Originally posted April 21, 2010
I began writing this nearly a week ago, on Tax Day, April 15th, as thousands of Tea Party members were rallying across the nation. I wanted to write something substantive, authoritative, a summary, a review of the extreme right mobilizations, of the militias, the new secessionists, the open-carry activists with guns. And what it all meant.
For background, I began reading probably more than a dozen reports and posts on and of the Tea Partiers, the militias, and other extremist nefarious goings-on in our country. Not surprised by all the attention the Tea Parties were getting, I kept reading and searching for more – I put off writing for another day or two.
There were these two Republican Southern governors who both announced that April would be “Remember the Confederacy Month” – without mentioning slavery, initially at least. There was the secessionist talk by mainstream GOP politicians in Texas. There were those 8 or 9 armed militiamen in the Mid-West who were recently arrested as they were plotting an armed “uprising.” Then there were the Oklahoma legislators supporting the formation of “militias” to defend their state – against the Feds.
And of course, there were the oft-cited displays of racism and homophobia when Tea Partiers spit at and heckled Black and gay congressmen in front of the Capitol building around the time of the passage of the health reform bill. These were all denied, naturally, by the right’s spin-makers. There were the 42 known threats or incidents of violence done against the offices of Democratic lawmakers after the bill was passed. Bricks were thrown through office windows.
There was that rally of armed extremists just this past Monday, April 19th, just across the Potomac from the Capitol. There was that rally in South Carolina where the guy who advocated throwing the bricks made even more threats against the government. There’s all these promises to “take our country back,” the really violent rhetoric we’re hearing, there’s the huge uptick in threats against President Obama.
Again, after reading more over the weekend and it became time to punch the laptop, I got stuck and overwhelmed. I made more notes. And finally, when it came time to figuratively put pen to paper, I couldn’t write anything. My mind balked. My fingers stalled over the keyboard.
I was too depressed to write. I felt demoralized, demoralized with the state of politics in America. This country is really going downhill, I thought, and we could be involved in a new civil war if this all keeps up. It was disgusting what some of these Tea Party leaders and members were saying, it was disheartening to understand why these gun-toting angry white men and women were bearing arms.
Why bother? I asked. It could be all over. These extremists are brewing and stewing for another civil war. Besides, people in OB were too caught up in their paradisaical state to care about gun-toters, about threats from militias – and, ‘hey, dude, those tea partiers are way-too angry!’ for my fellow OBceans.
How can you think about militias when there’s beautiful days, bountiful surf, a warm sun, and scantily clan young bodies laying and frolicking on the sand? Besides, after tax day, there was 4/20 to celebrate.
I pushed on to read more about the Tea Parties. I checked out the nearly half dozen local websites and blogs they have here in San Diego County.
On Tax Day – April 15th, supposedly by one estimate, half a million Tea Partiers rallied – against taxes presumably, in 800 different locations across the country. I read the reports, clicked on the photos, watched the videos on the blogosphere. The more I saw, the more demoralized I became.
They rallied against taxes while most of them enjoyed tax cuts by the current President – the “socialist”, the Muslim, the Kenyan. They decried big government and the “socialism” while enjoying public parks where they rallied, the public infrastructure and public health care and benefits they receive.
I felt sorry for America. We had elected the first Black man as President, but his very election had unleashed a hatred and anger not seen from the Right for decades, an anger – apparently submerged during the eight long George W Bush years – that has surfaced and now has supposedly changed the political climate in the nation.
Even though I knew there was a building backlash against the Tea Parties – I have even been part of it -, I couldn’t go on. Too frustrated, too depressed to write – so I put it off again.
These feelings were nothing new, either, as last Fall and Winter, I had written a three-part series entitled “The Dilemma of the Disenchanted Progressive,” laying out why progressives – while disenchanted with Obama – were caught up in an historic twist and couldn’t ignore the developing homegrown variety of American fascism rising up among the ranks of the racists who could not accept the election of our first African-American to the White House.
I summarized then:
Put it all together – the racism, the authoritarianism, the aggressiveness and threats of violence, the bullying, the ignorance, the manipulation, the outright deception, the corporate links and funding and media support – and we have something that is – by definition – a movement of American fascism.
Who would have thought that the election of the first Black president would have sparked a renewal in the lingering, smoldering coals of the Southern Confederacy? This particular polarity – the election of a Black president and the re-newel of interest in the Confederacy – has an eerie parallel in the election of Abraham Lincoln and the secession of the Southern States 150 years ago. In both cases, the election of a President caused an extreme political reaction. In the first, it torn the country apart, costing 600,000 American lives, but destroyed slavery. In the second case – well, it ain’t done yet.
This trend and repeat of history, first as tragedy and now as comedy, of a renewal of the rhetoric and interest in secessionist ideology, – is part and parcel of this dark trend in American politics we have been observing of late.
