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Lessons Learned from Oklahoma City, the Tea Party, and the Religious Right
I had something hit me the other day when I heard former president Clinton speak about the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombings – with all the force of a diesel-and-nitrate truck bomb, I realized the Great Truth of current American politics:
The Right – comprising a good deal of the Republican party, the conservative Christian church, and the oft-quoted Wingnut Fringe – hates America.
Ronald Reagan, with his support for gay rights and the First Amendment, probably couldn’t get elected today. Eisenhower? His well-founded fear of the military-industrial complex would get him branded a RINO. Barry Goldwater? He was in favor of ending discrimination against gays in the military – no chance for him, either.
I’m doubting Richard Nixon, who was in favor of universal health care as far back as 1968, would have a prayer in hell (pardon the pun). He was a Quaker – and not extreme enough for the extremist fundamentalists who now all but run the show in the Republican party.
There’s a lot of talk in the Tea Party movement about ‘taking our country back’. From what? According to them, it’s from a ‘fascist/socialist/tax-and-spend government’. It’s from a president who’s not really a citizen.
My question is, I believe, more telling: You want to take your country back. To what?
The ‘from’ and ‘to’ sides of the question are very different. With every moron who can carry a misspelled placard now converted as if by some magic alchemy into a Constitutional ‘expert’, the ‘from’ side of the equation is now done-to-death. We need to throw out the health care bill. We need to dissolve the Federal Reserve. We need to throw out president Obama, because he’s not a citizen.
While we’re at it, we need to do away with civil rights legislation dating back to 1964; all of those Great Society entitlements (Medicare and Medicaid, among others) need to go away. Hate crimes legislation is keeping preachers from denouncing ‘sin’. The Second Amendment is under ‘attack’ by gun-control advocates.
In these statements, we have our answer.
To what? To the very distant past – to a Colonial America, before there was a Constitution.
The people advocating these things are really seeking a return to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where ‘freedom of religion’ meant that a resident was free to leave if they didn’t accept a very narrow religious worldview.
Just think – it was an America without an army – people took arms to shoot Indians and other ‘bad people’ when the need arose.
In truth, these people paid very little in taxes – the Crown taxed goods imported to the Colonies, which was a sore point for over a hundred years, and which finally resulted in one of the flashpoints of the Revolution, but taxation was a minor issue in the Colonies apart from that.
There was no safety-net, apart from the good graces of the local church, which like as not would chastise the unfortunate for his or her ‘sin’, while offering a bowl of soup. The notion of unemployment insurance wouldn’t have gone over too well.
Education? It was for the wealthy. Jefferson’s notion of a universally-educated populace wouldn’t arise for another hundred years, along with the Enlightenment. In Colonial America, if you had money, you could get an education. If you didn’t, there wasn’t much chance of you becoming anything other than an unpaid and occasionally-beaten apprentice.
The very roads were private – in fact, that’s where we get the word ‘turnpike’ – a large timber was put on a pivot (pike), which was placed as an obstacle on a private road – the gate was manned by the owner or one of his employees; they’d collect a fee before the road could be used.
Care for the elderly? Nonexistent. You worked; then you died. Life was simple.
This is the ‘America’ which the Tea Partiers and other extremists want.
Hating on America
Read a right-wing website lately, and take your pick – in their view, America is in trouble, and they’re getting more vocal about it.
Recently, I was apprised of a new right-wing symbol – a 13-star American flag with the Roman numeral “II” in the center of the blue-field; the flag of the Second American Revolution.
Just how is this ‘revolution’ going to take place? A quick look at the Tea Party placards will give you a good idea.
“I’m Teabagging For Jesus”, read one in Florida, carried by an elderly woman who likely had no idea what the term “Teabagging” really means. “Descent is Patriotic!”, and “Make English America’s Ofecal Language” , along with “Thank You Fox News For Keeping Us Infromed!” were all on prominent display recently. (Note: The flagrant misspellings on most of these signs have given rise to a new faux-language; ‘Teabonics’).
