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Sep. 24 2009 - 11:21 am | 14 views | 2 recommendations | 8 comments

Discussion of dead Census worker highlights right-wing paranoia

Bill Sparkman, Image from wgu.edu

Updated April 4, 2010: It appears this story has a major update that broke over the Thanksgiving holidays that I managed to completely miss. Bill Sparkman’s death has been ruled a suicide. Sincere apologies all around to jumping the gun on this one. However, I’m afraid numerous other examples of vandalism, violence, and threats shows that the extreme right-wing fringe are far from a peaceful bunch.

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The FBI is investigating the hanging death of a U.S. Census worker, 51-year-old Bill Sparkman, near a Kentucky cemetery. According to reports, the body of the part-time Census field worker had the word “fed” scrawled across the chest.

As details continue to emerge, investigators claim they are trying to determine whether the death was a killing or a suicide, and if a killing, whether the motive was related to his government job or to anti-government sentiment. Lucindia Scurry-Johnson, assistant director of the Census Bureau’s southern office in Charlotte, N.C., said law enforcement officers have told the agency the matter is “an apparent homicide” but nothing else.

Setting aside the fact that this would be the mother of all bizarre suicides, Johnson seems oddly confident that this was not a political killing considering the word “Fed” — short for “Federal” — is a loaded label that usually indicates anti-government sentiment. “Federal” means “Big Government,” and the word has taken on a derogatory meaning in right-wing circles where fear and paranoia reign supreme. I agree with Johnson that this seems like an apparent homicide, but it’s not “nothing else.” By utilizing the branding “Fed,” the killers were clearly trying to make a political statement, namely “Obama: Stay Out.”

The word definitely packs an ideological punch, but not only is it anti-government, it’s anti-Obama. Let’s remember that most of the fringe now screaming about the dangers of Big Brother never made a peep during eight years of Bush’s ballooning executive branch. Suddenly, big government is a big problem, and the “Feds” are to blame.

Today on Federal News Radio, news director Ted Werbin of WHAS-radio in Louisville reported that Sparkman had told others he had been warned by a retired state trooper to be careful in rural Clay County because some people there “aren’t fond of anyone from the federal government.” Such paranoia and anger isn’t contained in the woods of Kentucky. The problem is systematic.

Rather than immediately condemn the killing, some right-wing commenters are now using the occasion of Sparkman’s death to chat about their various conspiracy theories all involving the “feds.” Over on the message boards of Conservative radio and TV host Sean Hannity, “mtbeaches,” writes

Just this week I heard another story about the Daniel Boone Forest in Kentucky…odd coincidence, but someone was telling me they stumbled onto a Obama/seiu/acorn retraining camp they have out in the middle of nowhere there. Of course, there’s a proper government name for it…but eyewitnesses that mistakenly took it for a welcome center said “there were obama posters plastered all over the walls, along with pro union propaganda about what your government can do for you”. of course they didn’t get to spend too much time looking around as they were told it was “for employee’s only”

You don’t say. Mtbeaches isn’t alone in making this bizarre, conspiratorial link between the President, the Service Employees International Union, and ACORN, a group that helps poor people find housing and register to vote, and who just lost their federal funding partly because of smear campaigns run by right-wing messiah Glenn Beck. Together, the President, SEIU, and ACORN, gather in the Kentucky forest, and do…something. Mtbeaches isn’t sure what, but it’s probably something sinister.

Weirdly, in this government building, which of course has a “proper government name” (those crafty sons of bitches,) there are photos of the current sitting President. Communists! And then for some odd reason, when mtbeaches’s friends busted into the government building, they got kicked out. He’s not sure why.

By the way, the Obama/SEIU/ACORN retraining camp mtbeaches refers to is a Job Corps center, a no-cost education and vocational training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor that helps young people ages 16 through 24 get a “better job, make more money, and take control of their lives,” according to their official website. You and I may call this a banal example of a government program. Others, namely the type to kill a Census worker and string up his body as message to the government, may call it a retraining camp run by the “Feds.”

