The New York Times has a long piece on the Tea Party movement and its relation to militants and conspiracy types.  Some excerpts:

The Tea Party movement has become a platform for conservative populist discontent, a force in Republican politics for revival, as it was in the Massachusetts Senate election, or for division. But it is also about the profound private transformation of people like Mrs. Stout, people who not long ago were not especially interested in politics, yet now say they are bracing for tyranny.

These people are part of a significant undercurrent within the Tea Party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement, a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve.

Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show. In this view, Mr. Obama and many of his predecessors (including George W. Bush) have deliberately undermined the Constitution and free enterprise for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites.

Loose alliances like Friends for Liberty are popping up in many cities, forming hybrid entities of Tea Parties and groups rooted in the Patriot ethos. These coalitions are not content with simply making the Republican Party more conservative. They have a larger goal — a political reordering that would drastically shrink the federal government and sweep away not just Mr. Obama, but much of the Republican establishment, starting with Senator John McCain.

And

But their vision of the federal government is frequently at odds with the one that both parties have constructed. Tea Party gatherings are full of people who say they would do away with the Federal Reserve, the federal income tax and countless agencies, not to mention bailouts and stimulus packages. Nor is it unusual to hear calls to eliminate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. A remarkable number say this despite having recently lost jobs or health coverage. Some of the prescriptions they are debating — secession, tax boycotts, states “nullifying” federal laws, forming citizen militias — are outside the mainstream, too.

And

Not long ago, Mrs. Stout sent an e-mail message to her members under the subject line: “Revolution.” It linked to an article by Greg Evensen, a leader in the militia movement, titled “The Anatomy of an American Revolution,” that listed “grievances” he said “would justify a declaration of war against any criminal enterprise including that which is killing our nation from Washington, D.C.”

Mrs. Stout said she has begun to contemplate the possibility of “another civil war.” It is her deepest fear, she said. Yet she believes the stakes are that high. Basic freedoms are threatened, she said. Economic collapse, food shortages and civil unrest all seem imminent.

“I don’t see us being the ones to start it, but I would give up my life for my country,” Mrs. Stout said.

She paused, considering her next words.

“Peaceful means,” she continued, “are the best way of going about it. But sometimes you are not given a choice.”

Is a tyrannical government in America a legitimate threat or the wild ravings of frustrated citizens looking for a scapegoat? Recall that Tocqueville argued that democratic tyranny would not be a brutal sort of power (depicted by Orwell in 1984) but a kinder, gentler kind of despotism that citizens would cherish because it cares for their every need (as Huxley described in Brave New World). But with all that, most of us enjoy a great deal of freedom today. Is it really as bad as the Tea Party folks in this article say it is? Some of their fears are, I think, legitimate, but there’s a fine line between legitimate fear and hysteria.  In the meantime, I need to check my ammo supply.

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24 COMMENTS

    • Ah, but the Tea Party folks aren’t making such a modest and theoretical claim as yours. They are saying we are veering sharply toward tyranny and perhaps it is now even too late to avoid that sad fate. Are we at that point?

  1. Shake yourself awake.

    Today, the weight government is intolerable. It’s insinuation into every facet of life would be incredible to any citizen 100 years ago.

    Only the incremental growth of the State (and corresponding diminution of civil society) has blinded us to the obvious.

    What does *not* require the government’s leave anymore?

  2. Do the “tea-party folks” conflate high taxes with tyranny? Is this a legitimate conflation? If tyranny is marked by unbearably high taxes, then it does seem that our nation is moving directly towards a tyranny. A significant percentage of the families I know in upstate NY struggle to pay their taxes, and there is little doubt that the next generation will need to pay significantly higher taxes in order to make ends meet.

  3. Katherine T, whether “tea party folks” conflate high taxes with tyranny is an interesting question. I don’t count myself among their numbers, but I would imagine that they associate high taxes with tyranny rather than conflating them, and that such an association is legitimate in the context of feelings of powerlessness necessary in a very large nation whether rule is perceived as primarily from afar.

    In this (limited) sense, I do not think their concerns are unlike that of many American colonists viz-a-viz Britain.

    Contrast this with the example of Singapore, where pervasive government involvement in the economy is readily accepted (with pretty good results) due to the extremely small scale and consequently high level of accountability.

  4. Mark, in answer to your question, I’d say our present government is destructive to all that the Front Porch Republic holds dear. As to whether it is too far gone to change, I remember that when I was younger I never expected the Soviet Union to fall without a bloody, violent revolution. It’s something I used to think about quite a lot in those days, not sure I wanted to be one who was still alive when it happened. And then it fell. So who knows, maybe it could happen here, too.

    As to the connection between high taxes and tyranny, I wouldn’t conflate the two. I would say the two are highly correlated. But high taxes are only a symptom of the problem, and not the problem in itself.

    As to where the Tea Party people stand, I don’t really know. To my knowledge I haven’t yet met one of them, not even on the Internet. I’ve seen some things about them in the news, but that’s not the same as having information about them. I sometimes wish I had time to get involved myself — maybe go to one of the events and see whether there is a place or me in the movement, or perhaps decide I want no part of it.

  5. I suppose it’s possible that Dear Leader’s regime may seek to consolidate political power to the point where the transcendent is eclipsed by a world-immanent polis. And, while there is always a remnant that will worship God there appears a point when the libido dominandi surges and engages in the passion of war and death. The problem is that the world-transcendent truth, which is the ordering force of the soul, has been rejected by the current world-immanent regime, the milieu, the politeia and disorder dominates as men engage in Apostrophe, the turning away from the Divine ground.

    The good news is that remnant may just be the Tea Party people.

  6. About six or seven years ago, the radio in my seventies model Ford farm truck became stuck on a local radio station that plays nothing but rebroadcasts of “patriot” radio programs—namely the Alex Jones Show. Jones is the father of 9/11 Truth; he also seems to think the world is ruled by a secret cabal that wants to eliminate three quarters of the world’s population; and he provides a pulpit for the birthers, and for that matter anyone who has some loopy idea. For the first week or so, I thought the shows were some sort of comedy act. It wasn’t until I went online and did some research that I determined there are people out there who actually believe the nonsense that was said on these shows—especially Joneses’ show.

    Because I am cheap and couldn’t justify buying a new radio for my old truck, I kept listening. As time went by, I began to realize why some people are drawn to this type of programming. They are attracted to it because it provides an answer to everything. Want to know why the economy is falling apart? Simple, it’s a plot by bankers to impoverish and enslave us. Actually, that one might be true, but I digress. Ever wonder why the number of children with autism is soaring? It’s the vaccines. Don’t understand global warming? Don’t bother; it’s nothing more than a tool the elites are using to reduce the population. Why is there is fluoride in municipal water and toothpaste? The governments and corporations are adding it to rot our brains and make us all docile and controllable.

    At this point you might be asking what any of this has to do with the Tea Partiers. First, as the original post pointed out, there is some overlap between the Tea Party and Patriot Movements. In fact, Ron Paul—the darling of the Patriot movement and to some degree the Tea Party movement—is a regular guest on the Jones show. However, I suppose the larger point I’m trying to make is that people are drawn to the Tea Party movement for much the same reasons some people are drawn to conspiracy theories and their advocates. It offers a complete set of answers to everything, and it gives people an easy way to disregard anything that doesn’t parse with their worldview.

  7. Bob, my curmudgeonly, articulate, grandiloquent friend,

    On a few occasions you have offered comfort to–maybe even defense for–me in these comments. Let me return the favor.
    To the extent I understand what you mean by the attempt bring about a condition whereby the “transcendent is eclipsed by a world-immanent polis,” I can confidently assure you, it ain’t going to happen.
    It will not be for lack of trying. The failure will be from lack of power. Just as Daniel saw the true source of ultimate power during the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s strutting pride, and just as John saw the same from his exile on Patmos, imposed by the head politician of his day, in the end the transcendant will transcend. (Cue Handel)
    That does not relieve us from responsibility in our current culture, but for those of us who trust Logos to do what only God’s ultimate Word–Who is God Himself (John 1:1) can do we know that the ultimate solution does not come from this earth.
    It sure helps me sleep at night.

    And to Robert,
    Have you considered the fact that there my be a conspiracy among the Patriot folk that locks in radios on old pickups?
    It would be nice if the conspiracy theorists were right. We could then recruit these masterminds who pull off these impressive deeds and put them in charge of fixing roads. If they can do so much with no visible support, just think what they could accomplish with a few trucks and paving machines.

    hm

  8. Howard, my articulate and kind friend, your words of wisdom are what we have come to expect. Indeed, look forward to.
    I was particularly touched by your quote of John, my own favorite. That beautiful monk who took refuge and succor on Patmos and you must read the Irishman’s novel of this blessed man.
    Howard, this grand poleogonic ‘drama of humanity’, this grand and beautiful thing, this politeia the the Lord, my God, has made and therein dwells is for one thing only. Caritas.
    And, it is this magnificent mystery that so draws me with the question…why?

  9. Howard,

    That would be a truly impressive–though cruel–feat. However, I think my malfunctioning radio was the result of thirty plus years of use.

    As to your second point, you might be onto something. If these conspirators can wreak havoc on the world’s economic, health, and environmental systems from the shadows with no traceable resources or support networks, just imagine what they could do if they were allowed to come into the light. World peace, economic reform, and nuclear disarmament should be a piece of cake.

    Maybe we can start our own conspiracy wherein we trick these all powerful beings into working for us. Are you with me?

