Paranoid politics, which has flourished in the Obama era, can lead people in some strange directions. I can find no better example than this: Tomorrow, a large crowd of protesters mostly affiliated with the Oath Keepers, a network of ex- and current military and law enforcement formed amid the radical right-wing backlash to the Obama presidency, will rally outside a New Hampshire courtroom.
To get a newborn baby girl released to a couple in which the father is accused of a "lengthy history of domestic violence" that includes sworn allegations from a judge that the dad -- Johnathon Irish of Epsom, N.H. -- is "the main suspect" in bruises found in an older child that was recently taken from the mother of Irish's newborn daughter.
The civil rights plight of Johnathon Irish isn't exactly the Selma-to-Montgomery march, is it? But this bizarre story is a pretty good metaphor for the age of paranoia in our current 21st Century breakdown. The Oath Keepers, an organization that didn't exist when Obama became president in January 2009, has largely used the Internet to rapidly recruit thousands of new members -- there are currently 23,289 members in its Facebook group -- to a group whose main credo is promising NOT to do things that aren't going to happen anyway, conspiratorial ideas that are mostly bat-guano crazy. The Oath Keepers' list of 10 orders they won't obey includes, most famously, "We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps."
OK, so they won't do that, but they will march tomorrow to outside a Family Court hearing for an allegedly abusive father, in what ironically will be the most pro-active thing -- other perhaps than spearheading a pro-gun march on Washington earlier this year -- that the Oath Keepers have done in their 18 months of existence. It's appropriate, in a way, because their approach to the Johnathan Irish case is rooted in the same muddled and potentially dangerous thinking that leads them to believe that the federal government is about to round up law-abiding citizens into concentration camps.
Irish is a member of the Oath Keepers, and because the affidavit filed by child protective services officials in New Hampshire mentions that tie and mistakenly describes the group as "a militia" (more on that later), the Oath Keepers have labored to make the story a case of a baby taken from a couple because of the dad's politics. Nothing could be further from the truth -- the evidence is overwhelming that the girl was taken from Irish and the mother Stephanie Taylor at the hospital for the only reason that the government should take that extreme step: To ensure the safety of an otherwise helpless child.
According to the Concord Monitor newspaper, here's the primary reason the newborn was taken from the parents hours after she was born on Oct. 2:
[S]tate officials took the child because of Irish's long record of violence and abuse. According to the affidavit, a judge determined that Irish abused Taylor's two other children. She is still married to the father of those children, though Taylor said yesterday that her husband has refused to accept her divorce petition for the past two years.
The affidavit also says that the police in Rochester report a "lengthy history of domestic violence" between Taylor and Irish, and that she accused him of choking and hitting her on more than one occasion. According to the document, Irish failed to complete a domestic violence course as ordered by the state, and that a hearing was held last month to terminate Taylor's parental rights over her two older children.
But paranoid politics entered the fray because the affidavit also included this:
The affidavit also states that Irish is "associated with a militia known as the Oath Keepers and had purchased several different types of weapons including a rifle, handgun and Taser."
Soon, Oath Keepers were widely circulated a redacted version of the affidavit regarding the parents which included the reference to their group -- but omitted the more serious allegations against Irish. The word spread with a big assist from one of the biggest conspiracy-mongers in the talk radio universe, Texas-based and nationally syndicated Alex Jones. Now, the Oath Keepers' founder -- a former aide for Rep. Ron Paul's 2008 presidential campaign named Stewart Rhodes -- is using the controversy to rally the troops.
Frankly, it was arguably shoddy work by the New Hampshire authorities to reference the Oath Keepers, especially in the fashion that they did. I reported extensively on the group for a chapter in my recent book "The Backlash," and the Oath Keepers are certainly not "a militia" in that it doesn't carry out any kind of paramilitary training or drills; instead, it is a group that holds dangerous and delusional ideas about American politics, but ideas that are legal to express. As for Irish's weapons' purchases (A Taser? Really?), I think you could argue that these are relevant in connection with his other violent activities.
Most importantly, the references to the Oath Keepers and Irish's weapons are minor events in the context of his alleged violent behavior toward women and children. The Oath Keepers are not the reason the baby was taken from the couple. But what an apt metaphor for what the Oath Keepers and some of the more extreme right-wing groups that have risen up in the anti-Obama backlash are all about -- blind to the bigger picture of what is going on, focused on the small screen of disconnected conspiracies that plays into their misguided and apocalyptic view of America.
As the 1960s historian Richard Hofstadter wrote about the paranoid style in American politics, "[t]he paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms -- he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization."
It's just tragic when a baby girl gets caught behind those barricades.