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Raging against the machine

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Raging against the machine

April 23, 2010

As extremist groups take to the streets, America finds itself in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in its history. Simon Mann reports on a country on the edge of upheaval.

IF WINTER in America is cold, then spring seems full of angst, a brewing portentousness, like an impregnated sky ahead of a thunderstorm. The needle on the nation's psychic barometer has swung to threatening, attuned to intensifying signs of unrest in a political climate that is drawing gun-toting protesters on to the streets, has sent regard for government to new lows and prompted a dire warning from a former president that someone could get hurt - possibly even the present White House incumbent.

Paranoia abounds, as if the election of Barack Obama 18 months ago signalled the end of American liberty, to be replaced by a rising socialism and increasingly intrusive Big Government.

And the coalescing of a wide range of issues - not least economic torpor and its inherent social upheaval - is playing into the hands of extremists, whose anti-government rhetoric is beginning to echo that which pervaded the country in the lead-up to the bombing of the federal government offices in Oklahoma City in 1995.

"We are in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in United States history," according to Chip Berlet, of the progressive think-tank Political Research Associates.

"We see around us a series of overlapping social and political movements populated by people [who are] angry, resentful and full of anxiety. They are raging against the machinery of the federal bureaucracy and liberal government programs, and policies including healthcare, reform of immigration and labour laws, abortion and gay marriage."

The anti-tax, anti-government Tea Party movement is one thing, encouraged by opinion polls that suggest that the American people's trust of their politicians and their political system is at its lowest ebb since the early years of the Clinton administration (just 20 per cent), while 92 per cent want smaller government.

But at its core, the Tea Party is essentially a movement of disaffected, white, middle-class Republicans re-energised by the Democrats' control of Congress and the White House, and who can be expected to influence the choice of Republican candidates in the lead-up to November's mid-term Congressional elections.

Yet the Tea Party's public dissent has resonated with a more extreme fringe - racist and white supremacist groups, anarchists and the like - eager to foment rebellion, and with their number rising across the landscape.

According to the non-profit civil rights organisation Southern Poverty Law Centre, 360 new "patriot" groups emerged in 2009, taking the total beyond 500, including 127 militias.

Their re-emergence prompted Bill Clinton, on the eve of this week's 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma bombing, at the time the worst-ever attack on American soil, to draw parallels with the agitation in the early days of his administration.

Then, it was mostly the extremist voices of talkback radio: now, it's "the echo chamber" that is the internet, Clinton noted, expressing concern for Obama's safety amid the current hostility.

"An African-American President whose father was from Kenya, whose mother's second husband was a Muslim … President Obama is different and symbolises the increasing diversity of America," Clinton said in an interview on cable network CNN.

"It's like he symbolises the loss of control, of predictability, of certainty, of clarity that a lot of people need for their psychic well-being. I worry about it."

The two-term Democratic president called for people to moderate their language because "a lot of folks are listening". "Some are serious, some are delirious, some are connected, some are unhinged, and all of us who have any responsibility have to exercise that responsibility so that we are intellectually honest about our political positions [and] about what certain words might do to people who are less stable."

But Clinton himself copped criticism, if only from long-time sparring partner and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, for having "set the stage for violence". "Bill Clinton … just gave the kooks out there an excuse to be violent."

If Clinton's expressed fears tempt fate, then the screening on MSNBC of a two-hour documentary that drew on 45 hours of taped conversations with Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh aired eerily similar sentiments that are the province of current anti-government extremists.

"Nine years after his execution, we are left worrying that Timothy McVeigh's voice from the grave echoes in a new rising tide of American anti-government extremism," liberal host Rachel Maddow told her audience on the Oklahoma anniversary. "On this date, which holds great meaning for the anti-government movement, the McVeigh tapes are a can't-turn-away, riveting reminder."

What emerged did not surprise: a sociopath, unrepentant, and whose justification for murdering 168 people was rooted in his unfulfilling army service, resentment of the authorities' 1993 attack on a sect in Waco, Texas, and a perception that citizens' rights were being nobbled by an expanding government.

Clinton summed up McVeigh and his accomplices as "profoundly alienated, disconnected people who bought into this militant anti-government line". And while he stressed that his intention was not to stifle political debate, the former president added: "I just think that we have to be careful. We've been down this road on more than one occasion before. We don't want to go down it again."

But fears and anxieties make for fertile soil for the malcontents. And American communities are feeling battered and bruised. Americans fear for the state of their economy - debt-laden, stalled and showing little sign of sustained jobs growth, as local municipal authorities slash teacher numbers and services to meet budgets constrained by revenue shortfalls.

They harbour resentment over the multibillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street, are inclined to believe that Obama's healthcare reforms will spell less choice and higher taxes, and perceive a dysfunctional political system mired in partisan squabbles.

