Militias, Tea Partiers and the GOP.

By Seth Freed Wessler Mar 29, 2010

Nine members of a Christian militia in Michigan were indicted this morning on allegations that they planned to murder a crowd of cops at a police funeral. The group, called Hutaree, state on their website that they are “preparing for the end time battles.” According to the FBI, the group is a fringe, radical group that planned to use explosives to attack the funeral and incite a larger uprising against the government. The Southern Poverty Law Center, in a recent report, listed Hutaree as an armed “Patriot” militia. A glance at Hutaree’s website and TV coverage of the arrests suggests they are a standard issue set of armed Christian nationalists: working class whites whose libertarianism and religious fundamentalism mixed with racist anxiety, guns, plus a heavy dose of paranoia led them to plan alleged violence. We’ve seen these types before. One of them killed 168 in Oklahoma city in 1995. Every time, we’ve casually labeled them fringe. But the national scene does not lend itself to such easy explanations this time because, at the moment, displays of racial, nationalist, anti-government anxiety and fear mongering are a rather ubiquitous part of American political life. With the emergent Tea Party movement marked by many of these very characteristics, there’s no denying that this extremism is very much part of the core. It would be irresponsible to suggest that Hutaree is synonymous with the Tea Party movement because, of course, the Tea Party is hard to define. There is no single 501c or organically emergent leader who speaks for all the angry people in the street. And, although the Tea Party Patriot blog included a post yesterday that labeled Hutaree a Tea Party group, it’s certainly not the case that all Tea Party activists are interested in murdering police officers. Most of them would surely see such an act as absolutely reprehensible. Yet there is no question that there is a connection between those indicted for a planned murder of cops and the racialized, often violent and persistently inaccurate rhetoric of Tea Party members, leaders and republicans who support them. The two are kin in the sense that they both emerge from deeply seated white anxiety about a country in the midst of demographic and political shifts and an equally strong commitment to staving off that change. The standard line is that the Tea Party movement is a populist reaction to the Wall Street bailout, the health insurance debate and the election of a Black president. In this view, the often racist, homophobic and sometimes violent anti-government movement is responsive in nature; a result of an emergent threat from a president who the Glenn Becks of the world say is intent on a massive redistribution of resources from white men to Blacks and immigrants. But as Frank Rich wrote this weekend, “the current surge of anger — and the accompanying rise in right-wing extremism — predates the entire health care debate.” As Rich points out, it’s the same anxiety about a changing country that marked resistance against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Then, like now, the official Conservative protests were couched in expressly non-racialist terms with one segregationist senator saying, the Civil Rights Act “would destroy the free enterprise system.” Similarly, Obama is being accused of socialism and as Sarah Jaffe writes, “fiscal conservatism is the new cover for racism.” Conservative leadership, which spends most of it’s time in this more muted rhetorical mode, would like to separate itself from the most vitriolic of the Tea Party movement while also building the protesters up. With the Palins and the Senator Neugebauers and the Michael Steeles fueling the fire and with three quarters of Tea Party members saying they are Republicans or Republican leaning, it’s not unreasonable to fear more violence. As a blogger on the Tea Party Patriot website wrote about the Hutaree indictment, “more violence against this government is coming!”. As long as public figures make legitimate these racial, nationalist anxieties, the Tea Party blogger might be right. The anxiety is deep, generations deep, and it’s erupting in giant bursts. Now, as the immigration debate heats up and the rhetorical veils are lifted — the language of "illegal aliens" and "immigrant invasions" employed without reservation — I fear where the aggression will be directed. It’s time, before more fires, to cool things down. And it’s time for all of us to call out the couched rhetoric for what it is.