Friday, August 14, 2009

Liveblogging Howard Dean

-- by Sara

Howard Dean addresses the Netroots at 9am ET Friday morning. Sara's there liveblogging it -- join in the conversation at

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fascist America II: The Last Turnoff

-- by Sara

Writing about fascism for an American audience is always a fraught business. Invariably, a third of the readers will dismiss the topic (and your faithful blogger's basic sanity) out of hand. Either they've got their own definition of fascism and whatever's going on doesn't seem to fit it; or else they're firm believers in a variant of Godwin's Law, which says (with some justification) that anyone who invokes the F-word is a de facto alarmist of questionable credibility. I get letters, most of which say something to the effect of, "Calm down. You're overreacting. We're nowhere near there yet."

Another third will pepper me with missives that are every bit as dismissive -- for exactly the opposite reason. To them, anyone who's been paying the barest amount of attention should realize that America has been a fascist state since (choose one:) 1) 9/11; 2) Reagan; 3) McCarthy; 4) The Civil War; 5) July 4, 1776. For them, my careful analysis and worried warnings are dangerously naive -- clear evidence that I'm simply not seeing the full horror of America as it truly is, and always has been, at least since (insert date here).

Given this general crankiness, I probably wouldn't bother with the subject at all -- except for that final third who keep me going. From them, I've gotten a blizzard of anecdotes, questions, meditations, ideas, suggestions, manifestos, and love letters (including lots of link love). The piece sparked a lot of conversation all across Left Blogistan about what fascism is and what it ain't and what we need to be watching for. And that kind of thoughtful discussion is exactly what I hoped for. I wanted people to start paying attention.

In the previous post, I pointed out that the most insidious part of fascism is that by the time it's finally obvious to absolutely everyone that these people are dangerously out of control, it's too late to do anything about it. Early warnings are even more valuable here than they are in most domains. And since futurists are -- more than anything -- in the business of early warnings, it falls to me to step up there and point out that according to at least a few of the more reputable atlases in the glove box, this looks a lot like the last turn into the parking lot of downtown Fascist Hell.

The good news is: we're not yet parked and locked, let alone committed to entering the building. (Which is good, because the doors appear to be all one way, just like in the Hotel California.) We've still got a few minutes left to change our minds, back out of this, and go spend our future somewhere else. But we are now actively in the process of choosing, whether we're aware of it or not. Things are happening quickly now that could set us on a course we will soon regret.

How do we turn back? Here are some basic principles to guide our action.

First: The teabaggers must not win this one. Back in elementary school, most of us learned that when a bully learns that intimidation and threats work, he'll will keep doing more of it. In fact, the longer he goes without comeuppance, the bolder and badder he becomes, and the harder it is to make him stop. Every success teaches him something new about how to use terror for maximum effect, and tempts him to push the envelope and see what else he can get away with. Do nothing, and he'll soon take over the whole playground.

And it happens like this for bullies in groups, too. Living in a fascist regime is just living in a town dominated by the Mob, a street gang, the KKK, or a corrupt sheriff. It only takes a small handful of thugs to terrorize people into giving up their civil rights, abandoning democracy, and doing what they're told, just so they can keep their jobs, windows, and families intact. The main imperative in life becomes staying off the goons' radar. All the enforcers need to do is make an horrific example out of one or two troublemakers every now and then -- and the resulting fear will keep everybody else quietly in line.

Conservatives have tried to subdue other Americans this way for centuries, so there's nothing new going on here. And this is the way they've always done it: they used race (and yes, the birthers and anti-health care rioters are, at root, all about race) and economic calamity to whip up a posse of terrified, well-armed vigilantes, and then turned them loose on society to "enforce order." Given their colossal investment in organizing and indoctinating the teabaggers, we'd be stupid to believe that this is all going to go away when Congress returns to DC in September. Having had a taste of power and publicity, these newly-empowered mobs are very likely to stick around town and see what else they can do to keep the muck stirred up.

Our choice now is a stark one: knock them back while they're still new, small, and not yet entrenched; or deal with them later, when they've got some real power to fight back with, and the cost to all of us will be so much higher.

