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Mean-streak culture.

There is a mean streak in American culture, and it finds expression this winter in acts of vigilante vengeance, attacks on abortion clinics and the campaign of murder, assault and robbery waged by the racist, anti-Semitic silent Brotherhood. The cases are different in meaning and consequence, but they bespeak a common sense of rage born of civic breakdown. They are terrorist acts in the most frightening sense, for they make mayhem out of unreason and exploit the worst impulses and biggest fears of the community for the purpose of creating disorder.

Vigilante terrorism may be approaching crisis proportions, and the fault must be laid on the political leadership of the land: it seems to santion the emotional causes that give rise to the violence, even while condemning the acts themselves. President Reagan invites Joseph Scheidler, the militant antiabortion leader, to the White House, Scheidler winks at the clinic bombings and we get the message.

In New York, Mayor Edward Koch has managed to organize his white electoral constituency against the black and Hispanic populations Everyone knows where Koch stands, whom he likes and whom he routinely demeans and excludes. After the "Death Wish" vigilante shot four black youths in a subway car, Koch spoke out against the crime, but how much of the climate of support for vigilantism have Koch an d other officials helped create over the years?

Political leaders cannot eradicate violence any more than they can stop crime. But they can encourage communal development over divisive competition; they can locate the causes of social problems in the social structure rather than in individual pathology or ethnic culture; they can assert humane and equitable values over appeals to cultish strictures. The rewards of compassion will prove greater than those of revenge.

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Title Annotation:vigilante terrorism on the rise in U.S.
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:Jan 12, 1985
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