It’s getting strange out there. Opponents of the Obama administration continue to rally, at the Capitol and in the hinterlands, and call for revolution or secession — or quote Psalm 109:8: “May his days be few; may another take over his position.”
Succeeding verses from the psalm, which Obama’s detractors seem to love, become more ominous: “May his children be orphans, his wife a widow. May his children wander from their hovels, begging in search of [bread].” And so on.
Oh, and a lot of the folks showing up for local Tea Party rallies are carrying pistols. An Oct. 17 Tea Party rally in Lakefront Park, over in Hudson, Wisc., featured around 200 participants with sidearms strapped on, according to local news reports. Publicity for the “Open Carry Tea Party” on the Web site of Patriots for America instructed: “Attendees are encourage (sic), but not required, to wear a holstered sidearm to exericse (sic) their God given right to self defense.”¨”
Then there’s Rep. Michele Bachmann, Republican from Minnesota’s Sixth District, an ostensible friend of the Jewish community (and a speaker at the Jan. 11 pro-Israel rally at the Sabes JCC), who organized an anti-health care reform gathering in Washington, D.C. Bachmann encouraged her partisans to show up at the Capitol on Nov. 5 for the “House Call” event.
Bachmann told Sean Hannity, of Fox News, that her idea was that people would attend a press conference outside the Capitol, then enter the congressional office buildings and go “up and down through the halls, find members of Congress, look at the whites of their eyes and say, ‘Don’t take away my health care.’”
(The business about “the whites of their eyes” seems to be a reference to American patriots at Bunker Hill in 1775, who were ordered to conserve scarce gunpowder and not fire until the British soldiers were within close range: “Don’t one of you fire until you see the white of their eyes.”)
In a sort of nadir of political expression, Bachmann’s rally featured a large banner that depicted a pile of corpses in a death camp, with the legend across the top: “National Socialist Health Care / Dachau, Germany – 1945.”
The equation of Obama’s health care reform proposal with Nazi policies drew howls of protests. Leading the charge was Rep. Steve Israel, D.-N.Y., who posted a video response to YouTube. Israel said, in part: “I can’t believe that Congresswoman Bachmann would stand where she stood, and see those images, and not have the common decency to say, ‘I disagree with the use of those images.’ I think that she owes the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust an apology. She owes us all an apology. And I’m waiting. We’re all waiting.”
Bachmann offered something of an apology the following week. She issued a statement about the Shoah images at her House Call rally: “Sadly, some individuals chose to marginalize tragic events in human history, such as the Holocaust, by invoking imagery and labels which have no purpose in a policy debate about health care. These regrettable actions negatively shift the focus of the current discussion on this issue. The American people deserve an open and honest debate to ensure the best possible solution to our health care problems, and I agree that these unfortunate instances are wholly inappropriate.”
The over-the-top militant rhetoric by the Tea Party activists has often gone right up to the line of criminal incitement. There is, I understand, a legal demarcation between constitutionally protected free speech and yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. I am sensitive to this issue, having a son who organized protests against the 2008 Republican National Convention, and was then charged with “conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism.” Max, and his seven co-defendants, the “RNC 8,” no longer face the state “terrorism” charges, which were dropped in early April; but they still face felony conspiracy charges and we are in the second year of a prosecution slogging along in Ramsey County District Court.
The RNC 8 case, with its history of police infiltration and surveillance, informs my view of the extreme right protests organized under the Tea Party rubric, or Fox infotainment star Glenn Beck’s “9/12 Project.” The casual use of Holocaust and Hitler imagery to tar the president is only the tip of a slimy iceberg. Out of this right-wing milieu — which is racist, xenophobic, homophobic and anti-Semitic — come individuals like Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. George Tiller, in Wichita, Kan., in May; and James W. von Brunn, who murdered a guard in a shooting rampage at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in June. In Minnesota cities, small Nazi groups have been harassing Latino immigrants, even showing up at the Midtown YWCA in south Minneapolis to protest a workshop on confronting “white privilege.”
The worsening economy, layoffs, mortgage foreclosures, foreign wars and other issues provide plenty of fodder for political protest. Criticizing President Obama’s policies is the right of any American; however, we are seeing something more sinister in the use of rhetorical phrases and symbols in the Tea Party movement that seemed designed to provoke violence among the more unhinged partisans in the crowd.
You can live in fear of the young anarchists, but there is a more potent threat to the Jewish community, and the general society, from a coterie of benighted individuals on the right who think they have a direct line to the divine and can dictate social policies that everyone must follow.
In the case of Rep. Bachmann, the organized Jewish community has decided to curry favor with her in exchange for her unstinting support of Israel in Congress. But those who purport to represent the Jewish community should know that the vast majority of Jews find Bachmann’s political views ludicrous and odious. There needs to be a deeper communal discussion about political alliances in this regard.
— Mordecai Specktor / firstname.lastname@example.org
(American Jewish World, 11.27.09)