What with a financial crisis coinciding with the final days of the race for the presidency, the Internet is turning into a free-fire zone. My advice: don a flak jacket and duck.
Must be the special circumstances regarding current events, but folks again are losing their minds in very public fashion--on the Internet.
Monday's New York Times ran a piece detailing how a fringe activist has helped spread the rumor that Barack Obama is a Muslim.
The press release was picked up by a conservative Web site, FreeRepublic.com, and spread steadily as others elaborated on its claims over the years in e-mail messages, Web sites, and books. It continues to drive other false rumors about Mr. Obama's background.
(And while I write these words, another e-mail arrived, asking in the subject line: "Does Obama fulfill Muslim prophecy?" and linking to one of the more insane videos that I've seen devoted to the topic.
I'd like to give my follow countrymen credit for being more discerning than to trust everything they read or view on the Internet as fact. (Although I'm still not sure what to make of the fact that the movie Beverly Hills Chihuahua is No. 1 at the box office.) Well, we are in the midst of the political silly season and you can discount some of what's going on as part of the quadrennial nonsense that gets tossed around during any presidential campaign.
But the tone of the junk mail flooding in the last couple of weeks is boiling over with rage--and it's not just directed against Obama's supposed effort to conceal his "real" identity.
In the aftermath of the market meltdown, the Anti-Defamation League reports a "dramatic upsurge" in "the number of anti-Semitic statements being posted to Internet discussion boards devoted to finance and the economy."
Here's a sampling of some of the pearls of wisdom the ADL found posted:
• "(Jews have) infiltrated Wall Street and government and have ruined our country."
• "What is a GS Jew? Goldman Sachs? Jews are greedy, rotten slime balls."
• They (Jews) love money nothing else, no faith or religion can be so heartless to their victims."
• That's how they work, they short the stock all the way making billions and then cover right it up sell (sic) and then taxpayers to the rescue and it is true all those institutions are ran by Jews ....
This is of a piece with the post-September 11 rumors about the Mossad reportedly issuing secret instructions to Jews not to go to work on the morning of the attacks on the World Trade Center. The latest story line focuses on the collapse of Lehman and "Jewish control of the banking industry and suggestions that Jews hold complete power over government and the financial services sector," according to the ADL..
It's easy to blame a lot of this on the spillover of rants commonly associated with Internet forums for white supremacists and neo-Nazis, making their way into more mainstream venues. Extremists always shout loudest during times of political or economic crisis. So it is that the latest conspiracy making the rounds details how "senior Jewish officials at the Lehman Brothers investment bank passed their clients' money on to three Israeli banks, with the intention of then escaping to Israel to enjoy the take without fear of extradition."
The stock market's sharp rebound on Monday notwithstanding, this remains a lousy economy and people are rightly scared. And with another couple of weeks to go before the nation chooses its next president, there's a lot more bile waiting to be spilled. Before we lapse back into something resembling normalcy, I fear that there are more days of rage ahead.