Sunday, February 29, 2004

Roy Moore and the militiamen

The Rev. Roy Moore -- you remember him: the fellow who created a national hullabaloo over the Ten Commandments in Alabama -- is supposedly considering a run for the presidency on a third-party ticket. But the party he's considering signing up with -- the Constitution Party -- is a very telling choice.

According to WorldNetDaily -- not a reliable news source, but pretty accurate in terms of activities on the fringe right, of which it is part -- Moore is making appearances not just with "mainstream" groups like the Christian Coalition, but with the Constitution Party as well:
One week prior to that event, Moore spoke at a dinner in Lancaster, Pa., sponsored by the Constitution Party, which has the third-largest number of registered voters in the U.S. The party's presidential candidate, Howard Phillips, was on 41 state ballots in 2000, Fund noted.

Richard Winger, an authority on independent candidates, told Fund he believes Moore could rally enough support to sustain a presidential candidacy.

"If he can get on talk shows and stir up conservative voters he could easily get significantly more than the usual third-party vote totals," said Winger, editor of Ballot Access News.

Winger points out the Constitution Party has 320,000 registered voters nationwide and guaranteed ballot access in large states such as California and Pennsylvania.

What none of these accounts mention is that the Constitution Party is in fact the home party of the Patriot movement and its attendant "constitutionalists" -- people whose far-right interpretations of the Constitution lead them to form militias and "common law courts."

Founded in 1992 as the U.S. Taxpayers Party, its leading light for years has been Howard Phillips, the former Republican strategist who peeled away from the party in the early '90s. Phillips was its presidential candidate in the 1996 and 2000 elections. The Constitution Party is explicitly antitax, antigovernment, anti-abortion, and seeks to abolish the IRS, close down the Department of Education and terminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, AIDS education, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Under its USTP moniker, the party openly supported the formation of citizen militias -- in fact, a manual on forming militias was available through the party -- and a number of Patriot militiamen spoke before party functions and openly affiliated themselves with it.

(One of the USTP's most notorious moments came in 1995, when a militia promoter named Matthew Trewhella appeared at its national convention. Trewhella, a notorious anti-choice activist, said: "This Christmas I want you to do the most loving thing and I want you to buy each of your children an SKS rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition." Trewhella also signed a declaration saying that murdering abortion providers is "justifiable homicide.")

The Montana Human Rights Network carried the following report on Phillips' presidential campaign appearance in Montana:
Howard Phillips, the party's presidential candidate, spoke numerous times throughout the convention. His campaign received very little mainstream media attention, but was closely covered by right-wing periodicals like The Spotlight and Media Bypass. At the Montana convention, Phillips spent most of his time discussing all the federal agencies and programs he would eliminate if elected. These included: the income tax, Federal Reserve, FEMA, EPA, ATF, and the Department of Education. He also claimed that both Democrats and Republicans had adopted the Socialist Party's platform of 30 years ago. He continually stressed Republicans were more dangerous than Democrats, because "They fly a false flag."

It's becoming clearer that Moore is planning to run under the CP banner in 2004. He recently made an appearance in Great Falls under the auspices of the party:
He insisted Friday he could not do his job without acknowledging God since his official oath of office was sworn to God and the Alabama Constitution invokes "the favor and guidance of Almighty God" in establishing justice.

Furthermore, he contended that the federal judge violated the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in making the order, which he said reserves the right to the states, not the federal government, to make religious decisions.

"I'm accused of disobeying a federal judge's order, but that judge can't make the law," Moore said.

The Alabama review committee criticized him for not showing contrition, Moore said, "and they're right, I didn't."

Crowd members gleefully yelled, "Wahoo," "Right on" and "Amen."

It wasn't long, of course, before the core agenda floated to the surface:
The phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear in the Constitution, he said, and wasn't interpreted so restrictively until 1961 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Since then, the court in effect has created laws to take prayers from public schools and Nativity scenes from public places, Moore said.

"Are we headed for the ditch?" he asked.

"Shall we forsake the Lord God of our fathers?"

"No," the crowd roared.

Note that Moore also made a pitch for the Constitution Restoration Act. (Someone needs to ask Zell Miller if he still "stands shoulder to shoulder" with Moore.)

What is missing from this report, however, is a point raised in the Great Falls Tribune the previous day: namely, the Constitution Party got help from the Militia of Montana in turning out a crowd for Moore's talk:
The [Montana Human Rights] network, a private Helena-based group that monitors and reports activities by conservative groups, charged that the Constitution Party enlisted the Militia of Montana to drum up ticket sales for Moore's talk and to help gather petition signatures to place the party on Montana's election ballot.

"It's disheartening enough to have Roy Moore, the poster child for the religious right's attack on religious tolerance and separation of church and state, speaking in Great Falls," said the human rights group's Travis McAdam. "Now the Constitution Party is asking a paramilitary group to help fill the Civic Center. It's discouraging when even a fringe party asks anti-government groups for help."

McAdam pointed to copies of two e-mails his group obtained that were sent out by Militia of Montana, or MOM.

In response, Martin, a Great Falls businessman, said he sent the first release to the press and several conservative groups, including Montana Family Coalition, Eagle Forum and Montana Right to Life. The militia group later requested a copy and he sent it to them, Martin said.

"I don't know a lot about the Militia of Montana, but am not opposed to it and agree with some of their ideas," he said.

[Just for the record: Contrary to the Tribune report, MHRN does not monitor "conservative" groups. It strictly monitors extremist groups, many of whom are on the far right.]

We've already observed that Moore's Alabama brouhaha attracted considerable support from the extremist right. Moore's potential candidacy is intriguing, since it is likely to draw off more votes from the far right than did Pat Buchanan's campaign. More importantly, it has the potential of drawing the extremists back out of the GOP -- though obviously, Bush's endorsement of a federal anti-gay marriage amendment will blunt much of that appeal, as it was intended to do.

On the other hand, as this recent Montana appearance suggests, Moore's candidacy could become a dangerous thing if it gains any traction at all. It'll be well worth keeping an eye on.

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