On this past Monday, we watched Rachel Maddow’s sobering two-hour piece on Timothy McVeigh and his bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, and its 168 deaths – including 19 children – and over 500 wounded and injured. It was very sad remembering those days and viewing video of the tragedy.
The day before, in the New York Times, Bill Clinton wrote an op-ed piece, warning America about the new threats from extremists.
Finally, we should never forget what drove the bombers, and how they justified their actions to themselves. They took to the ultimate extreme an idea advocated in the months and years before the bombing by an increasingly vocal minority: the belief that the greatest threat to American freedom is our government, and that public servants do not protect our freedoms, but abuse them. On that April 19, … deeply alienated and disconnected Americans decided murder was a blow for liberty.
… we do not have the right to resort to violence — or the threat of violence — when we don’t get our way. … Criticism is part of the lifeblood of democracy. No one is right all the time. But we should remember that there is a big difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws.
We are again dealing with difficulties in a contentious, partisan time. We are more connected than ever before, more able to spread our ideas and beliefs, our anger and fears. As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters, we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged.
Civic virtue can include harsh criticism, protest, even civil disobedience. But not violence or its advocacy. … Fifteen years ago, the line was crossed in Oklahoma City. In the current climate, with so many threats against the president, members of Congress and other public servants, we owe it to the victims of Oklahoma City, and those who survived and responded so bravely, not to cross it again.
Who would have thought that 15 years after the worst incidence of domestic terrorism in this country’s history, a former President has to publicly warn the nation that violent rhetoric from certain quarters could cause extremists to “cross the line” again?
That same day, Sunday, April 18th, David Axelrod, Obama’s senior White House adviser, was on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” He also was using cautionary language.
QUESTION: What do you make of this spreading and very public disaffection with not only the government, but especially the Obama administration, the TEA parties this week? …
AXELROD: I think any time that you have severe economic conditions, there is always an element of disaffection that can mutate into something that’s unhealthy.
Axelrod was talking about the disaffection turning into something other than free expression – the ugly potential for violence. That same weekend, at a rally in South Carolina headlined by former GOP Presidential candidate and current rightwing fringe activist Tom Tancreado (R-CO), a Baptist preacher got up and declared that he was prepared to “suit up, get my gun, go to Washington, and do what they trained me to do.”
This was the same rally where Tancreado said:
(Americans are) “going to have to pray that we can hold on to this country.”
He added, referring to President Obama:
“If his wife says Kenya is his homeland, why don’t we just send him back?”
This is exactly the kind of rhetoric and dark trends Clinton and Axelrod were warning about. A good and significant chunk of this dark trend has been the development of the Tea Party movement and most all its factions. Even though it appears that on a national level, there are two distinct wings of their movement: the Palinists and the Paulists, despite the denials of racism and claims they only want “smaller government and less taxes”, neither wing would exist if McCain had been elected.
Along with the Tea Parties, the militias, and the neo-Confederates, there’s also the “open-carry” movement. It has thrust its ugly head out in public even here in San Diego County, appearing at shopping malls in Escondido and other locales. Their converts appeared at a recent Tea Party rally at San Diego Harbor – where at least one man was seen with a gun strapped to his hip. (This is the same rally that we mobilized a counter-rally against.)
These “Second Amendment” activists swagger hypocritically across our political landscape. For instance, at that armed rally across from the Potomac, it was held in a park – a park where it was just recently authorized to carry guns in by the Obama administration when it sponsored legislation allowing guns in national parks. During the Bush years, that group could not have held their gun-toting gathering. Open carry rallies also took place in Michigan, New Mexico and Ohio last week, and rallies also took place in Arizona.
There’s also plenty of evidence that demonstrates that the open-carry folks and the Tea Partiers are given preferential treatment by law enforcement. In the past, anti-war protesters were limited to certain size sticks and poles for their signs, yet at Tea Party rallies, there are no such limits. During the Bush years, anti-war protesters were arrested or removed for wearing controversial T-shirts if Bush was nearby. But nowadays, right-wing protesters with guns are undisturbed, even when they’re in proximity to President Obama.
A recent mainstream media poll of Tea Partiers had 27% of them supporting violence against the government. And in general, 38% of all Americans polled in another rating fear domestic terrorism over foreign terrorism.
Despite the dangers, the warnings, the hypocrisy – the right-wing extremist rhetoric is not diminishing. Just recently at another Southern rally, a Congressman from Georgia, Republican Paul Brown, called Obama the head of a “tyrannical government” and that Congress represents “the enemies of the people.”
Larry Pratt, the president of the NRA (the National Rifle Association), just very recently announced, “We’re in a war.” To clarify, he shouted out at yet another public gathering, “They’re coming for us, for our lives, our kids, and for our property!”
