Feeding the Paranoid Right

In today's edition of Republicans Think the Darndest Things, a poll from Farleigh Dickinson University that came out the other day found, as polls regularly do, that Americans in general and conservatives in particular believe some nutty stuff. That's not news, but there are some reasons to be genuinely concerned, which I'll explain. The headline finding is this: Respondents were asked whether they agree with the statement, "In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties." Forty-four percent of Republicans—yes, almost half—said they agreed. We've been doing pretty well with this constitutional system for the last 224 years, but it's just about time to junk it.

The right reaction to any shocking poll result is to say, "Let's not make too much of this." And I don't think any but a tiny proportion of the people who would answer yes to that question would start in or participate in a revolution. Let's take the gun owners who email me every time I write an article about guns, telling me I'm an ignorant unmanly Northeastern elitist liberty-hating girly-man wimp (yeah, they're heavy on the accusations of insufficient manliness; this is what psychologists call "projection"). If their neighbor came over and said, "Enough is enough; I'm going down to the police station to kill some cops—you know, for liberty. Are you coming?", how many of them would say yes? Not very many.

Nevertheless, the fact that so many people are willing to even entertain the idea is appalling, and we have to put the responsibility where it belongs. We don't know for sure if you would have gotten a different result had you asked this question before, say, January of 2009 (to pick a random date), because no one was asking. But Ed Kilgore has the appropriate reaction:

But our main target ought to be the politicians and pundits and bloggers that walk the revolutionary rhetorical road because it's "entertaining" or it makes them feel all macho (like Grover Norquist swaggering around Washington with a "I'd rather be killing commies" button after one of his trips to Angola in the 1980s), or it's just useful to have an audience or a political base mobilized to a state of near-violence by images of fire and smoke and iron and blood.

As I've observed on many occasions, you can only imagine how these self-appointed guardians of liberty would feel if casual talk of "armed revolution" became widespread on the left or among those people. There should not, cannot, be a double standard on this issue.

So please join me in calling on conservatives to cut this crap out and separate themselves from those who believe in vindicating the "original constitution" or defending their property rights or exalting their God or protecting the unborn via armed revolution. If William F. Buckley could "excommunicate" Robert Welch and the John Birch Society from the conservative movement back in the 1960s, today's leaders on the Right can certainly do the same to those who not only share many of that Society's views, but are willing to talking about implementing them by killing cops and soldiers.

As a general matter, I don't think it's necessary to demand that politicians repudiate every crazy thing said by anyone who might agree with them on anything.11For some reason, not everyone gets asked to do this in equal measure. For instance, in Barack Obama's first appearance on Meet the Press in 2006, Tim Russert confronted the Senate candidate with some inflammatory things Harry Belafonte had said about George W. Bush. Now what was the connection between Belafonte and Obama? I can't think what it might have been. But Ed is absolutely right: Republican politicians and conservative media figures bear direct responsibility for the rise of this vile strain of thinking on the right. They cultivate it, they encourage it, they give it aid and comfort every single day.

For instance, the NRA is having its annual convention in Houston as we speak. Yesterday, a man went into the Houston airport with an AR-15 and a handgun, fired into the air, was fired upon by law enforcement officials, and then shot himself. Glenn Beck then went on his program and told his viewers that there is "a very good chance" that the episode was engineered by the "uber left," whatever that means, and compared it to the Reichstag fire. In other words, Beck is encouraging people to think that just like Hitler and the Nazis, Barack Obama is about to use an episode like that as a pretext for the imposition of some kind of horrifically oppressive regime. Beck is a featured speaker at the NRA convention, along with a passel of well-known Republican politicians like Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum. How many of them will condemn him? None, of course.

They won't, not only because most of the people at the convention probably agree with Beck, but because what Beck says is only a tiny step or two toward the fringe from what they say all the time. Is there a prominent Republican politician who hasn't at some point in the last four years told people that Barack Obama is a tyrant, or that our liberties are being stripped away, that Obama wants to kill your grandma with his death panels, or that America is inches from ceasing to be what it has been for two centuries? Is there a prominent Republican politician who hasn't done his or her part to feed the paranoid, violent fantasies of the extreme right? If confronted, they'd no doubt say, "Oh, well I never actually said people should forget about democracy and start killing cops and soldiers in an attempt to overthrow the government. That's not what I meant at all when I talked about 'tyranny' and 'oppression' and that stuff." But that's exactly what their supporters heard, and they damn well know it. And they ought to be held to account.

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