They are wearied by their nation's entrenchment in two draining wars, they are agitated about illegal immigration (even though the country depends on it for cheap labour), and they fear a liberal appointment by Obama to fill a vacancy in the highest court in the land could presage more change at a time when they yearn for certainty.

Polls reflect the depth of their despair, and a worrying parallel with the early 1990s. Mark Potok, who edits Intelligence Report, a publication of the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which tracks and exposes the activities of hate groups, notes that a few days after the Oklahoma attack, a USA Today poll showed 39 per cent of respondents agreeing with the proposition that the US government was "so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens".

A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll asked precisely the same question and found 56 per cent of Americans now agreed, "a simply astonishing measure of how angry and suspicious we have become, even when compared with the period of the mass murder in Oklahoma", says Potok. ''Today, the fury is building again. This time over bailouts of banks and the auto industry, health insurance, the economy, government spending and the country's changing demographics."

THE fury is building despite the fact that those policies are being implemented by a democratically elected President and Congress, despite the fact that the financial system has been stabilised and Detroit is getting back on its feet, with General Motors repaying $US4.7 billion ($A5.1 billion) of a $US6.7 billion government loan.

Never mind the jobs that the government has "saved" by rescuing those industries to begin with: government bureaucrats are nevertheless demonised. So incensed was 53-year-old Joe Stack over a tax ruling against his companies that in February, he flew his small plane into the internal revenue service office in Austin, Texas, in a kamikaze mission.

Even the gun lobby takes issue with government, despite there being no sign of a government assault on the Second Amendment. In fact, Supreme Court justices have given signs that they may be willing to overturn Chicago's 28-year ban on hand guns after the court ruled less than two years ago that a similar ban in Washington DC was unconstitutional.

But that has not stopped rallies, including one this week on the shores of the Potomac River in Virginia, just a few kilometres from the White House, where members of "Restore the Constitution" gathered, some with automatic rifles slung across their shoulders.

"The founders knew that it is the tendency of government to expand itself and embrace its own power, and they knew the citizenry had to be reminded of that," rally organiser Daniel Almond told The Washington Post. An Iraq War veteran, Almond is convinced that Obama is moving the country to "totalitarian socialism".

That rhetoric has rolled into violent acts is indisputable: some Democratic members of Congress were threatened after the passing of the Obama administration's fiercely dividing healthcare reform, and the odd brick was hurled through a window.

More drastically, in raids last month, the FBI arrested nine members of the Hutaree militia, a mid-western Christian group accused of threatening to "levy war against the United States".

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Fox News this week that she agreed with a departmental assessment last year that concluded that the threat posed by "lone wolves and small terror cells" was more pronounced than in past years.

In a climate of such angst, strange things continue to emerge and paranoia gives rise to conspiracy theories. To wit: Georgia's state legislature, which is on the verge of passing a Republican-sponsored law making it illegal to implant a chip, sensor, transmitter or tracking device into people against their will.

Microchip laws already exist in California, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Virginia wants one, too.

Despite there being no evidence of such practice by government departments, Georgian Republican representative Ed Setzler justified the bill: "This is proactive," he explained. Implanting microchips against a person's will was "such a profound violation of one's privacy, and we want to do something before it starts being enacted on the fringe".

Georgia's move prompted a bemusing exchange at a public hearing held by the legislature's judiciary committee to test the bill.

"I'm also one of the people in Georgia who has a microchip," a woman, whose dress sense might have hinted at her state of mind, earnestly told the committee.

"Microchips are like little beepers," she said. "Just imagine, if you will, having a beeper in your rectum or genital area, the most sensitive area of your body. And your beeper numbers displayed on billboards throughout the city. All done without your permission."

The Defence Department had implanted the device, the woman explained. The committee listened politely, with a knowing nod.

"Yet those same legislators then turned around and approved passage of a bill outlawing something that only a crazy person would believe takes place," blogged an incredulous Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Simon Man is United States correspondent.


"I believe in the power of the free market, but a free market was never meant to

be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it." President Obama

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Filed: AOS (pnd) Country: Canada

Hey, if a state wants microchip laws, then so be it.... That lady is hilarious though :lol:

On top of that though, how about talking more about the Waco atrocity on the same level as McVeigh. Of course Maddow wouldn't dare do that today....


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That loony must have watched minority report.

"I believe in the power of the free market, but a free market was never meant to

be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it." President Obama

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Filed: Country: Pitcairn Islands
"Microchips are like little beepers," she said. "Just imagine, if you will, having a beeper in your rectum or genital area, the most sensitive area of your body. And your beeper numbers displayed on billboards throughout the city. All done without your permission."


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