20 April 2010

Taxing Time: The Dangerous Game

As most of you are probably painfully aware, last Thursday, April 15, was the deadline for filing taxes in the U.S. Such being the case, it is probably a propitious moment to take note of the budding right-wing, populist, libertarian, anarchistic, anti-tax, gun-toting, militia, and paramilitary movement that seems to be gaining steam here. The face of the movement is Sarah Palin (call her, along with Michelle Bachman, its spokesmodel). Its senior statesman is Newt Gingrich, a disgraced former Republican Speaker of the House of Representative. Its libertarian ideologue is Ron Paul, currently a member of the House. Its PR front consists of the FoxNews commentators (Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity) and talk radio bullies (Rush Limbaugh, etc.).

This movement is a study in contradictions. But if you scratch the surface, you will find a coherent political strategy aimed at delegitimizing the Democratic party and re-establishing Republican rule.

Historically anarchism was a left-wing, anti-monarchism movement. By contrast—and incongruously—today's right-wing anarchy is aimed at representational government. The Tea Party and the militias claim that they distrust big government, by and large, even though they seem to want to protest against elective governments and taxing authorities all the way down to the municipal level. Moreover, polls here have shown that many of these so-called Tea Party members receive either Social Security or Medicare assistance from the government or served in the U.S. Armed Forces (the major elements of the U.S. government budget).

There is a populist strain to their protests, but many of the things they protest would seem to be in the best interests of the vast majority of the American people, such as health care/insurance reform and financial consumer protections and environmental protection and even budget=balancing measures.

A constant refrain in their protests is that they want to take their country back. It is not readily apparent from whom they wish it reclaimed.

They rail against what they term 'socialism'. But this is not a readily identifiable doctrine which anyone who has studied rudimentary political science would recognize. By this term they seem to mean they don't like being taxed. We in the U.S., of course, have had a long history of attacks on our Internal Revenue Service.

They also claim they are Constitutional fundamentalists. Funny thing that: the current President is a noted Constitutional scholar and the current conservative Supreme Court majority recently extended Constitutional free speech rights to corporate entities. But to acknowledge this contradiction might make their heads explode; they like Justice John Roberts but despise President Barack Obama.

In short, they are a paradox and only tend to make noises when Democrats are in office. To my ears, these folks sound a lot like a resurgence of the movement we saw in the 90s, coincidentally the last time Dems held majority status in Congress and controlled the White House.

What's troubling is that the rise of Tea Party protests and other right-wing activism is coupled with a growing sense of paranoia by gun rights activists and people calling themselves militia who, as well, have become increasingly vocal and active. I don't find this at all coincidental.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (a big government program [instituted under George W. Bush's massive reorganization of the government] if ever there was one and one none of these anti-government activists seemed concerned about at the time) released a draft report about the potential dangers of anti-government activists and right-wing extremism.

DHS Report on Right Wing Extremism
At the time there was a great hue and cry from the right. Yet, since then we've seen some troubling things:
• A group calling itself the Oath Keepers, which claims to consist of a group of soldiers and police who worry they might be asked to do certain sorts of things that are the hallmarks of tyranny, has organized within and among the U.S. military and in local police and first-responder organizations. Is it coincidental (or merely accumulative) that many right-wingers actually question the legitimacy of the current U.S. President, challenging his U.S. citizenship and his Constitutional duty as the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Armed Forces? (My guess is that these Oath Keepers would break anywhere between 6 and 10 of their so-called oaths if a Republican president asked them to organize to take out a drug cartel that had its grips on a Rio Grande city, whether it was Amcits or not.)
• A man flies his private airplane into a building in Texas housing U.S. government offices, including those of the IRS. Apparently he didn't like paying his taxes.
• Another armed man, a self-proclaimed White Supremacist and Holocaust denier, opens fire at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. killing a security guard.
• Yet another armed man, an anti-government, private property activist, opened fire at security guards in the Pentagon.
• And yet another armed man strolled up to a man as he was ushering parishioners at church and shot him dead. The killer was a right-wing anti-abortion activist.
• A group of people from the state of Michigan calling themselves a militia is arrested because of an alleged plot to kill a police officer in the hopes of fomenting an anti-authority revolt.
• Members of the legislature of the state of Oklahoma indicate they would like to institute a militia (in addition to the National Guard) to potentially keep the feds at bay.
• A number of rallies, including one in favor of Second Amendment gun rights on the Mall in D.C. and another an open-carry gun rally in a park just across the Potomac from the U.S. Capitol, are held around the country on April 19—coincidentally[?] on the fifteenth anniversary of the one of the most infamous acts of right-wing domestic terrorism: the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Starbucks announces it will permit patrons to carry weapons openly in their coffee shops if the states in which the shops are located allow it.
• The Republican Governor of the state of Texas, Rick Perry, makes noises about the right of Texas to secede from the U.S. (as if we didn't have enough trouble with that issue back in the 1860s).
• The Republican Governor of the state of Virginia declares April Confederacy month, but fails initially to include any reference to slavery.
• The Republican Governor of the state of Mississippi agrees that the legacy of slavery need not be a major consideration in celebrating the Confederacy: it's "diddly".
All of the above (and I'm sure I've missed some things) clearly evince a trend, and our ubiquitous media has picked up on it—but only in a piecemeal fashion. They are either supportive (FoxNews) or can't quite put the bigger picture into perspective.

