EVIL EMBRACE: The Republican establishment is engaged in things far more sinister than Sarah Palin's crosshair-targeted map.
In a couple of weeks, top Republican officeholders and presidential aspirants will join many of the above-mentioned conservocelebrities, along with almost any conspiracy-spinner whose group can pay a sponsorship fee, at the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The agenda has not yet been announced, but last year's conference — co-sponsored by the John Birch Society, among others — included panels on Obama's birth and legitimacy to hold office; the global-warming hoax; secret (and entirely mythical) congressional plans for mandatory universal voter registration, including illegal immigrants; and, repeatedly, the tyranny against which good Americans must fight. The theme was "saving freedom." Keynote speaker Beck labeled "progressivism" as a cancer, and the greatest threat facing American liberty.

In between those crazed performances, virtually every major Republican figurehead took the stage, from Boehner to Mitt Romney. If they had any qualms about participating in such insanity — or of drawing attention and legitimacy to the fringier participants, they kept it to themselves.

This is typical of how ever-deeper levels of lunacy get introduced to conservatives, in isolated and dispersed regions like the deserts, mountains, and forests of Arizona. Ordinary conservatives will be keenly aware of CPAC, thanks to the hype of TV, radio, and Web personalities who will be appearing. They will see the main speeches on Fox News — and the less-known, crazier ones on C-SPAN or livestreamed on their computers.

This moves the ordinary conservative another step along the current of conspiracy and anger. The same sort of thing happens every day: talk-radio hosts, whose guests include top Republican figures, also interview authors like Corsi; popular conservative Web sites link through to more extreme bloggers.

Even the next level of fringe — like Larry Pratt, the conspiracy-obsessed head of Gun Owners of America, or self-described "paleoconservative" anti-government insurrectionist Alex Jones — are treated as part of the acceptable range of conservative conversation. Jones, who is linked to on the Drudge Report's front-page blogroll, has had many Republican officeholders as guests, including both Ron and Rand Paul — Rand as recently as last month, after winning election as US senator.

But the real danger — and the reason the right has a particular need for vigilance — lies in the hate-filled groups just beyond figures like Jones and Pratt. Comparisons of dangerous rhetoric of the left and right miss the underlying fact that, in today's American landscape, and certainly in places like Arizona, there is little or no extreme-left equivalent to the gun-fetishizing, government-hating, racist, anti-Semitic extremes of the right. That includes groups like New Century Foundation, whose Web site, American Renaissance, Loughner reportedly frequented, as well as neo-Nazis like Stormfront and a host of apocalyptic Christian extremist groups.

The right has made it far too easy to slide into the paranoid fantasies of these groups — and has been far too complicit in warning that any media that disagrees is not to be trusted.

Rally 'round the nutjobs
As I write this, some 48 hours after the killing spree, nearly every prominent conservative Web site, from Fox News on down, is leading with stories denouncing attempts to blame the shooting on conservatives. Rush Limbaugh has done the same on today's radio show, as has Glenn Beck on TV.

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