Donald Trump’s War on the First Amendment

His commitment to free speech extends only to himself.

Source: alternet

Author: Bill Blum/TruthDig

Emphasis Mine

If you were to ask Donald Trump’s supporters what they most admire about the GOP front-runner, chances are they would cite his so-called authenticity, his willingness to “tell it like it is” and, perhaps more than anything else, his rejection of that great bugaboo of the Obama Age: political correctness.

Such qualities ought to mean that whatever else Trump may be—a blowhard, a demagogue, a bigot, a reality TV huckster, a malignant narcissist, an unparalleled deal maker—he’s an ardent believer in press protections, free speech and the First Amendment. Indeed, in a Feb. 27 appearance on the Fox News channel, Trump seemed—at first—to be saying so, declaring, “I love free press. I think it’s great.”

But like much of what is taken as a given in the crazy-town vortex that is the Trump presidential campaign, the image of the candidate as a champion of free speech is a mirage. The bullying billionaire can sling mud and demean his real and imagined enemies with the best of them. The problem, however, is that he can’t take it when others fire back.

The very next sentence that Trump uttered during the Fox interview revealed a diametrically opposite view of the First Amendment. “We ought to open up the libel laws,” he said, thus making it easier to sue journalists who write critical things about him.

Trump’s on-air comments came a day after he had addressed the same subject at a rally in Fort Worth, Texas. Unhappy with certain news reports, he told a throng of cheering followers, “I think the media is among the most dishonest groups of people I’ve ever met. They’re terrible. If I become president, oh, do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.”

He added:

One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do, and we’re certainly leading, is I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws so that when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.

What Trump probably means by “opening up” our libel laws is that, as president, he would work to overturn a line of landmark Supreme Court decisions dating back to the court’s unanimous 1964 decision in The New York Times v. Sullivan.

Prior to Sullivan, defamation lawsuits were governed exclusively by state law, and they were often slanted in favor of plaintiffs, especially rich ones who could afford the steep costs involved. To prevail, plaintiffs only had to establish that they had been defamed by a preponderance of the evidence—the lowest standard of proof in our legal system. As a practical matter, this meant that anyone wishing to criticize the wealthy and the powerful did so at considerable personal risk.

The Sullivan case changed all that by constitutionalizing defamation law throughout the United States. The justices wrote that in order to protect our “profound national commitment” to uninhibited, robust and wide-open debate that “may well include vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks,” the First and Fourteenth amendments would heretofore serve as protection for defamation defendants. Public officials, they further instructed, must be precluded from recovering damages for allegedly defamatory statements related to official conduct unless they establish by “clear and convincing evidence” (a far higher standard of proof) that such statements are made with “actual malice”—that is, that they are made with the knowledge that they are false or with reckless disregard for the truth.

In a series of subsequent decisions in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the court extended Sullivan and the “actual malice” rule

to defamation lawsuits brought by “public figures,” such as Trump and many of the corporations that he controls and operates.

This is what has the Republican hopeful so hopping mad. In the years following Sullivan and its legal progeny, less than 10 percent of defamation cases brought by public figures have resulted in plaintiff victories.

Trump is nothing if not litigious. As the political journalist Olivia Nuzzi of The Daily Beast wrote last year—in an article titled “Donald Trump Sued Everyone but His Hairdresser”—Trump has filed cases against “people, businesses, and entire cities and countries. He’s sued a newspaper, his ex-wife, a quaint business card store in Georgia and a Native American tribe. He’s cried breach of contract, government favoritism, fraud, and libel.”

And when it comes to libel, contrary to his daily pontifications about being a “winner,” you can count Trump and his business interests among the biggest courtroom losers.

Perhaps the best-known legal setback to date occurred in the litigation surrounding Trump University, a venture Trump helped to found in 2004 to “train, educate and mentor entrepreneurs on achieving financial independence through real estate investing.”

There are currently three major lawsuits pending against Trump and his now-defunct real estate program—two federal class actions initiated by former students in San Diego and one brought in New York by the state’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman.

Although the cases are separate and distinct from a technical standpoint, they share a common nucleus of allegations, which have been summarized in an online posting by the San Diego lawyers representing the former students. According to the attorneys, “Trump University and Trump violated federal law across the delivering access to Trump’s real estate techniques taught by ‘hand-picked’ professors at an elite ‘university,’ when in fact Trump was not substantively involved in the Live Events curriculum or selecting the instructors and the New York State Education Department had warned Trump it was unlawful to call it a ‘university.’ ”

The oldest of the San Diego cases was filed in 2010 by Tarla Makaeff, a yoga instructor who at first named only Trump University as a defendant. Trump himself was added to the case as a personal defendant two years later.

Makaeff enrolled in Trump University classes in 2008, spending $1,495 for an introductory session and later forking over $34,995 to enroll in the school’s “Gold Elite” program, which entitled her to four three-day “advanced” training workshops, a three-day mentoring session and other benefits.

Although Makaeff filled out evaluation forms praising the courses, she had changed her mind by the fall of 2009. She then requested a refund of her tuition but was denied. Thereafter, she wrote letters to the Better Business Bureau, her bank and government agencies, and she posted comments online, complaining that she had been pressured to give the school good evaluations and that the university had failed to deliver on its promises and had engaged in fraudulent and unfair business practices.

Trump University responded to Makaeff’s lawsuit with a defamation counterclaim. Makaeff’s lawyers, in turn, moved to strike the counterclaim, citing the Sullivan case and characterizing the counterclaim as a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or SLAPP.

As the Digital Media Law Project explains on its website, SLAPPs are lawsuits “filed in retaliation for speaking out on a public issue or controversy.” They usually, but not always, come in the guise of a defamation complaint. The goal of a SLAPP plaintiff isn’t necessarily to win a case on the merits but to intimidate and silence critics.

To combat the chilling effect that SLAPPs have on First Amendment rights, 28 states (including California) and the District of Columbia have enacted anti-SLAPP statutes that provide procedures for pretrial motions to dismiss or strike them.

Even though Makaeff’s case was filed in federal court, the California anti-SLAPP law applied to her fraud and unfair business-practice claims because those were based on California law. It took three years of heated litigation, but in 2013 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Makaeff’s motion to strike, finding that she had spoken out on a matter of public concern and that Trump University was a public figure insofar as the dispute over its real estate offerings was concerned. As such, the court also held that Trump University could not meet the “actual malice” standard articulated by the Sullivan case.

In a stinging rebuke of its claim that Makaeff’s previous endorsement of the school showed that she had acted with malice when she later complained, the court wrote: “As the recent Ponzi-scheme scandals involving onetime financial luminaries like Bernard Madoff and Allen Stanford demonstrate, victims of con artists often sing the praises of their victimizers until the moment they realize they have been fleeced. Makaeff’s initial enthusiasm for Trump University’s program is not probative of whether she acted with actual malice.”

The school was subsequently ordered to pay Makaeff’s lawyers nearly $800,000 in attorneys’ fees.

Last week, Makaeff asked the trial judge assigned to her case to permit her to withdraw as a class representative and named plaintiff because of health issues. If her request is granted, the case will be carried forward by three other named plaintiffs. A pretrial conference to set a trial date has been calendared for May 6.

Trump’s loss to Makaeff is by no means his most embarrassing SLAPP setback. That honor goes to a case Trump filed a decade ago in New Jersey.

In 2006, Trump sued Time Warner Books and writer Timothy O’Brien, then a reporter with The New York Times and now the editor of Bloomberg View, alleging that he had been libeled in a biography O’Brien had written, “TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald.”

Instead of bringing the lawsuit in New York, which has an anti-SLAPP statute, Trump opted for a venue in New Jersey, which doesn’t have one. The alleged defamation that Trump cited was O’Brien’s claim in the book that, considering all of the real estate mogul’s assets and liabilities, Trump’s net worth was actually in the neighborhood of $150 million to $250 million rather than the $5 billion to $6 billion that he had claimed.

Even without an anti-SLAPP law to lean on, O’Brien won a state appellate court ruling in 2011, granting summary judgment in his favor and finding that Trump could not, as a matter of law, meet the Sullivan test of actual malice. For all the mischief he had caused, Trump was ordered to fork over a cool $1 million in legal fees.

