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How Long Can GOP Leaders Ignore Tea Party Death Threats?

Posted on Mar 25, 2010
AP / Ross D. Franklin

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks at a campaign rally for Sen. John McCain at the Pima County Fairgrounds in Tucson on Friday.

By Eugene Robinson

Let’s not pretend anymore that the tea party movement is harmless. The right to protest is one of our cherished American freedoms. But there is no right to vandalism, no right to threaten our elected officials’ lives. Someone is going to get hurt unless those who lead the movement—and those who exploit it—start acting like responsible adults.

What are the chances of that?

It was Sarah Palin, the Eva Peron of the tea party crowd, who used Facebook to target 20 Democrats who voted for health care reform, indicating their districts’ locations on a map with the cross hairs of a rifle scope. It was Palin who wrote on Twitter: “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: ‘Don’t Retreat, Instead—RELOAD!’ Pls see my Facebook page.”

That anyone still listens to this person is one of the most unfortunate unintended consequences of social networking.

At least 10 House Democrats have had to request additional security following Sunday’s health care vote. Someone left a coffin on the lawn of Rep. Russ Carnahan’s home in Missouri. Glass doors and windows were broken at the district offices of Reps. Louise Slaughter of New York and Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. Vandals have damaged Democratic Party offices in Wichita, Kan., Rochester, N.Y., and Cincinnati.


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And Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, whose last-minute compromise on abortion funding guaranteed final passage of the reform act, has received a flood of abusive phone calls at his office and home. Someone faxed him a drawing of a noose. One voice mail, subsequently posted on the Internet, was left by a woman who wanted Stupak to know that “there are millions of people across the country who wish you ill.” Another caller was more direct: “You’re dead. We know where you live. We’ll get you.”

One would expect responsible Republican leaders to do everything in their power to lower the temperature. House Minority Leader John Boehner said on Fox News that “violence and threats are unacceptable.” Minority Whip Eric Cantor disclosed that he has received numerous threats in the past and that a bullet was fired through the window of his Richmond, Va., campaign office last week. [Editor’s note: The Associated Press reported Thursday that Richmond police had determined that the bullet that struck the window had been randomly fired into the sky.] Given all this, one would think these two might have intervened Sunday when fellow House Republicans were whipping up the angry tea party crowd at the Capitol.

Some of the vandalism appears to have been inspired by an Alabama blogger, Mike Vanderboegh, who trumpeted the bright idea that opponents of health care reform should throw bricks at Democratic headquarters across the country. After someone did just that in Rochester, a reporter from the Democrat and Chronicle called Vanderboegh for comment. “I guess that guy’s one of ours,” Vanderboegh said. “Glad to know people read my blog.”

If authorities tried to file any charges against him, Vanderboegh said, a trial “would certainly give me an opportunity to make my case to a larger public.” The nature of his “case” may be illuminated by a short story, titled “Absolved,” that he published on a right-wing website. His fictional protagonist fights to the death against unnamed, uniform-wearing “thugs”—apparently police—who have come to his house to confiscate his huge arsenal of guns and explosives.

On Thursday, tea party leaders around the country issued statements strongly denouncing threats or violence against members of Congress or anyone else. A number of the leaders said there was no proof that the perpetrators were members of tea party organizations.

But this strikes me, and probably will strike others, as disingenuous. The tea party movement is fueled by rhetoric that echoes the paranoid ravings of the most extreme right-wing nutcases. When tea party leaders talk about the threat of “socialism” and call for “a new revolution” and vow to “take our country back,” they can say they are simply using vivid metaphors. But they cannot plausibly claim to be unaware that there are people—perhaps on the fringe of the movement, but close enough—who give every sign of taking these incendiary words literally.

And does anyone doubt that the movement attracts the kind of people who take these words literally?

Organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have documented the troubling rise of right-wing militia and “patriot” groups. Political leaders who appropriate and reinforce the extremists’ language—who urge angry people to “reload”—are being reckless. They must stop this madness before someone gets hurt.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)

© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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Go Right Young Man's avatar

By Go Right Young Man, March 26, 2010 at 7:20 am Link to this comment

Let me get this straight.  Eugene Robinson and others are, Only Now, offended that people are upset enough to protest, vandalize, or express themselves in threatening ways?  Does Robinson spend any time reading from this very Web site?

Robinson has never researched the police plotter after the numerous protests of the last administration?  The hundreds of cars, shops and federal buildings that had windows broken, trash cans thrown through glass doors and death threats spray-painted on any surface available?  Robinson was never offended with the THOUSANDS of placards -replete with depictions of copious amounts of spilling blood- with the faces of Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld with bulls-eyes in the center of their foreheads?  Robinson has never been concerned that people like Sean Hannity is forced to spend thousands of dollars on body guards each and every time he simply exercises his right to free speech at Berkley or NYU?

Robinson, along with dozens of other high profile democrats, defended the full length feature film depicting President Bush being assassinated as “Free Speech” and an “artistic expression reflective of the anger against the policies of the White House.” According to many on the Left those who would complain about such a depiction were simply being “puritanical” and “attempting to squelch free speech and expression”!

What of the AIG employees, even those who never did a thing to cause the company’s demise, who had their names and addresses posted on the Internet?  One of the families were horrified to learn that their young child’s, life had been threatened while walking to school.  Another family had the their vehicle set ablaze while inside the attached garage while the family slept. Several of these families were terrorized for months.

What of the gatherings of the World Bank wherein police in riot gear are always necessary to halt the hundreds of thousand in property damage that always takes place?

Why did Robinson and others fail to comment on the 15 death threats amongst the tens of thousands of threatening E-Mail’s, from the Left, when Congressman Stupak attempted to hold up health-care legislation over abortion language?

What of Barney Frank saying “There are going to be death panels enacted by the Congress this year — but they’re death panels for large financial institutions” - ‘We’re going to put them to death and we’re not going to do very much for their heirs”?

Had Robinson ever heard Howard Dean tell a crowd of thousands at a campaign rally that he “Hates All Republicans”?

What of John Kerry on the Bill Maher program speaking very directly of killing someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in order to end the Iraq war?

What of the rampant talk of how Dick Cheney was the one who needed to be shot in the face after his hunting accident with a friend?

What of the Leftist Environmental Liberation Front (ELF) who have, for years, destroyed millions of dollars worth of SUV’s and destroyed entire business’ for their cause(s)?

Not one of these items above seemed to raise the ire of the Left.

This is, unequivically, the most idiotic and flagrantly bigoted column I have seen yet by Eugene Robinson.

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By Jason, March 26, 2010 at 7:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Obviously, this is against the law!  If someone does not like a particular politician or is upset about the way they voted do not vote for them this November. 

These tea partiers, conservatives, republicans whatever you want to call them (They are all the same to me!)... should know that you can’t threaten politicians’ lives like that.  It’s treason…sort of.

The conservatives should cheer up that they have not gotten their way for once; it could be much worse for them.  Just as conservatives more or less outlawed communism or at least rendered it useless, so too can conservatism enjoy a similar fate.  Let’s be honest, conservative ideologues deserve it.  They are doing activities that border on TRUE treason!  Plus, let’s remember that they increased the national debt by over one-third and made the USA involved in various military quagmires.  The tea partiers should be punished for this - otherwise it will get worse for our society as a whole.  Conservatives and tea bag partiers should not be ignored or brushed off.  These people are very serious…and dangerous!  I hope President Obama is taking them seriously and uses his powers under the Patriot Act (Ironically, a policy that right-wing people created.) to, shall we say, implement a “final solution” to the conservative ideologue and tea bagger problem - if you catch my drift.

If these tea bag partiers want to bring on a possible Civil War II; well, if that is how it has to be.  If they want to experience political cleansing, I welcome it!  Again, They have done the same to ultra-leftists many years ago.  Conservatives have also set the paradigm for any and all debates for the last I don’t know how many years, and still do.  It’s time right-wing ideologues have a taste of their own medicine!

