Saturday, September 19, 2009

ACORN, Tea Parties, and Militias: the New Conservative Grassroots

These three headline-makers signify the emergence of the newest wave of conservative grassroots organizing that will set the tone for the next brand of conservative politics. Within a long view of history, they are really not that unique. Looking to the near future, there are some very troubling dimensions, some healthy directions, and a nascent map for conservatives' political future. To sum it up briefly, the conservative grassroots is emerging as with all inter-election periods for the party out of power in the U.S.; however, it brings with it a dangerous fringe tied to the mainstream raising the question of how the grassroots will address its violent impulse.

The grassroots are the muscle and skeleton of political activity, from elections to petitions to agenda setting. This is particularly true for the grassroots of the party out of power. Remember all of the liberal anti-war, anti-WTO, and '06 and '08 election organizing during the Bush years? With the arrival of current Democratic power, the conservative grassroots have plenty of grievances to air with (seemingly) no hope of immediate success and a highly visible enemy to fight. At the center of the rebirth of the conservative grassroots are the Tea Party groups and emerging militias (including the hybrid militia-interest group Minutemen organizations) advocating for smaller, less intrusive government. While the social conservatives still penetrate the Tea Party groups, social conservativism of the anti-evolution, anti-homosexual, and other bible-thumping varieties are being comparatively deemphasized.

First, the ACORN catastrophe. You've been living in an internet news hole if you haven't heard about the everyday investigators posing as a pimp and prostitute getting advice from ACORN staff on escaping the law and taxes. Here's a list of primer reports: Original Source (, NY Times Blog Round-up , "Congress stops funds to ACORN". Just search "ACORN" on your favorite news aggregator for more than you will ever want to know.

So, what does this have to do with the grassroots conservative movement, since the specific motivations and political ideologies of the investigators are open to interpretation? First, it is an immense blow to progressive grassroots organizing on the marketing and funding front. While community organizing, like taxes, will never go away; the pure toxicity of being associated with this scandal is sure to further inspire the conservative grassroots and weaken liberal organizing. This is one of the many-yet-to-come successful attacks on liberal groups (though ACORN considers itself nonpartisan) that will continue to drive the conservative grassroots' sense of efficacy and purpose and weaken public trust in liberal causes. It is a major victory.

Compare this to the Tea Party protests in D.C. and across the country this week. The massive, well coordinated protests demonstrate the energy of the conservative grassroots and foreshadow the ideology that will be put forward in the next two election cycles - small government through reduced taxes, less market regulation, and less (non-socially conservative) law enforcement. The conservative grassroots are pissed at the bailout, the ballooned government deficit, and enlarged health care programs. Essentially, we have a libertarian wave tinged with some conservative Christian dogmatics. That is exactly what we will continue to hear in the next election cycle and what will drive the conservative grassroots to the poll. The big question for politicians who will be up for election is the extent to which these groups' ideology and counter-Democrat mobilizations will be taken up by independents and other conservative blocs (like the hawks, mainstream conservative Christians, and moderate conservatives). The big question for society at large is the extent to which these groups will become linked with the radical, violent fringe of militias and anti-immigration bigots.

The Southern Poverty Law Center's report on the resurgence of the malitia movement (that spawned Timohy McVeigh and includes other highlights such as Ruby Ridge and Waco) has helped spark an undercurrent of news reports on the issue of violent American malitias. The center's report links the shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC, the murder of a Latino Family in Arizona, and the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas with many others throughout the country to this growing militia movement. The storm of brutality is built on the injection of anti-immigration racism, a radical libertarian anti-Nationalism, and new fangled rebirth of white/Christian supremacy according to the report. The groups that have thus far been named in this movement include various wings of the minutemen movement, the Oath Keepers, the nativists, Birthers (who claim Obama is not American-born) and the NRA (due to their "Prepare for the Storm 2008" membership drive with gun manufacturers).

What may be more frightening now than in the 1990's version is the connections these groups and their ideology have with mainstream institutions. These groups' ideologues include Bill O'Reilly, lambasted for his "subtle encouragement" and *wink wink* commentary on the murder of Dr. Tiller, Lou Dobbs, for his racist special reports on illegal immigration and conspiracy theory episodes about Mexicans' invasion plans, and Fox commentator Dick Morris who said, "Those crazies in Montana who say, 'We're going to kill ATF agents because the U.N.'s going to take over' — well, they're beginning to have a case." Incredibly, high level politicians have echoed the rhetoric including Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH), Texas Governor Rick Perry's talk of succession at an Austin Tea Party, and Representative Michelle Bachman's (Minn.) claim that Obama was creating "reeducation camps."

The conservative grassroots movement has its feet on the ground and the big question is how far and in what direction it will go. The violent bigotry of the militia movement has found rhetorical resonance with some mainstream conservatives, but it is seriously questionable as to what, if any of it, would actually translate into a policy platform or mainstream ideology. In fact, I would hope that some conservatives find it offensive that I mention the two in the same breath. The fact of the matter remains that, unlike the Muslim population, American conservatives have (and probably will continue to) largely failed to publically take a stand against or even acknowledge their own. The surprising exception is Glen Beck, though he continues to foment hatred and conspiracy theories. They have yet to prove that they are not like their fringe.

