As the first months of the Obama Administration unfold, a growing consensus is emerging that a resurgence of right-wing hate groups and radical ideas is spreading across the United States.
As the first months of the Obama Administration unfold, a growing consensus is emerging that a resurgence of right-wing hate groups and radical ideas is spreading across the United States. Law enforcement officials, civil rights groups, and many others have all expressed worries about this troubling trend.
This February, in the last issue of the Intelligence Report, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported on the continued growth of hate groups, whose numbers have risen by more than 50% since 2000. It attributed that growth mainly to fears about non-white immigration, but pointed out that the rise of a black man to the White House also appears to have contributed. And it said the ongoing economic meltdown, which some have already blamed on racial minorities and undocumented Latino immigrants, could well add to a worsening situation.
Two months later, a Department of Homeland Security report, "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," was leaked to the press. Dated April 7, the report mirrored many of the conclusions of the SPLC and added that "rightwing extremists [could] attempt to recruit and radicalize returning [military] veterans." (The Report has written extensively about the problem of extremists in the military.)
Already, there is evidence of the violence that an expansion of the radical right may portend. Some of it is chilling.
- In late April, a man shot to death two Okaloosa County, Fla., sheriff's deputies responding to a domestic disturbance call. Officials said Joshua Cartwright was interested in militia groups and that his wife told police that he was "severely disturbed" by Obama's election.
- Three days before the DHS report was issued, a gunman in Pittsburgh killed three police officers. Internet postings by the suspect in the months before the murders suggest the man was motivated by racist and anti-Semitic ideology, antigovernment conspiracy theories, and a fear that Obama would pass confiscatory gun laws.
- Around the same time, a Marine who had earlier been arrested for armed robberies near Camp Lejeune, N.C., was indicted for threatening Obama. Kody Brittingham's journal allegedly contained neo-Nazi propaganda and a plan to assassinate the then president-elect.
- On Jan. 21, the day after Obama's inauguration, a white man in Brockton, Mass., allegedly murdered two black people and planned to kill as many Jews as he could that night. Police said the man told them he'd been reading white supremacist websites and believed that whites were facing a genocide.
- Last December, a woman who had just shot her husband to death in Belfast, Maine, told police that James Cummings was "very upset" with Obama's election, had been in touch with white supremacist groups, and had talked of building a "dirty bomb" chock full of deadly radioactive materials. Police found many of the components for that bomb, along with an application for the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement filled out by Cummings.
- And in late October, two racist skinheads were arrested in Tennessee and charged in connection with an alleged plot to murder more than 100 black Americans, beheading some of them, and then to assassinate Obama.
The government report was met with howls of outrage from pundits, politicians and others on the right who characterized it as an attack on conservatives and veterans — an absurd contention for anyone who actually read the document.
Televangelist Pat Robertson, the gay-bashing founder of the Christian Coalition, even said the DHS report "shows somebody down in the bowels of that organization is either a convinced left winger or somebody whose sexual orientation is somewhat in question."
These expressions of anger were disingenuous at best. The reality is that many of these same people have done their best to pour fuel on the flames of incipient antigovernment fury, feeding the same kind of white-hot popular anger that animated the militia movement of the 1990s, with all its violence.
MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan recently said Obama would face a "bloodbath" if he legalized undocumented workers. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) fears Obama will set up "re-education camps for young people." U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) warns there are 17 "socialists" in the Congress. FOX News' Glenn Beck calls Obama a fascist, a Nazi and a Marxist, and even refloated militia-era conspiracy theories about secret concentration camps for patriots.
People like Beck — who described himself as a mere "rodeo clown" when he was called out on such statements — may be craven opportunists pandering for ratings. It really doesn't matter. Their lunatic rants, planted in the rich soil of social discontent, make it that much harder for our country to advance toward a better future.