Cut From the Same Rigid Cloth: Hate Crimes and Militarism

By Jonathan Mathias LassiterImage

 

Recent shifts in the tides of American life have lead to the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act, defeat of California’s Proposition 8, and repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the policy of discrimination against same gender loving (SGL) members of the military. Alongside these shifts, hate crimes against SGL and trans people have seen an uptick. News reports from across the country have recounted stories of violence against SGL and trans people in cities including New York and Los Angeles (Lloyd, 2013; Prokupecz, 2013; Yakas, 2013). One of the most heinous crimes occurred in New York City this Spring wherein an SGL man was shot in the face and killed in Greenwich Village (Yakas, 2013). At the beginning of the summer, the “leaking” of classified information about the United States’ government’s Orwellian actions upon its citizens and those of other countries have placed American militarism in the spotlight (democracynow.com, 2013). It is interesting that these two phenomena-hate crimes against SGL and trans people on one hand, and militarism on the other-seem to be moving center stage around the same time. There is significance in these occurrences. Hate crimes and militarism are not unrelated and neither is new. Both are extreme, chronic, and global. Both are born of ideological systems that aim to define and structure the world. And in both cases, violence is the method of choice to sustain hegemonic ideologies and values.

Hate crimes against SGL and trans people typically seek to intimidate and punish nonheterosexual or gender nonconforming people in order to sustain the ideologies of heteronormativity and heterosexism. Heteronormativity assumes the heterosexuality of all people and their conformity to the binary roles of male and female. Heterosexism places heterosexuality in a privileged position at the top of a social hierarchy and casts other expressions of sexual and romantic engagement as deviant and inferior. Both of these ideologies pack people who fall along the spectrum of diversity into overly simplified, restrictive and dichotomous categories: heterosexual man and heterosexual woman. These categories serve two purposes: first, to preclude self-definition, and second, to provide comfort and reinforcement to those who hold heterosexist/heteronormative ideologies.

Militarism functions in a similar way. The use of armies, invasions, coercion, and other manners of militaristic violence are the means by which imperial gains are achieved and maintained. The American empire provides a salient case study of militarism in action. America uses its military forces to secure economic and cultural investments in places all over the world. These military forces render targeted countries at best-subjective to the whims of the United States-and at worst-thoroughly controlled by it. Within this militaristic framework, violence is the accepted method used to sustain the narrow interests, comforts and way of life of the United States and its citizens, but gives no guarantee of regard for the lives of those upon whom the empire imposes itself. Furthermore, societal acceptance of militarism fosters a culture of rigidity and control within the borders of the United States.

The Shared Motivations and Consequences of Hate Crimes Against SGL and Trans People and Militarism

Like American militarism, hate crimes against SGL and trans people are often said to have been committed in self-defense against unwanted advances from threatening SGL and trans people (similar to the national security argument-in that the United States purports militarism is appropriate to protect itself from foreign threats and terrorism that might harm American lives). People who commit hate crimes against SGL and trans people often feel justified in their offenses and are convinced that they are doing what is right by punishing or sending a message of intolerance to sexual and gender deviants who transgress the predominate heteronormative ideological system. Similarly, the United States often view the use of its military power over others as moral and just. A recent speech made by President Barack Obama at the National Defense University on May 23, 2013 illustrates this. During the speech in which the President discusses the United States current militaristic actions, he stated, “America’s actions are legal. We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force. Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces. We are at war with an organization that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first. So this is a just war-a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense” (whitehouse.gov, 2013).

Homoantagonistic hate also crimes strike terror and promote anxiety among other SGL and trans people even if they are not directly targeted. Being SGL or trans or being perceived as SGL or trans is enough for one to be assaulted. Akin to this is the American insistence on prosecuting whistleblowers that expose the illegal actions of the empire. This type of retaliation on behalf of the United States, sends a message to other would-be fighters for democracy that their actions will be punishable.

Hate crimes represent the eroding of relatedness across differences and the outright rejection of SGL and trans people as human beings. Hate crimes also serve to maintain the heteronormative tenor of society and perpetuate negative stereotypes about SGL and trans people. In a parallel process, American militarism is creating more dissenters than allies. Pure, honest discussion across ideological lines without economic or exploitative strings is almost nonexistent in any of America’s international relationships. For example, America provides economic and diplomatic backing to Israel and in return Israel shares intelligence information with America about possible security threats as well as its technological innovations that contribute to the United States economic gain (Eisenstadt & Pollock, 2012). Even the United States “friendly” relationships are splattered by the muck and mire of militaristic symbiosis. While the United States benefits from feelings of more security, economic advantages, and cultural influence, it is narrowing its image in the world from that of a fiercely democratic nation struggling for justice for all but to that of a nation obsessed with dominance and superiority.

