Of Tea Parties, Terrorists and Civil Discourse

Carolyn Kaster/ AP

As you may have heard, the media made a rising star out of Ryan Rhodes, the founder of the Iowa Tea Party, when he spoke out of turn at an appearance by President Obama, yelling at the president and confronting him about Joe Biden calling Tea Partiers terrorists. If you want your 15 minutes of fame, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get it by being rude and disrespectful toward this particular president. (Remember the “You lie!” craze?) In a more genteel time, Rhodes’ conduct would have netted him a rap on the knuckles from Miss Manners, but in this era, it makes him a national hero.  The grotesque irony of a teabagger lecturing anyone about civil conduct seems to have been quite lost on the media; it’s rather like Bill Clinton lecturing someone on marital fidelity.

Rhodes was referring to a remark supposedly made by the Vice President in a private meeting with fellow Democrats. Or maybe someone else said it and he merely implied his assent. Or maybe someone else said it and he failed to pummel them senseless. In any case, there’s no confirmation it actually happened, and the veep flatly denies it. But who needs confirmation when you have Internet rumors? As teabaggers have demonstrated repeatedly, the only proof they need of a rumor’s truth is that it’s been repeated by Fox and/ or Drudge.

To his credit, after Obama had finished addressing the inquiries of people who observed appropriate protocol, he circled back and attempted to engage Rhodes in an actual dialogue. (If you don’t grasp how extraordinary that is, try to visualize  George W. Bush or even Ronald Reagan -aka The Great Communicator- allowing hecklers to go head-to-head with him.) He first denied the Biden rumor, then tried to have a civil discussion about the issues. Rhodes, however, was really just interested in hurling the same accusation over and over.

He was reinforced by an unidentified woman who zoomed in to confront the president with the accusation that another member of his administration, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, had also called them terrorists. That’s also untrue, but at least it has a tenuous basis in reality. But just for good measure, the lady added another assertion that she seems to have just pulled out of her ass: that 90 percent of domestic terrorist attacks are carried out by “left-wing environmental radicals”.

Among other things, she seems to be confused by the cute and trendy trick of classifying eco-saboteurs as terrorists.  While eco-saboteurs may destroy property by what could be considered violent means, their objectives do not include taking lives – in fact, they’re motivated by a reverence for life that may actually cloud their judgment about how best to express it.

Even the most extreme and violent of left-wing organizations, the Weathermen (who were politically and not ecologically motivated) were responsible for at worst a handful of deaths, which were accidental or coincidental to their operations. (They detonated bombs to damage property, but gave advance notice so the property could be evacuated.) When a terrorist kills someone accidentally, it’s the accident part that’s accidental, rather than the killing part.

Decades later, a former member of the group, William Ayers – now a respected professor and (peaceful) political organizer – made headlines because at some point in the more recent past he’d crossed paths, however tangentially, with an aspiring politician named Barack Obama.  This sixth-degree separation was enough for one Sarah Palin (who’d later become the Tea Party’s de facto figurehead) to proclaim that Obama had been “palling around with terrorists”. Hey, it’s no problem if someone says it about him. It’s only when he, or someone he works with, allegedly returns the favor that it becomes an outrage.

Well, suppose the favor really has been returned. Suppose both Obama and Biden are lying (they are politicians, after all). Suppose Biden, or someone in that room, or the mother-in-law of an acquaintance of someone in that room, really did say that Tea Partiers are terrorists, or behave like terrorists, or begin with the same letter of the alphabet as terrorists. Whatever might have possessed a person to say such a thing? Well, hmmm….

“If you have the unalienable right to be armed, then you have the right to kill government agents who try to disarm you.” (Jeff Mattox, Tea Party activist)

“If ballots don’t work, bullets will”  (Joyce Kaufman, speaker at a Tea Party rally in Florida)

“We are all becoming slaves to our government”  (Alabama Tea Party candidate Rick Barber, whose campaign literature depicted an armed “army of voters”)

“People are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around. I tell you, the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.”  (Sharron Angle, Tea Party candidate in Nevada)

“I’m going to use my training and become one of those domestic terrorists you’re so afraid of in the reports”.  (Charles Alan Dyer, former marine and Tea Partier arrested for raping a 7-year-old girl)

“Political power comes from the barrel of a gun. They’re pushing us to our limits.” (Speaker at a New Mexico Tea Party rally)

If we had our guns [during the time of the Nazis’ reign in Germany], we would have fought a bloody battle. So, keep your guns, and buy more guns, and buy ammunition. Take back America. Don’t let them take the country into Socialism. And I refer again, Hitler’s party was National Socialism. And that’s what we are having here right now, which is bordering on Marxism.” (Kitty Werthmann at a” How to Take Back America” Conference in St. Louis)

(The Second Amendment) “was clearly intended for self defense as well as, and more specifically, to keep the government on notice of an armed citizenry.” (Katherine Crabill, Tea Party candidate in Virginia)

These, mind you, are just a FEW utterances from individuals KNOWN to have DIRECT Tea Party affiliations.  There are many, many other such declarations by others of the same stripe, some of whom have actually carried out violent and even deadly acts.  You can read about some of them here.

Of course, in promoting the defensive meme that “both sides do it” (which, as we’ve previously noted, is a gross exaggeration at best), people often quote Obama’s comment that “If they bring a knife, we bring a gun.” To which perhaps the only appropriate response is… “Are you fucking kidding me???” Obama was very obviously using a metaphor. (Look it up if you slept through English class.) He wasn’t expecting anyone to literally bring a knife or a gun. But when Tea Partiers say “We come Unarmed… This Time”, they’re clearly NOT speaking metaphorically. And they’re sure as hell not being metaphorical when they actually BRING guns. It may be a stretch to call the Tea Party a terrorist outfit, but the potential for violence which could be classified as terrorism is very much present, and it’s not surprising that Napolitano et al are being vigilant.

Consider the OKC bomber, who by any standard was a full-blown terrorist. He killed 168 people, none by accident. And he was by no means a “left-wing environmentalist radical”. In fact, he was about as far away from being one as you can get. In his views, his attitudes and his words he would have blended right in at a Tea Party rally, ranting about “Second Amendment remedies”, “patriotism” and defense against the “tyranny” of the ballot box.

Rhodes, by the way, demonstrated later that same day just how sincere he was about “civil discourse”. By suggesting the president is a socialist.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s