Sunday, August 5, 2012

The dangers of rising rhetoric, fantasy and conspiracy theories

Bias against constitutional conservatives is being institutionalized, and has now advanced to the point of a tea party insurrection and a military response being war-gamed in an online military journal.

In 2009, many were shocked when reports surfaced of a study by a regional Fusion Center aligned with Department of Homeland Security where people like Ron Paul supporters, returning vets and others holding traditional American values were cast as potential domestic terrorists. The study was withdrawn.

But the advance of such narratives has continued. A report issued earlier this year by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) triggered criticism when it incorporated characteristics like nationalism, preparedness and reverence for liberty into the definition its researchers used to define right wing extremism:
Extreme Right-Wing: groups that believe that one's personal and/or national "way of life" is under attack and is either already lost or that the threat is imminent (for some the threat is from a specific ethnic, racial, or religious group), and believe in the need to be prepared for an attack either by participating in paramilitary preparations and training or survivalism. Groups may also be fiercely nationalistic (as opposed to universal and international in orientation), anti-global, suspicious of centralized federal authority, reverent of individual liberty, and believe in conspiracy theories that involve grave threat to national sovereignty and/or personal liberty.
Now things have apparently gone to a whole new level. An online military journal has published a fictional scenario introducing how the U.S. military might respond to a so-called tea party insurrection in South Carolina.

The article by Kevin Benson and Jennifer Weber in Small Wars Journal seems to go out of its way to include an unnamed Republican Party as a factor in the buildup to their fantasy of a militia uprising:
The Great Recession of the early twenty-first century lasts far longer than anyone anticipated.  After a change in control of the White House and Congress in 2012, the governing party cuts off all funding that had been dedicated to boosting the economy or toward relief.
Small Wars Journal (published by a private foundation, not the government) does not appear to be a publication otherwise prone to domestic political hyperbole, but this article also suggests a racist element in the scenario where tea party forces seize Darlington, South Carolina, and thereby trigger a U.S. Military response.

The authors seem to justify their scenario saying it's a fictional premise to spark debate about the larger issue of domestic use of the American military to quell unrest. But it certainly seems in line with government's previously published politically correct scenarios that have targeted conservatives and libertarians with consistent waves of vilification.

How much have articles and studies like the ones noted here served to ratchet up fears among the political right, perhaps even pushing those experiencing the fear to embrace a level of paranoia that might not exist otherwise?

Last week, a state lawmaker in Tennessee sent an email to constituents outlining a conspiracy theory that an assassination attempt would be staged to give President Obama an excuse to invoke martial law prior to the November election. The lawmaker later apologized.

But right-wingers aren't the only ones letting exaggeration morph into something more resembling detachment from reality. The effort in recent weeks to attack Chik-fil-A restaurants as instruments advocating hate appears to be an example from the left. The demagoguery went so far as to have mayors in some U.S. cities vow they would deny Chik-fil-A business licenses, a threat seemingly in direct violation of the Constitution's First Amendment.

Meanwhile, President Obama continues to run a reelection campaign anchored in class envy and other divisive issues.

And hard-core racists like those in the tiny but extreme New Black Panther Party have again in recent months gone so far as to issue calls to kill crackers.

As rhetoric rises, danger mounts. The threat isn't so much that masses of people will suddenly act to violently fulfill an agenda. The biggest risk right now may be that some deluded individual or small group takes the hyperbole (left or right) to heart, and carris out an act of terrorism or other vioelence that leads to response and triggers a cycle of escalation that rolls out of control.

Heaven help us if that happens. When the Weather Underground of the far left carried out bombings in the '70s, or Posse Comitatus groups on the far right lashed out with violence in the '80s, we had the collective maturity to see them as extreme and isolated. Today's political climate seeks to exploit every crisis for its maximum political potential. And, unlike in the past, today's government is pre-positioning resources to carry out immediate response to any crisis on a wide scale. Over-reaction becomes an even bigger risk if cooler heads are denied sufficient time to prevail.

These indeed are perilous times. That's why it's more important that we must pay attention to what's happening around us. We need to raise our level of skepticism over some of the un-sourced nuttiness posted on the Internet. But, at the same time, when we see a military-oriented journal war-gaming theoretical deployment against a tea party insurrection, maybe we should take special notice.

It's also troubling that a pre-conceived bias exists (and is being disseminated) that adherents to the Constitution and traditional American principles of liberty will likely be to blame if trouble comes.

It may not be too late to walk back some of the extremes in the nation's current discourse. But at the same time, there's really no indication anyone is actively seeking to do so. And there are those who still seem to see a growing divide as something to be exploited to increase their grip on power.

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