American Militarism

Militarism has been defined as “1) a strong military spirit or policy; 2) the principle or policy of maintaining a large military establishment; 3) and the tendency to regard military efficiency as the supreme ideal of the state and to subordinate all other interests to those of the military” (dictionary.com). Scholars have conceptualized militarism as the spread of militaristic attitudes (Vagts, 1937) and social practices (Mann, 2003) into civilian life. The injection of militarism into contemporary American civilian life is evident when one examines both historical and current modes of interaction among citizens and the ways in which society-as a whole-treats those they deem as “other.” Throughout history, those of us who are defined as the deviant other have often been subjected to aggressive treatment, surveillance, and social control. Examples include Jim Crow laws that greatly restricted the mobility and civil rights of ex-slaves in America, the internment of Japanese people during World War II, and hate crimes committed against Muslim Americans in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Societal level militarism is seen in official and de facto policies such as the war on drugs, the school-to-prison pipeline, the prison industrial complex, and the Stop and Frisk policy in New York City-all of which disproportionately police and confine low-income citizens and people of color.

The origins of America’s long militaristic history can logically be traced to the Manifest Destiny doctrine-a religiously tinted belief purporting that America was “predestined” to occupy the entire North American continent (ushistory.org, 2013a). Action upon this doctrine resulted in the Mexican American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which secured ownership of what are now Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado and Wyoming (pbs.org, n.d.). American militarism began to get its footing in other parts of the globe in 1898 when the United States took possession of the Philippines, gained oversight of Cuba via the Platt Amendment, and annexed the Hawaii islands as part of its dealings in the Spanish-American War (Trask, n.d.; ushistory.org, 2013b). Both of these acquisitions contributed, and was attributable to the ideology of righteous possession and superiority. And as such, the United States could and did allow itself to regard the acquired as inferior, to ignore their concerns or dismiss them as pawns for goal achievement. The displacement of indigenous and Mexican people living in the western part of North America prior to American possession, as well as deaths of Pilipino people at the hands of the United States war machine all exemplify the fallout of an imperialist self view that relegates others to lesser status, and defines them as dispensable through violence. Several militaristic conquests have succeeded these early ones; and all have contributed to what is now-virtually-American rule of the globe. As of September 30th, 2011, the United States had a physical presence through military bases and personnel in 760 territories and foreign countries across the globe (Department of Defense, 2012) and a cultural or economic presence in many more. Furthermore, since September 11th, 2001, American military exploits, owing to perceived threats to the American way of life, have proliferated. To achieve sustainability and social order, the United States has enacted a series of counterterrorism policies that are promoted as security measures while insidiously stripping away American civil liberties. Policies such as the Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Act, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act all increased the federal government’s power to invade other countries and to conduct surveillance of foreigners and American citizens through programs such as the PRISM project (democracynow.org, 2013). Militarism is entrenched in American policies both historically and currently and affects not only other countries but the domestic environment as well.

Hate Crimes Against SGL and Trans People

Those who commit hate crimes find inspiration and justification in a militaristic society that preferences violence and control over democracy and relatedness. Hate crimes are “words or actions intended to harm or intimidate an individual because of her or his membership in a minority group; they include violent assaults, murder, rape, and property crimes motivated by prejudice, as well as threats of violence or other acts of intimidation” (Finn & McNeil, 1987 as cited by Herek, 1989, p. 1) Herek (1989) suggests that hate crimes are an outgrowth from intolerance. This is not hard to understand. When we think about specific hate crimes that target SGL and trans people, the perpetrators often openly profess the bigotry that motivate their actions. For example, in a hate crime committed in October of 2006 against two gay male residents of Atlanta, GA, James Carter and R’heem Turner, heard their assailants exclaim, “Get yo faggot ass down” (McCullom, 2006). The use of derogatory sexual epithets makes it clear that the men’s assumed sexual orientations were the motivation for the assault. Unfortunately, hate crimes are not isolated events. There have been a multitude of homoantagonistic hate crimes in recent decades including Sakia Gunn, Michael Sandy, Terrance Aeriel, Iofemi Hightower, Dashon Harvey, Lateisha Green, and Matthew Shepard. In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been collecting hate crime statistics since 1996 and in 2011, 20.8% of all single-bias incidents of hate crimes resulted from sexual orientation bias (Federal Bureau of Investigations, 2011). Also, in a sample of 402 trans people, researchers found that almost sixty percent of the participants in their study reported some form of trans bias harassment or violence in their lifetime (Lombardi, Wilchins, Priesing, & Malouf, 2001). These statistics make it clear that hate crimes against SGL and trans people are prevalent in the United States.

