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“The Most Vile, Radical Liberals in America”: Anti-Atheist Bigotry in the Senate Campaign

I suppose it was bound to happen.

Football
With the newly- galvanized atheist movement becoming increasingly visible and increasingly vocal, we were pretty much destined to become a political football, the subject of a fear- mongering campaign flyer depicting us as vile despoilers of the American Dream… and using an association with us to smear an opponent. (And the early 21st century being what it is, we were pretty much destined to then to become the subject of a YouTube campaign video, doing exactly the same thing.)

So here’s the thing I find fascinating.

It’s not the fact that the flyer and video in question told lies about us. It’s not even the fact that they insulted us in bigoted, hateful language that, in this day and age, would not be tolerated from a major political candidate about any other religious group.

What I find fascinating is this:

Our very existence is being presented as an abomination. The mere fact that atheists exist, and speak, and express political views, is being presented as part of the package of our vileness, and is being used to frighten voters.

Elizabeth_Dole_official_photo
For those who haven’t heard already, here’s the story. North Carolina Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole — yes, that Elizabeth Dole — is in a re-election campaign against Democratic opponent Kay Hagan. Dole had been ahead, but like a lot of Republican incumbents this election, she’s been falling behind.

So her campaign sent out an anti-Hagan flyer — centering on the fact that Hagan attended a fundraiser in Boston, hosted by atheist activists and leaders of the Godless Americans PAC, Wendy Kaminer and Woody Kaplan.

In which atheists are described, among other things, as “the most vile, radical liberals in America.”

And the National Republican Senatorial Committee then put out a YouTube video, also centering on this fundraiser, and saying that, because she accepted campaign donations from atheists, “We can’t trust Kay Hagan to defend our North Carolina values.”

Here’s the video. And here’s a copy of the flyer. You can click to enlarge if you like. (Pages 2 and 3 are presented separately here, but are meant to be read side by side as one page.) Please note the quotes from my atheist blogging homeboys at Friendly Atheist and Daylight Atheism on Page 4. Both of whom, of course, have blogged about this.

Godless 1
Godless 2
Godless 3
Godless 4

Now. Here’s what I’d like you to do. Read the flyer again. Watch the video again. And in the place of the word “atheist,” substitute the word “Jewish.”

From the flyer:

Plot
“Liberal Kay Hagan flew to Boston to pocket campaign cash from leaders of the Jewish American PAC.”

“Jewish Americans Political Action Committee is a left-wing organization based in Washington, DC — dedicated to ‘Mobilizing America’s Jews for Political Activism.’”

“They actively support political candidates who are Jews.”

“And they want Kay Hagan in the U.S. Senate.”

“We can’t trust Kay Hagan to defend our North Carolina values.”

From the video:

“Kay Hagan attended a Massachusetts fundraiser hosted by a leader of the JEWISH AMERICANS PAC.”

“DaylightJudaism.org: ‘Kay Hagan out to be rewarded for inviting Jews onto her platform.’”

“And what’s THEIR platform?”

“And what does Kay Hagan have to say? ‘North Carolina deserves leadership that advocates on behalf of North Carolinians, every day, every week, every month, and every year.’ Apparently except when Jewish donors in Massachusetts invite you over.”

Star_of_David.svg
If there were a campaign flyer or video saying that? The candidate would be excoriated by the mainstream media, up one side and down the other. They’d either be distancing themselves from the people who made it so fast it would make your head spin… or they’d be resigning in disgrace. A resignation called upon, not only by every major news organization in the country, but by their own party. And rightly so.

But apparently, not so much with the atheists.

So I never, ever want to hear again that there’s no such thing as anti- atheist bigotry, or that atheists aren’t discriminated against in this country.

But again, here’s what I’m finding really interesting.

It’s not the lies and deceptions (thoroughty detailed in the Friendly Atheist and Daylight Atheism pieces). It’s not about the transparent fearmongering about how atheists are out to destroy Boy Scouts and Christmas. (It sounds like a joke, doesn’t it?) It’s not even the fact that they can’t seem to spell the word “Atheist” right.

It’s not even the fact that we were called “vile.”

It’s this.

Read again, please, the quotes being used on this flyer from the Friendly Atheist and Daylight Atheism blogs.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been to North Carolina besides driving through, but I just donated (to Hagan’s campaign).”

“Kay Hagan ought to be rewarded for inviting nonbelievers onto her platform.”

Pretty inflammatory stuff, huh? Lock up your children, people — the atheists are going to donate money to a political candidate they support!

Monster mask
The very fact that we dare to exist at all — and that some of us are daring enough to want our voices heard in the political arena — that is the monster under the bed. The fact that we expect to be treated as citizens, that we see ourselves as a political movement, that we want our elected officials to be aware of our concerns and to represent us… that, just by itself, is what is being presented as the wicked, terrifying, “vile” threat that must be stopped at all costs.

But you know what?

I actually feel sort of flattered. And I definitely feel encouraged.

Because you know what this means?

It means we’re getting through.

