Tea Party Terrorists: America’s Next Great Threat?

About this time each year, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) publishes their report on violent rightwing extremist groups. This year’s report, titled Rage on the Right, goes beyond looking at the usual group of skinheads, neo-Nazi, Patriot militias, and nativist extremist and includes fringe elements of the Tea Party movement. Just to be clear, SPLC has not determined the Tea Party movement to be an extremist rightwing movement. Rather, the report has established that much of the Tea Party ideology is rooted in extremism. “The ‘tea parties’ and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism.” However, the report does warn us, “The signs of growing radicalization are everywhere. Armed men have come to Obama speeches bearing signs suggesting that the ‘tree of liberty’ needs to be ‘watered’ with ‘the blood of tyrants.’ [1]

To be considered an extremist group they must engaged in highly confrontational actions, use hate speech, and support violent tactics. Some could argue that the tea baggers have already shown themselves to be highly confrontational and willing to use racist hate speech. Lest we forget their disruptive tactics at town hall meetings last summer or more recently the racist, homophobic vitriol and even spitting on one member of congress last weekend.

We also saw this week a concerted campaign of intimidation by a rightwing extremist group to throw bricks into the windows of Democrat Party offices. We learned that Mike Vanderboegh, former leader of a radical Patriot group called the Alabama Constitutional Militia has been advocating on his blog breaking the windows of members of congress. He states that if the rightwing breaks enough Democrat Party members windows, the Dems just might get the message, “and make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary… BREAK their windows. Break them Now.” [2]

What is important to note about Vanderboegh’s intimidation tactics and threats is that much of the anti-government, anti-immigrant, racist, militant conspiracy theory ideology he spews out on his website is now openly being embraced by the Tea Party movement, members of the rightwing media machine, and many Republicans as well. It used to be that only the craziest elements of the rightwing espoused such conspiracies and violent rhetoric. Now we see Glenn Beck and other Fox News hosts and contributors regularly make statements that could be considered inciting violence. Here for example is long time Fox News contributor Dick Morris talking last year on Your World with Neil Cavuto about president Obama working with the UN on a trade deal, “Those crazies in Montana who say, "We’re going to kill ATF agents because the UN’s going to take over’ — well, they’re beginning to have a case." [3]

Dick Morris, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and the tea partiers all claim a near hatred for government and a belief that liberals and president Obama are working to create a “New World Order.” They claim progressive liberals wish to round up the conservatives, take away their guns, and send them off to concentration camps in order to enact a socially dream in which the government controls every aspect of your lives. I know it all sounds crazy. That is because it is crazy, except for the part that many on the right believe actually this crazy conspiracy theory. A theory so crazy that it originated over twenty years ago by some of the most extreme white supremacist, Patriot militia groups our nation has ever seen. Groups like the Christian Patriots Defense League and the White Patriot Party. Groups that are currently follow people like the brick throwing wingnut Vanderboegh.

Here is an excerpt from another SPLC report, which I posted last year in an earlier article I wrote on the origins of rightwing extremist groups. I think it is worth quoting again, "the militia movement not only accepted the traditional conspiracy theories, it created a host of new ones; combined, they described a shadowy movement intent on creating a one-world socialist government no matter what the cost. This "New World Order," using the United Nations as its primary tool, had already taken over most of the planet. The United States was still a bastion of freedom, but its own government was collaborating with New World Order forces to strip Americans slowly of their freedoms in preparation for the final takeover. The government was erecting large numbers of concentration camps in which to place American dissenters; meanwhile, the number of United Nations troops secretly encamped in national parks grew by the month. Stickers on the backs of street signs would guide the New World Order to strategic points, while the authorities enlisted urban street gangs to help enforce gun confiscation. "The Federal government and the press is [sic] fighting a war against independent thinking Christian patriots," wrote Christian Identity adherent and militia supporter George Eaton in 1993. "The reason they have targeted patriots is simple; they will not conform or submit to the New World Order." [4]

A Harris Poll published March, 22, 2010 demonstrates the influence extremist ideology has had on Republicans. When asked about Obama’s intentions, 51 % believed, “He wants to turn over the sovereignty of the United States to a one world government,” 45 % believe, “He was not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president,” 61% says he, “Wants to take away Americans’ right to own guns,” 39 % believes he “Is doing many of the things that Hitler did,” and 41% answered true to the statement that Obama, “Wants to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers.” [5]

At one time, this type of thinking was considered rightwing extremist fringe ideology. Today, the conspiracy theories of the crazies are trickling into the main stream rightwing media. We see slogans and rhetoric splattered across the front pages of our papers that could have been written by George Eaton or Timothy McVeigh. And that is where all of this vitriol and crazy conspiracy theories ultimately can lead to, another Oklahoma City bombing. That is why all of us need to talk to our fellow Americans and listen to them without using bullhorns, racial slurs and brinks throw their windows. We need to end allowing crazy conspiracy theories to substitute honest debate on policy differences.

I suggest all Americans take a deep breath and consider the words of Fox News host Shep Smith when this past Wednesday he said, "I wonder when it is an isolated incident becomes a string of things. … You wonder when some in there, on both sides of the aisle, are gonna look in the mirror and go, my over-inflated rhetoric is causing some people…[to] go out and react given the information that they’ve been given. I just wonder if anybody’s gonna settle down a minute and go, Wow, we better settle down here, relax. … What we do know is that when leaders on either side of the aisle go with this over-inflated rhetoric and they tell us it’s the end of the world, it’s Armageddon, the Marxists have taken over Washington, it’s the end of the world as we know it, we’re moving into socialism when they say things like that, that maybe some of them don’t believe, and then the fringes believe it, and then they go out and do stupid things…Well, I mean, it’s all kind of tied together isn’t it?" [6] Yes, Mr. Smith, it is all kind of tied together.

Dean Walker

[1] http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/splc-report-number-of-patriot-groups-militias-surges-by-244-in-past-year

[2] http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/#36010598

[3] 3/31/09

[4] http://www.adl.org/learn/ext_us/militia_m.asp?xpicked=4&item=19

[5]http://www.b2i.us/profiles/investor/ResLibraryView.asp?ResLibraryID=37050&GoTopage=1&Category=1777&BzID=1963

[6] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/24/shep-smith-death-threats_n_512378.html