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By firefly, March 26, 2010 at 7:13 am Link to this comment

The tea-baggers really are just a reincarnation of the KKK, with a good dose of Christian Taliban thrown in. It’s laughable that they talk about a revolution to take their country back from a socialist government. Someone is teaching them their history very well. The revolution was against monarchy, not socialism.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, March 26, 2010 at 7:11 am Link to this comment

Hate begets hate, one sees a lot of begetting!

From the Palin rallies to the intimidation of the Parkinson person at the anti Health Plan rallies and now the most recent threats to Congress persons.  I suppose threats are free speech in the minds of Tea Party folks? Here on TD, one poster with out shame and seemingly with clear conscience, called Robeson a raciest bigot. It seems to me, racism is not extinct, only been in remission like a good dose of herpes! 

Even on this blog on Truth Dig,  their seems to be more than enough hate to go around. Insults seem to be much more common these days, maybe it is the web? Some people cannot seem to allow or accept differences of opinion to get in their way of their alleged facts. Seeing opinions touted as facts has become most commonplace, is it possible this has always been, maybe just more obvious now on the web?  How dose one conjure opinion into facts then into belief? From what I have seen once opinion reaches the belief stage, nothing not even chocolate is allowed in the room!

Tea Party marches emulate hangman mobs, without the rope so far!  A person with Parkinson disease who was supporting health care was confronted, insulted and intimidated by a hate Obama, anti health care mob. I know, they were only practicing their free speech.  From what I saw of this mob,  it seemed little difference from what Limbaugh regularly spouts on his radio shows and I for me, memories of a women being chased and stoned to death by a mob in Somalia.

Are all humans as ignorant and disgusting as these hate mobs, I really hope not!

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By jonathonk99, March 26, 2010 at 6:35 am Link to this comment

the tea baggers are a bunch of whining hypocrites.  why won’t they protest the
unjust wars?  why won’t they retaliate against the patriot act?  why won’t they
protest the tarp fund and the bailout of the super rich?  for pete’s sake, we spent
as much $$$ on the banks as this health care bill will in ten years!!  we spend as
much $$$ on defense in one year as the health care bill in ten!!

here’s why the tea party is so one-track minded…
because they are a bunch of racist, hypocritical bigots who can’t stand that we
have an african-american president.  that’s why.

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By, March 26, 2010 at 6:11 am Link to this comment

I have 2 names to describe the Republicans:

The GOPranos

The RepubliKLAN party

You may use these names and these names tend to being to explain what their party does, namely crime and violence.

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By Hillary, March 26, 2010 at 6:10 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How is it that Sarah Palin can urge her followers to “reload” and use cross hairs on her FB page without being detained and investigated for hate speech?  For that matter, how is that Bill O’Reilly was never arrested for using his celebrity to incite hatred and the subsequent murder of a physician who provided legal abortions?  These people are terrorists.

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Gloria Picchetti's avatar

By Gloria Picchetti, March 26, 2010 at 5:19 am Link to this comment

What do we get for taxes? Wars. Politicians started the wars instead of creating jobs by making both coasts & both borders safe. Oh that is too expensive! Compare the cost of guarding our country compared to the price of the war in Iraq.
The politicians who are so frightened & insulted by threaten or real violence should bring the troops homes now.

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By Arnonerik, March 26, 2010 at 4:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s time for the blind to wake up. There is no tea party violence. These are fabricated claims with no proof, only allegations. Where are the videos, where are the arrests? All the real violence has been perpetrated by union thugs acting on orders and acting as the shock troops for the people running this scam on you. You are unknowing tools of your progressive masters alarmed by ordinary Americans protesting non-violently against a liberal (progressive) steamroller trying to turn citizen against citizen. Your gullibility is allowing this to happen.

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By OhioGuy, March 26, 2010 at 4:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@Jaded, you said: “the teabaggers are pro-corporate meaning that our corporatocracy is much less likely to rein them in because they are useful in guarding the power structure against real change.”

