April 29, 2009

One of the main takeaways from the phony controversy over the DHS' bulletin on right-wing extremism was the self-revealing way that mainstream conservatives attempted to obliterate from public view the very real existence of the ongoing threat to their well-being from right-wing extremists.

Why the frantic effort to obscure this reality? Because they know the ideological and associative distance between far-right extremists and mainstream conservatives has shrunk dramatically over the past 10 years. They dread the consequences of what will happen when the real ugliness starts to break out.

The Ugly Storm has been gathering for awhile. We've been reporting regularly on the increasing activities of far-right extremists, particularly the anti-Obama racism rampant throughout much of this contingent. Of course, it doesn't help when mainstream conservative media are fanning those flames, either. And it seems like it's getting close to an outright explosion.

My friend Max Blumenthal went to a gun show in California and emerged with the above video and the following report:

Fueled by the screeds of radio hosts Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, and the lesser-known but increasingly influential online conspiracist Alex Jones, many gun-show attendees I spoke to were convinced Obama planned to usher in a Marxist dictatorship. They warned that the president’s power grab would only begin with mass gun seizures. “If Obama takes away our guns,” a young, .45 pistol-toting man from Reno told me, “it’s just a step into trying to take away everything else.”

Indeed, in their minds, average Americans opposed to the Obama agenda would be herded into FEMA-run concentration camps by a volunteer army of glassy-eyed liberal college graduates. “When they start imprisoning Americans, and people start seeing that we’re the enemy, then that’ll make it hot,” predicted one Antioch-based young man sporting a button for former Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul. “People talk about a revolution,” the young man continued, “an armed revolution. I think police crackdowns on individuals will tip the scales.”

More than a few gun dealers and attendees echoed the young man’s seeming enthusiasm for armed revolt. One Contra Costa, California-based gun dealer named Rich predicted during an otherwise casual off-camera conversation that “some nut” would assassinate Obama within one year of any Democratic attempt at gun-control legislation. While the prospect of organized right-wing violence against the federal government seems far-fetched at this point, the paranoid rhetoric I documented suggests the militia movement that organized against President Bill Clinton’s policies during the 1990s could experience a dramatic resurgence by mobilizing resentment against Obama.

The gun-show crowd is more the "Patriot" contingent of far-right extremism: obsessed with guns and conspiracy theories, yet capable of paranoid bursts of extreme violence by "lone wolf" actors.

Yet we're also seeing a similar upsurge in outright white-supremacist organizations. Newsweek also has a report on this trend from Eve Conant:

It's not about hate, it's about love. Love of white people. That's the message in songs, speeches and casual conversation during a weekend retreat in Zinc, Ark., sponsored by the Christian Revival Center and the Knights Party, an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan. There's no overt threat of violence here. No cross burnings (or "lightings," as the KKK prefers to call them). The only fire at the grassy compound, located at the end of a long, rocky road circled by turkey vultures, is a bonfire for the Knights youth corps to roast their s'mores. The kids draw pictures of white-hooded Klanspeople and sing songs about the oppressed Aryan race; rousing sermons are read from Bibles decorated with Confederate flags. Aryan souvenirs are for sale, including baseball caps proclaiming IT'S LOVE, NOT HATE and advertising THE ORIGINAL BOYZ IN THE HOOD.

... The haters are doing their best, in other words, to move out from the fringe and toward the mainstream—and they're boasting some success.

Indoctrination often starts on the Internet. Some crazies posting on MySpace, for instance, have called for armed revolution; at least one has referred to Barack Obama as "a dead man." But many leaders of white-supremacist groups and Web forums are toning down their rhetoric. The aim is to attract the kind of person Robb describes as "the guy down the road who until now had his plasma TV and car in the garage, but just lost his job and won't find a new one because some illegal already has it."

Conant also explores where we're at in the far right's usual arc of flight:

The ADL's Mark Pitcavage says it is very difficult to track hate-group numbers because the organizations often splinter. What he tries to track is anger levels, and those, he warns, are rising—despite any superficial sweet talk: "The white-supremacist movement has been at red-hot anger levels for a long time. When I get concerned is when they get to white hot, where you see large bomb plots or talk about race wars. Right now we're at very red hot, and are concerned we might reach white hot again." He points to the MySpace account of "88Charles88" as an example of what he's seeing (88 is code for "Heil, Hitler" in the white-power world). "Charles" attacks Obama and says, "Now it's time to fight." "There is a lot of anger out there," says Pitcavage, "and these groups are trying to stoke it, to get someone like 88Charles88 to take the next step. What we're seeing is not a softening, but a hardening of attitude."

Pitcavage says current rhetoric resembles that of the early '90s (including conspiracy theories about FEMA concentration camps and gun confiscations), just before the outbreak of the white-militia movements. While some leaders of extremist groups may use softer recruiting tactics, "their membership is not toning down at all," says Pitcavage. For every NSM member, there is a nonaffiliated skinhead posting entries to hate blogs. If Stormfront has tried to tone down, that has only inspired a competing site—Vanguard—to showcase violent alternatives.

Some civil-rights activists are more worried about the racists they can't see than the showboaters trying to draw attention to themselves. "We're not going back to the '50s," says Mark Potok of the SPLC. "The country has moved forward in remarkable ways. But with that breakthrough comes something of a backlash." It's the loners, he says, who are most worrisome: "The lone-wolf idea is much scarier than the big-plot idea. Big plots don't succeed because these guys cannot keep their mouths shut."

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