I anticipate a further escalation of conservative grassroots activism and the development of a more contemporary conservative ideology and platform over the next two years reaching an apex in a strong party platform in 2012. Along with this however, I too anticipate the largely uncheced growth of the violent fringe, more conspiracy theories and extremist policy quackery, and, unfortunately, more bloodshed in the name of the conservative agenda. I predict that either a large republican swing over the next two election cycles or a more intense attack like Oklahoma City will deflate the movement and turn it away from violence.

On a more optimistic note, should conservatives emerge as a reasonable force with the ability to know when they are being lied to by their leaders, then we might actually get a better, more responsible government in the support for reduced government spending and deficits. Though I doubt that any serious bipartisanship will happen within the next decade, the swing towards smaller government should at least put deficit reduction on the table before Obama's term is up and maybe some pork barrel regulations will finally be put in place (though I doubt it).

All in all, the Tea Parties are the map to the conservative future, there are conservatives who might kill you with an IED and some in the mainstream will condone it, and at the end of it all, some sad progress might be made.


Ragoth said...

Jason, it's always good to read your posts. I think you've got about the right of it. The most troubling aspect, in the short term, to me at least, is the repeated line of "watering the tree of liberty" that is popping up on a lot of posters. Exactly the same justification McVeigh used when bombing the Oklahoma City Building. While I will freely agree that some percentage (a number I'm not even going to try to guess at) of the Tea Party movement is made up of people who are solely concerned with government size and spending, it's worrying how much of them seem to be the radical fringe.

Anyway, good to hear from you, and I always welcome your contributions.

Jason said...

It's good to be back, unless you count the job applications I didn't submit today and my growing sense of pessimism about the right's ability to be civil. (Too much time reading the right-wing crazies rather than more level-headed, pragmatic conservatives; where are they again?).

How did free speech get on the agenda again? It's out of nowhere. Maybe, the conjunction of the rise of more radical conservatives in tandem with Fox News' continual drift into auto-erotic sensationalism will keep free speech on the table. Should we blame Glen Beck for the next domestic terrorist attack, or have held Bill O'Reilly responsible in Dr. Tiller's murder?

Jason said...

by the way, you've hit a nerve with the tectonics article and classical theories of religion. Love it!

Ragoth said...

Yeah, the free speech issue has given me the chuckles recently. From the left side of their mouth, they complain that their free speech is being curtailed and that the liberals want to destroy everything and oppress them...from the right side they want to brag that they're the biggest name in news, and that if Obama wants to talk to "the people," he has to go through them...cognitive dissonance never ends.

I'm going to go out on a limb and hold Fox at least partially responsible for a lot of what's going on today. Now, whatever whack-a-loon decides go out and do something...yes, they will bear the primary responsibility. But Fox...well, at the very least it's giving some significant winks and nudges in that direction. While Dr. Tiller's blood may not be on O'Reilly's hands, it at least stains his shirt tails a bit.

And I've noticed that about the tectonics and classical theories thing. I love looking over that damned sitemeter referral list. I'm going to keep up with the Classical Theories thing as soon as things settle down a bit...i.e., as soon as I actually get some kind of a job around here. What are you up to in the meantime?

Anonymous said...

wow u guys r really idiots, apparently college isn't doing u a whole lot of good. Good luck paying for the taxes and healthcare u idiot-obama lovers

Ragoth said...

Yes, you're right. I'm very happy paying about 20% of my paycheck for health care as it stands now, because I don't have any options. It would be absolutely horrible to have a few more options out on the playing field and actually have some semblance of a free market in health care. I am so glad that the Republicans prevented us from falling down the slippery slope of having a public option that would be non-profit and have as its stated goal, at least, actually delivering health care and insurance. I know I was exceptionally glad when I had to go to an emergency clinic out of state and was thus denied any coverage because it wasn't my PCP. Now, I'd love to be on a PPO, but that would be 30% of my paycheck, and I just really can't afford that one.

I'm also happy to know that the Republicans are excited about driving up the deficit with no idea of how to pay for anything. Because, we all know that "spend and spend" is a much better policy than "tax and spend."

Frankly, if I made millions of dollars, which I do not, I would be an idiot not to be a conservative and vote Republican every election - they'd totally have my back and let me keep as much of that as I wanted in my bank account. As it stands now, though, I'd much rather pay a little bit more in taxes and actually get something worthwhile from it.

I really don't understand the fear of taxes. We're at basically the lowest tax rate ever, and our country is going bankrupt and the economy is crashing while people are crying for more and more deregulation and just letting big businesses do whatever they want. We did have a very similar situation not all that long ago, in 1928...right before the Great Depression. Sadly for Republicans, the times of our greatest economic expansions have also been times of the highest tax rates, especially in the upper brackets.

And, if you had actually read anything else on this blog, you'd know that we're not Obama-lovers. I, for one, am extremely disappointed. But that still doesn't mean I'd switch to the greater evil of the conservative side.