05/12/2010 02:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

GOP -- Wrong on Militias, Wrong for America

On my way to the town dump Saturday I passed three guys in camo sitting by an assault rifle -- a shooter, a spotter, and a lookout.

The gun was on a tripod. The position commanded the little valley I'd just passed through. This was the second time I'd seen something like this in the past month.

So I stopped to talk. They were a little alarmed because they didn't know me. But we had a chat. They told me they were hunting groundhogs; a ridiculous lie -- you don't hunt groundhogs with machine guns.

Who were they? Local militia, of course, showing themselves because they think the time is ripe.

Which just goes to show how stupid these guys are. Even muggers know that if you're breaking the law, you protect your neighbors -- not threaten them. That way, they protect you when the cops arrive.

In any event, the men in question don't command much respect in this corner of Central New York State; the broad opinion is that they're just playing army, and not a serious threat to the public peace.

For instance, people point out that most members are full of talk, but that not one could give you a concrete "attack on our freedoms" to which they'd feel obliged to respond. Which begs the question: If they don't know what would make them act, what're they talking about?

Plus, most members have families. They may take themselves seriously, but if push came to shove, most members wouldn't take the field -- not, at least, if their wives had anything to say about it.

Besides, there may have been an explosion of militias since President Obama took office -- from 42 in 2008, to 127 in 2009, says the Southern Poverty Law Center -- but if every militia could field 100 fighters, that would only be a regiment of light infantry, widely dispersed.

That's only enough for a guerrilla war -- nothing that a bunch of guys with rifles and pipe bombs can win against a US military with Apache helicopters. Plus, enthusiasm for that sort of guerrilla war, which would enjoy only marginal support, is very difficult to sustain -- a lesson learned by the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, and the Symbionese Liberation Army.

So let's not worry about right-wing militias taking the levers of government. It may be their fantasy, but as a military matter, it's just not going to happen.

As a political matter, though, those guys on the hillside do represent a wonderful opportunity for Democrats, who can demand that Republicans denounce them.

And what's stopping them? After all, it's a no-lose for the Democrats. If the party of law and order denounces domestic terrorism, it alienates its right wing; if it doesn't, it looks like a soft-spoken gangster, come to visit with a couple of boys.

The facts are against them. Reports about various right-wing threats are multiplying across the media. And even denouncing them would come off sounding hollow.

Why? For one thing Republicans have, for years, supported the same issues these militias support--and supporting the terrorists, too, if only by their silence.

Take, for instance, the Huttaree Militia, recently busted for planning to murder policemen, and follow up by attacking their funerals. The silence from Republican ranks after they were rounded up was deafening. That was especially interesting, since the date that group had chosen for their action was April 19th -- anniversary of the day right-winger Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

That attack was the second most lethal terrorist attack on American soil -- right behind 9/11. McVeigh killed 168 citizens, including 19 children.

In fact, Republicans are on record as "understanding" right wing terror. After Joseph Stack killed a man earlier this year by flying his plane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas, Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina told a San Antonio radio station that while she didn't sympathize with Stack, she thought the attack reflected "the hopelessness many in our society feel."

And at the recent CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) meeting, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told Think Progress that "It's sad the incident in Texas happened, but by the same token, it's an agency that is unnecessary and when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the IRS, it's going to be a happy day for America."

What more do the Democrats want? Are they hoping for the right wing terrorist vote?

Happily, Sen. Harry Reid (D.-NV), possibly out of a strong conviction he'll lose his seat in November, seems to have found what he'd been looking for, and has been pressing his advantage against the Republicans on one issue after another.

With any luck, he'll take up this issue while he's forcing Republicans to fight financial reform and defend Arizona's new racist immigration law.

It's an issue Senator Reid can win. The more he wins, the more he wins. And if he uses the domestic terrorism angle to paint Republicans as enemies of law and order -- not to mention the Constitution -- it may help him return to the Senate

Plus, it would be a service to the nation.