THE BLOG
06/14/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Oklahoma to Sponsor Tea Party Militia?

The Oklahoma Tea Party movement goes renegade state, agitating to form its own militia sponsored by the State of Oklahoma. The slip of tongue that introduced the effort posits a militia to resist imposition of federal law on the state.

Tea Partiers, you have the absolute Constitutional right to organize and use your franchise to advance your cause, profoundly confused as that cause seems to be. What you do not have the right to do is to suppress, through intimidation and threat of armed violence, the expression of franchise of those with whom you disagree. The formation of a Tea Party Militia can be construed to serve no purpose imaginable other than that.

It is not a 2nd Amendment militia you seek to form, to defend the county and the Constitution, but instead a militarized arm of your political organization. There is a historical political model for this. They were known as Brownshirts. They terrorized Jews and moderate Germans in order to establish a minority rule. The polar political opposite were the Bolsheviks. Neither resulted in a happy ending. The benefits of a peaceful transition of electorally mandated changes in government are not to be underestimated. Things can change in our system of government, without violence, with the mere formulation of a convincing argument, complicated as that argument might be.

Oklahoma should be a state that is sensitive to forming extra-governmental armed bands of idiots. By some estimates, the worst riot in American history occurred in Tulsa in the late spring of 1921. Wikipedia has a reasonably easy read about the catastrophe here. Most often referred to as a race riot, it is instructive of what happens when an armed, ad hoc militia lashes out under the influence of misinformation and distrust. Race was the fuel that set the stage and sustained this riot for so long and to such massive cost in life and property, but the match that lit it was the haste to judgment.

I spent 15 years of my youth in Tulsa, 1956-1971. You were advised not go North of the tracks to Greenwood, the center of Black Tulsa. There were few Black Americans seen south of the tracks. Those who were seen were employed at menial jobs and quickly retreated North at the end of a work day. It remained an apartheid community my whole time living there.

I grew up never knowing a single Black soul, even though tens of thousands lived just five miles away, surrounded, under a siege brought in 1921 and never lifted. And it was not because we had nothing in common, it was because some few, parochial elders never imagined it possible that we could. The lesson in this: when you segregate racially or politically, it erects walls to understanding and education that are only as high as people choose to make them. Prejudice and stupidity are willful undertakings.

From my March 25th post, "Your America?":

I was recruited by the John Birch Society, Tulsa chapter, in 1967. They showed me movies of severed heads along the side of a road in Iraq. They portrayed that this was the work of communists. Through some roll of the intellectual dice that I'll never be able to explain, I turned and walked away. Those severed heads were not the work of a political system. They were the work of lizard brained animals who enjoyed it. I will not call them men.

The Birchers who attempted to exploit those [movie] scenes, and me through them, were equivalent in every way to the brutes who severed those heads. They did me, and others, the violence of a destructive lie. A lie intended to justify the kind of hate that was exhibited in that row of decapitations itself.

That hate, nurtured and fed by Birchers and right wing militias ever after, manifest itself in the ultimate crime of American hate on April 19, 1995. That morning my aunt sat at her desk in the Murrah Building and chatted with an associate. At 9:02 am, her conversation abruptly ended as her partner in the conversation disappeared into a blizzard of flying glass, concrete, blood and ripped flesh. Timothy McVeigh did this, without ever doing those he killed the courtesy of carefully studying what motivated him to do it before he lit the fuse. An ignorant little prick took 168 lives because he was lazy, stupid, armed, and fed exclusively on a diet of disinformation and hate.

The Tulsa Race Riot, the siege of north Tulsa and McVeigh are all lessons in social dynamics, instructive in what you can create when you encourage a hardening of social and political divisions. The divisions we face as a country are not nominally based on race, not entirely anyway. They are socioeconomic divisions. The demarcation lines are not as convenient as the railroad tracks separating north and south Tulsa, they are now drawn on political affiliation.

If political factions are allowed to devolve into armed camps, the tensions may soon erupt into violence, as they did in Tulsa in 1921. Even just a bunch of fat pricks bent on bullying through intimidation, without meaning to, without trying to, will touch off a shooting war someday. It has happened many times before. The prospect of creating 100 McVeighs out of the riff raff of a state-sponsored political militia ought to chill everyone from the long gone founders in eternity to the martian colonists of a distant future. State militias are pro-forma realities in some states. None are a state-funded military arm of a political movement. That has not been done since the Civil War. Tread here only if you wish for similar consequences.

What, Tea Party, is it that you protest? Do you even know? I know you. I was first a man among you before I was a man in the wider world. With the years and distance I know you, even when you can't explain yourself anymore than with a dog whistle bumper sticker. What you fear is still the threat instilled in you by generations of race hate. Through the machinations of propagandists, that race hate was transformed to fear of socialism. Think not?

I know your greatest fear and resentment. It was that your hard earned treasure will be taken an given to the Negroes. Now it is that your treasure will be taken by any of the growing poor through force, and the masthead of the poor has always been Black. That is the consequence of an authoritarian socialism that you fear. You could give a whit about liberty and justice and the Constitution. You want your own political arm, a militia, an armed band of thugs, to dominate those of whom you are afraid, no more nor less.

Finding semi-legal auspices under state and federal law to accomplish your fantasy of a private army to intimidate, suppress and control, does not fool anyone. To reiterate, if you indeed support the Constitution you must respect, first and foremost, the rule of laws made under conditions prescribed by the Constitution, or you can make no valid claim to be American. Civil disobedience and argument is your recourse. If from this does not proceed victory, then you must examine the quality of your cause.

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