Some are more sinister. “The American Taxpayers Are The Jews For Obama’s Ovens”, read one. “Speak For Yourself, Obama – America Is A Christian Nation”, read another. Religion, you see, isn’t very far from the core tenets of the Second Revolution, and in their warped worldview, is inextricably intertwined with the socioeconomic and political fabric of the nation.
These people have made it clear, both through the public display of their lack of education and the lack of civic knowledge that the America in which they live today is not a place where they want to live tomorrow.
Today, a group called the “We The People Foundation” are presenting something they call the ‘Articles of Freedom’ in every state capitol in the country. Founded in 2008, this foundation called a convention which met in South Carolina in October of 2009, holding (in their words) a ‘Constitutionally correct election’, during which ‘delegates’ were elected to attend a ‘Continental Congress’ in Illinois later in November.
They claim that this ‘Congress’ represented the people of the United States.
Lest we make the wrongheaded assumption that these people have little support among the broader public, they have support from the Constitution Party and over 30 other organizations, both large and small.
So, who are these ‘delegates’?
The names read like a birther’s convention, rather than a ‘Congress’. Even though her name is misspelled on their website, one of the ‘California Delegates’ is none other than Orly Taitz (you’ll remember her as the dentist-turned-attorney from California who made public the infamous fake “Kenyan Birth Certificate” last summer).
Many of the people who support the Tea Party and the ‘new Continental Congress’ are also members of other fringe groups. The ‘We The People Foundation’ states in their ‘Articles of Freedom’ that “We have an absence of well-regulated state militias, and we have federal gun control laws, all in violation of the Second Amendment….”
What do they mean by an ‘absence of well-regulated state militias’? We can take their desire to return to ‘happier times’ in the 18th century as a clue.
Organizations like “Oathkeepers”, “Guardians of the Free Republic” and “Restore the Constitution” are promoting an increasingly antigovernment message – that it’s all right for members of the military, as well as police and firefighters, to refuse orders from the elected government; that it’s not a threat, after all, for hundreds of armed people to gather in a public park to listen to incendiary speeches about the excesses of the current administration, and that it’s all right to send a letter to all 50 governors to ‘stand down or be removed’.
I’m certain that ‘take our country back’ will be a major part of these rallies today, also.
Summing it Up
The steps necessary to accomplish their goals are brutal. What amazes me is that they’ve already achieved several of them:
1. A sense of overwhelming crisis, unsolvable by normal means.
2. The belief that the Right is being systematically victimized, justifying any and all subsequent actions, whether legal, moral – or not.
3. Fear of the decline of the group’s influence (such as what happened in the aftermath of Obama’s election).
4. The need for a ‘purer’ community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary.
5. The need for authority – which results in the rise of a leader.
6. The use, and even reverence for, violence as a means to the end.
7. The right of the “chosen” to dominate the rest, that right being ‘natural’ or ‘divine’, and hence beyond question.
I’ll hasten to state that while none of these seven items are necessarily a ‘given’ – I’ll also point out that when Sean Hannity runs a multiple-choice poll asking which avenue we should take to bring about change – military coup; secession; or armed rebellion – and armed rebellion is the winning choice – we have a clear indication that the national conversation has taken a serious shift.
This, plus the demonization and objectification of their ‘enemies’ indicates that the extremists have moved from the talking stage to the planning stage. (This, by the way, is why Janet Napolitano raised the alarm about right-wing extremist groups last year, and why both private-watch groups and government agencies alike keep an eye on these people).
Next, the retreat from reality has taken a turn for the surreal. Alice was given an opportunity, at least, to wake up in her own bed rather than having to see how far down the rabbit-hole went. The right isn’t according us this opportunity.
