When news broke last Thursday that a deranged gunman had opened fire outside a Pentagon security checkpoint, wounding two officers before being stopped by return fire (the gunman later died from his wounds), the reaction from some oddly giddy right-wing bloggers was swift. They wanted everyone to pay attention to the story. Why? Because bloggers claimed the gunman, John Patrick Bedell, was a loony liberal.
Under increased scrutiny for the rampant anti-government rhetoric of the Tea Party movement, along with its often violent imagery and open talk of insurrection, right-wingers seemed anxious, even frantic, to hold up the Pentagon killer as proof that they weren't responsible for -- or connected with -- every political act of vigilante violence that makes headlines these days.
But as more details emerge about the incident, the far-right bloggers may wish they hadn't shone a spotlight on the disturbing Pentagon story. If anything, as we learn more about the anti-government rantings and writings of Bedell, this madman attack looks an awful lot like a string of other "lone wolf" attacks, such as the recent kamikaze pilot who flew his plane into an IRS office in Austin.
They're attacks that appear to be fueled by an almost pathological hatred for the U.S. government -- the same open hatred that right-wing bloggers, AM talk radio hosts, Fox News' lineup of anti-government prophets, and Tea Party leaders have been frantically fueling for the last year; pushing radical propaganda and warning of America's permanent, democratic demise under President Obama.
As I noted last year when the first red flags were raised about the specter of anti-government violence, what the GOP Noise Machine is doing today is embracing, and mainstreaming, the same kind of hate rhetoric and doomsday conspiratorial talk that flourished on the far-right fringes during the '90s. (Think Waco and black helicopters.) And legitimizing that kind of talk is dangerous.
On the one hand, right-wing media love mainstreaming vile, alarmist, anti-government rhetoric. Yet they're also hyper-sensitive to the charge that they're, y'know, mainstreaming vile, alarmist anti-government rhetoric and might also be goading some crazies into action. Consumed with Obama Derangement Syndrome, 'wingers literally cannot help themselves. Just this weekend, one prominent, albeit unhinged, right-wing site branded Obama as "suicide-bomber-in-chief." They've removed all sensible filters, which means the crazy talk flows 24-7.
Similar to the problematic birther brigade, the right-wing's crazy uncle who keeps showing up at public functions, radical insurrectionist rhetoric (i.e. war may have to be waged against the government) has been unleashed into the far-right masses and there's nothing that supposed leaders can do to contain it. They can't limit the violence that it continues to set off, either. Instead they scramble, like after last week's Pentagon attack, to shift the blame to the political left.
But the clumsy scapegoating doesn't work for obvious reasons: There are no major American liberal players, in media or politics, who today routinely preach the need to take up arms against the federal government. Conservative blogger Erick Erickson certainly couldn't point to any in his laugh-out-loud funny rewriting of history, in which he dutifully absolved the right-wing of any responsibility for anti-government violence, and instead blamed liberals.
Sorry, right-wingers, but you fostered this toxic environment. You're the ones who rally around Rush Limbaugh when he calls the president of the United States a Nazi. You're the ones who cheer when Glenn Beck compares our commander in chief to a dangerous, Hitler-like tyrant who wants to "take your gun away one way or another."
You're the ones who toasted the anti-Obama mobs last summer when members marched around with Swastika posters, brandished guns, and gave speeches about the need to wage bloody war against the federal government. You're the ones who compare health care reform to a bloody terrorism campaign waged by the government against its own citizens.
You cultivated this poisonous, arm-yourself-against-the-government hysteria -- and now you own it. You have to deal with increasingly predictable, and at times deadly consequences.
For instance, last year, it was Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a right-wing media darling and Tea Party favorite, who said to Glenn Beck during an interview on his radio show that she wanted "people in Minnesota armed and dangerous" to oppose the Obama administration. She also stressed that Thomas Jefferson "told us 'having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,' and the people -- we the people -- are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country."
We've been down this road before.