Some first-rate investigative journalism by Rachel Maddow & staff on MSNBC, however, has shown that the Tea Party movement and gun rights activism and anti-environmental reform and anti-health care reform, among other trends, is the result of a heavily-funded public relations barrage on the national media (which, in a classic Bushian/Rovian tactic, the protestors simultaneously mock and intimidate). The organizers and funders of this movement are hardly populists: disgraced former Speaker of the House Dick Armey, the billionaire Koch brothers (Texans and Republican stalwarts all, by the way), among others. (I suspect there's a Bush somewhere in there calling shots as well).

To me, this is reminiscent of the Republican 'courting' of the evangelical movement in the 80s—Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, etc. At first it seemed like a fringe phenomenon, below the radar, but then-candidate Ronald Reagan's appearance before the Southern Baptist Convention was the moment the movement solidified.

The idea is to arouse the passions of the base (often sloganeered as 'God, guns, and gays'): igniting their passions in the hope of tipping the balance in the election. The trick is to co-opt the movement. This is a two-step process. Step 1: demonize and delegitimize the opposition party, in this case the Democrats who currently have control of the Executive and Legislative branches of government; make them the enemy, scary, threatening, perverse, alien, etc., and block their every effort to accomplish anything. Step 2: promise this activated base they'll have a seat at the table when the political pros move in.

You can read a very good expose on the phenomenon here: Sedition in slow motion.

But here's the problem with this psychological warfare strategy. Once you ignite the violent passions of the fringe, it becomes increasingly difficult to control their excesses. Witness Timothy McVeigh who, himself, was tangentially involved in the armed, right-wing militia movement of the 1990s.

Of course, the political pros and their PR media flacks know enough to keep their fingerprints off the actions of the extremists they've set in motion. The movers and shakers, like Armey and the Kochs, work in the shadows until called out by intrepid journalism. FoxNews—Murdoch's and Ailes's acknowledged Republican propaganda outlet—merely reports the outrage and the activities of the political front groups like the Tea Party, the militias, the guns-rights activists, etc. This provides plausible deniability for the political organization (the Republican party) even as it stands poised to reap the benefits.

Here's how it works though; there are several layers to this onion. (Think IRA and Sinn Fein: a violent, underground action organization and a political front group/propaganda organization.).( UPDATE: Josh Marshall agrees and gets it straight from the horse's mouth.)There are the funders and organizers, the faces and the activists, and the underground. It is the underground that has the potential to get out of control, especially when it has violent propensities.

“Other than suicide missions, little can be accomplished at this time. Small cells and lone wolves are the only practical methodology at this time; great bodies evolve from small cells. The most fearsome pack of wolves are a collection of cells. The future is moving quickly toward us. Power is moving toward us also. By jettisoning unwise and un-needed weight, and by being in great shape with strong will, I see little reason why our forces cannot be ready to grab the brass ring of power at a critical juncture in the not-too-distant future. Good Hunting.” Tom Metzger, White Aryan Resistance leader
March 1999 Editorial in WAR Newsletter (online)
Anger, ignorance, paranoia. Bigotry and loss of majority status by whites. These are the hallmarks of the right-wing, anarchist movement the Republicans are seeking to stir up and then co-opt. Yet, at its core this same movement professes its bedrock belief in American exceptionalism in the face of increasing globalization—that is to say, American neo-imperialism, the ambitious and costly (neo-conservative) program that pretty much bankrupted this country in the first decade of this century.

Yet, this anarchism is merely the face of the political machination of the hard-core Republican shadow organization who are in it more for the emoluments of being in power than for the good of these ersatz populists—useful idiots all. And the emoluments of power include the power to command the military and the parasitic paramilitary organizations G.W. Bush mobilized to further his dreams of oil and empire.

Militarism is such an entrenched habit with this bunch that when they are out of power they still feel the need to emphasize the violence of their wants and desires—their passions—that they resort to these unofficial sorts of guns-rights and militia and paramilitary threats. It's simply their style.

Can I rightly call it a conspiracy? Perhaps. Secretive big money, shadow government, activism, and militant anti-government sentiment all seem to be working hand-in-hand with the Republican minority party to delegitimize and oust the current Democratic party in power. It's a dangerous game.

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