I can hear it now. Nicholson Baker wants to kill the president. He’s a threat to national security. He should be locked up. Maybe share a rubber-room with John Hinckley. If Bill O’Reilly thinks Amiri Baraka is a “pinhead” for writing a poem about 9/11, what does he think of Baker for writing prose about the assassination of Bush?
Barker’s short novel is entitled Checkpoint. It’s basically a conversation between two characters who discuss assassinating George Bush with “radio-controlled flying saws” and a “remote-controlled boulder made of depleted uranium.” It’s an absurd novel, according to Andrew Gumbel of the Independent, hardly anything to be worried about.
But then Richard Humphreys of Portland, Oregon, made an absurd and no less surrealistic comment about a “burning Bush” during Dubya’s March 2001 trip to Sioux Falls. He was sentenced to 37 months in prison for making the comment in a bar. “I said God might speak to the world through a burning Bush,” Humphreys testified during his trial. “I had said that before and I thought it was funny.”
Baker’s novel may be absurd, even comical — especially the dadaistic flying saws — but his anger is not. “[Bush] is beyond the beyond. What he’s done with this war. The murder of the innocent. And now the prisons. It’s too much. It makes me so angry. And it’s a new kind of anger, too.” Bush is an “unelected [expletive] drunken OILMAN” who is “squatting” in the White House and “muttering over his prayer book every morning.” Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are “rusted hulks” and “zombies” who have “fought their way back up out of the peat bogs where they’ve been lying, and they’re stumbling around with grubs scurrying in and out of their noses and they’re going, ‘We – are – your – advisors.'”
No doubt a lot of people declare such things in the privacy of their own homes with trusted friends gathered — and the more prescient among them understand it is unwise to mutter such in mixed company on street corners or dark corners of bars.
As for the unwise, consider the case of Barry Reingold, a 60-year-old San Francisco retiree, who made the mistake of “talking about terrorism and September 11th, oil profits, capitalism and Afghanistan” a bit too casually at the local gym. Reingold was visited by the FBI for his effort.
On the other side of the country, in Durham, North Carolina, A.J. Brown, a Durham Tech freshman attending college with the help of an American Civil Liberties Union scholarship, had the Secret Service and Durham police knock on her door for the crime of possessing an anti-Bush poster.
In Chicago, Dan Muller and Andrew Mandell of Voices in the Wilderness were denounced to the police after they told a clerk at the post office they did not want to buy stamps bearing an image of Old Glory. They were grilled by the police and the Post Master on two different occasions.
Speaking your mind about the Boy Emperor or stepping outside parameters of acceptable right-wing behavior can be considered a contact support these days.
Ask the anti-FTAA protesters in Miami last year.
Or Steve Kurtz, the Buffalo artist accused of terrorism for creating artwork critical of biotechnology and transgenic contamination. Kurtz became a kissing cousin to Osama and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in short order due to his artwork and the books he keeps in his house — or rather the books he kept until they were confiscated by the FBI — books frowned upon by suspicious rescue workers responding to a call for help after Kurtz’s wife suffered a heart attack.
Who said AG Ashcroft’s Operation TIPS — the Stasi-like spy on your neighbor program — is dead in the water?
I can hear the Repugs now denouncing Baker. It matters not that Checkpoint is a work of fiction and not an assassination how-to manual. Simply criticizing Bush these days in public is dangerous. Ashcroft, as top cop, has said as much.
I can hear Rush Limbaugh and the vile hate radio chorus dominating the publicly owned airwaves calling for action against the indignant novelist.
It brings to mind the Muslim fundies who wanted Salman Rushdie’s head on a platter for slandering the prophet Muhammad. Of course, if the right-wingers go after Barker, they will not likely be calling for his death in a fatwa. Instead, they will likely call for him to serve time in a prison cell — and in America most prisons (with the exception of country club prisons where rich people are sent on rare occasion) are places where many people wish they were dead. For, when you think about it, the difference between Ashcroft and Ayatollah Khomeini is only a matter of minor degree. Both serve the art critic in the sky.
Of course, the whole thing may simply blow over, although it is doubtful — a link to an article reviewing Baker’s novel was posted on the Drudge Report, a sort of National Enquirer of the right web site. Matt Drudge often breaks stories. It is claimed he broke the Lewinsky story. Right-wingers flock to the site and the mention of an artist not only slamming Bush — so indecorously calling him a dry drunk and bible-thumper — but also and inexcusably fantasizing his demise so outlandishly by way of saw and uranium will certainly get their attention.
In short, Nicholson Baker’s novel is a dinner bell for irascible right-wing nut cases. I can hear Michael Savage frothing. Ann Coulter clucking. David Horowitz growling in that inimitable way only former Stalinists growl. It matters not that Barker’s book is fiction — and mainly surrealistic fiction at that — because the fact of the matter is he hates Bush and has the impertinence to say so. Literature is no excuse. Novelists are suspect. Hollywood filmmakers and movie stars are suspect. In fact, culture itself is suspect. Or culture disapproved by right-wingers, that is.
For as Hermann Goering taunted, “When I hear the word culture I reach for my revolver.”
KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Visit his excellent no holds barred blog at www.kurtnimmo.com/blogger.html . Nimmo is a contributor to Cockburn and St. Clair’s, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. A collection of his essays for CounterPunch, Another Day in the Empire, is now available from Dandelion Books.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org