Clint Eastwood, still a jerk: His new Michael Moore threat, and the GOP's Fox News derangement problem

Eastwood denies threatening Michael Moore, then does it again. The tough-guy act's wearing thin for his whole party

By Sophia A. McClennen

Contributing Writer

Published April 24, 2015 3:45PM (EDT)

 Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry (Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Clint Eastwood came to Las Vegas on Wednesday for CinemaCon’s “Legend of Cinema Luncheon: A Salute to Clint Eastwood,” where he was honored for his work as both an actor and filmmaker.  But in true Eastwood style, the event turned into an opportunity for the aging director to function as a spokesperson for all that’s wrong with today’s Republican Party.

The real moment of revelation came when Eastwood returned to the clash he had had with filmmaker Michael Moore over "American Sniper."

“Everybody’s saying I threatened to kill Michael Moore,” said Eastwood. “That’s not true.”

“It isn’t a bad idea,” he added, after a pause — followed by nervous laughter from the audience.

Here’s what’s crazy about this claim. First, there is proof that he did indeed threaten to kill Moore back in 2005—and the proof is not just limited to Moore’s accounting of itIt was reported in the New York Daily News two days after Eastwood made the threat.

But hey, who wants to let a few facts get in the way of a good death threat?  Eastwood follows in the footsteps of the GOP truth-challenged like Ted Cruz,Paul RyanMichele Bachmann and more. And this is directly tied to pro-GOP news media like Fox News, which lies nine times more often than it tells viewers the truth. Lying has simply become such a mainstay of GOP rhetoric that hardly anyone seems to care.

Then comes the second crazy part of Eastwood’s statement.  He denies doing it, then does it again.

“I think once years ago somebody asked me what would I do if a guy like him came to my house with a whole film crew and started filming away like he did with Charlton Heston. Unfortunately, Charlton Heston was ill at the time with Alzheimer’s. But I thought if somebody was on your property, you could shoot him.”

It turns out, though, that you can’t just shoot someone who is on your lawn.  That would be murder.

Eastwood’s aggressive cowboy bravado has come to stand for a tremendously vicious attitude among a loud faction of the GOP. These extremists return again and again to the idea that, if you disagree with someone, shooting them might be the best option.  Recall, for instance, that Sarah Palin had a website called “Target of Opportunity” that used gun-sight symbols over contested congressional districts. One of those districts was the one belonging to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot at point-blank range during a meet and greet event in a Tucson-area Safeway parking lot.  Palin would later deny that her aggressive rhetoric had anything to do with the shooting. It just happened. Not her fault! Just a symbol.

And that gets us to the next problem.  If at some point these extremist Republicans are actually called out on their rhetoric of violence, they either deny doing it or say it was a joke.  The problem is that, if indeed these are jokes, they have real consequences. We should really wonder why Republicans find the idea of killing people they disagree with so funny.  As we well know, jokes are also often a cover for aggression, derision and disdain. Death threat jokes like Eastwood’s and Palin’s are clearly a sign of not-so-repressed desires for violence.

In Moore’s recounting of the 2005 threat he describes wanting to chalk it up to Eastwood going for a laugh: “I was a bit stunned to hear Eastwood, out of the blue, make such a violent statement. But I instantly decided he was just trying to be funny.”  But then Moore explained that he had suffered numerous attacks on his life. He explained that these attacks had followed similar “jokes” by right-wing extremists like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly: “This kind of thing wreaked all kinds of havoc in my life because of what this hate speech does to inspire the more deranged among us.”

What is most disturbing about this turn in U.S. politics is that extremist Republicans now bully, threaten, and aggressively attack anyone they disagree with.  They never consider the possibility of a reasoned debate.  Instead they use a language of violence and aggression to determine who are the true Americans and who aren’t.

Which brings us to the reason why the 2005 death threat came back into the media.  After the release of "American Sniper" I wrote a piece for Salon that tied Eastwood’s death threat and his bizarre speech to an empty chair at the 2012 RNC with what was wrong with "American Sniper."  My point was that there was a dangerous combination of delusion and aggression that could be seen in the film, in Eastwood’s behavior, and in the GOP overall.

My piece set off a firestorm of negative response.  It logged almost 1,400 comments and led to a barrage of hate mail and tweets.  Those aggressive comments shared a number of key features that we can see epitomized in Eastwood’s comments about Moore.   And they all coalesce around the idea that the GOP gets to determine the meaning of American values and that any disagreement deserves violence. Or maybe just a violent joke. If called on it -- or if someone acts on it -- well, "just kidding."

By Sophia A. McClennen

Sophia A. McClennen is Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University. She writes on the intersections between culture, politics, and society. Her latest book is "Trump Was a Joke: How Satire Made Sense of a President Who Didn't."

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