The antigovernment “Patriot” movement is big on the U.S. Constitution. Except when it’s not.
For some reason, the far-right politicians who identify with and promote the Patriot movement can’t seem to get over the fact that the Constitution gives the federal government primacy over the states – even as they wrap themselves in the American flag. It’s a contradiction that, apparently, only antigovernment extremists can understand. Others, who study such things, call it cognitive dissonance.
Thumbing your nose at the federal government has a long history in American politics, of course. George Wallace ran an entire presidential campaign on it in 1968 – five years after he made a big show of “standing in the schoolhouse door” to block the entry of black students at the University of Alabama. Perhaps he was still peeved about being pushed out of that doorway by President John F. Kennedy and the National Guard.
Even today, a lot of Southern politicians remain upset at the federal government over that little thing called the civil rights movement, though most of them try to cloak their extremism in the rhetoric of “states’ rights.”
But, come on, haven’t we settled this question – after two centuries of jurisprudence, not to mention a bloody civil war that wrecked the South and cost more than 1 million American lives?
Nope. At least Missouri state Sen. Brian Nieves doesn’t think so.
Nieves has proposed an amendment to his state’s constitution that would prohibit all branches of state government in Missouri from recognizing, enforcing or acting on “certain actions” of the federal government. It’s called “nullification” – the idea that states can simply ignore federal laws they don’t like – and it’s all the rage on the radical right, pushed by the likes of the John Birch Society and the Tenth Amendment Center.
What’s astounding is the traction the idea is getting among people who ought to know better. Nieves’ amendment, which would have to be approved by Missouri voters, is still alive in the legislature four months after it was proposed. It’s even been approved by the Senate’s General Laws Committee.
Nieves, a Tea Party favorite who has described himself as a “Patriot candidate” and who has appeared in a film produced by Patriot conspiracy-monger Gary Franchi, is nothing if not extreme. He’s previously shown his disdain for the Constitution as a leading member of State Legislators for Legal Immigration, a group of state lawmakers that is working to end the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship to all people born within the United States. Apparently, the 14th amendment, enacted in the wake of the Civil War, really bugs him.
Nieves is also, apparently, something of a bully. In August 2010, after winning the Senate primary, he pulled a gun on a man who worked for his opponent’s campaign. According to news accounts, he threw the man against the wall, threatened to kill him, head-butted him, slapped him and asked if he was wearing a “wire.” Then he made the man call his [Nieves’] wife and apologize for things that happened during the campaign.
His proposed amendment goes much further that some other nullification efforts. It specifies a laundry list of specific actions that Missouri would be required to reject: any federal actions to “restrict the right to bear arms; legalize or fund abortions, or the destruction of any embryo from the zygote stage; require the sale or trade of carbon credits or impose a tax on the release of carbon emissions; involve certain health care issues; mandate the recognition of same sex marriage or civil unions; increase the punishment for a crime based on perpetrator’s thoughts or designate a crime a hate crime; interpret the establishment clause as creating a wall of separation between church and state; or restrict the right of parents or guardians to home school or enroll their children in a private or parochial school or restrict school curriculum.
The forbidden federal actions presumably include any federal court orders, even when they come from the Supreme Court.
So, in other words, it’s not really about preserving the legitimate rights of states under the Constitution. It’s simply a subterfuge to reject federal laws that aren’t conservative enough – even when they have been enacted by duly elected representatives of the people or interpreted by the very judicial body created by the Constitution to determine their constitutionality.
What Nieves really is rejecting is democracy itself – and the U.S. Constitution. Funny thing for a Patriot.