Interviewed about his ordeal with Trump for an article published last week in The Washington Post, O’Brien told reporter Paul Farhi: “We blew him up on the whole notion that I set out with reckless disregard and malice. My lawyers drew and quartered him.”

Unbowed and seemingly gearing up for more battles, Trump is quoted in the same article as saying that he knew he couldn’t win the case against O’Brien. “I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees, and they spent a whole lot more,” he admitted. “I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.”

And that’s precisely the problem with Trump’s war on the First Amendment. He loves the combat. He thrives on it. And no matter how many lives he imperils in the process, and no matter how many times he comes up short in court, he has no intention of relenting.

As president, of course, Trump would have no power to repeal or negate the Sullivan decision. It would take a constitutional amendment to accomplish that, or a highly unlikely reversal by the Supreme Court.

Nonetheless, if elected, Trump could do real damage, vetoing pending legislation to enact a federal anti-SLAPP law and using his bully pulpit to dissuade the 22 states without such statutes from enacting them.

And then there’s all the legal baggage he would drag with him to the White House. The civil suits that he has initiated and been the target of won’t be stayed just because he’s traded Trump Towers for the Oval Office. As the Supreme Court held in Paula Jones’ lawsuit against Bill Clinton, sitting presidents are not immune

from civil litigation arising out of events that transpired before they took office.

Derailing Trump’s war on the First Amendment or at least confining it to isolated courtroom skirmishes should be easy, but only if we keep one principle foremost in mind: that he must never, ever—and here words almost fail me—become president of the United States.

 

Bill Blum is a former judge and death penalty defense attorney. He is the author of three legal thrillers published by Penguin/Putnam (“Prejudicial Error,” “The Last Appeal” and “The Face of Justice”) and is a contributing writer for California Lawyer magazine.

See:http://www.alternet.org/donald-trumps-war-first-amendment?akid=14064.123424.0zQ2EW&rd=1&src=newsletter1052620&t=6

57% Of Republicans Say Dismantle Constitution And Make Christianity National Religion

Source: Politicsusa

Author: Keith Brekus

Emphasis Mine

A Public Policy Polling (PPP) national survey conducted between February 20th and February 22nd of Republican voters, found that an astonishing 57 percent of Republicans want to dismantle the Constitution, and establish Christianity as the official national religion. Only 30 percent oppose making Christianity the national religion.

Although the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment clearly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” GOP voters want to cast aside that provision and impose Christianity as the official American religion.

While a number of red states have passed statutes forbidding the implementation of Islam-based sharia law in their states, Republicans apparently have no misgivings about turning the United States into a Christian theocracy. The poll’s crosstabs reveal that support for making Christianity the official religion is strongest among Mike Huckabee (94 percent), Rick Perry (83 percent), and Ben Carson (78 percent) supporters.

Ben Carson is the preferred presidential candidate of those who want to impose Christianity on the nation with 24 percent support. Mike Huckabee and Scott Walker are tied for 2nd place at 16 percent. Scott Walker (35 percent) and Jeb Bush (22 percent) are the leading candidates among GOP voters who do not want to establish a national religion.

The PPP survey also found that 2/3rds of Republican voters do not believe in global warming, and 49 percent do not believe in the theory of evolution. Not only do they wish to establish a national religion, but it appears that their version of Christianity is one that is at odds with the scientific consensus in climatology and biology.

While a clear majority of Americans self-identify as Christians, most Americans outside the GOP, would be uncomfortable with conservative Dominionist theology. Dominionism calls for imposing a theocracy in America where Christianity is declared the official religion, and the nation is governed by “Biblical law”.

Republican voters seem all too eager to embrace Dominionist theology, even though doing so would violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Freedom of Religion is one of the bedrock principles established in our founding documents. Republican voters are gearing up to elect candidates who will undermine the First Amendment and take away our Freedom of Religion. Independents and Democrats must be prepared to stop any candidate who would dismantle the Establishment Clause, whether it be Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson or one of the other GOP presidential candidates.

See: http://www.politicususa.com/2015/02/25/57-republicans-dismantle-constitution-christianity-national-religion.html#.VUinSeVT5Ug.facebook

We’re Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore

“I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous.

Written in 2004.

How did the Party of Lincoln and Liberty transmogrify into the party of Newt Gingrich’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk?

By GARRISON KEILLOR

Something has gone seriously haywire with the Republican Party. Once, it was the party of pragmatic Main Street businessmen in steel-rimmed spectacles who decried profligacy and waste, were devoted to their communities and supported the sort of prosperity that raises all ships. They were good-hearted people who vanquished the gnarlier elements of their party, the paranoid Roosevelt-haters, the flat Earthers and Prohibitionists, the antipapist antiforeigner element. The genial Eisenhower was their man, a genuine American hero of D-Day, who made it OK for reasonable people to vote Republican. He brought the Korean War to a stalemate, produced the Interstate Highway System, declined to rescue the French colonial army in Vietnam, and gave us a period of peace and prosperity, in which (oddly) American arts and letters flourished and higher education burgeoned—and there was a degree of plain decency in the country. Fifties Republicans were giants compared to today’s. Richard Nixon was the last Republican leader to feel a Christian obligation toward the poor.

In the years between Nixon and Newt Gingrich, the party migrated southward down the Twisting Trail of Rhetoric and sneered at the idea of public service and became the Scourge of Liberalism, the Great Crusade Against the Sixties, the Death Star of Government, a gang of pirates that diverted and fascinated the media by their sheer chutzpah, such as the misty-eyed flag-waving of Ronald Reagan who, while George McGovern flew bombers in World War II, took a pass and made training films in Long Beach. The Nixon moderate vanished like the passenger pigeon, purged by a legion of angry white men who rose to power on pure punk politics. “Bipartisanship is another term of date rape,” says Grover Norquist, the Sid Vicious of the GOP. “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” The boy has Oedipal problems and government is his daddy.

The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, shriekChristians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shreiking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous.

Rich ironies abound! Lies pop up like toadstools in the forest! Wild swine crowd round the public trough! Outrageous gerrymandering! Pocket lining on a massive scale! Paid lobbyists sit in committee rooms and write legislation to alleviate the suffering of billionaires! Hypocrisies shine like cat turds in the moonlight! O Mark Twain, where art thou at this hour? Arise and behold the Gilded Age reincarnated gaudier than ever, upholding great wealth as the sure sign of Divine Grace.

Here in 2004, George W. Bush is running for reelection on a platform of tragedy—the single greatest failure of national defense in our history, the attacks of 9/11 in which 19 men with box cutters put this nation into a tailspin, a failure the details of which the White House fought to keep secret even as it ran the country into hock up to the hubcaps, thanks to generous tax cuts for the well-fixed, hoping to lead us into a box canyon of debt that will render government impotent, even as we engage in a war against a small country that was undertaken for the president’s personal satisfaction but sold to the American public on the basis of brazen misinformation, a war whose purpose is to distract us from an enormous transfer of wealth taking place in this country, flowing upward, and the deception is working beautifully.

The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few is the death knell of democracy. No republic in the history of humanity has survived this. The election of 2004 will say something about what happens to ours. The omens are not good.

Our beloved land has been fogged with fear—fear, the greatest political strategy ever. An ominous silence, distant sirens, a drumbeat of whispered warnings and alarms to keep the public uneasy and silence the opposition. And in a time of vague fear, you can appoint bullet-brained judges, strip the bark off the Constitution, eviscerate federal regulatory agencies, bring public education to a standstill, stupefy the press, lavish gorgeous tax breaks on the rich.

There is a stink drifting through this election year. It isn’t the Florida recount or the Supreme Court decision. No, it’s 9/11 that we keep coming back to. It wasn’t the “end of innocence,” or a turning point in our history, or a cosmic occurrence, it was an event, a lapse of security. And patriotism shouldn’t prevent people from asking hard questions of the man who was purportedly in charge of national security at the time.