Obama is a Kenyan. His presidency is illegal. He’s going to outlaw preachers in their pulpits, guns from our homes, and our right to private healthcare (instead, according to an article by a right-wing politico, we should go back to bartering chickens for medical care). He’s a Communist/Socialist/Fascist. Never mind that those definitions aren’t true, and don’t even belong together – the fantasy, in each case, is better than the truth.
Secessionist talk has gone from parlor-room conversation to serious business. That a group would convene a ‘Continental Congress’ purporting to represent the U.S., then present ‘Articles of Freedom’ in all 50 state capitols on the anniversary of the first battles of the Revolution should have anyone with the capacity for reason and logic more than alarmed. Successive shocks lose their effect, and we’re now used to the rhetoric – the inmates have taken over the asylum; the extremists are now center-stage in the Conservative tent.
The insular society created by these people is now ready to act. Millions of pissed-off people, creating their own stories of paranoia, armed to the teeth and answering to a ‘higher law’ have all the makings for a first rate showdown. While these movements usually lose steam, this one shows no signs of slowing down. Militia groups have doubled in the past year, and right-wing sites with ‘enemies lists’ have increased significantly (to the point where many are calling for the elimination of these ‘enemies’ by any means necessary).
It’s equally-dismissive for the progressive/liberal press to call for a ‘return to civility’ – as if giving these people a time-out and a swat on the backside is going to magically bring them back to the table to talk sense. We dismiss these people at our own peril – and perhaps at the peril of the nation.
America is now in the unenviable position of proving to the world that Jefferson and the Enlightenment are still in vogue. The decisions we make between now and the next twelve to twenty-four months will determine in large measure whether or not we make the leap toward a social democracy, or back to the 18th century.
That process, by the way, will likely involve some very unpleasant things.
The right – with the religious arm of their movement leading the way – has created an insular society. Born and bred of the homeschool movement, an entire generation is now poised to make decisions based on a very narrow worldview; one which has more in common with 18th-century America than 21st.
That generation has decided, with the help of its parents and older siblings, to create a new America within the current structure, complete with all of the trappings needed to make it a reality.
These people hate the America which would feed the homeless; give a leg-up to the unemployed, and care for the least in society.
They would replace it with a proto-feudalism which existed in the 18th century – where big business and armies were not only respected, but revered, and where ‘root, hog, and die’ were the watchwords of society.
They would use the protections of the Constitution to spread their message – and then remove those protections in favor of their own view, both political and religious.
They chose April 19th, 2010 because it is the 235th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. I don’t need to remind you of the symbolism.
You may feel compelled to disagree with me.
But please don’t say you weren’t warned.
“Articles of Freedom” (works of the ‘Continental Congress’ – 2009-2010)
“Oklahoma Republicans Conspire With Tea Parties To Form Anti-Federal Government Militia” (ThinkProgress – 2010)
“We The People” (Portal to givemeliberty.org and the Continental Congress – 2010)
“OathKeepers” (Website; 2010)
“Restore The Constitution” (Website of political-action group – 2010)
“Sean Hannity Website Poll” (through DailyKos – 2010)
“Prayer Warriors and Palin Organizing Spiritual Warfare To Take Over America” (Truthout.Org – 2010)
“Guardians of the Free Republic Warns Governors, ‘Step Down or Be Removed’” (Liberty Guardian website; 2010)
“Governor Rick Perry: Texas Could Secede; Leave Union” (Huffington Post – April; 2009)
“Bring a Chicken To The Doctor” (Washington Monthly – April; 2010)
“The Second Wave” (Southern Poverty Law Center – August; 2009)
“What Is Past Is Prologue – American Migration and the Current Political Climate” (W.D. Noble – Subversify Magazine – October; 2009)
“The Eliminationists – How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right” (David Neiwart; Polipoint Press – 2009)
“On Anniversary of Oklahoma City Bombing, Armed Right-Wing Activists Accuse Obama of Tyranny” (ThinkProgress – April; 2010)
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