    But alas, I suppose it is time to return to reality.

  10. Robert,

    I’m in, but as to where & when we can discuss this: Record the radio broadcast & play it backward. See you there. Or as you say, we can return to reality & when you see all of it. It ain’t bad!

  11. Robert wrote: “As time went by, I began to realize why some people are drawn to this type of programming. They are attracted to it because it provides an answer to everything. Want to know why the economy is falling apart?”

    Really? How do you know this? Did you do some sort of side-by-side comparison of various types of programming to see which ones provide the most answers-to-everythingness? Did you survey the listeners? Do sociological and psychological research on a randomly selected sample of listeners and non-listeners? Do you have a falsifiable test that we can apply to radio programs and listeners?

    Please inform us how you came to “realize” this.

  12. I suppose the joking about conspiracies gets to my point: if the Tea Party movement becomes associated with this sort of thing, it will be derailed or at least marginalized. I like much of what the Tea Party is about and think they have the potential to do much good if they develop a coherent message and avoid spinning off into the land of black helicopters and such.

    Part of the issue is rhetoric. Yes, the Obama administration seems intent on increasing the power and scope of the state. Yes, that’s bad. Yes, it should be resisted. (FPR, in its own little way, is attempting to help on that score). But fascist? Soviet? That seems a stretch. And while hyperbole and hysteria may aid the cause in the short run, the cause of de-centralization is a long-term project that will require sober minds, honest appraisals, and hard work. I hope the Tea Party can accomplish this.

  13. Howard,

    You present what I believe to be an insurmountable obstacle to our plans, thus, as your typical apathetic American, I feel I am left with but one option. I quit.

    Your observation on the beautiful nature of reality is well-taken and appreciated.

    Reticulator,

    As I am sure you know, I did not conduct the sort of detailed analysis you mentioned in your post.

    Having said that, I think I can still defend my position. In order to do so, I will give you a recap of a conversation I heard take place on one of the aforementioned programs.

    Host: The government brought down the WTC towers.
    Caller: But numerous structural engineeers and scientific magazines say the planes and the accompanying fires caused the collapse.
    Host: They are all owned by Hearst Media, and W.R. Hearst was a globalist.
    Caller 2: How could the government pull off such an event when they can’t even deliver the mail?
    Host: They had help from CFR, Bilderberg, CIA, MI6, and Mossad.
    Callers 1 and 2: You have opened my eyes.

    This is just a small example of the sort of reasoning I heard repeated day after day on the “patriot radio” programs.

    Back to your challenge. Since I assume regular listeners of such programs are at least somewhat sympathetic to the views presented on the shows, I have to conclude they believe they have indeed found “the answers.”

  14. Robert, you have given us an example of how conspiracy theorists act. We know all too well about that, having one of their type in the White House now. Very frustrating, because they appear to be immune to logic and rules of evidence.

    But attracted to a show because it provides an answer to everything? I don’t think so. Because you can go to a different show, and it will give you a different, more leftwingish, answer to everything. But the same people aren’t attracted to it. Maybe the attraction of both kinds is found somewhere in the nature of the answers, and not in the fact that they purport to be “answers” or that the answers are the answer to “everything.”

    And really, is there any kind of political program anywhere on the radio spectrum that doesn’t try to provide answers?

  15. re: “but there’s a fine line between legitimate fear and hysteria. In the meantime, I need to check my ammo supply.”

    Have you just crossed over that line?

  16. Reticulator,

    I don’t agree with your first point, but if that’s what you think, nothing I say is going to change your mind.

    As to your larger point. I agree that pretty much all radio programming, or for that matter all media outlets, attempt to provide answers. Furthermore, I think people unfortunately gravitate toward media sources that reinforce their beliefs. However, it takes a special breed to tune into something day in and day out which is so far removed from reality that it borders on insanity.

    Finally, I don’t think the sort of thinking I discussed in my previous posts is confined to a particular part of the political spectrum.

    Having said that, I think I will go buy some gold, freeze dried food, and a couple pallets of ammunition.

  17. It is a tad more entertaining to conjure all kinds of sinister forces that have been actively creating some form of Golem over the last several decades…than it is to commit energy to the process of analyzing the relatively straightforward forces of greed, avarice, apathy and recreational idiocy that mankind tends to favor. History is Deadeye Dick consistent in this regard. The Assyrians no doubt had their Rupert Murdochs and Michael Moores.

    Conspiracy is almost wholly unnecessary in this gullible age. Them that takes, take. Them that gets taken line up for the pleasure of it, preferring entertainment or stories about bunnies to thinking themselves simply not up to the task of a Republic.

    Still, just a few years ago, had anyone exhibited the bad form to speak the heresies and wild ideas (small government but one of many accepted heresies of the day) spoken here in either Russia or Peking, they would have been in Siberia or 6′ under, perhaps both. It was during those times that good old fashioned American skepticism and self-sufficiency had something to compare itself against.

