Tag Archives: radicals

Extremism Goes Mainstream

I really try to stay positive.

Take the environment, where there are signs of genuine progress. Despite the mounting effects of climate change, there is much to applaud about the multiple efforts at what I’ll call “eco-responsibility”–for example, in the most recent issue of the Engineering News Record (my husband subscribes), there are stories about efforts to add plastic additives to road construction (thus extending pavement life while re-using plastic waste), new methods of decreasing concrete’s carbon footprint, and a particularly encouraging article about updating the U.S. grid to aid in the transition from fossil to renewable energy.

In a number of areas, serious people are making serious efforts to confront the multiple threats to our various societies that range from problematic to dangerous, and in many of these areas, there is slow but discernible progress.

But. (You knew there was a “but”…) A significant number of humans evidently cannot cope with the world they now inhabit, and are retreating into fantasy, hate and violence.

ProPublica recently explored the extent to which such individuals control today’s Republican Party.

North Carolina state representative Mike Clampitt swore an oath to uphold the Constitution after his election in 2016 and again in 2020. But there’s another pledge that Clampitt said he’s upholding: to the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militant organization.

Dozens of Oath Keepers have been arrested in connection to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, some of them looking like a paramilitary group, wearing camo helmets and flak vests. But a list of more than 35,000 members of the Oath Keepers — obtained by an anonymous hacker and shared with ProPublica by the whistleblower group Distributed Denial of Secrets — underscores how the organization is evolving into a force within the Republican Party.

ProPublica identified Clampitt and 47 more state and local government officials on the list, all Republicans: 10 sitting state lawmakers; two former state representatives; one current state assembly candidate; a state legislative aide; a city council assistant; county commissioners in Indiana, Arizona and North Carolina; two town aldermen; sheriffs or constables in Montana, Texas and Kentucky; state investigators in Texas and Louisiana; and a New Jersey town’s public works director.

ProPublica found over 400 members and/or newsletter recipients who used government, military or political campaign email addresses; they included candidates for offices ranging from Congress to sheriff–a list that also included a retired assistant school superintendent in Alabama, and an award-winning elementary school teacher in California. There were significant numbers of police officers and military veterans.

Oath Keepers pledge to resist if the federal government imposes martial law, invades a state or takes people’s guns, ideas that show up in a dark swirl of right-wing conspiracy theories.

By far the most frightening aspect of the revelations is the degree to which these commitments have become mainstream within the GOP.

“Five or six years ago, politicians wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with Oath Keepers, you’d have to go pretty fringe,” said Jared Holt, who monitors the group for the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “When groups like that become emboldened, it makes them significantly more dangerous.”

The article identifies a number of current lawmakers as members. Among them is Indiana state Sen. Scott Baldwin, whose spokesperson said he was unavailable to comment. The article meticulously categorized the members whose identities were disclosed by the hack: elected officials, GOP party leaders, and (chillingly) poll workers.

In the wake of the hack and the disclosures, several media outlets investigated how enrollees learned about the organization– how it was able to spread so readily. One conclusion: social media, particularly Facebook, is central; it provides a platform for the “patriot” movement. That conclusion would seem to confirm other recent studies showing how social media recruits for the far right more generally. One report found that Facebook was joiners’ most frequently cited source for having first heard about the Oath Keepers.

Mother Jones found that certain right-wing media outlets and figures, notably Alex Jones and Infowars, have played key roles in spreading the extremism. But more “mainstream” outlets and figures were also found to play central roles: Fox and Fox News were prominent.

There have always been extremists, malcontents, and outright lunatics. What is different today–and scary–isn’t just that they have moved the Overton Window and become almost mainstream. It’s that they have effectively taken over one of America’s two major political parties–and made it impossible to govern. Nationally, the GOP simply refuses to participate in legislative activities, preferring to wage culture war. That has driven virtually all sane people to become Democrats or Democratically-leaning independents–but they represent such a broad spectrum of political ideology that it is nearly impossible to unite them behind a single agenda.

