During the Bush years, members of the far-right would often suggest that liberals were "with the terrorists" if we merely opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq, or if we opposed the policies of the Republican leadership at the time. In fact, any negative criticism of the president whatsoever was considered unpatriotic "while troops were in harm's way." That was the line we heard almost daily throughout the previous decade: don't undermine the commander-in-chief while troops were deployed in battle. Just don't. Or Sean Hannity will crush you with his mighty hairline!
But in general, there was this idea among Republicans that liberals were somehow emboldening the terrorists anytime we suggested that it might be a bad idea to eavesdrop on American telecommunications, or that it might be a bad idea to torture detainees, or that it might be a bad idea to invade Iran after having already invaded Iraq and Afghanistan to varying degrees of failure. Either we were with the administration, or we were with the terrorists.
We can debate at another time whether or not anyone is currently "emboldening" Islamic terrorists or putting the troops in jeopardy by constantly accusing their commander-in-chief of hating America, of hating white people, of hating freedom or of hating you personally.
The more important discussion during this groundbreaking week in American history is whether or not legitimate Republican and conservative leaders are instigating and inciting violence against the president, against Democrats, against liberals and, in some cases, against children.
And they are.
It's inexcusable and it's unforgivably irresponsible how top-shelf conservative players like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and even some members of the congressional leadership are using coded and not-so-coded language that speaks directly to a small, but trigger-happy right-wing. Unlike the policy-driven arguments made by mostly pacifistic liberals during the Bush years, this language is a direct and precise emboldening of right-wing extremism -- and terrorism. And the behavior from certain elements of the far-right can be defined as such. It's terrorism. No gray area here. Right-wing terrorism.
Obviously, the far-right fringe is out of its mind about health care reform. And throughout the week, its behavior has gone from irresponsible, to racist, to unapologetically dangerous.
Earlier in the month, the far-right was up to its usual irresponsible behavior -- attacking a child. Immediately upon the president mentioning 11-year-old Marcelas Owens, whose mother died due to a lack of adequate health insurance, the usual suspects kneejerked into their predictable roundelay demonizing a little boy as yet another public enemy. In previous years, wingnut bloggers like Michelle Malkin have gone so far as to stalk children who somehow associated themselves with the Democrats. Glenn Beck once targeted and outed a Muslim parochial school in Northern Virginia and noted its specific location. World Net Daily printed the name of a school that performed a musical with gay themes last Thanksgiving. Fox News Channel and Rush Limbaugh have targeted principals and members of a kindergarten class for singing a song about the president (you know, the commander-in-chief who we're supposed to support no matter what, especially while troops are in harm's way).
And now they're questioning the veracity and patriotism of Marcelas Owens and figuratively jotting him down on their enemies lists -- knowing full well the kinds of gun-toting, reactionary freaks who take their words as gospel.
Elsewhere, Rep. Louise Slaughter received an assassination threat against the children of lawmakers who supported health care reform. I don't mind reporting that, mixed in with the usual array of angry far-right blasts, I've received several death threats via email. One email ended with a warning that I should "check on the kids."
Stay classy, wingnuts.
In the eyes of way too many far-right Republicans, this is a war. They believe the Obama administration, progressives, liberals and Democrats are destroying America and replacing it with some sort of weird Brundlefly composed of communism, socialism, Maoism, Nazism and -- shock horror! -- social justice.
On Capitol Hill last weekend, teabaggers were showing how not-racist they are by shouting racial epithets at African American members of Congress and spitting on them. Meanwhile, Glenn Beck seemed to believe that somehow Congressman John Lewis had no right to lock arms and march in the style of a civil rights activist, even though Lewis is, you know, one of the most well-known civil rights activists in the history of civil rights activism. "How dare he!" Beck screamed at his audience.
Mix this behavior into the same psychobomb of outrage that included printed signs held up by tea party activists calling for gun violence as a means of stopping health care reform. "Warning: If Brown Can't Stop It, A Browning Can." (For what it's worth, "a Browning" includes any number of types of firearms manufactured by the same company.)
Once reform passed through the House, and amidst an atmosphere of violent rhetoric, House minority leader John Boehner described the passage of health care reform as "Armageddon." The end of the world. In the parlance of the Bruce Willis movie of the same name: a global killer.
At around the same time, Tucker Carlson's cheap knock-off of The Huffington Post, the Daily Caller, published a front page banner headline implying that armed IRS agents in riot gear would be fanning out across the nation and into your neighborhood in order to force you at gunpoint to buy health insurance. Literally, war.
Sarah Palin reacted by urging her Twitter followers to "RELOAD" (her caps) and to target specific politicians. She included a link to a map of the U.S. pinpointing specific districts using actual graphics of rifle crosshairs.
Elsewhere, reports of vandalism against various Democratic offices were reported across several states in the east and Midwest. In a rare display of honesty, a far-right militia operative named Mike Vanderboegh claimed responsibility. Tell me if this doesn't sound like the maniacal threats of a terrorist:
"We can break their windows," he said. "Break them NOW. And if we do a proper job, if we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat party headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary."
Violence and intimidation as a means of achieving a political end. And they haven't even ruled out the "muzzle of a rifle." How is this not terrorism?
And conservative leaders were outraged when Homeland Security released a report about right-wing extremism last year. Who us?! was the general reaction. At the very least, Secretary Napolitano deserves an apology.
The far-right is out of its mind with talk of violence and armed insurrection. There's no way to shove it all back into its crazy bottle. But what can and should be done at this point is for conservative leaders to stop inciting the extremism and, instead, to help marginalize the crazies. The only way to slow down this tide of right-wing terrorism is to strip it of its legitimacy -- legitimacy it's deriving from leaders like Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and John Boehner.
Instead, let's debate policy. Let's argue about the politics. Let's vigorously disagree about the future of America. But let's agree, however, that violence, racism, vandalism and, yes, terrorism should never be part of the equation. As leaders of the Republican Party, as leaders of the conservative movement in America, these men and women have a responsibility to verbally disarm the right-wing radicals and extremists who are well-known for their love of guns and of their predilection for violent intimidation. Terrorism. Yet so far, conservative leaders have only made matters worse.
UPDATE: And then there's this:
Law enforcement authorities are investigating the discovery of a cut propane gas line at the Virginia home of Rep. Tom Perriello's (D-Va.) brother, whose address was targeted by tea party activists angry at the congressman's vote for the health care bill.
We can only hope this turns out to be a prank, and not a deliberate attack against a lawmaker's family.