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Hell’s Pundits

When the news broke this weekend that a violent biker melee at a theme restaurant in Waco claimed nine lives and otherwise injured 18, there were all sorts of solemn topics available to the interlocuters of pundit discourse. 

There was the awkward contrast of the Waco episode with the recent protests in Baltimore over the police killing of Freddie Gray, for example. Yet there were no anguished cries from cable anchors asking what the hell happened to produce the majority-white, Lone Star corps of malefactors. Rand Paul didn’t step to the podium to declare that motorcycle gangs attract their members and inculcate their violent folkways via a culture-wide breakdown in family structure. Most of all, there was a glaring disparity in law enforcement response. Baltimore authorities arrested more than 200 people over the course of the riots, with half of the hastily jailed detainees released without charges. The many teenagers who remained in custody, meanwhile, received unusually harsh sentences, particularly given that a good number of them were first-time offenders. Infamously, one teen protestor who turned himself in for damaging a police car was held on a $500,000 bond that his family was nowhere close to being able to pay—while the six Baltimore cops charged in Freddie Gray’s killing were assessed $350,000 bonds that they made the same day they were detained.

If the black protestors in Baltimore felt like they had been ferried off to a gulag, then Waco’s violent offenders looked as though they were cooling their heels at the DMV. The Waco police authorities let the 170-plus gang members involved in the gunfight mill about in the restaurant parking lot as the cops took their time processing the crime scene. Bikers looked bored and restive; they clustered around pickup trucks, chatted, smoked and fiddled with their smartphones, awaiting directives from local law enforcement. And even after they were brought in for their arraignments, the Waco justice system carelessly let three of them go on $50,000 bonds—not the $1 million the courts had actually assessed.

None of these snapshots of our two-tiered, racialized justice system have impressed the right-wing mediasphere. Not only is the reactionary worldview unshaken by context, its partisans can comb over even the site of a mass killing in order to create trumped-up umbrage over the cultural excesses of politically correct liberalism. 

Consider the, uh, ruminations on the Waco tragedy by one Lee Stranahan, a contributor at the popular (and routinely misleading) Breitbart news site. Stranahan parlayed the blood-soaked scene at Waco into a standard-issue talking point to the absurd effect that the real victims here were the successful entrepreneurs who operated the Twin Peaks restaurant franchise where the shootout took place. Seizing on a risible Daily Beast headline that characterized the chain as a “Hooters Knockoff” (yes, the restaurant’s name is not actually an homage to the surrealist prairie auteur David Lynch, but rather to the fulsome display of American mammaries), Stranahan intoned a list of spittle-flecked, culture-war grievances:

You could fill an entire semester at any Ivy League grad school detailing everything the selectively prudish left would despise about Twin Peaks. It’s a successful American business that combines pretty girls, sports, meat, beer, fun, friendly service, a nice atmosphere, and more pretty girls.

You don’t say! But how does the chain rate on the all-important conspicuous-ennui index, so notoriously favored by our pusillanimous lefty culture snobs? Well, drop your practiced sneers, elitists, and sidle up to the Shot-skis! “It’s Twin Peaks lack of bitterness and angst that probably guiles the haters most,” Stranahan writes. After noting that the Dallas-based chain is the fastest-growing restaurant concern in the country (“Yes, they built that,” he jeers in a desperate effort to revive the slogan of the flatlined 2012 Romney convention), Stranahan enthused:

Maybe Twin Peaks’ success is actually partially due to the current climate of hectoring, lecturing hate that’s spilling out of the universities and into the streets. Maybe in an overly politicized age, there’s something especially refreshing about the simple pleasures a plate of steak slider, a cold beer, and a waitress who gives you a smile instead of a treatise on white male privilege. 

You might think that’s an awfully bizarre moral to draw from the headline that a harried web editor appended to a story about a blood-soaked gunfight. You might also think that it verges close to Tourette’s territory to claim that this grotesquely politicized portrait of Twin Peaks’ appeal actually bears witness to the heroic, white-dude resistance to “an overly politicized age.”

But, as is so often the case with Breitbart, the truth is far worse than the drive-by kulturkampf broadsides on the site suggest. The salient political import of Twin Peaks here is the Waco franchise’s egregious trespass against the conservative mantra of law and order. As NPR reports, Waco citizens had long complained about the way that this wholesome outlet for alpha-male appetites had doubled as a fern-bedecked gang council. One network correspondent said that “Waco citizens that I talked to were angry that this restaurant . . . would allow these really violent outlaw motorcycle gangs to meet there on a regular basis, and drink beer, and you know, ogle at the waitresses. These are known violent gangs.”

Indeed, Twin Peaks HQ, despite its Breitbart-puffed image as an indulgent player of frat-boy catharsis right out of Old School, promptly responded to the biker massacre by revoking the franchise’s license: “Unfortunately, the management team of the franchised restaurant in Waco chose to ignore the warnings and advice from both the police and our company, and did not uphold the high security standards we have in place to ensure everyone is safe at our restaurants.” It’s reasonable to assume that the carnage would have been much worse if the local cops hadn’t already stationed at least ten unmarked cars outside the restaurant, fully aware of the heavy gang presence inside.

As Waco police sergeant Patrick Swanton explained to the Dallas Morning News, his force was unable to place any plainclothes officers in the restaurant “partly because the officers felt they weren’t welcome inside.” Let that sink in a moment: Texas cops felt the atmosphere in Twin Peaks was too menacing for them to conduct surveillance in an eatery that Breitbart News celebrates as a samizdat refuge for the browbeaten victims of “the PC left.” Well, then, let’s hoist one for that pioneer of Breitbart-style agitprop Hanns Johst, who meant it when he said, “When I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my revolver.’ ”