The news over the past few days has demonstrated that elements of the Tea Party and others on the far right have resorted to blatant bigotry and threats of violence in the run up to and in the aftermath of Sunday’s House vote on the landmark heath care reform bill. As some Democratic lawmakers were making their way up to Capital Hill on Sunday, Tea Party protesters hurled racial and other epithets, like ni***r and fa***t to a few black congressman and one gay congressman. One black congressman was even spat upon.
After the bill passed, several Democrats received death threats and Democratic congressional offices were vandalized. The campaign office of Rep. Louise Slaughter from Niagara Falls, New York received a call that threatened a sniper attack. And the district congressional offices of Rep. Slaughter and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona were vandalized. Pro-life Michigan Democrat Rep. Bart Stupack received death threats after voting for the bill. A Tea Party activist posted on his blog what he thought was the home address of Virgina Democrat Rep. Tom Perriello and encouraged fellow activists to “drop by” Rep. Perriello’s home for a “face to face” chat. It turns out that it was actually the address of Perriello’s brother. The Tea Party nut who posted the wrong address refuses to take it down. Now the FBI is investigating a line to a propane tank on a gas grill that was cut at Perriello’s brother’s house. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the House’s highest-ranking African-American received a fax with an image of a noose. At least 10 House Democrats have raised concerns about their security since Sunday’s vote.
If that isn’t enough, the GOP is using provocative imagery in its opposition. For example, Sarah Palin, on her Facebook page, used gun sights to highlight the Democrats her lobbying group is targeting in the next elections. This is the same Palin that incited virulence and threats at her campaign rallies in 2008. The official GOP website has an image of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the midst of flames.
A look at actual acts of right-wing violence over the past couple of years shows that there is a body count to all of this. These latest incidents are mostly just words, but extremist movements are capitalizing on anger and despair over a difficult economic situation. Here are a few of the most well-known cases:
* July 27, 2008- Motivated by desire to “kill liberals and Democrats,” gunman Jim David Adkisson fired a shotgun at members of the congregation during a youth performance of a musical, killing two people and wounding seven others.
* Two white supremacists planned a murder spree of 88 African Americans in Tennessee, as well as planned to assassinate candidate Obama in October 2008. The Secret Service has investigated a large number of threats against Obama both during and after the campaign.
* January 21, 2009- White supremacist Keith Luke killed 2 people, raped and attempted to kill a 3rd, and planned to continue on a killing spree targeting Jews and non-whites but was thwarted from doing so after he was arrested.
* April 4, 2009- Richard Poplawski, a white supremacist with strong anti-government ideology ambushed and killed 3 Pittsburgh police officers. Poplawski had reportedly posted a link to his website of a YouTube video of Republican Congressman Ron Paul discussing with Fox News host Glenn Beck the rumored existence of FEMA-managed concentration camps.
* May 31, 2009- Scott Roeder murdered an abortion doctor while he was in church in Kansas. Fox News’ right-wing commentator Bill O’Reilly helped to incite anger and violence against Dr. George Tiller.
* June 10, 2009- James Von Brunn, an anti-government ideologue, attacked the Holocaust museum in DC, killing a guard before he was wounded.
* February 18, 2010, Joseph Stack III, angry at the IRS, crashed a small airplane into the Austin, Texas IRS building, killing 1 IRS employee. And how is this different from one of the 9/11 hijackers?
The DHS report on the threat of right-wing violence was spot-on correct, despite it being viciously attacked by many conservatives as a political move. Extremists on the right are taking advantage of a severe recession and the election of the nation’s first black president to incite hatred and violence.
I hope that in the future, cooler heads will prevail. The GOP leadership and conservative talk show hosts have a moral responsibility to keep the dialogue civil. While they are not necessarily responsible for every lone wolf nut job out there that goes on a killing rampage, GOP leaders and conservative pundits must know that their words are heeded, and when they use the rhetoric of fear, violence, and hatred, those at the fringe of their following will use their words to justify almost anything. Scaring their voting base by claiming that Stalin and Hitler have been resurrected in the form of Obama and his health care bill is simply unethical and untruthful. As I pointed out on my last post regarding conservative pundit David Frum’s analysis of the GOP’s health care defeat, conservative talkers had “whipped the Republican voting base” into a “frenzy” where calm and rational dialogue was impossible.
Of course there are extremists at both ends of the political spectrum. But we did not see this kind of violence and virulent rhetoric from the far left during the Bush years.