Second: Think nationally, fight locally. The conservatives are running this effort as a national campaign -- but that's not where the real fight is. The terror that fuels fascism is always intensely, intimately local in scale. Fascist goon squads always recruit from the neighborhood -- they're built on people you know. Since that's where they start, that's where they have to be stopped.

This is why all the best tactics involve community-level action. The high-level fight in Congress and the media is already underway, and the Democratic leadership is fighting it with unusual elan. But anybody who sits this one out because they assume that the folks in DC have it all handled for them shouldn't be surprised when they start getting "special treatment" from longtime neighbors, or discover that they can't park their car downtown any more without having it vandalized. That's just the next baby step up from where we are now; and in some places, it's already started to happen. Winning this means getting out there and defending our community's standards and boundaries now, while they're still there to be defended.

Third: Brush up on our non-violent resistance -- but leave the heavy lifting and rough enforcement to the cops. It's true that the only way to stop a bully is to stand up to them. But there are ways to stand up to them that don't involve getting down to the eye-for-an-eye level.

Back home, we had a saying: Never mudwrestle a pig. You will lose, and the pig enjoys it. If we meet thuggery with thuggery, we will lose, because they're just plain better at it. And make no mistake: they will enjoy it. Right now, the right wing is looking -- hard -- to make the case that they're the innocent victim, and the left instigated this whole thing. This quote from religious right organizer Gary Bauer is typical of the genre:

My fear, given the stakes and emotions on both sides, is that union thugs, ACORN activists and leftwing anarchists (who ransacked the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul during last year's Republican National Convention) will turn violent and innocent people will get hurt. If that happens, the radical Left will bear the responsibility for demonizing free speech.

The Nazis used this kind of victim-blaming to tremendous effect as they built up their party. We must not -- must not -- give our proto-brownshirts any basis to make the same kind of argument. (Of course, the absence of evidence will only drive them to make up fake victims; but then we get to call them out as whining liars with a big fat persecution complex, which is always a fun way to spend a news cycle or two.)

It's about the moral high ground, people. Any choices we make must be consistent with our own values, or we betray both ourselves and the country. Standing up for health care reform is important; but before that, the country needs to see us standing up for civil discourse and the right to democratic free speech. Since we're defending the rule of law, our best tactic is to use that law. You have a right to attend a public meeting and speak your mind in a civil, respectful manner. You do not have a right to be disruptive, or deprive other people of their right to be heard. And most jurisdictions have laws about disturbing the peace and creating a public nuisance -- laws, let's not forget, that the Bush regime didn't hesitate to stretch until the elastic gave out against people who merely showed up at meetings with the wrong bumper stickers or T-shirts.

Since we're not Bush goons, we can't go around arresting people who haven't yet broken any laws. But when people -- from either side -- cross that line, it's time for the cops and prosecutors to make the point for us: bullying people in a public meeting (or anywhere else) is illegal, and will not be tolerated in this county.

Fourth: We need to make absolutely sure that the media get the story right. The teabaggers would run out of power with the flick of a switch if the media would just turn off their cameras. But the cold reality is that this kind of drama is a real ratings-booster. It would be like telling lions to lay off that dead elephant carcass. Left alone, the media (local news in particular) will turn these people into cultural heroes. They couldn't turn their backs on this if the republic depended on it.

Since we can't beat 'em, we'll have to join 'em. The best cure for bad speech is always more speech. This means bringing cameras and documenting everything, getting it up on YouTube, and blogging it. It also means coordinating rapid-response letter-writing to the local paper, and keeping down-home reporters well-fed every single day with some new theme that reinforces the idea of concerned non-partisan citizens trying to keep control over their democratic discourse in the face of organized thugs. Since the media is watching, let's make sure they see it all.

Fifth: Support legislators who don't show fear. The Democratic Party seems to be playing this just right (so far). The leadership has made it known that these noisy, scary people don't represent the 73% of Americans who support health care reform. Even better: they're quite successfully using these outbursts to marginalize the entire GOP as not only the Party of No, but the Party of Moonbat Crazy.