Whenever I think of those New Yorkers hurrying along Park Place or getting off the No.1 Broadway local, hustling toward their office on the 90th floor, the morning paper under their arms, I think of that non-reader George W. Bush and how he hopes to exploit those people with a little economic uptick, maybe the capture of Osama, cruise to victory in November and proceed to get some serious nation-changing done in his second term.

This year, as in the past, Republicans will portray us Democrats as embittered academics, desiccated Unitarians, whacked-out hippies and communards, people who talk to telephone poles, the party of the Deadheads. They will wave enormous flags and wow over and over the footage of firemen in the wreckage of the World Trade Center and bodies being carried out and they will lie about their economic policies with astonishing enthusiasm.

The Union is what needs defending this year. Government of Enron and by Halliburton and for the Southern Baptists is not the same as what Lincoln spoke of. This gang of Pithecanthropus Republicanii has humbugged us to death on terrorism and tax cuts for the comfy and school prayer and flag burning and claimed the right to know what books we read and to dump their sewage upstream from the town and clear-cut the forests and gut the IRS and mark up the constitution on behalf of intolerance and promote the corporate takeover of the public airwaves and to hell with anybody who opposes them.

This is a great country, and it wasn’t made so by angry people. We have a sacred duty to bequeath it to our grandchildren in better shape than however we found it. We have a long way to go and we’re not getting any younger.

Dante said that the hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who in time of crisis remain neutral, so I have spoken my piece, and thank you, dear reader. It’s a beautiful world, rain or shine, and there is more to life than winning.

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Garrison Keillor is the host and writer of A Prairie Home Companion, now in its 34th year on the air and a syndicated newspaper columnist.

Emphasis Mine.

see:http://readersupportednews.org/off-site-opinion-section/72-72/7193-were-not-in-lake-wobegon-anymore

The Dangerous Reagan Cult

Exclusive: Ronald Reagan’s anti-government philosophy inspires Tea Party extremists to oppose any revenue increase, even from closing loopholes on corporate jets. Democrats try the spin that “even Reagan” showed flexibility on debt and taxes. But Robert Parry says it is the “Reagan cult” that is at the heart of America’s crisis.

From RSN, by Robert Parry

“Exclusive: Ronald Reagan’s anti-government philosophy inspires Tea Party extremists to oppose any revenue increase, even from closing loopholes on corporate jets. Democrats try the spin that “even Reagan” showed flexibility on debt and taxes. But Robert Parry says it is the “Reagan cult” that is at the heart of America’s crisis.

In the debt-ceiling debate, both Republicans and Democrats wanted Ronald Reagan on their side. Republicans embraced the 40th president’s disdain for government and fondness for tax cuts, while Democrats noted that “even Reagan” raised the debt limit many times and accepted some tax increases.

But Reagan – possibly more than any political leader – deserves the blame for the economic/political mess that the United States now finds itself in. He was the patriarch for virtually every major miscalculation that the country has made over the past three decades.

It was Reagan who slashed taxes on the rich to roughly their current level; he opened the flood gates on deficit spending; he accelerated the decline of the middle class by busting unions and slashing support for local communities; he disparaged the value of government regulations; he squandered money on the Pentagon; he pushed more militaristic strategies abroad; and he rejected any thoughtful criticism of past U.S. foreign policies.

Reagan also created what amounted to a “populist” right-wing cult that targeted the federal government as the source of nearly all evil. In his First Inaugural Address, he famously declared that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

It is that contempt for government that today is driving the Tea Party extremists in the Republican Party. Yet, as with many cults, the founder of this one was somewhat more practical in dealing with the world around him, thus explaining some of Reagan’s compromises on the debt ceiling and taxes.

But once the founder is gone, his teachings can become definitive truth to the disciples. Flexibility disappears. No deviation is permitted. No compromise is tolerated.

So, at a time when government intervention is desperately needed to address a host of national problems, members of this Reagan cult apply the teachings of the leader in the most extreme ways. Since “government is the problem,” the only answer is to remove government from the equation and let the corporations, the rich and the magical “market” dictate national solutions.

It is an ironic testament to Ronald Reagan’s enduring influence that America’s most notable “populist” movement, the Tea Party, insists that tax cuts for the wealthy must be protected, even minor ones like tax loopholes for corporate jets. Inside the Tea Party, any suggestion that billionaire hedge-fund managers should pay a tax rate equal to that of their secretaries is anathema.

Possibly never in history has a “populist” movement been as protective of the interests of the rich as the Tea Party is. But that is because it is really a political cult dedicated to the most extreme rendering of Ronald Reagan’s anti-government philosophy.

Astro-Turf ‘Populists’

Granted, the Tea Party also can be viewed as an astro-turf outfit financed by billionaires like the Koch brothers and promoted by billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch. But Election 2010 proved that the movement is capable of putting like-minded politicians into office, especially when discouraged elements of the American Left choose to sit on the sidelines.

During the debt-ceiling battle, the GOP’s Tea Party caucus showed it was strong enough to block any compromise that included a revenue increase. The thinking is that the “evil” government must be starved even if that means defending indefensible tax loopholes and shoving the world’s economy to the brink of catastrophe.

The Tea Party’s rabid enforcement of the Reagan orthodoxy instills such fear among top Republicans that every one of the eight presidential hopefuls at a recent Iowa debate vowed to reject a deal that would include just $1 of higher taxes for each $10 in spending cuts. Even supposed moderates like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman threw up their hands.

But the Reagan cult reaches far beyond the Republican Party. Last February, a Gallup poll of Americans cited Reagan as the greatest president ever, with a five percentage point lead over Abraham Lincoln.

These days, virtually no one in Washington’s political or media circles dares to engage in a serious critique of Reagan’s very checkered record as president. It’s much easier to align yourself with some position that Reagan took during his long career, much like a pastor selectively picking a Bible passage to support his theological argument.

When negative national trends are cited – such as the decline of the middle class or the widening gap between rich and poor – the self-censorship demands that Reagan’s name not be spoken. Instead, there are references to these problems deepening “over the past three decades,” without mentioning whose presidency got things going big time.

Creating an Icon

And there is a self-interested reason for this hesitancy. The Republicans and the Right have made it a high priority to transform Reagan into an icon and to punish any independent-minded political figure or journalist who resists the group think.

The first step in this process occurred in the late 1980s, with aggressive cover-ups of Reagan’s crimes of state, such as scandals over the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages affair, Contra-cocaine trafficking, and the Iraq-gate support of dictator Saddam Hussein.

Faced with furious Republican defenses of Reagan and his inner circle, most Democrats and mainstream journalists chose career discretion over valor. By the time Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, the refrain from Democrats and Washington pundits was to “leave that for the historians.”

Those who didn’t go along with the cover-ups – like Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh – were subjected to ridicule from both the right-wing and mainstream media, from both the Washington Times and the Washington Post. Journalists who challenged the implausible Reagan cover-ups also found themselves marginalized as “conspiracy theorists.”

Leading Democrats decided it made more sense to look to the future, not dwell on the past. Plus, acquiescing to the cover-ups was a way to show their bipartisanship.

However, Republicans had other ideas. Having pocketed the concessions regarding any serious investigations of Reagan and his cohorts, the Republicans soon went on the offensive by investigating the heck out of President Clinton and his administration.

Then, having stirred up serious public doubts about Clinton’s integrity, the Republicans trounced the Democrats in the 1994 congressional elections. With their new majorities, the Republicans immediately began the process of enshrining Reagan as a national icon.

By and large, the Democrats saw these gestures, like attaching Reagan’s name to National Airport, as another way to demonstrate their bipartisanship.

But Republicans knew better. They understood the strategic value of elevating Reagan’s legacy to the status of an icon. If everyone agreed that Reagan was so great, then it followed that the hated “guv-mint” must be that bad.

More Accommodations

Increasingly, Democrats found themselves arguing on Republican ground, having to apologize for any suggestion that the government could do anything good for the country. Meanwhile, the Clinton-era stock market boom convinced more Americans that the “market” must know best.

Going with that flow, President Clinton signed a Republican-sponsored bill that removed Depression-era regulations in the Glass-Steagall Act, which had separated commercial and investment banks. With the repeal, the doors were thrown open for Wall Street gambling.

