With friends like these …

George Allen kept a noose in his law office. But don’t worry, says a friendly right-wing journalist: it represented Western lynchings rather than Southern ones.
Does that make you feel better? Me neither.

Ryan Lizza (reg. req.) seems to have done a quite effective take-down on George Allen. Kevin Drum has some details and additional analysis, and Ed Kilgore &#8212 a genuine Southerner &#8212 has some thoughts about Allen as a faux redneck raised in a chateau in exclusive Palos Verdes. Allen’s sister’s memoir sounds like a real candidacy-killer.

But the scariest thing I saw about Allen today wasn’t any of the attacks on him, but this defense by David Holman of The American Spectator. It seems that Allen, in addition to his proclivity for displaying the Confederate flag and engaging in racist pranks (such as spray-painting fake anti-white graffiti on the buildings at his all-white school just before a football game with a mostly-black rival school), liked to display a noose in his law office early in his career. (That’s a little too late to dismiss as “Boys will be boys;” yes, George W. Bush was allowed to be “young and irresponsible” until his 40th birthday, but remember, “Fool me twice … you can’t get fooled again.”)

But Holman assures us that the noose, as displayed, wasn’t a racist symbol at all: “The noose was just as much a Western object as a Southern one, and in the West it played a civilizing influence.”

“A civilizing influence”? On what planet? Western vigilantism lacked the connection with a system of racial oppression that made Southern lynching an especially horrible phenomenon, but it was anything but benign. Even if &#8212 stretching things a bit &#8212 we imagine that the noose was intended to refer to legal Western hangings rather than the more common informal variety, what kind of twisted character uses a replica of an execution device as office decoration?

And yet Holman, writing for a major conservative outlet, seems to regard this as perfectly normal. It’s the right-wing analogue of the Franz Fanon/Che Guevara cult of revolutionary violence. Ugh!

Allen’s leitmotif seems to be, not racism, but sadism. And if Holman is at all representative, Allen’s supporters are cool with that.

We’ve been ruled since 2001 by people who get a kick out of hurting other people. Are we having fun yet?

Update A reader provides a reminder of what a “civilizing influence” looks like in practice.

hung.jpeg The photo might also provide some perspective on the argument between Digby and Outside the Beltway about the moral status of those (including the big-money operators behind Pajamas Media) who promote certain kinds of humor. I’m with No More Mister Nice Blog: “Vote Republicans off the Island” isn’t even in the same league.


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

13 thoughts on “With friends like these …”

  1. Mark: "what kind of twisted character uses a replica of an execution device as office decoration?"
    You are being facetious, right? I'm sure if you think really hard, you can come up with one execution device that is indeed very commonly used as an office decoration, as well as a jewelry motif. Hint: it dates back about 2000 years…
    That said, I agree that a noose isn't exactly in the same category.

  2. Well, yes, I wasn't going to mention that one. Best to be cautious around other people's religious symbols.
    Someone (C.S. Lewis, maybe?) pointed out that the crucifix didn't come into iconographic use until crucifixion had ceased to be used as a mode of execution. But the cross itself was quite early.
    Note, however, that those who display the cross (insofar as they think about it at all, rather than merely using it and reading it as the logo of their religion) identify with the victim and not the executioners. Unpacking the symbol into words, it reads either "This is the astonishingly painful and degrading experience God Himself went through to cleanse me of my sins; I'm at once grateful for it and ashamed of having done my part in making it necessary" or "As this sacrifice was made for me, so I pledge to sacrifice whatever in me is unfit to live in Heaven."
    The noose is, as you say, different.

  3. "And yet Holman, writing for a major conservative outlet, seems to regard this as perfectly normal. It's the right-wing analogue of the Franz Fanon/Che Guevara cult of revolutionary violence."
    This goes back further; it was de Maistre who enthused about the hangman as the foundation of the social order.

  4. The crucifix discussion above reminds of the Lenny Bruce quote, "If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses."

  5. So George Allen, who fetishized the South since his high school days in California, displayed a noose in his law office, but it was a Western symbol? Riiiiiiiight.

  6. "We've been ruled since 2001 by people who get a kick out of hurting other people."
    Yeah, george bush the younger's love of making other people die *is* pretty notable, isn't it?

  7. Your use of the "$" sign may be misleading to readers. The article appears to be available not simply to subscribers, but also to anyone who has gone through TNR's free registration process.

  8. I dunno, I think growing up in California, the noose was probably more of a hard-ass "law and order" symbol than a symbol of lynching.
    Of course, either way, it probably meant the same thing to Mr. Allen.

  9. Before Dubya, Henry Hyde had already pushed the cutoff for "youthful indiscretions" to at least age 41. I'm betting IOKIYAR will apply to this as well.

  10. Sometimes I run smack into the fact that you (Mark) live in a different world from me. I can't see very many people being bothered by the fact that Allen kept a noose in his office.
    "Beer for my Horses" was a huge hit–6 weeks at #1 on the charts, it's still played regularly now, 3 years later, and in any bar around here most people would be able to roughly sing along with it–and it's a song in praise of hanging criminals.

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