Friday, March 5, 2010
A Violent Lurch to the Right
Just under a year ago the Department of Homeland Security sent a 9-page document to police and sheriff’s departments throughout the United States. The document was titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment." The document warned that, among the many threats facing the United States, homegrown terrorism at the hands of both organized and “lone wolf” actors was a growing concern.
The report catalogued the many similarities to the 1990s and its rise in homegrown right-wing extremism. To the economic downturn, threats from other countries and foreign terrorist groups, and perceived threats to freedom from our own government, current times add the election of our first African American President.
Michelle Malkin, John Boehner, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Savage all criticized the report as attacking veterans and the right wing in general. They often claimed the Obama DHS was being used to attack the right—conveniently forgetting that the Obama DHS had released a report three months before this one warning about left-wing extremists. Another thing they all ignore is the fact that both reports were initiated by the Bush Administration and largely prepared under HIS DHS.
The furor in the rightwing blogosphere about the April report told me that the people who were offended and complaining had either 1) not understood what they were reading, or 2) intentionally misread the report so as to have an excuse to take offense. It is not a long document. If you read it, it becomes instantly clear that the DHS analysts were not saying ALL right-wingers are capable of violence and need to be watched. They were saying an extreme fringe exists and the last time conditions were such as they are today, people died in shootings and bombings perpetrated by anti-government extremists from the right.
The reason I am writing about these nearly-year-old reports is one of them has turned out to be prescient. There has in fact been an increase in domestic terrorism perpetrated by citizens of the United States. And the perpetrators have indeed been of the right-wing variety. I will mention the killing of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas and the murder by a white supremacist of a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. as two examples. The articles linked to here and here list many more instances.
I am not writing to say that right-wingers are more prone to violence than left-wingers. Clearly, those on the fringe of any movement are out there because of their willingness to engage in behaviors others deem out-of-bounds. What I am saying is that those in the mainstream of the Republican Party are playing a very dangerous game when they stoke mistrust and hatred of government in general, (and Barack Obama in particular), in a cynical attempt to pick up the votes of the disaffected angry citizens on the right. It is easy to lob metaphorical grenades at Government. It is much harder to actually govern. The Republican leadership has made it clear that they are much more interested in throwing bombs than in being partners in running the country.
Once that genie of hatred is released, it can’t be put back in the bottle. People like Michelle Bachmann, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin are flirting with forces out of their control. When people take seriously their message that the government is the enemy and that true Americans will arm themselves and take matters into their own hands, it is only far too clear that more violence will come of this. (Sarah Palin, especially, should be aware of the danger in pallin' around with extremists.)
There is an old joke that Republicans claim government is the problem and then every once in a while they get elected just to prove it. Well, I am hoping the Republican Party will find its soul after this mid-term election and realize before much more blood is spilled that extremism isn’t where the answers lie. Government is not the problem right now—the real problem is the Republicans’ refusal to share in the responsibility of governance. Compromise, competence, and commitment to actual governance will put this country back on track far sooner and with far less agony than a violent lurch to the right.