In the short run, lots of money was made, encouraging more Americans to believe that the government and its “safety net” were indeed anachronisms for losers. People with any gumption could simply day-trade their way to riches.

Reagan, it seemed, was right all along: government was the problem; the “free market” was not only the solution but it could “self-regulate.”

That was the political/media environment around Election 2000 when the wonkish Vice President Al Gore ran against the brash Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who came across to many as another version of Ronald Reagan, someone who spoke simply and disdained big government.

Though Gore could point to the economic successes of the Clinton years, including a balanced federal budget and the prospect of the total elimination of the federal debt, the major media mocked him as a know-it-all nerd who wore “earth-toned sweaters.” Meanwhile, mainstream journalists swooned over Bush, the regular guy.

Still, Gore eked out a narrow victory in the national popular vote and would have carried the key state of Florida if all legally cast votes were counted. But Bush relied on his brother’s administration in Florida and his father’s friends on the U.S. Supreme Court to make sure that didn’t happen. Bush was declared the winner in Florida and thus the new president. [For details, see Neck Deep.]

In retrospect, Election 2000 was a disastrous turning point for the United States, putting into the highest office in the land an unqualified ne’er do well who had lost the election.

But this outrage against democracy was largely accepted because of the muscular right-wing machine, the on-bended-knee mainstream media and the weak-kneed Democrats – a political/media dynamic that Reagan had helped create and had left behind.

The progress that the Clinton administration had made toward putting the U.S. financial house in order was quickly undone as Bush pushed through two massive tax cuts benefiting mostly the rich and waged two open-ended wars financed with borrowed money.

Years of Reaganism also had taken its toll on the government’s regulatory structures. Reagan had consistently appointed regulators who were hostile to the very concept of regulating, such as Anne Gorsuch at the Environmental Protection Agency and James Watt at Interior. He also elevated Alan Greenspan, a “free market” admirer of Ayn Rand, to be chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

In the 1980s, the looting of America was underway in earnest, but the elites of Washington and New York saw little to protest since they were getting a cut of the plunder. The real losers were the average Americans, especially factory workers who saw their unions broken or their jobs shipped overseas under the banner of “free trade.”

Feeling Good

But many Americans were kept entranced by Reagan’s feel-good magic.

Taking office after a difficult decade of the 1970s, when America’s defeat in Vietnam and the Arab oil price hikes had shaken the nation’s confidence, Reagan simply assured everyone that things would work out just fine and that no excessive sacrifice was in order. Nor should there be any feelings of guilt, Reagan made clear.

By the late 1970s, it was widely accepted even among many Republicans that the Vietnam War had been an abomination. But Reagan simply rebranded it a “noble cause,” no reason for any serious self-reflection on America’s imperial role in the world.

Reagan then allied the United States with “death-squad” regimes all over Latin America and across the Third World. His administration treated the resulting carnage as a public-relations problem that could be managed by challenging the patriotism of critics.

At the 1984 Republican National Convention, Reagan’s United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick labeled Americans who dared criticize U.S. foreign policy as those who would “blame America first.”

To continue this sort of verbal pummeling on those who continued to get in the way, Reagan credentialed a bunch of thuggish intellectuals known as the neoconservatives.

For the rest of the country, there were happy thoughts about “the shining city on a hill” and “morning in America.”

In reality, however, Reagan had set the stage for the tragedies that would follow. When George W. Bush grabbed power in 2001, he simply extended the foreign and economic policies of the Republican cult leader: more tax cuts, more militarism, less regulation, more media manipulation.

Soon, the gap between rich and poor was widening again. Soon, the United States was at open war in two countries and involved in secret wars in many others. Soon, the nation was confronted with new scandals about torture and deception. Soon, the federal budget was flowing with red ink.

And near the end of Bush’s presidency, the de-regulated excesses of Wall Street pushed the country to the brink of a financial cataclysm. Bush supported a bail-out to save the bankers but didn’t do much for the millions of Americans who lost their jobs or their homes.

Second Thoughts?

One might have thought that the financial crack-up in 2008 (plus the massive federal deficits and the botched wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) would have confronted the Reagan cult with an existential crisis of faith. It would seem obvious that Reagan’s nostrums just didn’t work.

However, after only a brief interregnum of Barack Obama, the Republicans seem poised to restore the Reagan cult to full power in the United States. The new apparent GOP frontrunner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is already being hailed in the Washington Post as “The Texas Gipper.”

The Washington Times (yes, Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s right-wing propaganda sheet is still around) fairly cooed over Perry’s tough attacks on Obama, depicting America’s first black president as someone who apologizes for America and isn’t deserving of its soldiers in uniform.

“One of the powerful reasons for running for president of the United States is to make sure every man and woman who puts on the uniform respects highly the president of the United States,” Perry said. “We are indignant about a president who apologizes for America.”

As far as Perry is concerned, America has nothing to apologize for.

These are themes right out of Ronald Reagan’s playbook. And it appears likely that Election 2012 will be fought over terrain defined by Reagan, even though he left office in 1989 and died in 2004.

It is already clear that President Obama will be on the defensive, trying to justify a role for the federal government in America and explaining why the Reaganesque policy of low taxes on the rich must finally be reversed. Obama also is certain to shy away from any serious examination of how U.S. foreign policy went so wrong, so as not to be labeled “apologist-in-chief.”

Rick Perry or whatever other Republican gets the party’s nomination will hold the high ground of Reagan’s lofty standing among the American people. The GOP nominee can continue blaming “guv-mint” for the nation’s problems and promising another “morning in America” if only the nation further reduces the size of “guv-mint.”

With Democrats also trying to associate themselves with the “greatest president ever,” it appears doubtful that any serious effort will be made to explain to the American people that the charming Reagan was the pied piper who led them to their current demise.”

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a two-book set for the discount price of only $19. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book,Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

emphasis mine

Why the Mainstream Media Are Clueless About the Religious Right

Though it has shaped American politics for the last 40 years, the religious right still baffles reporters.

N.B.: Keep Separation of religion and government.

From AlterNet, by Adele M. Stan

“Every four years, just as a presidential campaign kicks up, legions of media types who make their living outside the right-wing echo chamber emerge as a militia of Margaret Meads, descending on flyover country, trying to make sense of that exotic phenomenon, the religious right. In the end, those who actually get it are few.
From the attitudes shown by media toward the religious right, you’d never know that more than one-quarter of the U.S. population identify as evangelicals, according to a 2007 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and among white self-identified evangelicals, 62 percent told Pew in 2006 that they believe the Bible to be the literal word of God.

These, by and large, are the people who determine the outcome of the Republican presidential primary, thanks to the early stacking of states heavily populated by evangelicals, and the propensity of most evangelicals to align with the Republican Party. And yet, we who cover these races often know very little about the voters whose person-on-the-street interviews they’re recording, except to know that these people are very different from us in their view of the world. So as everyday doctrines come to light in one or another campaign incident, the media either find themselves aghast at the implications, or simply choose to ignore them.

Surprise

Take, for instance, Rep. Michele Bachmann‘s profession of the doctrine of “wifely submission.” When a 2006 video of Bachmann surfaced showing her at a church gathering professing her submission to her husband, media types grew quite excited. At the Fox News debate in Ames, Iowa, last week, Washington Examiner columnist Byron York asked Bachmann, “As president, would you be submissive to your husband?” Before Bachmann could speak, York’s question was met with a round of boos and hisses from the audience, whose members likely heard in his question a challenge to one of their fundamental doctrines. (Bachmann, aware that she was playing to a national television audience, dodged the question, saying that she and her husband respected each other.)

The doctrine of wifely submission is common to a number of evangelical faiths, espoused by faithful who range from dour fundamentalists who forbid dancing to writhing, tongues-speaking Pentecostals. The largest among these denominations is the Southern Baptist Convention, the second largest religious body in the United States. York was certainly entitled to his question, and the people of the United States were entitled to a better reply than that which Bachmann gave them. But what we in the media are not entitled to is any sense of shock that a conservative Christian such as Bachmann believes such things. Such surprise simply means we haven’t been paying attention.