Further analysis of hate crimes paint a picture of when and how hate crimes against SGL and trans people occur. Many SGL and trans people become the victims of hate crimes before they become adults. Herek, Gillis, Cogan, & Glunt (1997) found that 41% of nonheterosexual people reported being victims of hate crimes since the age of 16. Furthermore, women are more likely to report being sexually assaulted because of their sexual orientation than men. These findings make sense in a society where some believe that people can be forced into heterosexuality, via methods ranging from exorcism to rape (Herek, Cogan, & Gillis, 2002; McCullom, 2009). While hate crime victims typically report being assaulted by strangers, many suffer harassment at the hands of family members and friends. SGL and trans people report most often that their antagonizers are male, white, and between the ages of 19 and 25 (Herek et al., 2002; Herek et al., 1997). Again this makes sense in a society where heterosexual men report higher levels of negative attitudes toward SGL and trans people than heterosexual women (Herek & Capitanio, 1999; Kite & Whitley, 1998). Heterosexual white men represent the hegemon in the white supremacist society of the United States. It is not hard to understand why they might be the most invested in maintaining the status quo-as it benefits them the most-and the use of violence is not seen as an inappropriate tool for ensuring the status quo is maintained. With that said, people across sociodemographic characteristics whom tend to hold more rigid worldviews, and whom are invested in heteronormativity and heterosexism have been known to use violence to maintain these ideologies of oppression and to punish those who challenge them.

Hate crimes have negative physical and psychological consequences for SGL and trans people. Victims of violent hate crimes can suffer bruises, broken bones, and sometimes death, in addition to stolen or vandalized property. Hate related homicides against SGL and trans people made up 16.7% of all hate crime deaths (National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs People [NCAVP], 2013). People of color were the most affected and made up 73.1% of all hate crimes committed against SGL and trans people. In addition, with the exception of death, physical consequences of hate crimes often go unreported by SGL and trans people (Herek et al., 2002; Herek, Gillis, & Cogan, 1999). Many SGL and trans people choose not to report hate crimes to police for fear of being victimized a second time by law enforcement officers thought-and in some cases known-to engage in homoantagonistic discrimination and mistreatment. The NCAVP (2013) found that among SGL and trans people who did report hate crime incidents to police, 48% reported police misconduct and 26.8% reported that the police had hostile attitudes. Indeed, police are sometimes the violent offenders of SGL and trans people. In 2012, police comprised 23.9% of the homoantagonistic violent perpetrators whom victims did not know personally (National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs People [NCAVP], 2013). Violence against SGL and trans people is often committed by those closest to the victim as well as members of institutions who are suppose to protect the vulnerable.

Hate crime victimization is also related to poor mental health among SGL and trans people. Researchers have found that depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms are higher in victims of hate crimes than those who have not experienced such victimization (Herek et al., 1997; Herek et al., 1999). They have also found that SGL and trans victims of hate crimes are more afraid of being victimized again, perceive themselves as more vulnerable, have lower sense of mastery, and view others as less benevolent (Herek et al., 1997; Herek et al., 1999). Hate crimes against SGL and trans people create an atmosphere of dread among nonheterosexual and gender nonconforming people.

The Rigid Need for Control: A Link Between Militarism and Hate Crimes

The need for control is a very human one. We all have it. In and of itself, it is not an unhealthy need. Rigidity of worldview, and the obsessive quest to impose, enact and enforce it, is what is dangerous-both physically and psychologically, at micro and macro levels. Instead of being able to grapple with the need to predict and manipulate one’s environment in a flexible manner, rigidity causes one to adopt restrictive, one-size fits all tactics to achieve a sense of control. Rigidity is conceptualized in this paper as the inability to approach and engage with people, places, things, and ideas in a manner that is exploratory and unhindered by bias. People and societies who have high levels of rigidity tend to lack appreciation of others’ viewpoints and emotions. Rigid people and societies tend to lack empathy and have negative attitudes toward difference. From a psychodynamic framework, rigidity can be seen as a defense against anxiety (Eriksen & Eisenstein, 1953). The highly rigid person may have a heightened sense of internal conflict, and deny an aspect of her/himself, because gratification of that aspect may clash ideologically with her/his rigid self-definition (Cattell & Ghosetiner, 1949). For example, a bicurious person who chooses to rigidly define her/himself as heterosexual is less likely to explore her/his same-sex attraction because gratification of that desire might conflict with her/his sense of self as a moral woman or man.