If you've never attended a public meeting in your life, August 2009 is the month you need to start. Your congressperson's website probably lists a schedule, or at least a number you can call to inquire. But that's just a first step. Do more. Write. Call. Find out where your local congressional office is, and just drop by when you're in the neighborhood. Tell the staff how you feel -- about health care reform, about the teabaggers, about your legislator's brave stance in the face of this. If they're showing stress, encourage them to stand firm. A constituent in the office counts for thousands writing e-mails, so an in-person visit is 15 minutes incredibly well-spent.

One visit or call is good. More is better. Put it in your schedule to contact your representatives at least once a week for the duration, and make sure they're not buckling under the pressure.

Sixth: Shut down the hate talkers. In most parts of the country, the teabaggers are coming straight out of right-wing talk radio audiences. For hours every day, they're mainlining raw emotion and toxic misinformation. They're going put your kids before "death panels!" They're going to kill your granny! You're going to have to call the White House to get a bone set! You'll be a Real American Hero if you get out there and join the "resistance!" Cutting off this endless torrent of lies, fear-mongering, and validation will go a long way toward powering down the whole movement. (Conversely, what happens when these kinds of radio instigators are left to spin it all the way out to the end can be summed up in two words: Radio Rwanda.)

The basic recipe: Record their shows. Take notes of anything they say that is intimidating, threatening, or aimed at inciting violence against a named target. And while you're at it, note every single advertiser they have.

Then: write a polite letter the CEOs of the sponsoring companies. Throw them some choice quotes from these shows, and ask them if this is the kind of thing they want their product associated with. (Point out that if their own employees said things like this at work, they'd be fired on the spot.) Often, the CEO has no clue that any of this is happening, and will pull the ads as soon as she finds out what's being done in her name. This has worked extremely well -- and quickly -- at both the local and national level.

Finally: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Even if we succeed this time, let's not kid ourselves that this is over. The conservatives are investing a lot of money and effort to build a mass movement that's explicitly aimed at destroying a Democratic government -- and if we learned anything from the Clinton years, it's that they're not going to let up for a second as long as the Democrats are in control. Which means that even if we win this round, we can't stand down. We're going to be pushing back against these bullies, over and over, for the next three to seven years.

There are only two outcomes here. Either we get very good at spotting and stopping these attempts at a brownshirt takeover the minute they crop up; or they're going to get very good at public intimidation, and keep ratcheting it up further toward outright violence and goon rule. That's how it's going to be for the rest of this administration. The sooner we resign ourselves to the zero-sum nature of this fight, the sooner we can get on with getting good at it.

Next week: Fascist-proofing America for the long haul

SPLC report: The "Second Wave" of militia activity is now upon us

-- by Dave

We've been reporting steadily on the return of the militia movement in post-Bush America, and now that reportage has been confirmed by a disturbing report from the Southern Poverty Law Center describing a "Second Wave" of militiamen organizing across the countryside.

The AP has the story:

Bart McEntire, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told SPLC researchers that this is the most growth he's seen in more than a decade.

"All it's lacking is a spark," McEntire said in the report.

It's reminiscent of what was seen in the 1990s — right-wing militias, people ideologically against paying taxes and so-called "sovereign citizens" are popping up in large numbers, according to the report to be released Wednesday.

You can read the report here [PDF file]:

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. “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. “All it’s lacking is a spark. I think it’s only a matter of time before you see threats and violence.”

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. That, coupled with high levels of non-white immigration and a decline in the percentage of whites overall in America, has helped to racialize the Patriot movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by race hate. One result has been a remarkable rash of domestic terror incidents since the presidential campaign, most of them related to anger over the election of Barack Obama. At the same time, ostensibly mainstream politicians and media
pundits have helped to spread Patriot and related propaganda, from conspiracy theories about a secret network of U.S. concentration camps to wholly unsubstantiated claims about the president’s country of birth.