Denial

When media types aren’t expressing surprise at the everyday beliefs of the ordinary Americans who comprise the Republican primary electorate, they often turn to denial. Take the curious case of Rep. Ron Paul, Texas, who came within 200 votes of Michele Bachmann’s first-place finish in the Ames, Iowa, straw poll. Paul’s perennial, quixotic presidential campaign (the 2012 contest marks his third run for the nomination) has clearly had a profound impact on the ideology expressed by all of the GOP presidential candidates, but Paul, even after winning the presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference for a second year in a row, is just another Rodney Dangerfield to the media. The man just can’t get no respect.

Yet, in consistently putting forward themes derived directly and indirectly from the doctrines of Christian Reconstructionists and the John Birch Society, Paul has made it safe for Texas Gov. Rick Perry to name as “treason” the printing of money by Fed, for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to spout off about states’ rights and the 10th amendment, and for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum to espouse a no-exceptions anti-abortion position.

While mainstream media dismiss Paul as a quirky, secular libertarian, progressive reporters sometimes express a certain affection for Paul because of his anti-war stance. But Paul’s anti-war position stems from his far-right isolationist views, as expressed in such documents as the Institutes of Biblical Law, by Christian Reconstructionist founder Rousas John Rushdoony, and the platform of the Constitution Party, which, despite its secular-sounding name, seeks to implement “God’s law” in the United States. (Constitution Party founder Howard Phillips is a follower of the late Rushdoony.)

Paul’s 2008 shadow convention to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis featured Phillips and John Birch Society President John McManusas speakers, and Paul is part Phillips’ coalition against the non-existent North American Union (one of the far right’s favorite conspiracy theories).

The fact is, if you lift up the covers on Ron Paul’s beliefs and associates, it’s all a bit creepy. Paul’s ideology and apparent theological links to Reconstructionism represent nothing new in American politics; the ideology can be traced back to the backers of 1964 campaign of Barry Goldwater. But you’d never know that from reading the mainstream media.

The mainstream media — and to an extent, the progressive media, as well — are made up of elites, people who went to good schools, most of them raised on either the east or west coasts. To these elites, the thought of someone espousing the sort of frightening beliefs that Paul embodies having a serious impact on American politics is just too much to bear, so denial becomes the default position. It’s not conscious — not a deliberate attempt to cover something up, just something too weird and awful to be true, so the notion is simply dismissed. Yet if you look at Paul’s positions and look at how successive GOP fields have moved closer to them (with the exception of the anti-war stance) over the last three election cycles, his impact is clear.

And the notion that regular Americans would buy into an ideology that seeks to implement biblical law as the law of the land really shouldn’t come as a surprise to reporters. The Pew 2006 survey found that nearly one-third of Americans said they felt the law of the Bible should outweigh citizen preferences in the formation of civil law.

Differences Blurred

To mainstream reporters, Rick Perry’s big prayer rally in Houston earlier this month looked like just another religious-right gathering. To their eyes, what made it unusual was that a sitting governor had used his official gubernatorial letterhead and Web site to promote it.

The greater departure, however, was the way in which the gathering represented a coming together of the New Apostolic Reformation, a far-right charismatic movement that seeks to defeat what its followers believe to be real-life demons located in certain geographical areas with the old-line organizations of the religious right, such as the American Family Association. Even James Dobson, the Focus on the Family founder who rarely makes public appearances anymore, appeared on Perry’s stage, lending credence and political power to the demon-chasers. (If mainstream reporters view the doctrine of wifely submission with incredulity and surprise, the NAR doctrine, as described for AlterNet by Rachel Tabachnik, could cause apoplexy.)

In the New York Times‘ coverage of the rally, the name, New Apostolic Reformation, never appeared, even though one of the movement’s more controversial organizations, the International House of Prayer, was among the event’s organizers. (Although IHOP was named as an organizer by reporter Manny Fernandez, nothing about its place in the NAR was mentioned in the article. To his credit, though, Fernandez did note that the American Family Association has been named an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.) But this enlargement of the religious-right coalition to include elements once deemed “fringe” even by fellow evangelicals is a major story, especially given the 50-state, cell-based “prayer networks” that are part of the NAR infrastructure.

Meanwhile, at the Washington Post, Jacques Berlinerblau, writing in the paper’s “On Faith” section, tsk-tsk’d Perry for talking about Jesus too much, reading too much scripture and generally being unecumenical.

“If he intends on using the religion card effectively beyond the Iowa and South Carolina caucuses and primaries,” wrote Berlinerblau, “Governor Perry will have to come up with something more inclusive than this.”

Yes, but first he has to win the nomination — and that will require the votes of millions of Americans who believe that biblical law should supplant the will of the people, and who think the Bible is the literal truth. Right now, they’re the ones who matter. And no reporter should be surprised by that.

As a nation, we’ve been headed down this path for more than 40 years. As the economic fortunes of the U.S. turn downward, we should expect the attraction of right-wing religion, especially its more charismatic and viscerally-felt forms, to expand. Anyone who doesn’t just hasn’t been paying attention.”

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet’s Washington bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter:www.twitter.com/addiestan

emphasis mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/story/152053/why_the_mainstream_media_are_clueless_about_the_religious_right?akid=7419.123424.qJ7Z66&rd=1&t=5

How the Political Right Bullied the US Government Into Ignoring the Threat of Right-Wing Extremism

After right-wingers freaked out about a report detailing the rise in right-wing extremism, Homeland Security effectively dismantled a unit tasked with tracking it.

From AlterNet, by Rania Khalek

“In the wake of the terrorist attack in Norway by right-wing Christian extremist Anders Breivik, conservative media pundits rushed to vilify anyone who brought up the underlying far-right ideology that fueled Breivik’s violence.

The uproar that follows any suggestion that right-wing extremism is on the rise works to silence the conversation about the danger of right-wing militancy. According to disturbing revelations by a former Homeland Security Intelligence Analyst, the consequences of this dynamic extend to the highest branches of the US government.

For six years, Darryl Johnson headed a Department of Homeland Security team tracking domestic extremist groups. Now Johnson, who is no longer with DHS, says that conservative furor over the report’s findings pressured Homeland Security to abandon reporting on and monitoring the rising threat of right-wing extremism for the past two years.

In April 2009, DHS issued an intelligence assessment, co-authored by Johnson, titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” The document was one of many threat assessments shared between DHS and state and local law enforcement agencies to keep them apprised of potential and looming threats, and warned of a surge in right-wing extremism due to the election of the country’s first black president and the economic recession.

Although the report was intended only for distribution to law enforcement agencies, it was immediately leaked to the media causing a political firestorm among conservativepundits, who wrongly suggested that it labeled all conservatives as potential terrorists.

DHS initially defended the report, but within days caved to political pressure and practically disowned it, with Secretary Napolitano apologizing to the American Legion for the report’s mention of military veterans. But DHS did more than just publicly buckle under the political weight of conservative critics. According to Johnson, the department effectively dismantled his intelligence team following the right’s uproar.

In an in-depth interview published in the Southern Poverty Law Center’sIntelligence Report, Johnson reveals the level of sway the political right had in thwarting intelligence work on right-wing extremism. He says DHS deliberately mischaracterized the report as unauthorized, even though it had passed through proper channels and instituted restrictive policies that brought the important work of his unit to a virtual standstill. As a result, Johnson left DHS in dismay and was followed by almost all the members of his team, leaving a single analyst where there had been six. In comparison, there are at least 25 analysts devoted to tracking Islamic terrorism.

When questioned about Johnson’s claims — which have been confirmed by current and former department officials in the Washington Post – DHS officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have repeatedly disputed his account and insist that the level of activity by right-wing extremist groups has remained consistent over the past few years. In addition, they claim the perception of increased extremist activity may be due to increased awareness of the threat by the government and the public. But the numbers beg to differ.

Right Wing Extremism on the Rise

Johnson’s report was consistent with data from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which finds that hate groups topped 1,000 for the first time since SPLC began counting such groups in the 1980s. The most dramatic growth was seen in antigovernment “Patriot” groups — militias and other extremist organizations that see the federal government as their enemy — which came roaring back to life over the past year after more than a decade out of the limelight. SPLC’s Intelligence Project identified 824 anti-government “Patriot” groups that were active in 2010, up from just 149 in 2008.

