An important diary at Daily Kos today reports that Rush Limbaugh described “leftists” and President Obama as “cockroaches” during a recent show. The diarist goes on to remind us that in the run-up to the Rwandan genocide in the 90s, “cockroaches” was the favored term of Rwandan radio provocateurs.

While the use of the term is more than coincidental, the analogy to Rwanda remains remote. Limbaugh et al are not yet pounding out eliminationist themes in proportion to the Rwandan media of the 90s. (Here is the clip.) And no one is, as far as we know, openly arming themselves with machetes or other weapons for mass killings. When making comparisons of this sort, it is important to consider the differences as well as the similarities in order to arrive at a proportional understanding of the situation.

That said, Limbaugh’s eliminationist theme is unmistakable and it is worth considering the anti-democratic implications if his entire three minute tirade as he tells his audience that they are in a “war.”

Eliminationism has been building on right-wing hate radio in America for a long time, and the potential for political violence beyond isolated incidents is evident.

Dave Neiwert details how this can happen this in his book The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right, which I reviewed awhile back:

“What motivates this kind of talk and behavior,” Neiwert writes of the sometimes surprising viciousness from otherwise ordinary people, “is called eliminationism: a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through suppression, exile and ejection, or extermination.”

Neiwert stresses that eliminationist rhetoric “always depicts its opposition as beyond the pale, the embodiment of evil itself, unfit for participation in their vision of society, and thus worthy of elimination. It often further depicts its designated Enemy as vermin (especially rats and cockroaches) or diseases, and disease-like cancers on the body politic. A close corollary—but not as nakedly eliminationist—is the claim that opponents are traitors or criminals and that they pose a threat to our national security.” [emphasis added]

“The history of eliminationism in America and elsewhere,” he writes, “shows that rhetoric plays a significant role in the travesties that follow. It creates permission for people to act out in ways they might not otherwise. It allows them to abrogate their own humanity by denying the humanity of people deemed undesirable or a cultural contaminant.”

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About the Author

Frederick Clarkson

Frederick Clarkson is an independent journalist, author and editor who has written about politics and religion for thirty years. He is the co-founder of the group blog Talk to Action, Senior Fellow at Political Research Associates, and lives in Massachusetts.

2 Responses to Eliminationism by Limbaugh

  1. Dwight Holmes says:

    I’m interested in your comment that “the use of the term is more than coincidental”. Seems an odd word to use in the American context. I’m not used to hearing people use “cockroach” as an epithet here. When it came up in the Rwanda context I assumed – albeit, I never researched it to verify it – that “cockroach” was a term used in the language to connote the lowest of the low. And that people would understand that when an ethnic group was described with that word. Perhaps as we use “vermin” here, though that may be a bit archaic nowadays. Anyway, my point is, was Limbaugh’s use of this really coincidental? If he wasn’t trying to connect to the history in Rwanda, why did he choose this particular form of life to label his perceived political enemies with?

    • Frederick Clarkson says:

      Cockroach is a term used on hate radio quite a bit, and frequently on far right message boards such as Stormfront. And it is in wide use around the world to yes, indicate the lowest of the low, and very often to indicate someone or some group that is worthy of extermination. The Hutu used the term cockroach to dehumanizes the Tutsis, Nazis also used the term against the Jews. For example, the Nazi propaganda paper “Der Sturmer was running contests encouraging German children to write in. One little girl wrote, ‘People are so bothered by the way we’re treating the Jews. They can’t understand it, because they are God’s creatures. But cockroaches are also God’s creatures, and we destroy them.’”

      Here are a few more contemporary examples of the use of the term cockroaches to indicate vile lowness or eradicable people:

      Neil Boortz comparing Muslims to cockroaches.

      An Anglican Church leader
      in Uganda supporting the ‘kill the gays’ bill being considered by parliament told a leading newspaper: ‘not even cockroaches who are in the lower animal kingdom engaged in homosexual relations.”

      A scholarly article on anti-immigration politics noted: “In a posting on the Aryan Nations website faction leader August Kreis declared “open season” on “these dirty wetbacks,” suggesting that “this infestation of cockroaches need deportation or extermination.”

      These are but a few examples from recent years culled from a few minutes of Googling around. The users always seem to be well aware of how they are portraying their targets and the implications or potential implications of their choice of words.

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