Many of these mainstream conservatives, including GOP leaders, have been similarly dismissive of attempts to link right-wing rhetoric to acts of violence, from the white supremacist who opened fire in the Holocaust Museum last June to the death threats of recent weeks.
That is not surprising. The real ringleaders of the right, like blogger Michelle Malkin and her ilk, know full well that a sizable portion of their audience is filled with potentially dangerous hate and rage (as anyone reading the comments at her personal blog, or her hotair.com site, can tell at a glance). Those are valued customers.
So are the paranoid Fox News viewers being pitched gold and “survival seeds” for the impending economic and social collapse.
That same audience — including the virulently hate-filled portion of it — is also made up of potential Republican voters, which explains why GOP leaders are happy to appear on Glenn Beck’s Fox News program, even though as many as 200 companies, according to reports, refuse to advertise on his program (including, most recently, Apple).
The “conservative marketplace,” as the Phoenix has described it before, thrives by making those customers more afraid, more paranoid — by increasing the overlap between legitimate and crazy.
As a result, nobody in the GOP is willing to draw any lines between acceptable and unacceptable rhetoric — meaning any and every gasbag who opens his or her mouth and speaks, by implication, has a legitimate voice. Even Janet Porter, whose nationally syndicated right-wing radio program routinely posits the wildest conspiracy theories (for instance, that swine flu was a ruse to provide cover for the genocidal infection of the population through the H1N1 vaccine), already has five GOP congressmen signed on to speak at her upcoming Washington Mall prayer rally, notes Peter Montgomery, who tracks right-wing rhetoric for the progressive People for the American Way think tank.
“There is apparently nothing they can say or do that is so extreme that the party leaders will disavow them,” says Montgomery. As a result, “we have millions of Americans being told daily, by the people they trust, that the US government is on the verge of tyranny — that they want to take away their guns, that they want to close their churches.”
By refusing to draw a distinction between legitimate populist concerns and this conspiratorial, potentially violent extremism, conservatives are making it easier for ordinary, mainstream protesters to slide further into the latter camp.
The left has not helped, either, argues Rory McVeigh, a sociologist at the University of Notre Dame. They have too quickly lumped everyone on the right — especially the Tea Partiers — into one big crazy camp. “Part of the problem,” says McVeigh, “comes from those on the left having difficulty understanding where the opposition is coming from — because they don’t understand it.”
Both sides need to try harder, because there really are people out there who will inflict serious harm, thinking they are only doing what all those Republicans, talk-show yakkers, and Tea Party protestors are telling them to do.
MASS MURDER PLOT: The religious Hutaree militia cult in Michigan was foiled earlier this month in its attempts to assassinate numerous random law-enforcement officers.
Thanks to the Web and conservative media, it is already far easier than it was in the early ’90s for conspiracy theories to filter to unhinged people — and for those unhinged people to find and connect with one another.