Monday, March 25, 2013
I’m an “Antigovernment Extremist”!
We were astonished recently to discover that an organization of which we happen to be a member is on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of "antigovernment Patriot groups," and that the SPLC has asked the government to devote more resources to meeting the threat posed by ourselves. The "Patriot group" in question is the Wellsboro (PA) chapter of the Constitution Party.
I suppose that we should be flattered by the attention. On a good evening we might have a turnout of a half a dozen or so. We recently held a meeting at a local donut shop where we hatched antigovernment plots while we feasted on the house specialty. (It's amazing what a sugar high will do for one's patriotic fervor!) But the fact of the matter is that the SPLC's list is an outrageous attempt to smear a group of peaceful, law-abiding citizens exercising their right of free assembly.
The SPLC's website describes "Patriot groups" as groups that "define themselves as opposed to the 'New World Order,' engage in groundless conspiracy theorizing, or advocate or adhere to extreme antigovernment doctrines." In a letter that the SPLC sent to Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, SPLC President J. Richard Cohen stated that "In the last four years, we have seen a tremendous increase in the number of conspiracy-minded, antigovernment groups." He claims that the number of such groups grew from 149 in 2008 to 1,360 in 2012. Mr. Cohen warned of "the rage that is building in certain quarters," and stated that "the country has seen an increase in right wing domestic terrorism as the number of hate and antigovernment groups has increased in recent years." He urged Mr. Holder and Ms. Napolitano to "establish an interagency task force to assess the adequacy of the resources devoted to responding to the growing threat of non-Islamic domestic terrorism."
It appears that Mr. Cohen is something of a conspiracy theorist himself. The SPLC has not yet posted its 2012 list of "antigovernment Patriot" groups, but its 2011 list is on its website. It contains the names of 1,274 organizations. Noticeably absent from the list are any radical left-wing groups. Presumably the Tea Party is a threat to civilization, but Occupy Wall Street, Moveon.org and ACORN are not. Does this betray a political agenda on the part of the SPLC?
But what about the "tremendous increase" in the number of "conspiracy-minded, antigovernment" groups? On closer inspection it turns out that of the 1,274 groups listed, 174 of them, or 13.7% of the total, are local chapters of the Constitution Party, including our little cabal in Wellsboro. Multiple local affiliates of other organizations are on the list as well. When considered as nationally organized groups, the number shrinks considerably. Moreover, Mr. Cohen claims that there were only 149 such groups in 2008. Yet the Constitution Party has been around far longer than that. It appears that the "tremendous increase" is more the result of the SPLC's statistical gathering techniques than any real change in the political landscape.
But is the Constitution Party really a "conspiracy-minded, antigovernment" group that defines itself as "opposed to the 'New World Order,' engages in groundless conspiracy theorizing, or advocates extreme antigovernment doctrines"? We might begin by asking, what is a "New World Order"? If we called it "globalization" instead, would it make a difference? Is it only right-wing "antigovernment" groups that are alarmed by the reach and scope of multinational corporations, and the wealthy elite that controls them? Is the world being taken over by Bilderbergers? What about the "1%"?
And what constitutes "an extreme antigovernment doctrine"? We in the Constitution Party simply believe that the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted in the sense originally intended by its framers. It is a little hard to see how one could be considered "antigovernment" by being patriotic and upholding the Constitution. We seem to recall that even President Obama himself recently took an oath to "faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States, and will, to the best of [his] ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." Does this make him "antigovernment"? Or would he be "antigovernment" only if he actually meant what he said? It appears that one man's orthodoxy is another man's "extremism."
What is especially insidious about Mr. Cohen's letter is his attempt to link the Constitution Party to "domestic terrorist plots," and his call for increased government surveillance. This is, in fact, the mirror image of the bigotry and intolerance that his organization decries in others. Is this the future of democracy?
Here are the links to the relevant websites:
Southern Poverty Law Center
To see the 2011 list of "Patriot" groups click on this link: