On May 6, 1995, two weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing, Bill Clinton gave the commencement speech at Michigan State University and used the opportunity to assail the rise of antigovernment, pro-militia sentiment among America‘s far right. "There is nothing patriotic about hating your government," Clinton said, "or pretending you can hate your government but love your country."
In the wake of Saturday‘s horrific shooting in Arizona, those words are as true today as they were fifteen years ago.
Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to change the tone in Washington beyond the partisan bickering that defined the Clinton and Bush years, so that Americans could "disagree without being disagreeable." But his political opponents never agreed to play by those terms. Apocalyptic depictions of Obama and ludicrous rhetoric about his record, which turned the president into a foreign-born socialist intent on destroying free enterprise, became a standard critique for much of the Tea Party and its acolytes.
"Relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right," wrote The New Yorker‘s George Packer blogged on Sunday. "And it has gone almost entirely uncriticized by Republican leaders."
Last year the Southern Poverty Law Center found that "the number of extremist groups in the United States exploded in 2009 as militias and other groups steeped in wild, antigovernment conspiracy theories exploited populist anger across the country and infiltrated the mainstream." So-called "Patriot" groups increased by a shocking 244 percent in 2009. "This extraordinary growth is a cause for grave concern," said Mark Potok, editor of the SPLC‘s comprehensive report "Rage on the Right." The "radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism" of the Patriot movement were given legitimacy by the Tea Party and conservative icons like Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachman, the SPLC noted.
A report on right-ring extremism released by the Department of Homeland Security in April 2009 was chock full of similar conclusions. "Rightwing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda," DHS found. It‘s scary to read the report today and realize how prescient it was. (Interestingly enough, many conservatives criticized the report, which Michelle Malkin termed a "hit job.")