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.
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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