As you can see, the report also details how nativist, anti-immigrant sentiment has been an important undertow in the reborn "Patriot" movement and the associated militia-organizing activity. Some of this is built on the bones of the now-moribund Minuteman movement:

Such exhortations have little to do with border security or undocumented immigration, the issues that launched the original Minuteman Project in 2005 and inspired its many spin-offs, imitators and splinter factions. Instead, the antigovernment screed ringing through Camp V represents a significant, ongoing shift in the nativist vigilante subculture, as major elements of various Minuteman organizations appear to be morphing into a new paramilitary wing of the resurgent antigovernment “Patriot” movement.

Increasingly, Minutemen are giving credence to the sort of fringe conspiracy theories that have long typified militia and other so-called Patriot groups. Although the Minuteman movement from its inception has been permeated with the Aztlan or “reconquista” conspiracy theory — which holds that the Mexican government is driving illegal immigration into the U.S. as part of a covert effort to “reconquer” the American Southwest — the conspiracy theories that are now taking root in the movement have little or nothing to do with border security or immigration. They include the belief that a massive cover-up has been conducted regarding Barack Obama’s birth certificate, which supposedly shows that he was born in Africa and is therefore ineligible to serve as president of the United States. At several eastern San Diego County vigilante camps in mid-May, there were serious discussions about the global banking system being controlled by an ancient secret society called the Illuminati. Another theory floated involved a cult devoted to the Egyptian god of the afterlife, Osiris, operating within the NASA space agency and perhaps arranging with extraterrestrials for a hostile takeover of Earth.

Further indicating the nativist-to-Patriot drift of the Minutemen is the fact that in recent months a number of Minuteman factions have begun promoting the ideology of so-called “sovereign citizens,” a bizarre pseudo-legal philosophy whose adherents claim they’re not U.S. citizens and are not subject to federal or state laws, only to “common law courts” — a sort of people’s tribunal with no judges or lawyers. The most notorious advocates of sovereign citizens ideology include Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and members of the now defunct Montana Freemen, a violent militia outfit. The larger Patriot movement is made up of tax protesters, militia members and sovereign citizens.

We've been reporting on the sudden spike in militia organizing for awhile now. We've also explored a disturbing trend discussed in this report: the rise of Patriot-oriented veterans groups that have been spreading some of the most bizarre conspiracy theories out there -- and doing it as featured speakers at Tea Parties. More to the point, perhaps, they're fearfully fingering their guns because of the nature of these conspiracy theories.

The only thing missing, perhaps, from this report is the role of the mainstream media in helping to spread this fearmongering and paranoia, essentially validating these extremists in their beliefs on national television -- something that has a powerful permission-giving effect for the most unstable and extreme of this particular lot.

Glenn Beck -- who has promoted not just FEMA concentration camp theories, but also far-right "constitutionalist" theories on states rights and secessionist movements, just to name a few -- is easily the worst of the lot in this regard.

But he's hardly alone. Other right-wing talkers -- including Sean Hannity and especially CNN's Lou Dobbs.

Hopefully, this report will get everyone to take a long hard look at the rest of the story here.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

'Concerned father' on Fox: Obama's health-care reforms 'sentencing our families to death'

-- by Dave

You had to figure that the moment you saw that "concerned father" harassing John Dingell at the town-hall meeting on health care in Michigan, he'd be showing up eventually on Fox News. After all, it's what they do.

Sure enough, he was on Fox's America's Newsroom this morning with Megyn Kelly. He was a bit nervous, but he managed to still say some extraordinarily incendiary things -- not to mention reveal that he's a "deather":

Sola: The harm that is being done is being done by this administration and the Congress. They want to foist on us a health-care plan that they themselves will not take. I challenge Barack Obama, members of Congress -- of both parties -- if you believe so much in this plan, then you use it on your family before you put it on our families. What you are doing is sentencing our families to death.

We lose the right to life. Old people are discarded. Those who cannot fend for themselves are discarded. There is no liberty under your plan. And that's the problem -- the people have seen it, the people know it, you can't hide it from the American people anymore.

If I'm a thug, fine. Don't call my son a thug, and don't call those old ladies and old men that are senior citizens like I am, thugs, and a mob. We are not. We are American citizens who want one thing: To be heard before you put us down.