Remember that militia group that was arrested in late March? The Southern Poverty Law Center listed them (Hutaree) among the 127 active militias associated with so-called “Patriot” groups. The SPLC monitors groups like these. One of their leaders, Mark Potok, warns that radical right extremist groups are on the rise. These groups are fueled by racism, especially anti-immigrant racism and rage at the nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama, he says.
“Furious anti-immigrant vigilante groups soared during 2009,” Potok writes.
Violent militia groups who had their “heyday” during the 1990s, including in the Oklahoma City bombing, have reemerged, according to SPLC’s research.
“Already there are signs of similar violence emanating from the radical right. Since the installation of Barack Obama, right-wing extremists have murdered six law enforcement officers,” Potok writes.
These are all very sobering and upsetting things to ponder about our nation.
So, you may ask, am I still depressed and demoralized? Afterall, I did end up writing this….
Well, a couple of things. First, I realized that there is a backlash occurring against the Tea Parties and say, the open-carry movement. Just recently, Lori Saldana, one of San Diego’s state legislators, offered legislation to ban unloaded weapons from being worn in public, as there have been many complaints from shoppers and mall store owners about the open-carriers frightening people.
Also, there is a solid and serious backlash against the Tea Partiers. There is the group called “The Other 95%” that is tired of the TP’s yelling about taxes when most Americans received tax breaks (95% did).
There’s even a group that wants to crash the Tea Parties with outrageous signs and behavior, further discrediting that movement, called appropriately “Crash the Tea Party”. (I can’t figure out if they are more than an online store though – somebody tell me.)
However, the most serious and wide-spread political reaction to the Tea Partiers is the Coffee Party Movement. Stressing civility and getting results and solving the country’s problems without partisanship, it has exploded across the country, apparently stoking a public interest that has not been tapped before. Beginning this past end of January, it already has held 900 events in 48 states, and has 205,000 fans on its facebook page.
I’m involved in the local San Diego chapter. In just a month’s time, we’ve had over a half dozen meetings, we’ve met with both Susan Davis and Bob Filner, and have engaged hundreds of San Diegans from all over the County. There’s chapters in North County, in Ramona, and several in metro San Diego itself. And it looks like campaign finance reform will be our first primary issue, in response to the recent US Supreme Court decision that is stymieing what remains of this democracy.
The Survey of the Tea Partiers
Yet, one of the primary reasons my depression and demoralization has lifted has been the results of a New York Times/ CBS survey of the Tea Partiers. Even though they claim they represent most Americans, the “silent majority” – it turns out they make up only about 18% of the Republic. They are more wealthy than average Americans – which means they really represent a class distinct from the rest of us – and that class is upset at President Obama’s drift toward the poor. That class already has health care – they just don’t want it for the rest of us.
Here’s a summary of the poll:
that the Tea Party movement does not represent a broad demographic cross-section of the American electorate were confirmed last week by a new survey of the movement by The New York Times and CBS News that found that Tea Party supporters are overwhelmingly white, predominantly male, middle-aged and older, fiercely conservative and heavily Republican — essentially the GOP’s electoral base. The survey also found that the Tea Party movement, which comprises less than a fifth of the total nationwide electorate (18 percent), is economically more affluent than the general U.S. population.
The poll also found that Tea Partiers believe too much is made of the problems facing black people. This question was asked:
“In recent years, do you think too much has been made of the problems facing black people, too little has been made, or is it about right?”
Twenty-eight percent of all Americans — and just 19 percent of those who are not tea-party loyalists — answered “too much.” But among tea-party supporters, the figure is 52 percent.
The Tea Party supporters also consistently side with the wealthy, and not the poor, putting them at odds with most Americans. The poll found that while only 38 percent of all Americans said that “providing government benefits to poor people encourages them to remain poor,” 73 percent of Tea partisans believed this. Among all Americans, 50 percent agreed that “the federal government should spend money to create jobs, even if it means increasing the budget deficit.” Only 17 percent of tea-party supporters took this view.
As for raising taxes on households making more than $250,000 a year to provide health care for the uninsured, 54 percent of Americans favored doing so, compared to only 17 percent of tea-party backers. That’s because a fifth of the Tea Partiers make that much.
This survey is comforting. It shows that the GOP may be more at risk come election time than the Democrats. It shows that the Tea Partiers are not mainstream, do not represent Americans, and that they are the mobilized one-fifth of the electorate that has been extremely right-wing for decades.
Although the survey is comforting, the future of this country is not. Is there a second civil war on the horizon? Will the militias and open carriers go berserk and violently confront the rest of us?
I don’t know, but I just know, there’s a lot more of us than them. So I say this with seriousness and purpose: all power to the people.