This is the kind of violent event that emerges from a culture of paranoia and unsubstantiated attacks. Personalities like Glenn Beck have irresponsibly accused the government of running FEMA concentration camps, and constantly stoke the fear of “the Feds” taking over. For example, during this May interview conducted by Beck with Judge Andrew Napolitano, FOX News analyst and author of The Constitution in Exile, Napolitano continually uses “Feds” in a derogatory and fear-mongering way.

Napolitano explained that Montana’s governor signed a law nullifying the federal regulation of firearms that are built, sold and used exclusively within the State of Montana, and “if the Feds don’t like this, Montana will consider secession.” Because, let’s remember, the government wants to take away all the guns, another fear-mongering lie spread by right-wing fringe leaders.

Napolitano uses the term “Feds” again when Beck asks him if he’s worried that we’re losing the “essence of America” (seriously).

I’m terrified, Glenn, and I watch this stuff for a living as you know, that the congress will soon authorize the treasury secretary to interfere with private contracts and that, of course, will destroy commercial activity as we know it if the Feds can come in and say you charged too much, you didn’t charge enough, you paid this person too much.

Fear and anger: these are the only two gears Beck, Napolitano, and the merchants of miseducation use.

The “private contracts” legislation Napolitano refers to is The Pay for Performance Act of 2009, which prohibits the payment of “unreasonable or excessive” compensation, including bonuses that are not based on performance, by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the federal home loans banks, and firms that have received funds under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. The Act prevents executives from skipping town with a few billion dollars of tax payer money, and it does not “destroy commercial activity.”

Except, the details don’t matter in right-wing Crazyville. Rush Limbaugh actually summarized the Pay for Performance Act by saying, “When the leftists start talking about fairness, they are the slave masters.” This is the level of insanity we’re dealing with here. Regulating lavish bonuses is now akin to slavery in the right-wing fringe’s diseased minds.

These kinds of transparent lies would be hilarious to dissect if so many people didn’t really believe them. Beck, Hannity, O’Reilly, and Limbaugh not only stoke the fear and anger in the hearts and minds of their listeners, but then they also suggest their audience should then direct that anger at the flavor of the months (gays, feminists, poor people, abortion providers, or the “Feds”). And then they act surprised when a sick person acts on their fear by lashing out violently.

The surprise and indignation from the right-wing is insincere. Violent rhetoric begets violence, and no one should act surprised when a Sparkman-like killing happens again.


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  1. collapse expand

    Everything old is new again, this story just reminds me all too much of the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, & Michael Schwerner.

  2. collapse expand

    Don’t jump to conclusions. when it comes to the federal government, Clay County is a special case. It is a hotbed of marijuana cultivation, mainly in the Daniel Boone National Forest, which covers much of the county, and Sparkman’s body was found on forest property. For nearly 30 years, federal and state authorities have targeted pot growers in Clay and adjoining counties, and in the last several years, the Justice Department has won indictments and convictions of officials and other local residents for vote fraud, other corruption and other crimes. And resistance to federal authority in the area dates back more than a century, to the era of major moonshine stills. Ironically, the county’s largest employer is a federal prison. (For more, see The Rural Blog at http://irjci.blogspot.com)

  3. collapse expand

    A friend of my father’s was doing census taking work, and a woman, when he arrived at her house, started asking him if he was part of ACORN.

    That’s the thing about all this right-wing fluff that’s out there on talk radio and FOX. A lot of the time, I don’t take it seriously. I think that these guys are just weirdos playing to their extreme base an the real power is when we’re talking about big industries, lobbies, the glitterati class.

    Yet the far-right does have a tangible impact on this country when their base goes violent, or when it damages the discourse. Taking it on is essential, even if stuff like this wasn’t really motivated by the Becks of the world.

    • collapse expand

      Sad. That’s just another example of how the right’s personalities have successfully conflated ACORN, Census workers, and Obama into some kind of rabid Cerberus.

      Right-wing leaders like Glenn Beck are most definitely “weirdos,” as you wrote, but just as it’s harmful to over-estimate their influence on their radical base, it’s dangerous to under-estimate the influence they have on individuals capable of violence.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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