If you want a good example of why we are where we are on this health-care debate, this one is prime: It shows just how deeply a segment of the American population is willing to believe things that simply are not true, provably so.

These are people who believe it's objectively true that the Obama administration's health-care reforms will lead to a mass killing of the elderly and denial of treatment for Obama's opponents. If you want to know why teabaggers are so worked up, this is why: They really believe this stuff.

This kind of alienation from fact-based reality was a significant component of the dynamic behind the "Patriot"/militia movement of the 1990s. It's embodied by the selective "skepticism" of such folks: Anything the runs counter to their belief system is dismissed as "the official story" which is only believed by "gullible" folks (and indeed is more evidence of the ongoing conspiracy), while any kind of outrageous nonsense that supports their belief system is seized up on as "secret truth".

It was a decidedly unhealthy trait when manifested among a relatively small group of people like the Patriots, because these beliefs formed the foundation for a broad range of radical extremism, including violence and armed standoffs with federal authorities.

The prospects of it now becoming a common pathology among the general conservative-movement population -- thanks to its open support from folks like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich (not to mention Fox News) -- are very disturbing indeed.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Faking victimhood: Just how hurt was that supposed victim of SEIU 'thuggery'?

-- by Dave

This weekend the righties got all worked up about the supposed "brutality" of union thugs in St. Louis who they say beat up a black conservative tea partier named Kenneth Gladney who came out to protest the Obama health-care plan on Thursday. They even had a big protest the next day, along with a press conference featuring Gladney in a wheelchair.

But take a look at the video of the supposed assault. It enters the scene a bit late -- an SEIU member is already on the ground and appears to be injured, but we can't tell what the cause was. As he's laying there, other SEIU members come to his protection, and one of them pulls down Gladney; both men fall to the pavement. Both quickly get back up. There appears to be little to it. [A section of the video showing the supposed assault is in slow motion.]

Indeed, it's readily apparent that Gladney seems completely unhurt. He wanders out to the crowd, chats with the cameraman, flags down a cop, and saunters back to where police decide to handcuff the man who knocked him down. As you can hear, the man protests that he was just keeping Gladney away from his fallen friend.

The next day, Gladney is at the press conference in a wheelchair. He claims to be too medicated to speak, so his lawyers and fellow tea partiers do it for him.

Does this seem real to you? Sure looks fake to me.

Right-wingers love to bring up cases of fake hate crimes and overblown racial-profiling claims as proof that these phenomena don't really exist to the extent that their victims claim. (See Ann Coulter for the most recent example, but Michelle Malkin has made a minor cottage industry out of this specious narrative.) But they sure do love it when a minority conservative can make a reverse-the-charges accusation (usually involving race) against liberals -- no matter how dubious the claims.

We can see, moreover, that the right-wing teabaggers intend to create as much physical provocation as possible and then claim victimhood when something erupts -- even when there's nothing. (See yesterday's history lesson for more on this.)

Even worse, this kind of nonsense creates permission for right-wingers to then indulge in the "defensive" violence we've read them fantasizing about on right-wing gun forums. You know, that "Second Amendment" threat we've been hearing.

At the end of the video, I've added a snip from a friend of Gladney's, who remarks: "I wish I'd been there with you, bro, it'd have turned out a lot different, I promise you."

That's what worries the rest of us.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Today's history lesson: How the Brownshirts used street violence as martyrdom propaganda


[Script reads: "We Are Creating the New Germany! Remember the victims -- Vote the National Socialist List". Larger image here.]

-- by Dave

Following up on yesterday's correction of Rush Limbaugh's historical revisionism, noting that both Blackshirts and Brownshirts made their political bones by beating up on union organizers and socialists ...