Rigidity hampers one’s cognitive abilities. Very rigid people and societies have low tolerance for ambiguity and often display an inability to break from old perceptual habits and ways of thinking, or ideational inertia (Cattell & Ghosetiner, 1949). For example, a highly rigid society would find it difficult to think of itself in objective terms and instead cast its role in the world in idealistic terms. This is evident in the words of former President George W. Bush when he stated, nine days after September 11, 2001, that “[terrorists] hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other” (cnn.com, 2001). While for some terrorists these statements may apply, ideational inertia prevents people who share the former president’s beliefs to consider how American militarism and foreign policies could fuel anti-American sentiment. The non-rigid, objective observer may on the other hand conclude that these policies contribute to poverty and exploitation of other countries and people around the world. And that while there is no justification for murder as carried out on September 11, these effects may explain the profound frustration that lead to the attacks. Rigidity can render a nation blind to its role in conflict and prevent it from taking peaceful, responsible steps toward resolution and instead resort to familiar retaliatory violence.

Researchers have found that a variety of personality traits are associated with rigidity. In one study, people who scored high on a measure of rigidity also scored significantly higher on measures of social introversion and submissiveness and scored significantly lower on measures of social presence and leadership ability (Rehfisch, 1958). This suggests that people who have high levels of rigidity may find more comfort in their inner world than in interactions with others. They may also be more likely to follow rules, acquiesce to the status quo and accept the ideas and actions of others in power without challenging them. Rehfisch (1958) also found that people who scored high on a measure of rigidity also scored significantly higher (compared to those who had low scores on the rigidity measure) on measures of anxiety, depression and self-dissatisfaction. They were also found to express themselves in more forcible manners. These findings suggest that highly rigid people may experience more negative emotion, and may be more confrontational and direct in their expressions than less rigid people.

High levels of rigidity tend to predominate in men. Indeed, men have been found to be more rigid than women (Vollhardt, 1990). Researchers have found that those with high levels of rigidity and need for control are more prone to violence and more likely to view role violation negatively than people who have lower levels of rigidity. In a study of 595 men who were the victims of childhood sexual and physical abuse, men who also later became abusers reported more gender rigidity than those who did not perpetuate the cycle of violence (Lisak, Hopper, & Song, 1996). This finding suggests that rigidity concerning one’s gender and what it means to be a man is related to passing along abuse to others. If a child with high mental rigidity is abused he may come to accept abuse as being part of the default landscape of the male child and, as an adult, may therefore think of abusing children, and possibly others, as normal and more masculine. It should be noted that this formulation of the interactions and temporal relation of gender rigidity and violence perpetration assumes a very high level of mental rigidity around concepts of “right and wrong”. However, this is not an entirely unrealistic formulation in a society where often masculinity is tied to notions of violence and dominance. Similarly in a study that included a random sample of 17 different cultures-cultures as defined by the Human Relations Area Files, a cultural anthropology organization-researchers found that at the societal level, sex-role rigidity was correlated with acts of violence (McConahay & McConahay, 1977). These findings may explain why men overwhelmingly are the perpetrators of homoantagonistic hate crimes and the orchestrators of militaristic actions.

Rigidity has restrictive effects on a rigid person or society’s ability to think reflexively, pursue new methods of engagement, and deal with conflict in nonstereotyped ways. Eriksen and Eisenstein (1953, p. 386-387) stated that “in an attempt to control and reduce anxiety the [rigid] individual restricts his[/her] psychological field to the point where he[/she] feels he can master and control it. Through repression of threatening ideas and activities the field of alternatives is reduced and associations lose their freedom and flexibility.…There is a strong need for certainties and for black-and-white solutions which are reflected not only in emotional relationships, but in perceptual and cognitive functions as well.” Given these implications of rigidity and its association with violence, it is not hard to understand the link between rigidity, hate crimes, and militarism.

Moving Forward

Our world is rapidly changing. The granting of civil rights for SGL people publically acknowledges the existence of same-sex attracted people and lend legal and cultural legitimacy-on a national scale-to sexual matters outside of heteronormative confines. The increasing worldwide uprisings and protests against inequality in places like Turkey, Bulgaria, Spain, Egypt, and domestically represent the freedom call in a world dominated by oppressive systems. People like Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden upset the mystique of American militaristic operations and threaten the cloak that enables governmental avoidance of accountability. All of these things agitate the presumed principles of society. For some-especially those high in rigidity, these accumulating shifts threaten their very foundation and the cognitive schemas that organize their world. This type of core threat can cause people to respond in drastic ways to protect the stability and functions that provide comfort for them.

In order to combat the mental rigidity of worldview that fosters hate crimes and militarism we must be reflexive in our thoughts and actions. We must challenge ourselves to move beyond our comfort zones and we must be willing to take chances. Take chances to listen with unbiased ears, share without need to persuade, and give without receiving. To overcome our rigidity we must be willing to venture into unknown territory and give up notions of predictability, stability, control, and manipulation. We must be willing to be anxious and uneasy and accept foremost that as people, in the global and American community, we are not evil or just, not gay or straight, but human. Until we can do these things, until we can let go of our rigid worldviews and the need to enforce them, hate crimes and militarism will flourish, and we will continue to perish.

 

References

 

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