I’m not sure I entirely agree with this conclusion, though your general point is dead on.

You’re right that Corporate America loves predictability and hates change. The rise of a violent group of vandals and vigilantes egged on by a national political party is a BIG change for America, one that will lead fairly soon to dramatic social instability. Corporations HATE social instability - it’s bad for business, bad for the markets, and could lead to some sort of (gasp) REFORM (more change).

I don’t think that extreme right-wing terrorism is good for anyone in America, even the corporations.

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By FiftyGigs, March 26, 2010 at 4:33 am Link to this comment

RE: Government Takeovers Of Federal Systems

Dear Republican conservatives:

Please keep YOUR hands off MY government.

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By Jaded Prole, March 26, 2010 at 4:12 am Link to this comment

Brownshirts. There is a long history of wealth manipulating the most ignorant workers as a tool of violent reaction against progress. This is nothing new but the escalation of it started with Obama’s election and is being fueled by corporate fronts, FOX, and the usual radio hacks. It is also being fueled by the Republican party which has moved steadily toward fascism. Unfortunately, unlike the left the teabaggers are pro-corporate meaning that our corporatocracy is much less likely to rein them in because they are useful in guarding the power structure against real change.

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By tropicgirl, March 26, 2010 at 4:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A strange turn of events for the Patriot Act…

““Source: Patriot Act May Be Used Against Tea Party Activists
Douglas J. Hagmann
Northeast Intelligence Network
March 25, 2010
A federal intelligence source reported in an interview last evening that the FBI
and the Department of Homeland Security have been called in to “actively
investigate incidents of violence and threats” made to at least ten Democrats
and one Republican lawmaker since Sunday.

Their involvement was reportedly requested by top House leadership and one
unnamed, high-level White House official. According to this source, who
agreed to speak to this writer under the strict condition of anonymity, “a ‘watch
list’ has already been created that specifically names and turns their focus on
various pro-life and tea-party organizations and individuals who are
considered a threat to domestic security, continuity of government operations,
and to the lives of lawmakers and their families.”

While published reports confirm that Capitol Police have been contacted and
are addressing security concerns of lawmakers and the incidents of vandalism,
the involvement of federal agencies has not been publicly disclosed, nor will it
likely be on any official level. The reason, according to this source, is that high-
level discussions between top lawmakers and agency heads are “exploring the
application of the Patriot Act against any right-wing individual or group that
poses a danger to government operations.” He added that “threat assessments
and security measures for public assemblies at the Capitol, specifically
focusing on conservative groups are being re-evaluated at the request of the
White House and Democratic lawmakers.”

Dissemination of the list is obviously limited to avoid another “MIAC” episode,
referring to the release of a document leaked from the Missouri Information
Analysis Center (MIAC).””

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By Inherit The Wind, March 26, 2010 at 4:00 am Link to this comment

Obfuscations, Barbie!

This nation has long held that incitement to violence is NOT “free speech” but is a crime.

I’ll bet if some Moslem leader in the US called for attacks on Jews you’d be the first in line saying “Throw the R-Head out!”

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BarbieQue's avatar

By BarbieQue, March 26, 2010 at 1:52 am Link to this comment

At least we commoners can rest assured that none of these horrible, despicable acts of hate and violence have actually been thought up and carried out by operatives of the (D)‘s to gain sympathy and cause distraction, because that would mean that politics is way rough.

And after all, Chicago is known for the Civility that exists between Rivals. If there was no Philly it’d probably be known as “The City of Brotherly Love”.
(Rahm, we know your brother reads Truthdig. Close your robe, Knave.)

Look at the good side. All that nasty complicated talk of “Constitution” and “Amendments” has finally stopped. Jeebus, some people. Just think what can be done now that the Elites that have our best interests in mind know they can ram stuff into law that’s unpopular with 60% of the Nation.

I’m havin’ a milk with my cookies tonight. Won’t you join me?

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