From State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda, by Steven Luckert and Susan Bachrach, pp. 48-50:

In the final years of the Weimar Republic, Germany was mired in a grave political and economic crisis that left the society verging on civil war. Street violence by paramilitary organizations on the Left and the Right increased sharply. In the final ten days of the July 1932 parliamentary elections, Prussian authorities reported three hundred acts of politically motivated violence that left twenty-four people dead and almost three hundred injured. In the Nazi campaigns, propaganda and terror were closely linked. In Berlin, Nazi Party leader Joseph Goebbels intentionally provoked Communist and Social Democratic actions by marching SA [Brownshirt] storm troopers into working-class neighborhoods where those parties had strongholds. Then he invoked the heroism of the Nazi "martyrs" who were injured or killed in these battles to garner greater public attention. Nazi newspapers, photographs, films, and later paintings dramatized the exploits of these fighters. The "Horst Wessel Song," bearing the name of the twenty-three-year-old storm trooper and protege of Goebbels who was killed in 1930, became the Nazi hymn. The well-publicized image of the SA-man with a bandaged head, a stirring reminder of his combat against the "Marxists" (along with other portrayals of muscular, oversized storm troopers), became standard in party propaganda. In the first eight months of 1932, the Nazis claimed that seventy "martyrs" had fallen in battle against the enemy. Such heroic depictions -- set against the grim realities of chronic unemployment and underemployment for young people during the Weimar period -- no doubt helped increase membership in the SA units, which expanded in Berlin from 450 men in 1926 to some 32,000 by January 1933.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Frank Schaeffer's warning: The 'Glenn Becks' have unleashed 'an anti-democratic, anti-American movement in this country'

[H/t Heather]

-- by Dave

Franklin Schaeffer, the author of Crazy For God and a man who knows whereof he speaks when it comes to the great white underbelly of the American Right, really laid it out last night on Rachel Maddow's show:

Maddow: Do you think that calling the president a Nazi, calling the president Hitler, is an implicit call for politically-motivated violence?

Schaeffer: Yes I do. In fact, this rings a big bell with me, because my dad, who was a right-wing evangelical leader, wrote a book called A Christian Manifesto -- it sold over a million copies. And in that book he compared anyone who was pro-abortion to the Nazi Germans, and he said that using violence or force to overthrow Nazi Germany would have been appropriate for Christians, including the assassination of Hitler. He compared the Supreme Court's actions on abortion to that. And that has been a note that has been following the right wing movement that my father and I helped start in an evangelical context all the way.

So what's really being said here is two messages. There is the message to the predominantly white, middle-aged crowds of people screaming at these meetings, trying to shut them down, but there's also a coded message to what I would call the loony tunes -- the fruit loops on the side. It's really like playing Russian Roulette -- you put a cartridge in the chamber, you spin, and once in awhile it goes off.

And we saw that happen with Dr. Tiller, we've seen it happen numerous times with the violence against political leaders, whether it's Martin Luther King or whoever it might be. We have a history of being a well-armed, violent country. And so really, I think that these calls are incredibly irresponsible.

The good news is that it shows a desperation. The far right knows they have lost, they've lost the hearts and minds of most American people, for instance, who want health care. But they also know that they have a large group of people who are not well-informed, who listen to only their own sources, who buy the lies -- for instance, all this nonsense about euthanasia being mandatory, and all the rest of it. And these people can be energized to go out and do really dreadful things.

And we've seen it in front of abortion clinics, I'm afraid we're going to see it with some of our political leaders. And the Glenn Becks of this world literally are responsible for unleashing what I regard as an anti-democratic, anti-American movement in this country. It is trying to shut down legitimate debate, and replace it with straight-out intimidation.

Wow. Watch the whole thing. I haven't anything to add, other than hoping Schaeffer has read The Eliminationists, because we're on exactly the same track.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

'Brown Shirts'? Town Hall teabaggers' ranks are indeed riddled with right-wing extremists

[H/t Gavin.]

-- by Dave

Rep. Brian Baird of Washington (whose district includes Olympia and Vancouver) has announced that, rather than run the risk of intentional disruption by the teabagging invaders at recent town-hall meetings, he is going to take another approach:

Instead of appearing in person, where "extremists" would have "the chance to shout and make YouTube videos," Baird said Wednesday, he's holding what he calls "telephone town halls" instead.

Baird said he's using the new system because he fears his political opponents may be planning "an ambush" to disrupt his meetings, using methods Baird compared to Nazism.

