Axelrod comment that tea parties are 'unhealthy' stokes militia fears
The comments could add to conservative Americans' sense that they are being either ignored or besieged but not heard.By Mark Sappenfield
from the April 19, 2009 edition
The nationwide angst about – and within – the so-called "tea party" movement continues to gather pace.
On the Sunday morning talk show, "Face the Nation," a senior adviser to President Obama, David Axelrod, said the tea parties organized April 15 to protest massive government spending could "mutate into something that's unhealthy."
The comment was immediately decried by elements of the blogosphere as an attempt to tar tea parties by inference – hinting that they are breeding grounds for the kind of antigovernment activity that led to the Oklahoma City bombings.
Say Anything, A North Dakota political blog, commented: "'Mutate into something unhealthy?' Like, uh, domestic terrorism? Is that what's left unsaid here?"
A sense of injustice is already acute among many tea partyers. Though Mr. Obama remains broadly popular, Dante Chinni of Patchwork Nation recently noted that he has created the widest partisan gap in America since the 1960s, according to poll numbers in the Washington Times. In other words, many people like him – a lot – but those who don't, really don't.
The tea parties have tapped into a sense of powerlessness among many conservatives and libertarians who do not approve of Obama and his popularity.
In addition, tea partyers feel that their movement has been willfully ignored by the mainstream media, wrote staff writer Patrik Jonsson. Saturday, they declared that the tea parties on Tax Day were the largest outpouring of American protesters since March 25, 2006, when 750,000 people marched in Los Angeles in support of rights for immigrants, Patrik added. Critics politely disagreed, with Patrik pointing out:
Critics of the movement said the numbers aren't really that impressive, especially given the air time given to the topic by, among other conservative organizations, Fox News, which seemed at times to be promoting the events more than covering them.
Mr. Axelrod's comments have now stoked these passions further. The comments come at a time when the Obama administration has already drawn criticism for a Department of Homeland Security report warning of a potential rise in militia activity in the United States.
"The historical election of an African American president and the prospect of policy changes are proving to be a driving force for rightwing extremist recruitment and radicalization," it reads.
The Minnesota Majority, a conservative blog, suggests that the timing of the report coincides with the tea parties: "The rise of the national 'Tea Party' protest movement may be considered a part of this radicalization and recruitment. Joining policy-focused organizations like Minnesota Majority, the NRA, or the Taxpayers League could also be construed in this way."
Already, the Missouri Highway Patrol superintendent has ceased the distribution of a Feb. 20 report that suggested that fundamentalist Christians and supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul could be potential militia members.
Taken together, these events have created a siege mentality within parts of the tea party movement that Axelrod's comments could only inflame.