    Such is the befuddled state of the American Malcontent today without a significant antagonist. Sloth and lethargy have created elaborate shades of amateurism. A few thousand folks cooking the books in a financialized one horse economy, together with some few thousand terrorists can manage to make a bad joke of what was the most magnificent nation in the history of our tawdry globe…excesses notwithstanding.

    So, get set for some less than original burlesque and one can be sure that Jack Boots and Epaulettes will be all the rage…all around.

    Perhaps the first no show at a Treasury Auction will really get the song and dance routines rolling.

  18. DD Sabin, formerly DW Sabin:

    Yet…..I saw the film, shot in infared at the Waco compound (from an overhead helicopter) of a group of people whose religion did not qualify for 1st Amendment protection, that vividly showed the automatic fire hitting the rear of the compound, where no media could see, where a large number of radical Seventh Day Adventists were trying to make their escape from a burning building…men, women, and children, piled in a heap, all shot dead without mercy.

    We used to call that massacre.
    I don’t worry about former President Clinton’s bad heart, but then judgment is the Lord’s.

  19. “However, it takes a special breed to tune into something day in and day out which is so far removed from reality that it borders on insanity.”

    Maybe not day in and day out, but how about week in and week out?

    Do you listen to the President’s Saturday radio addresses? I don’t except when I’m trapped in a barber chair for a Saturday morning haircut. But I read the transcript from last week’s on the White House web site.

    Talk about conspiracy-mongering bordering on insanity. And it’s a very lightly defended border, too. No DMZ, no concertina wire, no guards, no crossing gates.

    So it’s not too surprising that we have people who blame the Trilateral Commission, or who say the moon landing was fake, or believe the Twin Towers were an inside job. Whatever it is, it’s all around us.

    But I don’t think people listen to it because it provides answers to everything. If that’s what they want, they would be better off listening to me instead.

  20. @ The Reticulator: “Mark, in answer to your question, I’d say our present government is destructive to all that the Front Porch Republic holds dear.”

    Quite right. However, is it equally possible that the Tea Party ethos may be not only anti-Leviathan, but also sufficiently individualistic that, ultimately, it proves to be destructive to all that the FPR holds dear?
    Moreover, is it not possible that this individualism is dangerous not only in its inchoate state, but also in the long run, as it gives way to a new form of ‘statism’, as history seems to suggest is the natural tendency thereof (as Nisbet reminds us)?

  21. Nathan,

    It might depend on variety of individualism you’re talking about. If it’s the kind that’s complementary to communitarianism, then no, I wouldn’t worry about it being destructive of what the Front Porch Republic holds dear. But yes, individualism can also be statist.

    Native American societies, before they were conquered by the European-Americans, were both more individualistic and more communitarian than those of their conquerers. (And the conquerers were more individualistic and more communitarian than we are now.)

    Those Native people in northern North America tended to be egalitarian and decentralized. Individual men and women made their own decisions as to whether to support their leaders in matters of war, for example. Leaders had no power to compel anything. All they could do was persuade, and convince the community of their good intentions by helping to provide for peoples’ needs. Yet hardly any of these individual decisions were made apart from the community. It was impossible for anyone to survive as a loner. People depended on each other.

    Which leads to another kind of individualism that is very destructive of community. It’s the kind that comes with the welfare state (or perhaps vice versa). The welfare state is jealous of other institutions such as family, religion, and the marketplace, and feels threatened by them. So it tries to supplant those institutions, e.g. by funding health care and everything else. The only relationship that’s left, if it gets its way, is the one between isolated individuals and the state. Then you end up with social pathologies like those that the U.K. is now experiencing.

    I don’t see how we can build the good kind of individualism and community without making government smaller. The Tea Parties are probably allies in that cause, whether they think of it that way or not.

  22. Why is it that I am almost certain that none of you have ever been a senior “civil servant” or heard one of our much lauded governmental elitists scream that they did not care that what they proposed violated the city charter, the laws and constitution of the state or even the Constitution of the United States of America. What they wanted and wanted right now was a means and method of getting what they proposed done as quickly as possible. Having been there and heard that rant, I quite believe that the main thrust of the Tea Party movement is entirely justified. I was always taught that my rights ended just short of the other person’s nose. And I should hope that his end just short of my wallet. And all of yours as well!

    A government that can give you everything has to first take it from someone else whose labour and intelligence produced it. I, for one, trust no one who wants to live above the level of what they themselves have produced. When the totality of government policy descends to whom it may impoverish in order to purchase enough votes to get and stay in power, it no longer has any claim to the loyalty and obedience of any honest person. I think that is what the New York Times fears that the folks in the Tea Party movement have finally concluded. And about time!

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