According to Mark Potok, director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project, these groups are driven by resentment over changing racial demographics, which he describes as, “The idea that the country is becoming less white every day and in fact the prediction by the census bureau that whites will lose their majority about the year 2050 in the United States is very important. Virtually every white supremacist in America knows that date.” Other drivers include frustration over the economy, and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and propaganda aimed at various minorities.

Potok told AlterNet that events following the 2009 DHS report have proved it to be prescient. 

In May 2009, just one month after the report’s release, an anti-abortion zealot murdered Dr. George Tiller in Kansas. In June 2009, neo-Nazi James von Brunn murdered a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. In March 2010, nine members of a Michigan militia were charged with seditious conspiracy and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction in connection with an alleged plot to murder police officers.

On May 20, 2010, two West Memphis Arkansas police officers were shot to death during a routine traffic stop by a father-son duo of “sovereign citizens,” a group of US residents who believe the government has no authority over them. West Memphis Police Chief Bob Paudert, whose son was one of the officers killed, told me that prior to the loss of his son, he had never heard of sovereign citizens, nor had any other law enforcement officials he spoke to about the matter. After some digging and research he discovered that his son’s murder was not an isolated incident, and in fact sovereign citizens were responsible fordozens of police officer deaths around the country.

Paudert was particularly surprised to learn that the Sovereign movement is estimated at 300,000 people strong and growing, which is why he was disappointed in the federal government’s failure to alert state and local law enforcement that such a threat existed. Paudert says he is absolutely positive that had they been alerted and trained to recognize sovereign citizens, “my son would still be alive today.”

Conservatives Throw a Temper Tantrum

The loudest outcry came from the right-wing shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh, who claimed that Janet Napolitano and Barack Obama were “portraying standard, ordinary, everyday conservatives as posing a bigger threat to this country than al-Qaeda terrorists or genuine enemies of this country like Kim Jong-Il.”  Sean Hannity warned his Fox News viewers that “if you have a pro-life bumper sticker on your car, if you have an ‘America is overtaxed’ bumper sticker, if you have a pro-Second Amendment bumper sticker, they’re viewing you potentially as a radical.”

In possibly the most deranged interpretation, conservative blogger Michelle Malkin wrote that the report was a “hit job on conservatives” and “one of the most embarrassingly shoddy pieces of propaganda I’d ever read out of DHS. I couldn’t believe it was real….the piece of crap report issued on April 7 is a sweeping indictment of conservatives.”

In a sad sort of irony, Johnson told SPLC that the conservative media personalities who misinterpreted and attacked his report “would have been shocked to know that I personify conservatism. I’m an Eagle Scout. I’m a registered Republican. I’m Mormon. In fact, I was helping the Boy Scouts with a fundraiser when I heard the report being attacked on the news.”

Outrage over the report’s findings quickly spread to Congress, where several conservative lawmakers demanded the ouster of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. Among them was Rep. John Carter, R-Tex., who remarked, “We shouldn’t even give her the respect of letting her resign. She should be fired by the administration for accusing honest, American citizens — because of their political beliefs — of being domestic terrorists.”

The self-described conservative and Christian non-profit Thomas More Law Center went even further and filed a lawsuit against Secretary Napolitano on behalf a Michigan-based anti-abortion group, claiming the DHS report was all part of a conspiracy between the Obama administration and liberal groups to violate their constitutional rights.

The section of the report that stirred the most controversy referred to “disgruntled military veterans” and cautioned that “rightwing extremists would attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans to boost their violent capabilities.”

This did not sit well with David Rehbein, the commander of the veterans’ organization American Legion, who wrote in a letter to Secretary Napolitano, “To continue to use McVeigh as an example of the stereotypical disgruntled military veteran is as unfair as using Osama bin Laden as the sole example of Islam.” Had Rehbein actually read the full report he would have discovered that this specific concern was based on factual data collected by the FBI.

The DHS assessment cited a July 2008 report by the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division under the Bush administration, titled “White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel since 9/11.” Based on its findings the 2008 FBI report observed that “some returning military veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have joined extremist groups,” and that “military experience is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement as the result of recruitment campaigns by extremist groups and self-recruitment by veterans sympathetic to white supremacist causes.” Furthermore, based on analysis of FBI case files from October 2001 to May 2008, the report identified 203 military personnel or veterans who were active members in white supremacist organizations during that period.

It’s not surprising that conservatives threw a fit. What’s disturbing is that these conservative complaints prompted DHS to withdraw the report.

Pretending the Threat Doesn’t Exist

I spoke with Johnson, who has been following right-wing extremism in a professional capacity since the early ‘90s. Upon the Democratic nomination for president of then Senator Obama, Johnson says that based on his experience and expertise, he immediately recognized that “this would be a huge recruiting tool for groups like white supremacists, militia extremists, sovereign citizen extremists, those extremists groups that are on the fringes of the right of the political spectrum, which we refer to as right-wing extremists in the counterterrorism community.”

When it was clear that Barack Obama would win, Johnson became worried about the “potential radicalization factor” that would ensue following the election of America’s first black president. “It would agitate people to go beyond their mainstream and law-abiding protest activity to more criminal activity and violence because people would see that these ‘enemies’ so to speak, these minorities in America are actually integrated in society and they’re actually fulfilling the American dream.”

All of this prompted the drafting of the report in the early months of the Obama administration.

He chose to go public because “the conditions that existed back in 2008 and 2009 when we drafted this document still persist today….the climate in this country from a political standpoint and economic standpoint has not changed. The economy is still sluggish, unemployment’s still flirting with 10 percent, and there’s this anti-government sentiment and agitation out there in this country. That’s one thing that concerns me is that we’ve had two years now where these people have been boiling in this environment that could possibly agitate somebody to carry out a violent act.” 

Mark Potok told AlterNet that DHS’s handling of the report’s criticism was “nothing more than an act of political cowardice,” but it doesn’t change the report’s disturbing accuracy.

The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps a detailed and unsettling list of major terrorist plots and racist rampages that have emerged from the American radical right in the years since Oklahoma City, a pattern Potok says continues to this day. That prompted SPLC’s president, J. Richard Cohen, to send a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano two months ago, urging her to reassess the level of resources that DHS is devoting to the threat of non-Islamic domestic terrorism.

The letter highlights several recent examples of thwarted attacks, one of which occurred this past January, when a neo-Nazi activist was arrested for planting a bomb along an MLK Day parade route in Spokane, Washington. That same month, another neo-Nazi was arrested on his way to the Arizona-Mexico border and later charged with possessing explosive devices packed with ball bearings – to “maximize human carnage,” as a federal prosecutor put it. In March, authorities arrested five members of a militia in Alaska and charged them with plotting to murder or kidnap police officers and judges if their leader, who was then fleeing prosecution on weapons charges, were arrested or killed. Unfortunately, Secretary Napolitano has yet to respond to SPLC’s letter.

That the right’s outrage over the report managed to influence the Department of Homeland Security should raise alarm bells for anyone who is concerned about homegrown extremism. It’s frightening that the US government bowed to political pressure. The atrocity that took place in Norway is a reminder of the brutality that ideological extremists are capable of dishing out.

According to Johnson, Anders Breivik “was under the radar, he acquired relatively unsophisticated weaponry and was able to go and target people that he opposed because of his ideology and beliefs and was able to kill close to 80 people, and it was done effortlessly. He didn’t go to some place in Pakistan and learn how to build a bomb.  He learned how to do this on the Internet, and he was able to acquire these materials legally. And I know for a fact that that is going on here in this country, people are stockpiling weaponry.”

Potok believes the right’s ability to silence the conversation about right-wing extremism will have fatal consequences, warning, “The danger of pretending this movement doesn’t exist is that it will grow more and more deeply entrenched in our society and more dangerous. There’s an immediate criminal danger. Timothy McVeigh murdered 168 men women and children in 15 seconds. It absolutely could happen again. It hasn’t because we are lucky and because law enforcement has done a fine job overall.”

