1 - Slow motion sedition is very hard to counter
As Campaign For America's Future Fellow Sara Robinson writes in an important new essay, two recent incidents - the arrest of nine members of the Hutaree Christian militia and the mailing, by a group calling itself Guardians of the Free Republic, of threatening letters to all sitting state governors in the US, should be a "wake up call for progressives."
As Robinson writes,
They're telling us that it's time to openly confront the fact that conservatives have spent the past 40 years systematically delegitimizing the very idea of constitutional democracy in America. When they're in power, they mismanage it and defund it. When they're out of power, they refuse to participate in running the country at all -- indeed, they throw all their energy into thwarting the democratic process any way they can. When they need to win an election, they use violent, polarizing, eliminationist language against their opponents to motivate their base. This is sedition in slow motion, a gradual corrosive undermining of the government's authority and capacity to run the country. And it's been at the core of their politics going all the way back to Goldwater.
This long assault has gone into overdrive since Obama's inauguration... We've reached the point where you can't go a week without hearing some prominent right wing leader calling for outright sedition -- an immediate and defiant populist uprising against some legitimate form of government authority.
Moderates and liberals are responding to this rising threat with feckless calls for "a return to civility," as if all that's needed to put things right again is a stern talking-to from Miss Manners. Though that couldn't hurt, the sad fact is that we're well past the point where it's just a matter of conservatives behaving like tantrum-throwing spoiled brats (which they are). When a mob is surrounding your house with torches and telling you they intend to burn it down, "civility" really isn't the issue any more.
Robinson makes two general points in her essay that we should bear in mind. First, there's a quite specific legal definition of what illegal sedition is. Speech calling for the undermining or overthrow of the government is not illegal. It is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. Sedition crosses the line when it involves actually planning and preparation for acts aimed at undermining or overthrowing the government. The arrested Hutaree militia members allegedly planned to kill a Michigan police officer and then ambush police gathered for the ensuing funeral, in hopes of touching off a national revolt among militia groups. As Robinson suggests, that was likely over the line. But inciting such seditious behavior is constitutionally protected.
Rogue elephant Sarah Palin, media figures such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and attack-dog GOP politicians like Michelle Bachmann feed conspiracy theories that,
the fairly-elected President of the United States isn't even a citizen. He's a Muslim, and thus in treasonous league with terrorists. The main goal of his administration is to turn the country over to the One World Government. He's a socialist. He's a fascist. All of these are direct attacks on Obama's fundamental legitimacy and authority to lead the country -- and thus a deliberate incitement to revolt against his administration.
Among the results ? - Two armed marches on Washington are planned for this coming April 19th. As Robinson darkly warns,
Get used to seeing guns in the streets wherever the law allows -- because the conservatives have told their base explicitly that they need to be "exercising their rights" on this front to the fullest extent. Carrying guns in public is now an essential symbol of how the the right defines freedom. It also expresses just how afraid they are, and what they're planning to do about that fear.
Because there are no ready legal remedies to curtail such speech that seems designed to encourage seditious acts, Robinson suggests that exercising our constitutionally protected free speech rights, by calling out seditious talk as such, may be the best line of defense.
2 - Slinging poorly considered terms won't help
Is this the "Christian taliban" ? And how do we deal with slow-motion sedition ? As my colleague Frederick Clarkson, covering Sarah Robinson's essay at Talk To Action, observes, many on the left may be tempted to attach meaningless, loaded, or misleading labels to such phenomenon. But, writes Clarkson, "labeling, demonization and epithets are poor and often counterproductive substitutes for terms that allow for actual discussion and help us all to better understand the Religious Right in its many, and ever evolving, factions, leaders, ideologies and so on."
Point being - using labeling, demonizing, and epithets distracts from the actual job of observing and analyzing the phenomenon at hand. That's a problem in political terms because an entire new wing of the Christian right is now rising up in tandem with the (often racist) Tea Party wing of the right, but this new wing looks very, very different - so different, in fact, that most political observers are not even aware it exists.
3 - Sedition can take many forms
The Rainbow Right is another face of the right that Sara Robinson brings up, by mentioning the Spiritual Mapping movement, which my colleague Rachel Tabachnick and I have been writing about for many months now.
While mainstream media has focused on the so-called Tea Party movement, the "prayer warriors" of a rapidly rising wing of the evangelical right are, as I type this, in cities and towns across the United States, "spiritual mapping" their local areas...
One approach to sedition is to assert that government authorities are illegitimate. But another is to cast entire societal groups as illegitimate. That second approach opens the door to claims that government power should be used to repress or even eliminate targeted societal groups.
The "Transformation" movement is global and based on a clearly identifiable set of ideas and practices that were developed by a known group of evangelical leaders during a known period of time. "Spiritual Mapping" is something that's done while "prayer walking," a practice in which charismatic evangelical Christians walks the streets of cities and towns praying for residents and businesses. Along the way they also take notes on where the "enemies" are. The practice has become widespread globally including in the United States.
As Sara Robinson writes in her essay,
When the "spiritual warriors" of the Transformations movement proudly announce that they've mapped every town in America -- literally creating target maps of "demonic activity" that pinpoint government offices, non-Evangelical houses of worship, clinics, theaters, Indian mounds and sites; or even just households with Muslims, neo-pagans, Goth-baby teenagers, or Obama stickers on their cars -- they're putting us on notice that they've identified the specific people and places that need to be "cleansed" in order to purify their communities. According to researchers Rachel Tabachnik and Bruce Wilson, these "transformation" attempts have already become government-level issues in New Jersey, Arizona, Texas, and Hawaii.
As I'll be writing in coming weeks, the Transformation movement is currently fielding the GOP candidate for governor of Hawaii in 2010. Sarah Palin is also closely associated with the movement.
One of its "prophets" Lou Engle played a considerable role, through his organization TheCall, in the passage of California's anti-gay marriage Proposition Eight during the 2008 election. Californian evangelical leader Jim Garlow, who played a major role networking anti-gay marriage evangelical pastors in 2008 speaks at Transformation movement conference and calls major leaders of the movement his good friends. This May, Engle is bringing his anti-gay, antiabortion, sexual purity obsessed TheCall event to Uganda, where a draconian and internationally condemned bill before Uganda's parliament looms, with the potential of almost condemning an entire segment of Ugandan society to arrest and imprisonment or even execution.
As a recently notorious case in Amarillo, Texas suggests, Transformation/Spiritual Mapping movement ideology has deeply eliminationalist overtones. As Rachel Tabachnick writes, in Repent Amarillo's Spiritual Mapping and Vigilantism,
Repent Amarillo, a Texas ministry which refers to itself as an "Army of God," is making news for its spiritual warfare and vigilante tactics. The ministry has "spiritually mapped" the city targeting businesses deemed as evil, Masonic Lodges, the Islamic Center, a Buddhist Temple and even an Episcopal church accused of being "gay friendly."
If you live in Orlando or Jacksonville Florida, in Baltimore, MD, in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, San Diego, or Phoenix, AZm, or in many other cities and towns in the US there's a growing spiritual mapping effort working to obtain detailed on-the-ground intelligence in your city.
So what should you do ? In a word: learn.