On April 19, 1995, feeding off his hatred of the federal government, Timothy McVeigh drove a rented 20-foot Ryder truck and parked it in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. His truck's three-ton ammonium nitrate bomb detonated and sheared the north side off the Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds more. McVeigh later wrote, "I reached the decision to go on the offensive -- to put a check on government abuse of power." McVeigh wanted to "send a message to a government" by "bombing a government building and the government employees within that building who represent that government."
Back in 1995, McVeigh, keyed into far-right conspiracies and still seething about the siege at Waco, declared war on the federal government. Today, more and more combatants seem to be signing up for duty.
Last week's shooter, who traveled all the way from California to attack the Pentagon, certainly expressed a dark and unstable contempt for the government:
When the government can control how private property is used, and especially when the government controls the monetary system that is use to exchange private property, the government has the mechanisms and the motivation to control individuals to the smallest detail.
When governments are able to confiscate the resources of their citizens to fund schemes that need only be justified by lies and deception enormous disasters can result.
The imperative to defend the freedom of conscience must lead us to eliminate the role of the government in education and leave parents and communities free to raise their children as they see fit.
As blogger Charles Johnson, at Little Green Footballs correctly pointed out: "If you gave a speech at a tea party rally consisting of nothing but the quotes from Bedell you see above, you'd get a standing ovation."
But today, far-right bloggers scramble to deflect the connection. They excitedly point to the fact that Bedell was a 9-11 "truther," who demanded answers about the government's supposed involvement in the attacks that day, and so that automatically made the mentally ill gunman a liberal. But wait, wasn't it a right-wing Tea Party candidate for governor who recently made news when she refused to knock down the anti-government "truther" conspiracy?
Indeed. Texas Tea Party activist and candidate Debra Medina appeared on Glenn Beck's radio show and suggested she was open to the idea that the 9-11 attacks were an inside government job. "I have not taken a position on that," said Medina. (It's the same insurrectionist Medina who told a Tea Party crowd that "we are aware that stepping off into secession may in fact be a bloody war. We understand that the tree of freedom is occasionally watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots.")
And meanwhile, aren't lots of Ron Paul supporters famously attached to the 9-11 conspiracy theory? And isn't that the same Ron Paul who ran away with the straw poll at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference convention in Washington, D.C.?
And isn't the 9-11 truther movement's most famous advocate the conspiratorial radio nut (and full-time Obama hater) Alex Jones, who has been mainstreamed by Fox News? And isn't that the same Alex Jones who today complains that Glenn Beck's show now sounds so much like Jones' that Beck is just ripping him off?
From this month's issue of Texas Monthly (subscription required):
More troubling, [Jones] told me, is the way personalities at the top of the media food chain have been co-opting his message. Glenn Beck is the worst, he said. "Two weeks after I have a guest on, they have him on. ... Glenn Beck is literally word for word taking everything I do and twisting it and turning it into a Roger Ailes Fox News evil doppelgänger of my show," he said" [emphasis added].
Bloggers also pointed to the fact that Bedell was reportedly a registered Democrat as more proof of his allegiance to the left. But that doesn't make much sense, either. Are bloggers really suggesting that no registered Democrats have attended anti-government Tea Party rallies this year? Haven't Tea Party leaders been bragging about how they're attracting a wide range of disaffected voters? And in fact, haven't Tea Party leaders been stressing how wrong it is to assume the movement is synonymous with the Republican Party? But suddenly a distant political registration proves all.
For the record, I'm not suggesting that Bedell was a dedicated Glenn Beck fan, or that Rush Limbaugh made him do it. I think the specifics of this case are too muddled for those kinds of conclusions. But the idea that panicked right-wing bloggers can turn Bedell into a tree-hugging Greenpeace activist is ludicrous. The allegation doesn't withstand scrutiny, simply because dangerous, anti-government rhetoric is not part of today's liberal dialogue.
It is however, a proud cornerstone of the conservative one.