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The Fear Digest

Controversial Cartoons, Terrorists, Vacations, and More Things Americans Were Afraid of This Week

Everything scares Americans.

A man lights a candle at a vigil for the victims of the "Charlie Hebdo" attack in Berlin. Photo by Flickr user Thierry Chervel

Welcome back to the Fear Digest, our weekly countdown of the things terrifying America. Read last week's column here.

10. Controversial Images
It was one of those weeks when the world seemed a little more dangerous and a little less familiar. On Wednesday, three gunman stormed into the offices of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing a dozen people there before fleeing and later taking hostages at a printing plant while an apparently allied terrorist seized a grocery store. The violence seemed like an assault on satire itself, or even free speech generally, and media outlets across the globe struggled with how exactly to cover the event. Should they republish the cartoons of Muhammed that made Charlie Hebdo a target for Muslim extremists—a gesture that would display solidarity with the victims and might show that the press couldn't be bowed by threats—or was it not worth the risk? Did some of the cruder drawings cross the line into being simply racist caricatures? Whatever their reasoning, a lot of publications deliberately didn't show the controversial cartoons, with some even blurring photos of Charlie Hebdo covers that featured Muhammed (without context, this sort of made it look like they had giant dicks on them):


How the terrorists win: — Yair Rosenberg (@Yair_Rosenberg)January 7, 2015

Where this gets kind of muddled is that the Associated Press went a step further, with a spokesman telling BuzzFeed News, "It's been our policy for years that we refrain from moving deliberately provocative images." Wait, some people said, what about Andres Serrano's famous Piss Christ artwork? Why is that available in the AP image library? Our bad, said the AP, who promptly pulled it down. That's a stupid and dangerous precedent, wrote the Stranger's Dan Savage. "Who determines what images (or stories?) are deliberatively provocative as opposed to unintentionally provocative or just plain old provocative or not provocative at all? Who gets to play the censor?" he said in a Thursday blog post. "Anyone with a gun or grievance—which means anyone at all."

Last week's rank: Unranked

9. The Islamic State
Another side effect of the attack, which al Qaeda's Yemeni branch claimed responsibility for, was that that terrorist outfit may have enhanced its reputation among jihadists around the world, a victory in the "the public relations war" it's been fighting against the Islamic State (IS), reported Fox News. (Though the gunman who took hostages in the Paris supermarket claimed allegiance to IS.) That means that for once IS didn't seem like the Big Bad facing the West.
Last week's rank: 6

8. Lionfish
Just when IS looks a bit less threatening, we have to worry about a new danger—lionfish. The ugly creatures have been spreading invasively throughout the Atlantic Ocean after appearing off the coast of Miami in 1985, and now the government is so concerned about them killing other fish and coral reefs that it's advising people to kill and eat as many of them as possible. It might seem like a small threat, but the species' spread is pretty terrifying, as you can see from this map:


Last week's rank: Unranked

7. Republicans
Speaking of the government, the GOP now controls a pretty big chunk of it, and liberals are worried about what that means. "The last time Republicans had political momentum, after the 2010 elections, they plunged the United States into a year of crisis governance, including a threat to default on the debt if they didn't get concessions on spending cuts," wrote Slate's Jamelle Bouie. Of course, maybe this new batch of conservative congressmen will be less obstructionist and more open to compromise in the name of getting things done than their predecessors, but on the other hand hahahahaha.
Last week's rank: Unranked

6. Vacations
It's enough to make you want to get away from it all—but not many Americans can do so. According to a recent survey, more than 40 percent of them didn't take a single vacation day in 2014. Why not? "Fear is a major factor holding American workers back," reported Quartz. "A study by the US Travel Association found that four out of ten Americans were shying away from vacation days because of fear of more work upon their return or of being replaced while away."
Last week's rank: Unranked

5. Sledding
Our dystopian nightmare of overwork at least keeps us away from certain dangerous recreations like sliding down an icy hill really fast. Several people have won massive settlements in lawsuits against local governments after suffering sledding injuries, so now a bunch of municipalities have simply banned the activity to protect themselves from liability. Good job, everyone.
Last week's rank: Unranked


4. The Weather
In case you haven't noticed, a massive wave of freezing cold has basically consumed the entire country. Ten people have already died this winter in and around Chicago alone, and the homeless are especially at risk as temperatures drop. Shelters and government officials across the country are dealing with the cold as best they can, while the Weather Channel is coping as usual, i.e. it's running ominous snow-related graphics constantly.
Last week's rank: 3

3. People Who Hate the Cops
The weather hasn't done much to chill the conflict between the police and the activists who hate them, as a recent protest in Portland, Oregon, showed. Activists chanting slogans, like "hands up, don't shoot" and "I can't breathe," disrupted a town hall meeting held by Senator Ron Wyden that fairly quickly descended into disorder, with a 100-year-old Navy veteran who was being honored calling for the interlopers to show some "respect." Meanwhile, in Missouri, protesters interrupted the opening session of the state legislature before being removed by the police.
Last week's rank: 1a

2. Cops
The cops, on the other hand, continued to demonstrate why some people really, really hate them: An Idaho officer killed a women accidentally while trying to shoot her dog, an NYPD cop was caught on video "joyriding" on the roof of a police cruiser, and authorities released a clip of Cleveland police forcing Tamir Rice's sister to the ground moments after shooting the 12-year-old. On the plus side, cops aren't handing out ominous "Welcome to Fear City" leaflets like they were in New York back in the 70s.
Last week's rank: 1b

1. Terrorism
But everyday fears about being killed by the cops or freezing to death were mostly pushed aside this week in favor of a renewed focus on terrorism. The FBI and the State Department issued vague warnings in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, while neocons used the tragedy as an opportunity to bash Obama and demand that no one get in the way of the NSA and the rest of the national security state—New York Congressman Peter King even implied in a radio interview that the NYPD's controversial surveillance operations on the Muslim community were justified. We're only 11 days into 2015, but it looks like it's going to be a long and terror-filled year.
Last week's rank: Unranked

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