The Armed Right’s Violent Rhetoric

As America prepares for the Second Inaugural of its first African-American president and as demands grow for some commonsense gun control after a horrific school massacre the Right is arming itself amid hysterical rhetoric about the need to “shoot tyrants,” ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

A public discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations last week was concerned with identifying particular trouble spots and troublesome issues around the world that are apt to demand policy attention during 2013. One of the speakers, David Gordon of the Eurasia Group, mentioned in passing that an issue he was not worried about this year was radicalism in developed countries. He did not specify what variety of radicalism; probably most in the room simply assumed he was referring to the Islamist variety.

That variety, after all, as it manifests itself both at home and abroad, has now been for some time almost the sole preoccupation in the United States as far as violent radicalism is concerned. When Peter King, as chairman in the previous Congress of the House Committee on Homeland Security, conducted a series of hearings on terrorist threats in the United States, the subject was all Islamist, all the time.

Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano.

One hazard of such a narrow focus on one type of radicalism is to reduce the likelihood we will notice the rise of other types. Different types of radicalism, and the subsets of it that involve terrorist violence, come and go in waves, as they have over the past several decades.

The rise of any one wave is generally related to the broader political environment in two somewhat antipodal ways. The radicalism usually is embedded in a larger mood, movement or ethos. But it also usually is a reaction against some political trend or development.

While keeping these patterns in mind, it would be useful to look again at a report that was prepared four years ago in the Department of Homeland Security. The report was titled Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment. Its release led to an uproar among those on the Right who were uncomfortable with any government report acknowledging that there is American extremism on the Right.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, evidently anxious to reduce her vulnerability to charges of politically-inspired analysis, responded by withdrawing the report, saying it had not been properly vetted within the department. DHS’s analytical work on right-wing extremism has reportedly been reduced to a single employee.

The report, which nonetheless made it into the hands of news agencies, may be one of the more worthwhile reads among government documents having such a short official shelf life. The report stated that although there were at the time no known plans among right-wing extremists to commit specific acts of terrorism, such extremists “may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears about several emergent issues.”

One of those bits of grist for the fear-mongering was “the election of the first African-American president.” Another was the prospect of gun control:

Proposed imposition of firearms restrictions and weapons bans likely would attract new members into the ranks of right-wing extremist groups, as well as potentially spur some of them to begin planning and training for violence against the government. The high volume of purchases and stockpiling of weapons and ammunition by right-wing extremists in anticipation of restrictions and bans in some parts of the country continue to be a primary concern to law enforcement.

The report-writers likened what they were seeing to what was happening with this extremist fringe in the 1990s. Although we have not witnessed in the subsequent four years anything like a repetition of the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, other indications suggest the report was on to something.

Charles Blow in the New York Times alludes to some of this when he notes, using data compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, that the anti-government “Patriot” movement has burgeoned since 2008, having grown to more than 1,200 groups nationwide by 2011. More than a fourth of these are militias that perform paramilitary training.

Now in 2013, we are about to have the second inauguration of that same African-American president, the one with the foreign-sounding name. Gun control is also again prominently on the national agenda, owing mainly to more mass shootings in schools.

And some of the rhetoric that melds resistance to gun control with a broader anti-government agenda is nothing short of frightening. Here’s what Fox News commentator and, believe it or not, former judge Andrew Napolitano (no relation to Janet) wrote last week:

“The historical reality of the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to keep and bear arms is not that it protects the right to shoot deer. It protects the right to shoot tyrants, and it protects the right to shoot at them effectively, with the same instruments they would use upon us.”

If shooting, or bombing, growing out of this type of attitude starts, we should already have a fairly good idea of what the perpetrators are opposed to. We ought to reflect as well on the other part of how a wave of extremism fits into the larger political environment, i.e., how it is the extreme tail of some more broadly shared way of thinking.

The roots of current anti-government sentiments are diverse, of course. And as for the gun control part of this, we know that the lobby opposing controls is as rich and potent as ever. We also should acknowledge the growth of a form of political intolerance in which some people believe that having their particular preferences prevail is so important that it is worth inflicting, or threatening, harm to the country.

It looks as though we are about to see a non-kinetic form of this again in Congress in a few weeks.  We should not be surprised if extremists use the kinetic form.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post  at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

5 comments for “The Armed Right’s Violent Rhetoric

  1. kb
    January 19, 2013 at 13:07

    At what point does “Incitement” “Provocation” and “Instigation” become prosecutable?
    Btw, what are the standards related to “Well Regulated” when it come to “State” militias. Training, education, credentials, registration,testing,background checks, psych evals….? “Yahoo with a gun” does cut it.

  2. Marilyn A.F.
    January 17, 2013 at 17:31

    Warning from ‘down under’–the Aussies have experience in gun cofiscation and send a message to the US: don’t give up your guns…

    All the emotional partisanship and purple prose won’t whitewash reality and logic.

  3. Marilyn A.F.
    January 15, 2013 at 20:17

    Impeachment is one remedy for a president who skirts laws and dismisses issues of Constitutional liberties. If he were to get the boot (which is unlikely as our supine Congress is loathe to rattle the cages of the ruling junta), it won’t be because he is ‘our first Black president,’ it will be because he is running roughshod over fellow humans–foreign and domestic.

    Of course, we put up with GW Bush for two terms, as well, setting our sights on 2008 as a target date for release from bondage. Surprise! New boss, same policies. (I wasn’t among the surprised.)

    I am a card-carrying progressive but I’m not stupid and I don’t suffer fools or flimflam artists. Judge Napolitano is correct on his reading of the Second Amendment. Janet Napolitano is a useful tool and a frontperson carrying water for any and all who seek to overturn legitimate US government; it’s called soft kill. Rot will come from inside D.C., not from the cornfields and milltowns where people are arming in self-defense–not as ‘right-wing’ extremists, but as protectors of family and country.

    They will protect anyone’s right to free speech, even those who prattle about law and order at the point of a gun. This isn’t rocket science. Of course, once the Feds push all the wrong buttons, chaos and anarchy are the stepchildren of social collapse.


  4. John
    January 14, 2013 at 22:00

    I’m much less concerned about the “armed right” than about a government that has murdered between 20 and 30 million people overseas in the past 50 years, in countries that did not attack us and were no threat to us, now headed by a warmonger who has added at least six countries and several thousand people, including 200-300 children, to that toll, and who pushed for and got a law (NDAA) giving him the right to assassinate Americans in the US, not just overseas, as were the two Americans he’s already known to have assassinated.

  5. rosemerry
    January 14, 2013 at 17:01

    Real, normal humans, living in real democracies (ie NOT the USA or Canada, or Israel) cannot fathom why so many good ole Mercans want to kill their fellow citizens for completely spurious reasons, as well as delighting when their big, high tech. WMD go after those commies, or mexicans, or druggies, or terrorists-whoever is the latest designated enemy or someone we can blame for our own failures.

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