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In blaming the anti-war movement for all possible future scenarios connected to terrorism or the war in Iraq, the hysterical right has poised itself to lead a devastating assault on the Constitution and its protections.

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South by Southwest 2003 begins with the kickoff of the SXSW Film Festival on Friday, March 7. Ordinarily I would have been ranting about little else for weeks now (both Chronicle Publisher Nick Barbaro and I are SXSW directors). Unfortunately, local politics and the impending war have gotten in the way. SXSW 2003 is going to be great!

The SXSW Film Festival lineup is outstanding! Highlights include some of the following:

Go Further is a new documentary by Ron Mann (Grass) that follows Woody Harrelson and gang's pro-hemp bus trip. Mann showed me a chunk of footage from the film that was brilliant (Harrelson wasn't even in most of what I saw). Harrelson and Mann will be presenting the film on opening night. Robert Duvall directed and stars in Assassination Tango, which he'll introduce on March 8.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is a riveting work on recent events in Venezuela. The filmmakers had unbelievable access for this unique study in modern politics, in which we watch President Hugo Chavez being taken away, the coup failing, and Chavez returning. The Weather Underground seems more relevant than ever as it tells the story of one of the most extreme groups in the Vietnam anti-war movement.

Lubbock Lights is a documentary on that town's famed musical mob. American Dancer is a documentary about male strippers that is already generating serious word of mouth.

A Mighty Wind finds the Waiting for Guffman gang tackling folk music, and Mr. Show's Bob Odenkirk directed Melvin Goes to Dinner. Gil Cates Jr. is back with A Midsummer Nights Rave -- how can you go wrong combining Shakespeare and rave culture?

Nancy Savoca, one of my favorite directors (True Love, Dogfight), brings two films: Dirt, the evocative story of Salvadoran immigrants in NYC, and Rebel Without a Pause, off-Broadway star Reno's response to 9/11.

Peter Fonda will host a screening of a newly struck print of Hired Hand, his 1971 classic, a gorgeous film stunningly lensed by Vilmos Zsigmond.

There will be a retrospective celebrating the 10th anniversary of SXSW Film. Golden Globe winner Tony Shalhoub will present Made-Up, last year's audience favorite. Aviva Kempner brings The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, while Christopher Wilcha hosts The Target Shoots First. The remarkable George Huang will present the just-as-remarkable Swimming With Sharks. Even though he wrote the script for Iron Giant and is directly responsible for TV's Smallville, Tim McCanlies may be among the lesser known of Austin-area filmmakers. Any film enthusiast should be sure to attend Dancer, Texas Pop. 81, Tim's first film, so when Secondhand Lions (starring Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, and Haley Joel Osment) makes McCanlies an industry legend, you can say you were into him way back when. Plus, of course, Dancer is so much fun.

Richard Linklater's new short, Live From Shiva's Dancefloor, features motor-mouth tour guide Speed Levitch talking about New York. In any context, the film would be entertaining, but after 9/11 it is surprisingly poignant, as well. Shiva shares a bill with It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, Linklater's rarely screened first feature. The Austin Film Society will co-host a retrospective of films by legendary Mexican director Arturo Ripstein.

And there's more, so much more. Check the SXSW schedules, articles, and information in this and the next couple of Chronicles.

I won't even go into the outstanding schedule for the SXSW Music Festival 2003 except to point out the Austin Music Awards kicks it off on Wednesday, March 12, at the Austin Music Hall. Find out who you voted for as The Austin Chronicle Music Poll results are celebrated. The bill includes Ruthie Foster, Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez, and two special revues. The Hole in the Wall Gang features Paul Minor, Jane Bond, Beaver Nelson, Troy Campbell, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Tony Scalzo, Miles Zuniga, Darin Murphy, Ted Roddy, Andrew Duplantis, and Matt Hubbard. Survivors of the great Progressive Country Scare of the Seventies join up in the Improbable Return of Redneck Rock, including Steve Fromholz, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Rusty Wier, Ray Benson, Billy Joe Shaver, and Bob Livingston. Paul Ray is the emcee; expect special presenters and surprise guests.