"What we're seeing right now is close to Brown Shirt tactics," Baird, D-Vancouver, said in a phone interview. "I mean that very seriously."

Baird's acute observation set off all kinds of predictable whining from the usual suspects on the right.

Indeed, the response from the right-wing media -- particularly on Fox -- so far to suggestions that extremists are manipulating these "tea party" protests has been to snort and roll their eyes.

Of course, these are the same right-wingers who had a conniption fit over a Homeland Security bulletin about right-wing extremism by somewhat tellingly conflating its contents to include them -- only to have those warnings come starkly true. The same right-wingers who have been doing their damnedest to whitewash out of public view the very existence of these same far-right elements.

The reality is that, in western Washington, there is very much a substantial presence of right-wing extremists with whom Baird has had to deal over the years. Including, yes, neo-Nazis and skinheads of various stripes.

More frequently, however, it's come from the far-right "Patriot"/militia movement -- descended but distinct from white supremacists -- whose presence in the region appears to be resurging in recent months. This is the same element that came surging to the fore in the last go-round of "Tea Parties" on July 4 nationally.

Along with their extremist beliefs -- including a bevy of conspiracy theories and scapegoating narratives, as well as an unmistakable racial animus -- the violent and thuggish tendencies of the Patriot movement is a matter of well-established public record. So it is not a surprise to see such behavior bubbling up whenever and wherever they are involving themselves.

A prime example of this is the video above. It's a 10-minute rant advocating a "Second Civil War" if President Obama is able to enact his "socialist" agenda, delivered by a man named Ron Ewart, a King County resident who runs an outfit called the National Association of Rural Landowners, which has been built off the bones of the organizations left behind by the late crackpot Aaron Russo.

NARLO, you see, is not only a big "Tea Party" supporter, it is also a major sponsor. It's listed by ResistNet as one of the sponsors of the Sept. 12 "Tea Party" in Washington, D.C.

In addition to calling for open, armed revolt against the Obama administration, Ewart and NARLO have produced videos such as the one below, which indulges a number of ugly racial stereotypes in attacking President Obama as "the essence of evil" and a man who intends to "destroy America."

You also get the flavor of NARLO's extremism by reading their "About" page:

Unless we organize and continue this fight, unless we get angry, unless we take action, without a doubt, the Republic that we know and love and what the founding fathers envisioned, is going to die a slow, agonizing and wrenching death. It's already showing tell tale signs. Unless we come together in a cohesive fighting unit, our freedoms and liberty shall fade into the dark chasm of socialism and radical environmentalism. Unless we come together for awhile and set aside our individualism and total independence, or our apathy and be willing to join with others who are fighting this WAR against Government excesses, our children and grandchildren will have to live in the invisible chains of the New World Order, perpetrated on all of us by internationalists who want our money and our land. Make no mistake, they are well on their way to getting it. Are we going to stop them, or are we going to just sit there and let them do it? We here at NARLO know how to stop them. Do you? If you knew what we have learned and now know, you wouldn't be able to wait to get involved.

Now, as for neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other overt white supremacists, I've seen very few indications of their presence at the Tea Parties. Nonetheless, as the ADL warned a few weeks ago, they probably are showing up and participating, but not raising their presence yet:

On Stormfront, the most popular white supremacist Internet forum, members have discussed becoming local organizers of the "Tea Parties" and finding ways to involve themselves in the events. Many racists have voiced their intent to attend these rallies for the purpose of cultivating an "organized grassroots White mass movement," with some suggesting that they would do so without openly identifying themselves as racists.

All of this tends to lead to Sara's question: Are we there yet? Are we looking at an outbreak of fascist behavior on a large scale?

My own take: Real fascism is always violent. We’re getting some light violence around the edges here, but fascism always openly embraces the ethos of violence, and that’s not present here ... yet. But we’re getting closer all the time, and the town-hall-forum hooliganism -- particularly the growing presence of right-wing extremists in their ranks -- is definitely a significant step down that road. We may not be there, but we are cruising the parking lot.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.