Wars of Religion in the Land of Gar

Garland, Texas, is a post-industrial housing development not too far away from where I grew up. It is a case study in “Suburban Hell.” Garland was once an actual community, a small town outside Dallas city limits. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, it became a haven for White Flight: its population increased 10 fold, and the city was enveloped by the formless highway, cement, and strip-mall monstrosity known as “The Metroplex.”

In 2015, Garland is America in 2050: “Non-Hispanic Whites” are roughly 35 percent of the population, as are Latinos, with other groupings of African-Americans and Vietnamese making up the remainder. Garland has, in its way, achieved real, existing multiculturalism, sustained by social isolation and copious discount marts.

Before Sunday night, Garland was best known, if it was known at all, as one of the Dallas suburbs that inspired the long-running cartoon-sitcom King of the Hill (1997-2010). The fictional town of “Arlen” was a typical American Nowheresville, which served as the setting for Mike Judge’s gentle sendup of good-natured bumpkins navigating the modern world.

I could imagine no better setting for a conference organized by the “American Freedom Defense Initiative,” a salad of patriotic buzzwords and a veritable clusterfuck of the Fake Right.

The gathering included,

  • Pamella Geller—an Ayn Randian from New York City (her blog was originally titled Atlas Shrugs), who after 9/11 became an hysterical Zionist and Internet terror warrior. Now into her late 50s, Geller is one of those women who tries to look much younger than she is . . . which makes her look much older than she is. Her face has been lifted and botoxed so many times that she is beginning to resemble a mythological beast.

  • Geert Wilders—a Dutch politician who has, over the past decade, made himself into a poster child for “American Conservatism” on the continent. Wilders speaks of Europe’s “Judeo-Christian” heritage, equates “the West” with Zionism, and has sought to protect European liberalism from Muslims (i.e., people who actually believe in something). Intriguingly, Wilders’s bleached-blond hair is a distraction: he is of partial Filipino heritage. And for reasons I don’t quite understand, Wilders spent some teenage summers on an Israeli kibbutz.

  • And finally, The Base—In attendance were the rooting’, tooting’ Texans of the Fake Right, a group who (unlike Geller and Wilders) deserve sympathy. No doubt, these Republicans feel that something has gone terribly wrong . . . that they are losing control, or never really had it . . . that their children will live in a degraded parody of the America of their parents, perfectly encapsulated by the history of Garland. Their response it to imagine that their problems can be solved by engaging in a global struggle against Islam. Perhaps there is even a kind of vicarious nationalism—a desire to solve Israel’s demographic problems in lieu of their own?

All parties deserve one another.

Geller, AFDI’s President, apparently chose Garland’s Curtis Culwell Center because it had previously hosted a conference dedicated to “Islamophobia.” There can be no doubt she was deliberately trying to ignite a violent response from Muslims by couching the event as a “Prophet Mohammed Cartoon Contest,” which is also why she made sure that a SWAT team was on hand. (Whether you think this strategy was effective, shameful, or stupid depends on your perspective.)

But Geller also expected a warm welcome. White Texans in the ‘burbs are perhaps the most prone to support, viscerally and unwaveringly, the Fake Right—the Right that conserves nothing, that plays footsie with the “Clash of Civilization” and whose ultimate fruits are trillion-dollar military adventures in the name of democracy.

The shooting—as well as the participants’ rescue at the hands of the police—have already made “Garland” a right-wing chant, something akin to “Remember the Alamo!”

On a political level, it will serve to symbolize that, among a certain segment of evangelical Republicans, the spirit of "9/11” and the “Global War on Terror” will never end, will never lose its immediacy and potency, as it has for most everyone else in the country. America must endlessly fight “Islam” in its homeland—no matter what the cost. We must be “over there,” so they are not “over here.”

That said, on a deeper level, there is a genuine “traditionalist” impulse (albeit an unconscious one) to those who gathered in “The Land of Gar” last Sunday. Might we be witnessing a resurgence of primitive Christianity, long after we assumed that faith had become just another lifestyle choice or self-esteem strategy? The attendees might talk of their devotion to “free speech,” “freedom,” and other slogans of Classical Liberalism, but behind this is the primal desire to demean and desecrate a competing faith, much like their ancestors might have burned an effigy of the pope, smashed the idols of a defeated foe, or, like Pastor Terry Jones, set flame to heretical texts. In the 21st century, the extreme liberalism of Pamela Geller, Geert Wilders, George W. Bush, et al.—the liberalism that is willing to go to war—is sustained by a backward, primitive creed.