Well you see it may be that the salvation of the world lies in the hands of the maladjusted. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
A couple of weeks ago, I read Cenk Uygur's satire, What Fox News Channel Would Have Done to Rosa Parks. Meditating on the right wing smears of Cindy Sheehan, which were then still relatively new, Uygur wondered "how it would have been in the Civil Rights era if Fox News Channel, Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge and the rest of the gang were around back then."
Hannity: “Rosa Parks has turned this whole so-called civil rights issue into a public circus. We have information that Ted Kennedy might have put her up to this. That amazing story when we come back!”
Colmes: “You’re right, Sean. I’m sorry.”
O’Reilly: “To question the government of Alabama and implicitly the entire United States government by defying the political order like this has to be considered treasonous. Civil disobedience is a code word for I hate America. These people are criminals, simple criminals. It's ridiculous that they think they don't have to live by the same rules as the rest of us.”
Scarborough: “Yeah, whatever they just said on Fox News Channel! Well … I mostly agree with it.”
Kaplan: “Can we hire Shep Smith to cover this? Maybe give him his own show?”
Limbaugh: “What did I tell you folks? These libs like Parks would rather live in France where they can sit anywhere they want on the bus. They hate America. They want special privileges to be able to sit anywhere they want. They hide behind the color of their skin to try to undermine this country.”
Coulter: “Rosa Parks is a dyke!”
Blitzer: “Dr. King, is it true that you support the liberal agitator Rosa Parks in her defiance of America? Can you confirm whether she has in fact sat in the back of the bus before? Do you think this makes her a flip-flopper? If she has been so inconsistent on this, how can we trust her on anything?”
What's funny about this satire is that there is nothing funny about it. It is pretty close to reality in the 1950s and 1960s. Today's smears and provocations of dissenters fit into a profile of traditional right wing attacks. It is important to see this, so we who dissent can have more sophistication about the nature of the right's tactics, learn how to protect ourselves and how to respond strategically.
The Mechanics Of Slander
In the two pages of photos inside the Georgia Commission on Education's anti-Communist tabloid there are two photos documenting Mrs. Parks' presence at the Highlander Folk School twenty-fifth anniversary celebration. The first image, on page 2, shows Parks with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy and two other unnamed individuals who appear to be white (the quality of the scanned reproduction is terrible). The caption reads:
Three outstanding leadership people of the infamous Montgomery, Alabama bus incident. The development, precipitation and financing of this inflammatory project called for behind the scenes planning and directions beyond the ability or capacity of local people. The relationship between Communist leadership and racial strife is evident from coast to coast and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes.
What a marvelous mixture of red-baiting and racism: local Blacks could not have planned, financed and executed the Montgomery Bus Boycott themselves; therefore the resistance must have been engineered by a Communist conspiracy. On page 3, the caption for a second picture of Parks reads:
Rosa Parks, who precipitated the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott, and Ralph Teffertaller of New York's Henry Street Settlement listen to group training under the watchful eye of Abner Berry of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
Now the watchful eye of Abner Berry, who was there as a reporter for the Communist Party's Daily Worker newspaper, exerts magical control over Mrs. Parks and the others present.
Such conspiracies of Communist mind control in the Civil Rights Movement were not just whispered among die hard white supremacists. These slanders were propagated through broad, well funded media campaigns. The "Communist Training School" publication
became the Georgia Commission on Education’s widest distributed and most popular work of propaganda. [M.J.] Heale noted that “Copies were sent to every daily and weekly newspaper in the United States” and “to other federal and state investigating committees.” Once the pamphlet caught on, “The Commission was flooded with requests for more copies, sometimes for a thousand or more at a time,” especially in the South because “interest was strongest in other southern states” (emphasis added). The pamphlet also led other media groups like the magazine Human Events and the Atlanta Constitution to report unfavorably about Highlander.
While the images of Rosa Parks as dupe of the Communists have not survived in popular memory, the Martin Luther King At Communist Training School slander is all over the internet, in relatively mainstream, right wing, anti-King, anti-civil rights propaganda and on many white supremacist websites. (I'm not linking them here, but a little googling yields plenty of examples.)
Defamation: An Enduring Tradition
The other thing that survives is the characterization of the left as morally debased and anti-American. Laura Grantmyre, whose senior thesis I quoted, above, on the dissemination of the Georgia Commission's propaganda piece, sees that this is the fundamental message of their publication.