Scarlet letter
If atheists are becoming visible enough that we’re the centerpiece of a fearmongering Senate campaign? We must be doing something right.

So if you’re an atheist — or an atheist- positive supporter — here’s what I want you to do.

If you can afford it, donate some money to Kay Hagen’s campaign. Even just $25. I know the economy sucks. I know this is a huge election, with a million candidates and initiatives that need donations. And I know I just got through begging you to support the No on 8 campaign to protect same-sex marriage in California. But if you can have it to spare, make a donation to Kay Hagen. Again, even a small one would help.

And then write to her campaign, at [email protected], letting her know that you’ve made a donation, and why. Write to her, and let her know that you’re atheist or atheist- positive, and that Elizabeth Dole’s anti-atheist bigotry is why you made your donation.

Here’s what I wrote:

Hello. My name is Greta Christina, and although I don’t live in North Carolina, I just made a donation to your campaign. I wanted to let you know that I did so prompted by recent posts on the Daylight Atheism and Friendly Atheist blogs.

I am appalled by Elizabeth Dole’s open bigotry and hatred towards atheists — a bigotry and hatred that would not be tolerated towards any other religious group. And I am encouraged by Kay Hagan’s recognition that atheists are citizens, who have a right to have our voices heard in the political arena.

My funds are limited (especially since I’ve been donating to other political campaigns this year), so my donation was small. But I plan to write about this on my own blog, and encourage my readers (some who are atheists, many others who aren’t but support atheists’ rights) to support your campaign as well. Thank you again for your recognition of our growing community, and please know that we are grateful and will not forget it.

Because you know what would be cool? What would be even cooler than being a newly- visible, newly- vocal movement?

Being a voting bloc. Being a political force to be reckoned with. Being an interest group that political candidates can’t afford to openly smear and insult, because if they do we’ll mobilize against them.

And having a U.S. Senator who know that she’s in the Senate, at least partly, because of the atheist and atheist- supportive community.

That would be super-cool.

Comments

  1. Patrick says

    Well, I just threw some money to both of your suggested campaigns, voted early here in NV for Barack (and the only other Dem on the ballot, Jill Derby); I’ll see about writing that letter to Kay Hagan tonight. It’s good to be super-cool.

  2. John B Hodges says

    The only problem I have is that (unlike the No on Prop 8 campaign) I haven’t been able to find an ordinary postal address to which I can mail a check, for Kay Hagan’s campaign. Her website seems to assume that everyone will donate by credit card over the Internet. I may be eccentric and fogeyish not to trust the Internet with my account numbers, but I’d really rather donate by mail.

  3. says

    Kudos Greta C!
    Although I’m Australian and we have nowhere near the trouble with hate-spreading halfwits as the US does, I got all tingly when you mentioned the possibility of an atheist voting bloc in the US! What happens there directly affects what happens Down Here, and I can tell you we’re all thoroughly sick of George’s fearmongering fundamentalist idiocy and deeply suspicious of anyone who thinks he’s made any positive impact on the world. Therefore, given McCain’s likelihood to pretty much continue in the Bush vein and his mindbogglingly retarded choice of VP candidate, there really is only one option that makes any sense.
    This jaw-droppping rank atheist-hate from the GOP just smacks, as you say, scarily of classical anti-semitism (as well as it’s bastard cousin, McCarthyism) and it’s bone-chilling. Add to it both the covert & overt racism displayed not just by idiots in the street, by public idiots like O’Reilly and Limbaugh but by actual candidates themselves and the whole GOP campaign is starting to stink like a week-old cheesy fish sandwich.
    What’s heartening is that lots of people, including lots of Republicans, are distancing themselves from it and saying “enough! My country is better than this and my country DESERVES better than this”.
    What’s equally heartening is something you mentioned: the fact that these bigots are running such blatant hate campaigns can only mean that the godless are having a noticeable effect. Such white-hot, blind hatred can have only one source in my opinion: fear. They’re terrified of no longer being the only game in town and it shows. It’s cropping up in little ways all over the various GOP campaigns and throughout the various ejaculations from GOP schills. They’re terrified and desperate and they’re attempting to inflict their potential voters with the same kind of paralysing fear they themselves feel. They know that if a voter feels that afraid, they won’t vote with their head.
    The godless have simply been ignored in America until now, but in the last two or three years there’s been a massive surge in open godlessness (enabled in part by the proliferation of blogs such as this) which has expressed itself as a groundswell of political action and consciousness-raising. My hope (and I think it’s justified) is that after this crucial election, America’s godless will continue this work to educate people as to exactly what being godless is, and what it isn’t.
    Fear may be the mind-killer, but awareness, knowledge – information – beats fear hands down.