Similarly, Daryl Johnson fears that, “These incidents are starting to add up. Yet our legislators, politicians and national leaders don’t appear too concerned about this. So my greatest fear is that domestic terrorists in this country will somehow become emboldened to the point of carrying out a mass-casualty attack, because they perceive that no one is being vigilant about the threat from within. This is what keeps me up at night.”

Rania Khalek is a progressive activist. Check out her blog Missing Pieces or follow her on Twitter @Rania_ak. You can contact her at raniakhalek@gmail.com.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/152033/how_the_political_right_bullied_the_us_government_into_ignoring_the_threat_of_right-wing_extremism?akid=7406.123424.6GLo_-&rd=1&t=5

Michele Bachmann Was Inspired By My Dad and His Christian Reconstructionist Friends — Here’s Why That’s Terrifying

By Frank Schaeffer, AlterNet
Posted on August 9, 2011,
see:http://www.alternet.org/story/151960/michele_bachmann_was_inspired_by_my_dad_and_his_christian_reconstructionist_friends_–_here%27s_why_that%27s_terrifying

As presidential candidate Michele Bachmann chews up scenery in the GOP primaries, the mainstream media is finally digging into her extremist beliefs in a serious way. In a profile published earlier this week, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza talked about Bachmann’s radical right-wing influences, which include the most extremist figures in the history of the religious right movement.

One of these was my evangelical leader father, Francis Schaeffer. Bachmann says in the New Yorker article that she got into politics because she watched a film series I directed called “How Should We Then Live,” written by and featuring my dad.

What the New Yorker article doesn’t do is explain why people like Bachmann, Sarah Palin, et al. turned to the hard reactionary anti-government right. I explain this in my book Sex, Mom and God. I think it’s important to understand this. So let me add what the New Yorker left out.

The Back Story

In 1983 I was the leader of a group of protesters who screamed abuse at Justice Harry Blackmun and made him beat a hasty retreat back into a college building at the University of Nebraska after he’d just been awarded an honorary degree. In the early 1980s my daughter Jessica and I—she was 12—drove into Boston several times to picket abortion clinics, including one where a few years later (in 1994) two people were shot dead and five were seriously wounded by “pro-life” activist John Salvi.

Dad agreed to lead several antiabortion demonstrations, too. He said, “We’re telling everyone else to get out there and picket, and some of our people are getting arrested, so we can’t say no to doing what we’re telling others to do.”

That was then. Today I’m on the “other side.”

America has a problem: It’s filled with people who take the Bible seriously. America has a blessing: It’s filled with people who take the Bible seriously. How does this blessing coexist with the curse derived from the same source: the Bible? The answer is that the Bible is a curse or a blessing depending on who is doing the interpreting. Sometimes belief in the Bible leads to building a hospital. Sometimes it leads to justifying perpetual war and empire building. Same book—different interpretation.

If the history of Christianity proves one thing, it’s that you can make the Bible “say” anything. When you hear words like “We want to take back America for God!” the 21st-century expression of such theocratic ideas can be traced back to some of my old friends: the Reconstructionists.

Most Americans have never heard of the Reconstructionists. But they have felt their impact through the Reconstructionists’ profound (if indirect) influence over the wider (and vast) evangelical community.

Take Michele Bachmann. She is a Reconstructionist schooled – literally – by some of that obscure movement’s leading thinkers, including my father.

The evangelicals have shaped the politics of a secular culture that barely understood the religious right, let alone the forces within that movement that gave it its edge. The Americans inhabiting the wider (and more secular) culture just saw the results of Reconstructionism without understanding where those results had come from—for instance, how the hell George W. Bush got elected and then reelected or why Michele Bachmann was into home schooling long before she was into trying to become president in order to turn America into a homophobic theocracy.

Victimhood

If you feel victimized by modernity, then the Reconstructionists have the answer in their version of biblical interpretation. Reconstructionists want to replace the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights with their interpretation of the Bible.

The Reconstructionist worldview is ultra-Calvinist but, like all Calvinism has its origins in ancient Israel/Palestine, when vengeful and ignorant tribal lore was written down by frightened men (the nastier authors of the Bible) trying to defend their prerogatives to bully women, murder rival tribes, and steal land. (These justifications may have reflected later thinking: origin myths used as propaganda to justify political and military actions after the fact, such as the brutality the Hebrews said God made them inflict on others and/or their position as the Chosen People.)

In its modern American incarnation, which hardened into a 20th-century movement in the 1960s and became widespread in the 1970s, Reconstructionism was propagated by people like my father and others I knew and worked with closely when I, too, was both a Jesus Victim and a Jesus Predator claiming God’s special favor.

The Leaders

The leaders of the Reconstructionist movement included the late Rousas Rushdoony (Calvinist theologian, father of modern-era Christian Reconstructionism, patron saint to gold-hoarding haters of the Federal Reserve, haters of the US Government and creator of the modern evangelical home school movement), his son-in-law Gary North (an economist and publisher), and David Chilton (Calvinist pastor and author).

No, the Reconstructionists are not about to take over America, the world, or even most American evangelical institutions. Bachmann – for instance – will likely never be president. But their influence has not abated, however a la Tea Party.

The Reconstructionists have been like a drop of radicalizing flavoring added to a bottle of water: They’ve subtly changed the water’s flavor. And even though most evangelicals, let alone the general public, don’t know the names of the leading Reconstructionist thinkers, the world we live in—where a radicalized, angry government-hating religious right has changed the face of American politics and spun off into movements such as the Tea Party—is a direct result of that “flavoring.”

Anyone who wants to understand American politics, not to mention North American religion, had better get acquainted with the Reconstructionists. For instance these folks just held America hostage in the debt crisis, an attempt to – literally – destroy the government’s ability to function at all a manufactured “crisis” in which Bachmann was a leading proponent of scorched-earth, destroy the system “politics.”

Reconstructionism, also called Theonomism, seeks to reconstruct “our fallen society.” Its worldview is best represented by the publications of the Chalcedon Foundation (which has been classified as an antigay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center).

Kill the Gays

According to the Chalcedon Foundation Web site, the mission of the movement is to apply “the whole Word of God” to all aspects of human life: “It is not only our duty as individuals, families and churches to be Christian, but it is also the duty of the state, the school, the arts and sciences, law, economics, and every other sphere to be under Christ the King. Nothing is exempt from His dominion. We must live by His Word, not our own.”

Until Rushdoony, founder and late president of the Chalcedon Foundation, began writing in the 1960s, most American fundamentalists (including my parents) didn’t try to apply biblical laws about capital punishment for homosexuality to the United States. Even the most conservative evangelicals said they were “New Testament Christians.” In other words, they believed that after the coming of Jesus, the harsher bits of the Bible had been (at least to some extent) transformed by the “New Covenant” of Jesus’ “Law of Love.”

By contrast, the leaders of Reconstructionism believed that Old Testament teachings—on everything from capital punishment for gays to the virtues of child-beating—were still valid because they were the inerrant Word and Will of God and therefore should be enforced. Not only that, they said that biblical law should be imposed even on nonbelievers. This theology was the American version of the attempt in some Muslim countries to impose Shariah (Islamic law) on all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

It was my old friend, the short, stocky, bearded Armenian American Rousas Rushdoony who in 1973 most thoroughly laid out the far right/religious right agenda in his book The Institutes of Biblical Law. Rushdoony changed the definition of salvation from the accepted evangelical idea that it applies to individuals to the claim that salvation is really about politics. With this redefinition, Rushdoony contradicted the usual reading of Jesus’ words by most Christians to mean that Jesus had not come to this earth to be a political leader: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

According to Rushdoony, all nations on earth should be obedient to the ancient Jewish/Christian version of “God’s Law,” so that the world will experience “God’s blessings.” Biblical salvation will then turn back the consequences of the Fall, and we’ll be on our way to the New Eden. To achieve this “turning back,” coercion must be used by the faithful to stop evildoers, who are, by definition, anyone not obeying all of God’s Laws as defined by the Calvinist and Reconstructionist interpretation of the Bible.