The pamphlet also proposed the idea that subverted religion and interracial sexuality were part of this Communist training school. The depiction that the Christian religion was a cover for Highlander’s Communism surfaced in the middle of the pamphlet on a page of pictures [Edwin] Friend [the reporter/spy] had taken. A picture of a church car with four men milling behind it had a caption that claimed it was illustrating, “how many units of the Communist apparatus are assisted by organizations purportedly charitable or religious in nature.” This statement claimed that Highlander and its friends were superficially rooted in religion and used faith to give themselves a public image cleaner than that of Communists. By divorcing Highlander from the Church in this way, the pamphlet was aligning them with atheism and Communism. The largest picture on the page insinuated interracial sexuality, where a white woman and a black man appear to be embracing or clapping behind each other’s heads. This was the only picture without a caption, illustrating that the Georgia Commission on Education assumed white people in the South would grasp the idea that not only was it an interracial embrace, but since it was a black man and a white woman, it conjured the idea of the hypersexualized black male rapist and the protection of white womanhood. Within the pages of the pamphlet, the southern ideologies of fear, Communism, atheism, and transgressions of interracial sexual boundaries, were intertwined to leave a deep impact on the elite and popular Southern mind. 
Thus we have commentary on Cindy Sheehan such as this from David Horowitz and his charming peace left = terrorist sympathizers diagram (yes, Muslims are the new "Unholy" Communists . . .):
She has made herself a willing tool of anti-American forces in this country that want America to lose the war in Iraq and the war on terror generally. . . . She has joined forces with an Unholy Alliance on the other side in the epic battle for freedom in the Middle East and has shown that she will do and say anything to discredit the United States and its commander-chief -- acts which serve the enemy and endanger American lives. She is a disgrace to her brave son who gave his life for the freedom of ordinary Iraqis and the security of his countrymen. She has betrayed his sacrifice and embraced his enemies.
And this from radio personality Mark Williams:
Cindy Sheehan is on a mission to figuratively urinate on her son's grave and make his death stand for nothing. She represents and symbolizes all those who would cut the legs out from the men and women who are fighting now as we speak, to defend us and to build a new country in Iraq. Cindy Sheehan's not interested in the memory of her son. She's only interested in using her son as a prop to advance her own hatred for the American troops.
To describe current anti-war protest as a reaction to the invasion of Iraq or an anti-Bush phenomenon is to miss the point. A closer look at the protesters and their associations reveals a pedigree going back at least to the Vietnam era and beyond to the "progressive" and protest politics of earlier decades. The leaders of the "anti-war" movement today are leftists in ideology. Almost all oppose capitalism and believe in socialism; many are Communists.
The Georgia Commission pamphlet on the Highlander Folk School is by no means the first or only example of this kind of media campaign to smear dissenters. It is, however, a particularly potent example, the content of which continues to occupy public discourse about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Having made this alternative comparison between Cindy Sheehan and Rosa Parks, the question I want to ask is this: what popular perceptions led Cenk Uygur to find irony in an imagination of Rosa Parks and the right wing smear machine of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge et. al?
One answer lies in the insipid stories that pass for Civil Rights Movement history, emphasizing sanitized images of individual heroes rather than the movements Parks and King and others participated in. The Civil Rights Movement is not merely the story of noble African Americans using nonviolence to conquer the likes of Bull Conner and the Klan; it is the story of a mass movement to put power into the hands of Black people, power that is still being clutched greedily by an elite, white minority which has yet to travel very far from its racist roots.
The other answer lies in the race and class differences between Cindy Sheehan and Rosa Parks. In my experience, many of my white, middle class activist contemporaries have been spurred by the feeling that we in the US are witnessing unprecedented abuses of government power and that our core democratic principles are under siege by the Bush administration. While I believe this is true, most of these evils we are witnessing are not new. What may be new is that in this period a much broader section of society has been pushed to the outside.
I took my epigraph from the conclusion of Martin Luther King, Jr's speech at the Highlander Folk School twenty-fifth anniversary celebration in 1957. Here is the final passage in it's entirety:
There are certain technical words in the vocabulary of every academic discipline which tend to become cliches and stereotypes. Psychologists have a word which is probably used more frequently than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word maladjusted. This word is the ringing cry of the new child psychology. Now in a sense all of us must live the well adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But there are some things in our social system to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I suggest that you too ought to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to the viciousness of mob-rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic inequalities of an economic system which takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating method of physical violence. I call upon you to be maladjusted. Well you see it may be that the salvation of the world lies in the hands of the maladjusted. The challenge to you this morning as I leave you, is to be maladjusted -- as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, could cry out in terms that echo across the centuries, let judgement run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream;" as maladjusted as Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free; as maladjusted as Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could cry out in words lifted to cosmic proportions, All men are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Yes, as maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth who dared to dream a dream of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men. He looked at men amid the intricate and fascinating military machinery of the Roman Empire. And could say to them, "He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword." Jesus who could look at men in the midst of their tendencies for tragic hate and say to them, "Love thy enemies. Bless them that curse you. Pray for them that despitefully use you." The world is in desperate need of such maladjustment. Through such maladjustment we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.
 Laura Grantmyre, The Attacks On the Highlander Folk School: A White Supremacist Response to Anti-Racist Activism (A Senior Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of the Department of History in Candidacy for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts in History, University of North Carolina at Ashville), p. 13. Grantmyre is quoting M.J. Heale, McCarthy's Americans: Red Scare Politics in State and Nation 1935-1965 (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 1998). [.DOC, HTML]
 Ibid. 12-13.