Outside a town hall, a man in military fatigues carries a sign (see photo) reading, "I own a gun and I didn't bring it -- yet!" In New Hampshire, a man wasn't waiting to bring a gun to the president's town hall meeting. Openly carrying a gun, he carried a sign reading, "IT'S TIME TO WATER THE TREE OF LIBERTY!" This was a reference to a quote by Thomas Jefferson; "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Clearly, he wanted to express his willingness to resort to violence.
When Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was arrested in 1995, he was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Abraham Lincoln on the front, with the words "sic semper tyrannis (thus always to tyrants)" -- a quote from John Wilkes Booth as he assassinated Lincoln. On the back of the shirt was the picture of a tree, three droplets of blood, and the words, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." McVeigh felt no need to demonstrate his willingness to resort to violence -- he just went ahead with the mass murder. When he parked his bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Building, he killed 168 innocent people without warning. It was the highest death toll from an act of terrorism in the US until 9/11. It remains the deadliest terrorist attack committed by a so-called "homegrown" terrorist -- i.e., one who kills his own countrymen. Timothy McVeigh was an American and he thought he was more American than you or me or anyone in Washington or that building he tore the face off. McVeigh believed he was a patriot. In truth, he was a racist, a traitor, a murderer, and a fool.
McVeigh came to become that racist, treacherous, murdering fool by getting sucked into the militia movement. It's tempting to call this a political movement, but it's probably truer to say it's a cult. Almost nothing they believe is true, from the historical to the biblical to the present, and they're taught that only they know the truth.
And, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, they're back.
"...Almost a decade after largely disappearing from public view, right-wing militias, ideologically driven tax defiers and sovereign citizens are appearing in large numbers around the country," a new report by SPLC tells us. "'Paper terrorism' -- the use of property liens and citizens' 'courts' to harass enemies -- is on the rise. And once-popular militia conspiracy theories are making the rounds again, this time accompanied by nativist theories about secret Mexican plans to 'reconquer' the American Southwest. One law enforcement agency has found 50 new militia training groups -- one of them made up of present and former police officers and soldiers. Authorities around the country are reporting a worrying uptick in Patriot activities and propaganda..."
"This is the most significant growth we've seen in 10 to 12 years," says one law enforcement officer. "All it's lacking is a spark. I think it's only a matter of time before you see threats and violence."
Think that's disturbing? The last time the militia movement grew was under Clinton, eventually leading to the Oklahoma City bombing. A Democrat was "taking over America" with his weird ideas about health care reform. But there's one key difference between then and now.
"A key difference this time is that the federal government -- the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy -- is headed by a black man," SPLC reports.
And about that crazy cultic stuff they believe:
In Pensacola, Fla., retired FBI agent Ted Gunderson tells a gathering of antigovernment "Patriots" that the federal government has set up 1,000 internment camps across the country and is storing 30,000 guillotines and a half-million caskets in Atlanta. They're there for the day the government finally declares martial law and moves in to round up or kill American dissenters, he says. "They're going to keep track of all of us, folks," Gunderson warns.
Outside Atlanta, a so-called "American Grand Jury" issues an "indictment" of Barack Obama for fraud and treason because, the panel concludes, he wasn't born in the United States and is illegally occupying the office of president. Other sham "grand juries" around the country follow suit.
And on the site in Lexington, Mass., where the opening shots of the Revolutionary War were fired in 1775, members of Oath Keepers, a newly formed group of law enforcement officers, military men and veterans, "muster" on April 19 to reaffirm their pledge to defend the U.S. Constitution. "We're in perilous times... perhaps far more perilous than in 1775," says the man administering the oath. April 19 is the anniversary not only of the battle of Lexington Green, but also of the 1993 conflagration at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the lethal bombing two years later of the Oklahoma City federal building -- seminal events in the lore of the extreme right, in particular the antigovernment Patriot movement.
These crazy beliefs overlap with beliefs within the more mainstream anti-Obama movement. In a piece for Esquire magazine, lead "birther" (people who believe President Obama is an illegal alien) Orly Taitz tells journalist John H. Richardson about "a cemetery somewhere in Arizona where they just dug 30,000 fresh graves, which wait now for the revolution," that "Baxter International -- a major Obama contributor -- developed a vaccine for bird flu that actually kills people," and that Richardson should "Google Congressman Alcee Hastings and House Bill 684" to find out about plans for "at least six civilian labor camps."
She doesn't sound much different from "patriot" conspiracy theorist Ted Gunderson, does she?
Meanwhile, Republican politicians, hoping to capitalize on this anti-Obama paranoia, are playing with fire. We've got a bunch of nuts out there who think Barack Obama's going to round them up and put them in camps, so these idiots think that now would be an excellent time to tell them that the president wants to kill people. This is their idea -- as stupid and shortsighted and irresponsible as it is -- of "shrewd" politics.
If they keep pushing, if they keep playing paranoid, insane racists and conspiracy theorists for chumps, it will push someone over the edge. Some nut, somewhere, will decide to "water the tree of liberty."
I don't want to believe that's what Republicans want. I think they want to dance on that knife edge and bring these people as close to violence -- and as far from reason -- as they can without crossing the line. But they can't control it, because these people hate them nearly as much as they hate Democrats. When some nut finally snaps, it won't help Republicans at all.
So I don't believe that's what Republicans want. But it's just so damned predictable that they can't possibly fail to see it coming.
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