The mainstreaming of violent right wing paranoia

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, June 16, 2010 22:04 EDT
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This has been covered in a few places, but I thought I’d link it anyway, because it settles a simmering debate in the netroots about whether or not it’s wise to pay attention to the hard right. The hope, I think, from people in the “ignore the freaks” camp is that they feed off attention and will go away without it. I don’t disagree that this is true, but I also have to point out that it’s out of our hands. Even if every liberal in the world strenuously ignored the birthers, the people who believe Obama’s coming for their guns, and other paranoid proto-fascists, these folks would still be paying attention to each other and probably be getting plenty of juice from the mainstream media. So we have to talk about them, and the best thing we can do is highlight out far out of touch they are.

Sharron Angle is the Republican nominee for the Senate in Nevada. That shows how much the fringe right has access to the mainstream right now. Angle has repeatedly used violent rhetoric and encouraged her followers to believe that if they can’t win fairly in elections, they should force their agenda at the end of a gun on their neighbors. This isn’t something that we can afford to believe isn’t serious. While it’s hard to imagine it could happen here, the ugly truth is that political violence and even coups ousting duly elected leaders do happen, and they have to start somewhere. And this kind of rhetoric is where they often begin. Because of decades of the NRA fighting every attempt at gun control, no matter how commonsensical, we also have to face up to the fact that this angry, would-be violent minority is truly well-armed.

I’m as eager as anyone to say the possibility of violence is remote. And in some ways, it is. Most domestic terrorism tends to be small in scope, such as abortion clinic shootings, or the acts of lone people, such as the IRS plane crash. Most domestic terrorist criminal conspiracies are discovered and stopped before they get very far. But the ugly reality is that even so, there are in fact conspiracies and nuts like Scott Roeder do in fact have support networks. That the federal government fears stepping on these networks and conspiracies too hard should alarm us—it means they think the larger conservative movement is sympathetic enough to those who act on violent rhetoric that you don’t want to risk pissing them off too much. Indeed, the right wing alarm over the FBI issuing orders to monitor hate groups and would-be domestic terrorists proves that these fears are justified.

My feeling has been that things are mostly okay, because the angry, violent rhetoric mostly seems to be coming from people that are middle-aged or older, and those are usually not the people who have the gumption (or stupidity) to actually take the actions they threaten. One or two here or there, obviously, but they don’t really have enough momentum to do much more than bitch on the internet and go to protests. But now that this kind of rhetoric is being validated in ever more mainstream avenues (such as from the Republican Senate candidate in Nevada), I’m increasingly worried that the natural cowardice and laziness of teabaggers will stop being the obstacle that it was.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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