Desert Storm: How the GOP and the Sunset State nurture the lunatic fringe

Tragedy in Tucson re-opens the question of the GOP's dangerous embrace of extremists
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 12, 2011

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Two days before Saturday's horrific shooting in Tucson, Arizona, which gravely wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and left six people dead, a woman disrupted the reading of the US Constitution on the floor of the US House of Representatives by loudly appealing to Jesus to intercede against the foreign-born usurper of the presidency, Barack Obama. Hours after that deranged outburst, Brian Williams of NBC News gave Republican Speaker John Boehner an opportunity to firmly distance himself and his party from such lunacy, in a televised interview. Boehner declined:

WILLIAMS You've got 12 members co-sponsoring legislation [that questions Obama's American birth]. Would you be willing to say, "This is a distraction, I've looked at it to my satisfaction. Let's move on?"

BOEHNER The state of Hawaii has said that President Obama was born there. That's good enough for me.

WILLIAMS Would you be willing to say that message to the 12 members in your caucus who seem to either believe otherwise or are willing to express doubt and have co-sponsored legislation?

BOEHNER. . . there are 435 of us. We're nothing more than a slice of America. People come, regardless of party labels, they come with all kinds of beliefs and ideas. It's the melting pot of America. It's not up to me to tell them what to think.

This nod-and-wink embrace of insane conspiratorial anti-government ranting is the danger I outlined this past April — a blurring of lines on the political right between honest disagreement and paranoid delusion. Forget the violent imagery of Sarah Palin's (clearly inappropriate) crosshair-targeted map of Democrats like Giffords. The Republican and conservative establishment engages in something far more sinister: validating and justifying the increasingly widespread belief that Democrats are running an evil, illegitimate, unconstitutional tyranny.

READ: "'Tea' is for terrorism: When even the most ‘legitimate’ voices of the right validate dangerously unhinged anti-government rhetoric — DUCK!," by David S. Bernstein

We don't yet know the exact path that led Jared Loughner to his attempted assassination of his Democratic representative, and to then fire at those attending her public appearance. But the very real recent assaults and death threats, against Giffords and others, suggests the danger of mentally unstable people being drawn to, and focused by, the kinds of extreme right-wing conspiracies that have been allowed to thrive and flourish, to win votes and sell books to those vulnerable to anti-government anger.

In few places do those extremes flourish as they do in Arizona, where I was born and raised. It is a place of big spaces and hostility to government; the last of the contiguous 48 states to join the union (in 1912), and about as far as one can get from federal authorities within those states. Polygamous Mormons, reconstruction-era Southerners (Arizona was a confederate territory during the Civil War), and, yes, ammunition-stockpiling militia nuts have all gone to Arizona to escape the reach of federal government. (Others, including Native Americans and Japanese-American internees, were moved there unwillingly.)

Timothy McVeigh went to Arizona to plot the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Now, 16 years later, Arizona has again spawned a killing.

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Related: Poor reception, The Road to 2012: The New New Hampshire, Bridge to somewhere, More more >
  Topics: Talking Politics , Republicans, Arizona, Timothy McVeigh,  More more >
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