FIRST THEY CAME FOR THE GUN-HOARDING SKINHEADS.

A newly leaked Department of Homeland Security warns, quite sensibly, that the “economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment.” Many people who study the right have been expecting exactly that. The 1980s farm foreclosure crisis in the Midwest did much to spawn the Posse Comitatus movement, a progenitor of the milita movement. The latter flourished in the 1990s, as the far right reacted with horrified disbelief to the election of Bill Clinton, retreating into a febrile netherworld of conspiracy theories, persecution fantasies and gun fetishization.

Cut to 2009, when the far right has reacted with horrified disbelief to the election of Barack Obama by retreating into a febrile netherworld of conspiracy theories, persecution fantasies and gun fetishization. Indeed, it’s even worse this time. As Dave Neiwert, who is invaluable on this subject, wrote recently:

One of the hallmarks of the militia movement of the 1990s was the way it inspired violence: by essentially loosing the moorings of their followers from reality by promulgating a toxic brew of conspiracy theories, right-wing historical revisionism, and a bevy of false "facts" and claims against government officials and liberals generally. Chief among these, of course, was the belief that Bill Clinton and the New World Order were coming to take their guns away -- which, of course, he never did, though he did manage to pass an assault-weapons ban….

The difference between the 1990s and now? When I was hearing talk like this then, it was coming out of the mouths of the Bo Gritzes and John Trochmanns -- the leaders and fanatical ideologues who drove the militia movement.

Now, it's coming out of the mouths of people with mainstream media programs: Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Lou Dobbs, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter.

Media Matters put together a useful compilation of right-wingers spreading the Obama-is-going-to-take-your-guns meme. And, of course, one homicidal nut has already acted on that fear. Earlier this month, Richard Poplawski murdered three policeman. As the New York Times reported, his online postings “support what Mr. Poplawski’s friends have told reporters: that he was worried about the election of President Obama and that he had said he would defend himself if anyone ever tried to take his guns.”

Meanwhile, we’ve all read the stories about weapons stockpiling by various racists, survivalists and paranoids. So, it’s heartening that the DHS is taking this stuff seriously. Despite conservatives' tough talk on terrorism, the truth is that the most violent domestic terrorism has in recent decades been a product of the right, from abortion clinic bombings to Oklahoma City. (In fact, it was Oklahoma City that finally made rhetoric about violent resistance to an ostensibly fascist federal government publicly unacceptable, at least for a while.)

Not surprisingly, people like Michelle Malkin are reacting to the report as yet more evidence of an imminent government crackdown on those who dare resist the totalitarian threat of a slightly more progressive tax system. “Better make a few last-minute signs for the Tea Party. Obama’s DHS is watching,” she writes. Needless to say, the DHS report is about the violent demimonde of militia types and white supremacists, not Glenn Beck listeners and Tea Party attendees. It’s not unusual for armchair radicals to flatter themselves that they’re under surveillance. But maybe Malkin is inadvertently onto something. The DHS wasn’t referring to people like her, but she obviously sees a commonality between her own movement that the radical right-wing extremists who worry law enforcement.

“In Obama land, there are no coincidences,” writes Malkin. (Does it even need to be said that the hallmark of a conspiracy theorist is the insistence that there are no coincidences?) “It is no coincidence that this report echoes Tea Party-bashing left-wing blogs …and demonizes the very Americans who will be protesting in the thousands on Wednesday for the nationwide Tax Day Tea Party.” So when Malkin hear someone talking about the beliefs espoused by a Timothy McVeigh or a Poplawski, she recognizes her own. Good to know.

--Michelle Goldberg

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