24/7.

Carson, for his part, isn’t backing down (despite what Jewish groups and historians are saying); instead, he said of arguments that gun control was not responsible for the Holocaust:

“That's total foolishness,” Carson told George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America. “I’d be happy to discuss that in depth with anybody but it is well known that in many places where tyranny has taken over they first disarm the people. There’s a reason they disarm the people. They don’t just do it arbitrarily.”

Oh, how I’d love to hear that “discussion” … but of course, you know that it will never happen.

And before I finish, it’s probably worth sharing another interesting statement from Dr. Carson, this time on the subject of evolution his views of those of us who do believe in science:

“Ultimately, if you accept the evolutionary theory, you dismiss ethics, you don’t have to abide by a set of moral codes, you determine your own conscience based on your own desires,” Carson told Adventist Review, the magazine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church of which Carson is a member for a 2004 cover story.

“You have no reason for things such as selfless love, when a father dives in to save his son from drowning,” Carson continued. “You can trash the Bible as irrelevant, just silly fables, since you believe that it does not conform to scientific thought. You can be like Lucifer, who said, ‘I will make myself like the Most High.’”

I see. So because I believe in science, then I dismiss ethics, don’t have a set of moral codes, don’t selflessly love my children, and am “like Lucifer”. Yes, a leading candidate for the office of President of the United States said that people who accept evolution or don’t believe in the Bible are “like Lucifer”. Good to know. And I really hope someone asks him about that statement during one of the debates.

So let’s tally things up, shall we?

Carson wouldn’t let a criminal shoot him; rather, he’d either rush the gunman or, more likely, tell the gunman to shoot someone else. He also made up a story to prove his bona fides regarding experience with gun violence and then refused to answer more questions when people started to question his lies (by the way, bona fides based on lies aren’t really bona fides, are they?). He insists that he doesn’t judge people as he judges them. He wants kindergarten teachers to be armed. And he blames the Holocaust on gun control and the failure of Jews to properly defend themselves, even as historians tell him that he is wrong. And finally, for good measure, he trashes as Satanic those who believe in science (remember that he is a neurosurgeon).

And this man wants to be President?

No thank you.

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