Broad swaths of the far right reacted with outrage and accusations of looming dictatorship to President Obama’s announcement last night of unilateral moves to allow some 5 million undocumented immigrants to remain in this country — and some of the most inflammatory rhetoric came from the political “mainstream.”
Even before the Thursday night speech, people like Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) — a conservative, but known as a personal friend of the president — were sounding apoplectic as details of Obama’s planned executive actions leaked out. Coburn warned that they could lead to “anarchy” and “violence” in the streets. U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said the actions might warrant a “jail penalty” for the president, and U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann said they would legalize millions of “illiterate” people — the same Latinos many GOP leaders have said they want to reach out to.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, another Republican well known for his strident opposition to immigration and efforts to suppress minority votes, agreed with a caller to a radio show that Obama’s plan might amount to “ethnic cleansing,” presumably of white people, adding that it appeared to be an effort to “replac[e] American voters with newly legalized aliens” to create a “locked in vote for socialism.”
It wasn’t that Obama’s moves didn’t anger the radical right along with many of those in the ostensible polirical mainstream. Stewart Rhodes, leader of the radical antigovernment group Oath Keepers, said that if Republicans do not impeach the president for his actions, then people would seek out “other options” to take on the man who “violated his oath, grossly.” Television extremist Glenn Beck warned that Obama’s executive actions, along with a possible decision to not indict Ferguson, Mo., officer Darren Wilson, would lead to a “race war.” And Larry Klayman, leader of the extremist Judicial Watch organization, filed a suit within hours of Obama’s announcement on behalf of Arizona’s infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio, claiming that the executive actions were unconstitutional and would cause “irreparable harm.”
But most of the fury did seem to come from politicians and others closer to the political center. For instance, Mark Krikorian, the head of the Washington-based anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies, likened Obama to Richard Nixon and said he saw himself as the nation’s “ultimate ruler.” U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Penn.) said that the president’s actions would lead to a national “internal crisis” comparable to the period just before the Civil War. And House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused Obama of “acting like” a king or an emperor.
It’s not clear if all the sturm und drang will continue to heat up as awareness of the president’s new initiative spreads. But there are real signs that the nativist extremist movement, which swept the country between 2005 and 2011 with Minuteman and other radical “citizen border patrol” groups, may be roaring back to life. Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a major new report examining how the anti-immigrant movement has swelled in recent months, beginning with the blocking of buses carrying undocumented children in Murrieta, Calif., in early July. President Obama's new moves may well exacerbate that apparent rebirth.