Once Christians are in charge, according to Gary North, rather than turning the other cheek to our enemy, we “should either bust him in the chops or haul him before the magistrate, and possibly both.” North adds, “It is only in a period of civil impotence that Christians are under the rule to ‘resist not evil.’”

How far would the Reconstructionists go? North, writes, “The question eventually must be raised: Is it a criminal offence to take the name of the Lord in vain? When people curse their parents, it unquestionably is a capital crime (Exodus. 21:17). The son or daughter is under the lawful jurisdiction of the family. The integrity of the family must be maintained by the threat of death. Clearly, cursing God (blasphemy) is a comparable crime, and is therefore a capital crime (Leviticus. 24:16).”

How might a Reconstructionist version of the Sermon on the Mount read, inclusive of Reconstructionist “inside” theological/political code words like “Law-Word”? Maybe something like this:

Blessed are those who exercise dominion over the earth: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who deport the immigrants: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who agree that the significance of Jesus Christ as the ‘faithful and true witness’ is that He not only witnesses against those who are at war against God, but He also executes them: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who subdue all things and all nations to Christ and His Law-Word: for they shall be filled. Blessed are those who say that those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God must be denied citizenship: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the Calvinist Christians who are the only lawful heirs to the Kingdom: for they shall see God. Blessed are those who know that turning the other cheek is a temporary bribe paid to evil secular rulers: for they shall be called sons of God if they bust their enemies in the chops. Blessed are those who have taken an eye for an eye: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are ye when ye know that the battle for My sake is between the Christian Reconstruction Movement and everyone else. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven. For so we are to make Bible-obeying disciples of anybody who gets in our way, and kill those who resist.

The Movement to ‘Take Back America For God’

I remember first meeting Rushdoony at his home in Vallecito, California, in the late 1970s. (That was where I also met Gary North for the first time.) I was accompanied by Jim Buchfuehrer, who had produced the antiabortion documentary series of films with me that featured my father and Dr. C. Everett Koop. (Koop would become Ronald Reagan’s surgeon general.)

The movie series and book project later got Michele Bachamnn to become an ardent clinic picketer. Whatever Happened to the Human Race? was Koop’s and my brainchild. He had seen my dad’s and my first film series—How Should We Then Live? (the series I directed and that Bachmann says got her into politics and that the New Yorker article describes in detail) —and Koop wanted to team up to expand on the last episodes, in which Dad had denounced the “imperial court” for “stripping the unborn” of their right to life.

The impact of the two film series, as well as their companion books, was to give the evangelical community a frame of reference through which to understand the “secularization of American culture” and to point to the “human life issue” as the watershed between a “Christian society” and a utilitarian, relativistic “post-Christian” future. This has become Bachmann’s agenda, and also the agenda of Fox News as they blast her views over America.

By the time the films had been viewed by millions of American evangelicals, Dad had become the leader of those evangelicals who took a “stand” on the “life issues.” And the films made the Reconstructionists believe that perhaps in Francis Schaeffer and his up-and-coming son they might have found new allies. So I began to get messages that Rushdoony urgently wanted to meet me.

Hating America to ‘Save’ It

When we talked, Rushdoony talked about “secular America” as if it were an enemy state, not our country. He talked about how “we” should all use cash, never credit cards, since cards would make it “easy for the government to track us.” Rushdoony spoke passionately about the virtues of gold, how very soon the conflict between the Soviet Union and America would lead to war. Rushdoony also noted that Vallecito was “well located to survive the next war” given “the prevailing wind directions” and its water supply.

The message of Rushdoony’s work is best summed up in one of his innumerable Chalcedon Foundation position papers, “The Increase of His Government and Peace.” He writes, “The ultimate and absolute government of all things shall belong to Christ.” In his book Thy Kingdom Come—using words that are similar to those the leaders of al Qaida would use decades later in reference to “true Islam”—Rushdoony argues that democracy and Christianity are incompatible: “Democracy is the great love of the failures and cowards of life,” he writes. “One [biblical] faith, one law and one standard of justice did not mean democracy. The heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state.Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies.”

The impact of Reconstructionism (often under other names) has grown even though Rushdoony has largely been forgotten even in evangelical circles, let alone the wider world. He made the evangelical world more susceptible to being politicized—and manipulated by some very smart people like Bachmann.

Religious leaders like Jerry Falwell who once had nothing to do with politics per se were influenced by the Reconstructionists. That in turn moved the whole evangelical movement to the right and then into the political arena, where it became “normal” for evangelical leaders to jump head first into politics with little-to-no regard for the separation of church and state.

Extremists For Jesus

Without the work of the Reconstructionists, the next generation of religious activists (trying to use the courts, politics, and/or civil disobedience to impose their narrow theology on the majority of Americans) may have been relegated to some lonely street corner where they could gather to howl at the moon. Instead, the 21st century’s theocrats (though they’d never so identify themselves) enjoyed the backing of Fox News, were tolerated at places like Princeton University, and could be found running many evangelical organizations. And now in Bachmann they have their champion: a full fledged Reconstructionist radical.

From Puritans To Government Haters

The Puritans’ theology of government was formed in the context of an embrace of all Christians’ duty to demand the “public good.” This was exemplified by such unquestioned well-established concepts as the “king’s highway,” a common road system protected by the crown (government) and a common law that applied to all. One’s common duty to others was accepted as the essential message of Christian civilization. Public spaces were defended by government in the early New England settlements, just as they had been in England.

What’s so curious is that in this religion-inflicted country of ours, the same evangelicals, conservative Roman Catholics, and others like George and Bachmann who had been running around post-Roe insisting that America had a “Christian foundation” and demanding a “return to our heritage” and/or more recently trashing health care reform as “communist” ignored the fact that one great contribution of Christianity was a commitment to strong central government. For instance, this included church support for state-funded, or state-church-funded, charities, including hospitals, as early as the fourth century.

Government was seen as part of God’s plan for creating social justice and defending the common good. Christians were once culture-forming and culture-embracing people. Even the humanism preached by the supposedly “anti-Christian” Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century was, in fact, a Deist/Christian “heresy,” with a value system espousing human dignity borrowed wholesale from the Sermon on the Mount.

In the scorched-earth post-Roe era of the “health care reform debates” of 2009 and beyond, evangelicals seemed to believe that Jesus commanded that all hospitals (and everything else) should be run by corporations for profit, just because corporations weren’t the evil government. The right even decided that it was “normal” for the state to hand over its age-old public and patriotic duties to private companies—even for military operations (“contractors”), prisons, health care, public transport, and all the rest.

The religious right/far right et al. favored private “facts,” too. They claimed that global warming wasn’t real. They asserted this because scientists (those same agents of Satan who insisted that evolution was real) were the ones who said human actions were changing the climate. Worse, the government said so, too!

“Global warming is a left-wing plot to take away our freedom!”

“Amtrak must make a profit!”

Even the word “infrastructure” lost its respectability when government had a hand in maintaining roads, bridges and trains.

In denial of the West’s civic-minded, government-supporting heritage, evangelicals (and the rest of the right) wound up defending private oil companies but not God’s creation, private cars instead of public transport, private insurance conglomerates rather than government care of individuals. The price for the religious right’s wholesale idolatry of private everything was that Christ’s reputation was tied to a cynical political party “owned” by billionaires. It only remained for a far right Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court to rule in 2010 that unlimited corporate money could pour into political campaigns—anonymously—in a way that clearly favored corporate America and the superwealthy, who were now the only entities served by the Republican Party.

The evangelical rubes who are Bachmann’s foot soldiers never realized that the logic of their “stand” against government had played into the hands of people who never cared about human lives beyond the fact that people could be sold products. By the 21st century, Ma and Pa No-name were still out in the rain holding an “Abortion is Murder!” sign in Peoria and/or standing in line all night in some godforsaken mall in Kansas City to buy a book by Sarah Palin and have it signed. But it was the denizens of the corner offices at Goldman Sachs, the News Corporation, Exxon, and Halliburton who were laughing.

Frank Schaeffer is the author of “Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back.”

© 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/151960/

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