Point Austin: Madness in Many Packages

From Highland Mall to PACT, the lunatics are at large

Point Austin
So, it looks like I won't be spending more money at Highland Mall any time soon. I'm not what you'd call a veteran mall shopper – indeed, I undoubtedly score pretty high on the incompetent male consumer scale. But I live near the mall, and over the years when I've needed a last-minute birthday gift, a holiday or romantic effusion of chocolates, or just some indispensable sundry that only department stores seem to stock, I've gone over to Highland, wandered through the multiculti crowds and the curiosity shops – occasionally lingering a bit in the food court – and found what I needed.

Never once, over more than a decade, have I ever felt remotely threatened or even uneasy among the crowds there, and when I'm not in a rush, I've even enjoyed the quasi-public marketplace feel of a whole lot of different people hanging with friends and family while spending time browsing the available commercial universe.

No more. Last week's colossal public relations gaffe by Highland Mall management over the Texas Relays crowd – announcing they would close for "security reasons" rather than endure the young, mostly African-American crowd that visits town that weekend and that has caused traffic problems at or near the mall – has soured me on the place for good. Not that they'll miss me – losing my paltry expenditures will not be the straw that breaks the already staggering mall's back. But unless the management takes public, proactive steps to undo the damage they've done to local racial relations and Austin's reputation as a welcoming city, I ain't coming back.

Buried in the news reports were passing acknowledgments from officials that the only real problem had been traffic control – call it "small town drive-in syndrome" or car-crazy teenagers turning the mall and the surrounding streets into a circular parking lot for several Saturday hours. If that's the case, it should have been addressed months ago, and the suggestion from the NAACP's Nelson Linder that the Expo Center or a similar venue be made available for a car show and hangout nexus makes sense – and the mall management should begin planning right now, in cooperation with the University of Texas and local organizations, to get something like that done, under their sponsorship. That's the only way they're going to wipe the egg off their faces – or hope to get a lot of the mall's customers back.

Cold Dead Fingers

In other news, our local tin-pot conspiracist, radio/TV host, "documentarian," and DVD-salesman Alex Jones has been dragged sideways into the story of Richard Poplawski, who on April 4 allegedly murdered three Pittsburgh police officers arriving at his home after a domestic disturbance call from his mother. Turns out the 22-year-old Poplawski is a raving anti-Semite, white supremacist, and gun fanatic who a few times posted comments to Jones' Infowars website (or the related Prison Planet), a connection initially discovered by the Anti-Defamation League as it tracked Poplawski's various Web names. The ADL described Jones as "right-wing" but noted that in his posts, Poplawski specifically complained that Infowars was insufficiently alert to international Jewish plots and the "Zionist" control of the U.S. government and New World Order. More often, apparently, Poplawski linked Infowars stories – about FEMA "concentration camps" and supposed federal plans to confiscate guns – to a different website, the openly white supremacist Stormfront.

Jones is a self-important demagogue, but he's no racist or anti-Semite – although his broadcasts and websites, filled with dark, hysterical fantasies of evil official schemes, attract plenty of both species. A few blogs and national papers, including The New York Times, picked up the Jones connection, with varying degrees of accuracy. Infowars regulars Kurt Nimmo and Paul Joseph Watson struck back April 6 with a long denunciation of ADL and others for their "smear" against Jones, insisting that Poplawski's opinions were "a complete 180 from what we write about every day."

That may be true about Poplawski's racist and neo-Nazi attitudes, but he undoubtedly shared the Jones and Infowars obsessions with FEMA, gun control, and related New World Order hysteria, which have lately also become a staple for Glenn Beck and his fellow wing nuts on Fox. "So all the things that I was talking about in the wilderness 10-plus years ago are now hitting mainstream," Jones recently told Fox's Andrew Napolitano, "and it is great!"

Jones doesn't need to be a racist or anti-Semite to make a fool of himself. Interviewed after the Poplawski murders by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jones described himself as "more of a libertarian" and denounced the shootings, although he laid any blame for Poplawski's violence on the Marine Corps (which discharged him dishonorably) – and Poplawski's worries about gun confiscation. And from where might have come Poplawski's supposed worries about some imaginary federal plot to confiscate his precious AK-47 and other fetishized guns? "When the police and the military attempt to come for the guns, which they're going to do," Jones told the Post-Gazette, "it's not going to go well."

That is utter and extremely dangerous nonsense, spiked in recent months by the National Rifle Association and other extremist opposition to the Obama administration. The undeniable truth is, the entire U.S. (especially Texas) is utterly awash in guns, legal and illegal, of every possible kind, and the predominant official response, from the feds on down, has been to look for ways to make guns even more omnipresent and readily available – in churches, on campuses, in public buildings, wherever the hell some unhinged wacko with a real or imaginary grievance (or in an argument with his mother) can take it into his fool head to shoot everybody within range and especially any police officer who walks up to his door wondering what all the fuss is about or (in Infowars La-La-Land) who is "coming to take his guns."

Jones and his Fox friends can spew all the nonsense they want and go on pretending that it has no effect on any heavily armed listeners already seething against their neighbors. But in Austin, it does raise the persistent question of why Jones' frankly commercial broadcasting-and-snake-oil network – including de facto hourlong ads for his KLBJ radio show – must be subsidized by city taxpayers on cable access TV. Isn't it about time Jones and his MisInfowars are sent packing by PACT to the pirate-radio oblivion he so richly deserves?

For more on the Highland Mall/Texas Relays story, see "Highland Mall Hysteria Over Texas Relays." A useful report by Max Blumen­thal on the Poplawski fallout is posted on The Daily Beast at www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-04-07/what-a-killer-was-watching.

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civil rightsmediagun control, Highland Mall, Texas Relays, Nelson Linder, Alex Jones, Richard Poplawski

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