But the blurring of the lines not only accelerates this problem, it also legitimizes the irresponsible zealots, and makes them feel that their beliefs and fears are justified.
Thus, at any mainstream conservative Web site, you are seldom more than two links away from something like infowars.com, run by syndicated radio host and rabid anti-government conspiracy theorist (and self-proclaimed 9/11 “Truther”) Alex Jones. There, you will find an entire resource page devoted to the imposition of martial law in the US — not to mention the conspiracy-laden Prison Planet Forum.
There is little difference between Jones’s site — which is permanently linked from the Drudge Report, among others — and hard-core hate sites. At the same time, there is little difference between Jones and, say, Judge Andrew Napolitano, best-selling author and senior judicial analyst for Fox News. Napolitano recently told the Fox Business network audience that the new health-care law creates a private, 6000-member domestic army under the personal direction of the president — a theory that, on forums like Jones’s, is said to fulfill the president’s long-anticipated plan of disarming and corralling the US population.
Napolitano and others like him are not treated like fringe wackos — they are treated like serious thinkers with legitimate ideas.
Napolitano was a featured speaker at February’s Conservative Political Action Conference, which included speeches from GOP congressional leaders, governors, and presidential hopefuls — and birthers, global-warming deniers, and those proclaiming the end of liberty in America. Newt Gingrich, in his speech, explicitly equated America under Obama with Eastern Bloc countries under Soviet rule. For the viewer, there is absolutely no distinction between the “legitimate” and the “crazy” in today’s conservative movement.
The distinction between legitimate and fringe speakers is not the only one that has disappeared. Also wiped away is the line of demarcation between disagreements over policy and claims of illegitimacy.
Little is more dangerous — or more effective — than undermining the very legality of those in power. Once you have convinced people that their government has ceased to operate under the rule of law, extreme measures become easily justifiable.
The birther movement — still thriving — denies Obama’s citizenship and thus his qualification for office. Its adherents, including author Jerome Corsi and WorldNetDaily founder Joseph Farah, are more embraced than ostracized by the mainstream conservative movement.
Other conservative rallying cries include the claim that groups like ACORN and the Service Employees International Union stole the 2008 election. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers nationwide have pushed “sovereignty resolutions,” proclaiming that the federal government is guilty of an unconstitutional takeover of states’ rights — and some have openly discussed the possibility of secession.
A similar emphasis was unmistakable in response to health-care passage.
“What Obama, Reid, and Pelosi are doing is not legislating — it is an act of tyranny,” wrote Janice Shaw Crouse, of Concerned Women for America. Liberty Counsel, the activist arm of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, noted that the American Revolution was sparked by “similar arbitrary abuses of power by the King of Great Britain that threatened life and liberty” 235 years ago. Timothy Lee, vice-president of legal and public affairs for the conservative think tank Center for Individual Freedom, wrote that the time may have come to redivide the nation. And Reverend Rick Scarborough joined other religious leaders in warning that “America is on the brink of moral and economic collapse,” and without a radical change, “she will cease to exist.”