War Stories and Other Thoughts: The current Republican agenda in terms of national defense seems to be: 1) invade Iraq, 2) give ever-expanding power and budget to national homeland security, and 3) assign blame for everything perceived as having gone or that might go wrong. The latter, on an international scale, is unnerving. Nationally, it may have consequences even more frightening than the impending invasion.

Led by the flying wedges of right-wing talk radio hosts but accompanied by sympathetic columnists, Republican politicians, and our president, a horrible scenario is being prepared.

Already there is no distinction between September 11 and the invasion of Iraq. The lead question being asked by Republicans about anti-war demonstrators is, "Aren't they aware of what happened on 9/11?" The invasion as a direct and only correct response to 9/11 is now considered an unassailable truth. The question following begins to lay blame for the future: "Instead of doing something about 9/11 and preventing it from happening again, are they such idealistic wimps, Saddam sympathizers, or active fifth columnists that they don't care about American security and lives?" This question answers itself.

Obviously, those against the war were devastated by 9/11 but don't think invading Iraq on an artificially ramped-up timetable is either the best response to that event or the means of preventing another one. This should be accepted as a patriotic and reasoned response to such a potentially catastrophic action.

Forget it. Officially, there are no legitimate concerns about the U.S. position on Iraq. Raising any questions of any kind gives aid and comfort to the enemy, will be the clear cause of any military and/or political problems encountered in Iraq (or elsewhere), and directly leads to the next terrorist action on American soil. Anti-war protesters are traitors, pure and evil.

Iraq invasion or no Iraq invasion, and regardless of the invasion's success or lack thereof, another major terrorist incident on U.S. soil is generally regarded as inevitable. The current confrontational situation with Iraq provides the government a context for such an incident. If there is such an incident before, during, or after the invasion -- regardless of whether there is an explicit connection to Iraq -- Republicans, the administration, and the pro-war population will be outraged at the impudence of Muslim fundamentalists. But it will also completely validate Bush's stance on Iraq. If the Iraq situation didn't exist, however, and there was an incident, the administration would look like it wasn't doing anywhere near enough for American security.

Whatever happens internationally -- the Iraq invasion is quick, the Iraq invasion bogs down, Hussein is overthrown -- or nationally -- another terrorist incident -- the anti-war movement is going to be blamed and at the very least verbally assaulted. There is no escaping this scenario: It is set, I promise you; blame will be laid. The only question is how long and how intensely.

A quick win in Iraq will be accompanied by, "We told you so!" Any kind of mishap in plans will find the anti-war movement blamed for inspiring our enemies.

A terrorist incident will be blamed directly on the anti-war movement, as though if it didn't exist, terrorism would have gone away. "See, we warned you," will be the response. "And you wanted to do nothing and see what happened." If Iraq is tied to the incident, the blame game will be even more intense.

We're hearing "love it or leave it" again, anti-war protesters labeled as fifth columnists, as dupes, as America-haters who shouldn't be allowed to stay here. The international crises, Hussein's arrogance and insanity, North Korea's activities, our wavering allies, the UN's hesitation, and more are all specifically their fault. The ever-growing popularity of right-wing talk radio is driven by hosts' willingness to assign blame for every problem, to attack certain Americans as not being American enough. A substantial terrorist incident will leave the population feeling frustrated. Being able to lay blame will provide focus. The blame will be laid not at any foreign door but on our own citizens. The actual terrorists are too ephemeral; our missiles, planes, navies, armies, and even atomic might can neither find, destroy, nor deter them. Our neighbors, right next door, are easier to find; some actually have anti-war signs on their lawns.

The blame might just end up being rhetoric and carping, political positioning used to campaign in elections and vent in general. Without even being too paranoid, unfortunately, one can foresee the possibility of a McCarthy-esque response where the rights of citizens who have opposed the war are actively attacked. Certainly there are calls for it right now, some so extreme as to be nauseating, but for the time being it is just positioning. Given the right circumstances, the hysterical right might go beyond vehement screaming. They are poised to lead a devastating assault on the Constitution and its protections.

Ironically, those declaring their love the loudest are displaying it the least. The United States is not land and buildings, it is the ideas behind the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Losing the latter to protect the former would be the most anti-American and historically consequential of all terrorist acts.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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