Filming and interviewing at yesterday's Tea Party rally in DC with my Reason.tv comrade Meredith Bragg, we met some perfectly normal, clever, interesting people (including a black goth kid from West Virginia who really, really wanted to "end the Fed") and a cluster of weirdos not entirely convinced that President Obama was a Christian or that he wasn't born at a madrassa in Swaziland. There were limited government types, libertarians, conspiricist kooks, and a handful of people who desperately need someone to elucidate the differences between liberalism, social democracy, socialism, and communism. One attendee, who was incredibly well informed on a number of issues, nevertheless explained that we were seeing an incrementalist approach to a Stalinist state. Interrupting, I said with sarcasm, "but, ya know, without the genocide." Oh you naive young lad, he sighed, just wait and see.
Now, I usually preface all discussion of the Tea Parties with links to my criticism of some of the nonsense I have come across interviewing, to clarify that I find some of the rhetoric I've come across when reporting from various Tea Party events to be deeply problematic. But most of it, though, is simply a canned case against government spending. As Tunku Varadarajan writes at the Daily Beast, commenting on a recent poll of Tea Party participants, "It is now safe for metropolitan Americans to say—without fear of pillory, or of being waved away as wing-nuts—that the Tea Partiers are not a bilious, lunatic, unschooled, racist rabble out to sabotage our first African-American president, but are, instead, passionate, educated, middle-aged, middle-class and relatively prosperous critics of the Obama administration."
I think this is largely right, though there are clearly a helping of bilious lunatics milling about too. Then again, if someone tasked me with collecting offensive, racist, misspelled signs from International ANSWER rallies, I suspect I could cobble together a pretty terrifying display from "the other side." (This isn't entirely accurate, for many of the people at the Tea Parties are staunch anti-interventionists; indeed, Glenn Beck is drifting towards a Ron Paul-type foreign policy).
So after the Frank Rich "they-are-all-Bull-Connor" arguments, we are back to the "they-are-all-potential-Tim-McVeigh" arguments, this time courtesy of Bill Clinton. Is there evidence to substantiate such a claim? Well, no. But there is, after all, "the rise of extremist voices on talk radio...[and] you have a billion Internet sites." Potential fertilizer bombers, all of them.
And while the hard-core, anti-government radicals are still a minority, "they can communicate with each other much faster and much better than they did before. The main thing that bothered us since the time of Oklahoma City was that already there was enough use of the Internet that if you knew how to find a Web site - and not everybody even had a computer back then, but if you knew how to find it, you could learn, for example, how to make a bomb"....
"There can be real consequences when what you say animates people who do things you would never do," Clinton told the newspaper - pointing out that McVeigh and his conspirators "were profoundly alienated, disconnected people who bought into this militant antigovernment line."