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Gary Horton: Don’t unhinge the tea party fringe

Full speed to port

Posted: April 13, 2010 9:55 p.m.
Updated: April 14, 2010 4:30 a.m.
Anti-government radical Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building on April 19, 1995. It’s possible too many have forgotten McVeigh, and what exactly it was he did.

It seems in the fringier corners of tea party culture, McVeigh is emerging rehabilitated as something of an anti-big-government patriot — an activist veteran/citizen who “just couldn’t take any more government intrusion” and got pushed too far.

Of course, McVeigh separates himself from legitimate activism by having acted violently on his fringe thinking. Still, that McVeigh’s name is popping up in any positive context gives some pause, and much cause for concern. Some tea party leaders are disposed towards militaristic and incendiary rhetoric to pump up their adherents. Such can only open doors that best remain closed.

McVeigh chose April 19 for his deadly deed, as it was the second anniversary of the infamous Waco Siege. In Waco, McVeigh believed, government had finally crossed the uncrossable line to illegitimacy. Today, some tea partiers believe passing health care reform is inexcusable government tyranny.

For McVeigh, Waco set the stage, and it was past time to stop writing and protesting, and time to act. When the action was done and the last of the bodies were dug from the rubble, 168 innocent people were murdered in McVeigh’s anti-government, anti-taxation revolution. He was subsequently convicted of 11 federal offenses, sentenced to death and  executed.

According to Wikipedia, “McVeigh wrote letters to local newspapers, complaining about taxes: ‘Taxes are a joke. Regardless of what a political candidate ‘promises,’ they will increase. More taxes are always the answer to government mismanagement. They mess up. We suffer. Taxes are reaching cataclysmic levels, with no slow down in sight. ... Is a civil war imminent? Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn’t come to that. But it might.’”  

Doesn’t this sound familiar with the rhetoric coming from today’s tea party leadership? It’s especially ironic since taxes today are lower than during McVeigh’s time.

McVeigh was also agitated over gun control — always a hot topic for the anti-government crowds.

“The government is afraid of the guns people have because they have to have control of the people at all times. Once you take away the guns, you can do anything to the people. You give them an inch and they take a mile. I believe we are slowly turning into a socialist government. The government is continually growing bigger and more powerful and the people need to prepare to defend themselves against government control.”

Again and again, McVeigh sounds more familiar than he should when compared to fringe tea partiers. This observation isn’t lost on me. Tea party cheerleaders over at Fox “News” have connected their own dots.

Sean Hannity recently served host at a tea party rally at the Reagan Library. Republican California Congressmen Kevin McCarthey and David Dryer were with him whipping up tea party fervor with anti-Obama, anti-government “moans du jour.”

After blaming everything under the sun on Obama, Hannity threw some bloody red meat to the ravenous tea party crowd: “I think we won the (health care) debate. When you think of the vast majorities (the Democrats) have in Congress and that they had to bribe backroom deals ... that’s all because of the tea party movement, the people, (pointing to the crowd) all these Tim McVeigh wanna-bes here, you know.” The audience roared in approval.


Hannity sees tea partiers as wanna-be McVeighs “fighting against the (black?) Man,” and the crowd cheers?  Was Hannity being sarcastic or intentionally ratcheting up the Fox News rhetoric yet one more dangerous reactionary notch? Have tea partiers lost their sense of decency — or just their memories?

It seems to me, invoking the murderous McVeigh in any positive light is repulsive and demeaning to what remains of the morality of America.

It is a small, short step from protesters carrying signs depicting the legally elected president of the U.S. as Hitler, a small step from calling to “burn Pelosi,” from carrying signs and chanting slogans to “Kill the Bill” — to actually going too far and ... killing something. The problem with egging on the fringe is that it’s the fringe that gets unhinged and acts out on the violent imagery it hears and sees.

When rhetoric gets sufficiently militaristic, some hear a call to literal arms. It happens to Muslims, Christians and political movements.

Am I stretching?

From last week’s news: “Nine members of the Christian terrorist militant group, ‘Hutaree,’ were arraigned and charged by a grand jury with conspiring to attack and kill police officers, including those attending a funeral in an attempt to expand their war against the group’s enemy, namely the United States.”

These folks think they’re fighting the Anti-christ, which, in their minds, is the U.S. government and its employees.

Here’s another. “Austin, Texas — Leaving behind a rant against the government, big business and particularly the tax system, a computer engineer smashed a small aircraft into an office building where nearly 200 employees of the Internal Revenue Service were starting their workday Thursday morning, the authorities said.”  

While the Hutaree attack was thwarted, the anti-tax IRS revolutionary left two innocent people dead and a large public building in ruins.

The RNC runs ads showing Nancy Pelosi engrossed in flames. Sarah Palin depicts rifle-scope cross hairs on congressmen she’d like to see turned out. Protesters hoist violence-themed signs, while mainstream leaders look the other way and fail to condemn inappropriate protest. And recently, McVeigh has gotten a truly bizarre makeover as a concerned anti-tax citizen.

With continued provocation like this, we will read more headlines of fringies off their hingies, taking the wars in their heads into our real streets. It’s past high time for conservative leadership to take stock of what they’ve wrought and douse their rhetorical flames.
“Proud terrorist,” “Burning (anyone),” and anything but condemning McVeigh have no legitimate place in civil political discourse.

Failure to end this nonsense will tragically leave real American blood on conservative and tea party leadership hands.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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