Right-Wing Anti-Government Violence, a Growing Threat to Democracy

Posted June 18, 2014

MP3 Interview with Rachel Tabachnick, fellow at Political Research Associates, conducted by Scott Harris

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On June 8, the nation witnessed yet another violent incident inspired by anti-government and right-wing hate ideology, this time in Las Vegas, Nevada. Jerad Miller and his wife, Amanda, originally from Lafayette, Indiana, shot and killed two police officers at a pizzeria while they were eating lunch. The Millers draped the Gadsden flag, reading “Don’t Tread on Me," adopted by the Tea Party movement, over one of the bodies, placed a Nazi swastika on top of the flag and pinned a note to the other officer’s body reading, “This is the start of the revolution.” They went on to kill an armed shopper at a nearby Walmart store who had tried to stop the couple by drawing his own gun. Jerad was later killed by police, after which his wife committed suicide using her own gun.

The Millers, who had espoused anti-government and white supremacist views, had traveled to the Bunkerville, Nevada cattle ranch of Cliven Bundy in mid-April to offer armed support to the rancher as he faced off with officers of the federal Bureau of Land Management over two decades of non-payment of grazing fees. The Bundy family says they asked the couple to leave the ranch because of their criminal history.

The Millers’ murder of three in Las Vegas, and their involvement in the confrontation at the Bundy ranch, followed the April 13th slaying of three people at a Jewish Community Center and an assisted living facility in Overland Park, Kansas. Those murders were allegedly committed by former “grand dragon” of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Frazier Glenn Miller. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Rachel Tabachnick, a fellow at the Boston-based social justice think tank Political Research Associates who discusses the danger posed by extremist anti-government groups, and the support they receive from both conservative GOP politicians and right-wing media.

RACHEL TABACHNICK: Well, of course, this very brutal violence was an outlier, but the sentiment behind it, the idea that police are the threat and that government is the threat and then there must be a revolution against, particularly, federal government is becoming quite widespread. And, in fact, we are seeing this kind of rhetoric in places, perhaps, that we’ve not seen it before. We had a wave of this in the 1990s during the Clinton administration and, of course, the very well-known incidents at Ruby Ridge and at Waco resulting in a lot of anti-government rhetoric and violence.

But, what we’re seeing today is interesting in that the rhetoric has spread through much of the religious right, through the Tea Party activity, and also into county governments, including county sheriffs. One of the things that was true, or tragic, about this brutal killing is we also found out that this couple had participated in the Clive and Bundy Range event in April where Bundy and various militia groups and Oath Keepers had a standoff with the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada, and, one of the groups that was involved there, in addition to Oath Leepers, is something called the Constitutional Sheriff and Peace Officers Association. So, one of the things we see happening is where there were very few law enforcement involved, say in the 1990s participation with militia groups, today we are seeing this expand to rather substantial groups of sheriffs getting involved in this anti-government rhetoric and organizing.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What kind of threat do you think this represents to the country, Rachel? And, what is the best way for the government, or people at large to respond to these folks who are walking around with guns, threatening law enforcement officers, and generally trying to intimidate people who are elected officials and otherwise represent elected government?

RACHEL TABACHNICK: Well, I think it needs to be taken very seriously by the public, and when there are incidents of extreme violence, like this killing that took place by this couple. It should not be dismissed as just crazy or insanity. We need to be taking seriously this rise in anti-government sentiment. Many of the conspiracy theories, you may recall several years ago, there was a murder by Richard Plowsky, three police officers in Pittsburgh, which was another very tragic example of police in conspiracy theories that the government is coming to get you, coming to get your guns, coming to put you in a FEMA concentration camp, these type of conspiracy theories. And, again, this is something that’s becoming quite widespread and not terribly uncommon and not just among groups of militias and camouflage, you know, training in the woods somewhere, but becoming more a part of everyday American life.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Rachel, in your mind, what is the responsibility of some conservative politicians that we see at the state and federal level who articulate support for these anti-government groups, even those who are armed and threaten enforcement officials with violence?

RACHEL TABACHNICK: I think these politicians do bear some responsibility in the escalation of the rhetoric. If you look, for example, when the Bundy standoff was going on, there were quite a few politicians who spoke very approvingly of Bundy and what he was doing. So, I think these politicians do bear some responsibility. We also saw a great deal of press and punditry in support of Bundy and what he was doing right up until the point where he began making extreme racist comments. Then, many of those politicians backed away. So there is a need to look more deeply at what is driving the narratives that are driving anti-government violence and to be more responsible in response to those.

For more information, about Political Research Associates, visit politicalresearch.org. This transcript was compiled by Evan Bieder.

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