The Duck of Minerva

Déjà vu all over again

14 April 2009

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues a report warning that the current economic and political climate bears some resemblance to the early 1990s and, therefore, the government should be concerned about an increasing threat from right-wing extremists, including the possibility of domestic terrorism.

Someone leaks the report.

The right-wing blogsphere collapses in a paroxysm of rage and paranoia. “Look!” various notables shout, “The Obama Administration is LAYING THE GROUNDWORK TO COME AFTER US.” Michelle Malkin, unaware of the obvious irony, writes:

In Obama land, there are no coincidences. It is no coincidence that this report echoes Tea Party-bashing left-wing blogs (check this one out comparing the Tea Party movement to the Weather Underground!) and demonizes the very Americans who will be protesting in the thousands on Wednesday for the nationwide Tax Day Tea Party.

Now, better (and more popular) bloggers than I have said most of what needs to be said about teh stupid involved here.

But it isn’t just teh stupid. In fact, these reactions actually enhance the report’s credibility.

Why? Those of us old enough to remember the Clinton administration have seen this playbook before.

The fringes of the mainstream right-wing movement accuse the President of seeking to destroy America, i.e., to institute a statist and collectivist regime: “The government is coming to take your guns!” “The liberals are out to pervert the rule of law!” “Marxism!” “Socialism!” “Radicalism!” They proffer dark conspiracies about the President’s rise to power and the activities of his close associates. And so on and so forth.

But when someone actually takes their claims seriously and does something like, I dunno, blow up a Federal Building, they play all innocent.

Am I being unfair? Yes. The militia movement had far deeper roots. Their view of the world was more extreme. Bad things would have happened no matter what.

I don’t blame the Limbaughs and American Spectators of the world for Oklahoma City. They were just trying to make money, win some elections, and depose the President–either de facto or de jure–in a constitutional coup.

But they were part of the climate that fed right-wing violent extremism in the 1990s. Much worse, they were mainstream vectors for ideas self-evidently poisonous to the body politic.

The fact that they would swing so quickly back into action, particularly after eight years of excoriating the Left for, well, basically the same behavior, is upsetting. It is not, sadly, surprising.

In sum, if they wanted to condemn the DHS report, it might have been better to do so in a way that wasn’t constitutive of the environment its authors worry about.

UPDATE: Dave Niewert makes the same point, but with far fewer caveats.