Bottom line: Either the fever will break, or the country will.

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Denialism And The Courts

Mitch McConnell has made no bones about his highest priority–capturing the judiciary for his version of “conservatism,” and–at this. juncture, with continued control of the Senate in considerable doubt–super-charging the confirmation of nominee Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

The likely confirmation of Barrett (who reminds me of one of the Stepford Wives), a perfect replica of a 1950’s “lady” but “new and improved” with a law degree, has been the focus of much speculation. Her ascension to the court would accomplish the dearest wish of the GOP base– a lopsided 6-3 Court majority for their brand of conservatism. A recent article from New York Magazine is representative.Titled “Trump’s New Supreme Court is Coming for the Next Dozen Elections,” the article points to the likely consequences for electoral politics:

When Judge Amy Coney Barrett sits for questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee in mid-October, no doubt Democrats will pepper her with questions about whether she would recuse herself in any Trump v.Biden election lawsuit to come before the Supreme Court. Although that’s an important question to ask, perhaps the bigger question is what it wouldmean in the long run for voting and election cases to have a sixth conservative justice on the Supreme Court.

In short, a Barrett confirmation would make it more likely we will see a significant undermining of the already weakened Voting Rights Act — the Court said on Friday it will hear a case involving the law. A 6-3 conservative Court might allow unlimited undisclosed money in political campaigns; give more latitude to states to suppress votes, especially those of minorities; protect partisan gerrymandering from reform efforts; and strengthen the representation of rural white areas, which would favor Republicans.

Other predicted consequences include striking down the Affordable Care Act and–of course–overruling Roe v. Wade.

There is a measure of uncertainty about the extent to which COVID will complicate McConnell’s super-charged timeline. (I don’t wish hospitalization or death  on anyone, but given the irresponsibility of the President and GOP, I don’t think it’s wrong to hope for a couple of weeks of extreme discomfort and an inability to participate in deliberations/votes.) Lindsey Graham, who heads the committee has refused to take a COVID test despite several incidents of exposure–presumably to avoid having to isolate and thus delay the hearings.

The likelihood of Barrett’s confirmation has generated serious discussion about a Biden Administration adding Justices to the Supreme Court. Although the media has labeled that possibility “court packing,” law and courts scholars have discussed adding Justices and similar reforms (having federal appellate judges “rotate” onto the Court for specific periods or cases, term limits for Justices, etc.) for years–long before Trump’s assault on judicial independence. For that matter, the Judicial Conference has noted the need for additional judges  in a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The effects of increasing caseloads without a corresponding increase in judges are profound,” wrote Judge Brian Miller of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas on behalf of the Judicial Conference of the United States. He continued:

Delays increase expenses for civil litigants and may increase the length of time criminal defendants are held pending trial. Substantial delays lead to lack of respect for the Judiciary and the judicial process. The problem is so severe that potential litigants may be avoiding federal court altogether.

Whatever actually happens, I want to make a point I’ve not seen discussed: the arguably incorrect labelling of Justices like Alito and Thomas, and nominees like Barrett–not to mention some of the Neanderthals McConnell has placed on lower courts–as “Conservative.”

Conservatives want to preserve values that they believe are necessary to the social order; they are consequently cautious about change or innovation. People of good will can and do debate which values meet that definition and why, and “caution” about change is not the same thing as “adamant opposition.’ (If you are interested in seeing what actual, responsible conservatism looks like, visit the site of the Niskanen Center.)

The people McConnell’s GOP has placed on our courts aren’t conservative in the time-honored meaning of that term. If anything, they’re radical. To appropriate a phrase used by historian Stephanie Coons, they want to return to “the way we never were,” a fondly-remembered, wholly fictionalized White Christian America in which the “little woman” dutifully attended her husband, LGBTQ people were in the closet back behind the coats, and dark-skinned folks “knew their place.”

We are in a period of paradigm shift, and a substantial portion of our fellow citizens are–as the saying goes–standing athwart history yelling stop.

To call those people “conservatives” is unfair to the genuine article.