  4. says

    This is going to sound strange, but I’m glad Elizabeth Dole and the NRSC are running this blatant campaign of fear and hate against atheists.
    No, wait. Stay with me.
    The reason I’m glad is because just about all the polls show that Dole is increasingly falling behind and Kay Hagan is taking the lead. These smear ads are a last-minute desperation move. While tactics like that have changed the course of elections before, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that they’re going to work this time. And the best possible scenario, for us, is one in which Dole runs a campaign whose raison d’etre is to pander to anti-atheist bigotry – and then loses anyway.
    I say that because waging a campaign like this, and still losing, is going to break the back of these smear tactics. It shows that they’re not effective, that they don’t persuade voters. And that, really, will achieve more to strengthen our political hand than anything we could say or do ourselves. The next person who wants to campaign on atheist hate is going to have a good reason to think twice about it, if Dole loses. And the media may well conclude that, if tactics like these don’t work, maybe atheists are a more influential political group than we’ve been given credit for!

  5. says

    I may be eccentric and fogeyish not to trust the Internet with my account numbers, but I’d really rather donate by mail.

    I bet that if you emailed her campaign headquarters, they’d happily give you a snail mail address to mail a check.

  6. says

    Our very existence is being presented as an abomination.

    I thought you’d be used to that already, what with being gay and all.
    Nonetheless, when a woman who knows how to use a whip and handcuffs tells me to chip in, I hear and obey.

  7. says

    Ebonmuse:

    And the media may well conclude that, if tactics like these don’t work, maybe atheists are a more influential political group than we’ve been given credit for!

    I haven’t contacted the media, but I’ve dropped a line to both the No on 8 folks and the Hagan campaign.
    Oh, and Dole’s address is [email protected] .

  8. says

    I was all set to vote for Kay Hagan. Then, while reading various candidates’ responses to a questionnaire sent out by the local weekly, I noticed this:

    8. What is your position regarding LGBT rights? Please address whether gay marriages or civilunions should be made legal in North Carolina or as a matter of national policy; also, whether sexual orientation and identity should be added as a protected class under federal or state anti-discrimination laws
    I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and this is fundamentally a state issue. North Carolina has a law that defines marriage this way, and I see no reason to change that. However, I take a back seat to no one when it comes to equal opportunity and fairness and opposing any form of discrimination on housing, workplace and hospitals.

    …and was pretty appalled by the pandering she’s doing here by being so wishy washy. I mean, there are obvious reasons to change NC’s law defining marriage. And I’m realizing that it really should be uncontroversial for a politician to meet with atheist groups. So I don’t particularly thing Hagan deserves to be rewarded for that, so much as Dole needs to be punished for her vile smears. Of course, skipping this blank on the ballot doesn’t send any kind of message to Liddy Dole, so I might just vote for the Libertarian candidate this time around.

  9. ErinM says

    This North Carolina resident just donated to a political campaign for the first time. I sent an e-mail to both candidates explaining why.
    Despite my residency in her state, I had not seen those campaign materials, so thanks for keeping an eye out for us!

  10. Joseph R. says

    Although I have not made a contribution to Kay Hagan, I do support her and will cast my vote for her. Just so you know, many people in NC are paying attention to Dole’s bigotry.

  11. Fastthumbs says

    Being an “evil and vile” atheist, I decided to donate $25 to Kay Hagan of NC – for pretty much the same reason as everyone else who has – It’s time to become a political block to stand up to the neo conservative christian right wingnuts, including Dole.

  12. says

    I don’t remember commenting on this blog before but I must have. My info is cued up and ready to go. I might as well drop you a line, say I was here and say thanks for the reminder. The reminder being that freedom of thought does not extend far in my own country.
    If you choose not to believe in ancient folklore, you’re assumed to be vile and unpatriotic. I’m a libertarian leaning person in my politics, and I think it’s funny that everyone who is a non-believer is supposed to be a far left, liberal. Why? I also find it funny that politically conservative people are supposed to be religious zealots and bigoted morons. Why?
    I suppose this is why staunch conservatives who think- like Christopher Hitchens- are coming out now and saying they’ll vote for Obama. I’ll be voting for him too.

  13. Patrick says

    I never got around to a follow-up e-mail to explain why I was donating to the Hagan campaign. Today I received a message from them which was not exactly what I might have preferred to hear. She is apparently taking the tack that her opponent has unjustly maligned her reputation as a good x-tian, nothing about how she smeared the secular-humanist voting bloc. Ah well.

  14. mike says

    It is amazing that the attack on Kay Hagen, like the whisper campaign that Obama is a muslim, is not attacked for its fundamental unamericanism. There is nothing wrong with being an atheist, a muslim, a follower of Odin, whatever. The first amendment not only allows us to believe in whatever religion(or no religion) we want, but to be active in the body politic while doing so.

  15. says

    I think one problem is, that atheists simply don’t bother so much about others, so they have not mobilized as much as religious extremists have. Atheists don’t seem to want to own an entire political party, to tell others what to do, or how to act. They are content to be as they are. They don’t focus on converting masses of people. However, the religious seem intent on converting the non-religious.
    You have a good article here. But Atheists have to band together as a group in order to be heard, and defend themselves in such cases. However, to band means being an organized group, and that itself can lead to some ‘rules for membership in the house of atheists’ being created, which defeats the purpose of being atheist.
    What to do?

  16. Tony says

    Interestingly the Youtube video is now set as private. I managed to look it up though, utterly disgusting.

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