Tea Partiers, Three Percenters, Truthers, Minutemen, Oath Keepers, and now Hutaree: the list of extreme right groups seems to get longer every day, and the media could be helping to build their ranks.
As Dan Kennedy wrote in the Guardian last week, far-right groups are enjoying a surprising level of acceptability in the Washington political establishment: “rightwing hate, aided and abetted by leading Republicans, has gone mainstream.” Kennedy argues that while figures on the left must stay far, far away from controversial politics or associates (see Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, Van Jones), the right consistently brings radical elements into the fold and stands up for them in the public arena. Republicans allow the rhetoric of hate that drives these groups to filter into the mainstream political discourse in the hope that the adherents of these groups will help them come election time. Republicans are serving as voices for all kinds of conspiracy theories and lies–such as questions about Obama’s citizenship or whether a government plot was behind 9/11–and in the process they’re giving legitimacy to this kind of misinformation. As Kennedy says, “It’s a sick and cynical game, and we can only hope it doesn’t end in tragedy.”
Of course, it already has: this past year’s rise in rightwing extremism has already resulted in loss of life, from last summer’s attack on the Holocaust Memorial Museum to the murder of Dr. George Tiller to the man who flew his plane into a Texas IRS facility. And even in this last instance–a clear-cut politically-motivated killing–at least one Republican felt the need to make excuses. Representative Steve King of Iowa called the death of one person and the wounding of fifteen others at the IRS facility “sad,” but he also defended the attack by saying that he can “understand the deep frustration with the IRS” and that to see it abolished would mean “a happy day for America.”
It’s not just the politicians, however, who are working hard to spread radical-right thought. Consider the case of the Hutaree, the Midwestern militia group that were allegedly planning to kill police officers this month to set off a larger war against the government. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters has an interesting analysis of the ways in which such militia groups have received support and ideological ammo from the media in the form of conservative outlets and pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. According to Boehlert, after the arrest of Hutaree members, voices in conservative media “immediately telegraphed their support from the persecuted militiamen and clearly suggested they were being used as pawns in an Obama government abuse of power.” Glenn Beck’s radio guest host Chris Baker went so far as to say that the government’s investigation of the group was “nothing more than attack on faith and free speech.” Such politicized misrepresentations of the facts only fuel the flames of what is already a deadly conflagration. And as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok makes clear, while the media outlets behind this rhetoric may not have a legal responsibility for these deaths and the increasing radicalization of mainstream politics they help drive, they certainly do have a “moral responsibility.“