[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]
We began reporting back in July that the Tea Party movement was rapidly becoming overwhelmed by the influx of far-right extremists, particularly at the leadership level, and that it was becoming a major nexus for mainstreaming far-right extremism.
Well, now Jonathan Kay at Newsweek -- a self-identified mainstream conservative -- is reporting essentially the same thing after spending a week in Nashville with the folks:
After I spent the weekend at the Tea Party National Convention in Nashville, Tenn., it has become clear to me that the movement is dominated by people whose vision of the government is conspiratorial and dangerously detached from reality. It's more John Birch than John Adams.And as Kay notes, most journalists who covered the convention paid scarcely any attention to the wingnuttery that surrounded them and instead focused on Sarah Palin:
I consider myself a conservative and arrived at this conference as a paid-up, rank-and-file attendee, not one of the bemused New York Times types with a media pass. But I also happen to be writing a book for HarperCollins that focuses on 9/11 conspiracy theories, so I have a pretty good idea where the various screws and nuts can be found in the great toolbox of American political life.
Within a few hours in Nashville, I could tell that what I was hearing wasn't just random rhetorical mortar fire being launched at Obama and his political allies: the salvos followed the established script of New World Order conspiracy theories, which have suffused the dubious right-wing fringes of American politics since the days of the John Birch Society.
Perhaps the most distressing part of all is that few media observers bothered to catalog these bizarre, conspiracist outbursts, and instead fixated on Sarah Palin's Saturday night keynote address. It is as if, in the current overheated political atmosphere, we all simply have come to expect that radicalized conservatives will behave like unhinged paranoiacs when they collect in the same room.
That doesn't say much for the state of the right in America. The tea partiers' tricornered hat is supposed to be a symbol of patriotism and constitutional first principles. But when you take a closer look, all you find is a helmet made of tin foil.
No doubt Kay's piece will provoke a storm of outrage and denial, which has become the Tea Partiers' (and that now includes Fox) stock in trade -- even though the gig was up when people started packing heat at Tea Party gatherings, wasn't it?
This all brings to mind that ADL report on "Rage in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies" -- the one that called out Glenn Beck as the "Fearmonger in Chief." It contained a section on the Tea Parties:
Although a few events similar to the Tea Parties occurred late in the Bush administration, they took on a new tone and tenor after the election of President Obama.As the study's overview observed:
While most people attending Tea Party events claim they harbor no extreme views, many of the ideas they promote fall outside the mainstream, especially the more conspiratorial ones. Angry protesters have frequently made claims ranging from proclaiming Obama’s “socialist” intentions to making explicit Nazi comparisons to suggesting that the President is defying or even subverting the Constitution.
What characterizes this anti-government hostility is a shared belief that Obama and his administration actually pose a threat to the future of the United States. Some accuse Obama of plotting to bring socialism to the United States, while others claim he will bring about Nazism or fascism. All believe that Obama and his administration will trample on individual freedoms and civil liberties, due to some sinister agenda, and they see his economic and social policies as manifestations of this agenda. In particular anti-government activists used the issue of health care reform as a rallying point, accusing Obama and his administration of dark designs ranging from “socialized medicine” to “death panels,” even when the Obama administration had not come out with a specific health care reform plan. Some even compared the Obama administration’s intentions to Nazi eugenics programs.But if you listen to Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck, these folks are just an insignificant presence in the Tea Parties. And lollipops grow on trees.
Some of these assertions are motivated by prejudice, but more common is an intense strain of anti-government distrust and anger, colored by a streak of paranoia and belief in conspiracies. These sentiments are present both in mainstream and “grass-roots” movements as well as in extreme anti-government movements such as a resurgent militia movement. Ultimately, this anti-government anger, if it continues to grow in intensity and scope, may result in an increase in anti-government extremists and the potential for a rise of violent anti-government acts.