(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—It’s a good thing that the Democrats passed health care reform last week. While it will still take some time for the bill to wind its way through the government, this passage will allow the president to finally “pivot” to addressing other issues facing the nation. Most pundits suggest he focus on the economy, but I have a better idea. He should focus on terrorism, it worked wonders for Bush. Every time he mentioned terrorism his approval numbers went up. If Obama really wants to rile up the public with a strong anti-terrorism stand he can start by looking in our own backyard at the growing militancy and violence associated with the Tea Party Patriots movement.
In the days leading to and soon after the passage of health care reform there have been increasing instances of harassment and violence directed towards members who voted for reform from Tea Party members and their associates. Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus were called racial slurs while leaving the capitol, and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver from Missouri was spat on by health care protesters. Congressman Barney Frank was called homophobic names as well.
When this kind of vitriol and violence is directed at White folks by other White folks you know the country is getting out of control. A brick was thrown through Congresswoman Louise Slaughter’s, D-N.Y., congressional office. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., has received threatening phone calls from anti-healthcare and Tea Party protesters calling for him to die of various diseases. The most frightening event since the vote involved Tom Perriello, D-Va. A local Tea Party blogger posted Perriello’s home address online and encouraged fellow members to “visit him and express their thanks” for his vote. The result was that an unnamed activist visited the home of Perriello’s brother and cut a line to a propane gas tank that fed into a backyard grill. The Tea Party blogger had mistakenly posted the congressman’s brother’s address instead of his. But the fact remains, this was an attempted murder, this isn’t simply spray paint or picket signs. Threatening a federal employee, whether a member of Congress or a mailman, is a crime and the government needs to step in soon and stop this violence.
I have always maintained that there is grotesque racial element to many Tea Party rallies and that the anger directed towards the Obama administration cannot be legitimately chalked up to passionate voters. Let’s be candid: There are a lot of Americans out there that just hate the idea that there is a Black man in the White House. Many of them are Republicans but not all. Many of them are Tea Party Patriots but not all. I have been to Tea Party events, I have seen how these groups encourage and foment a level of antipathy and racism towards immigrants and the president that is nothing short of a soft-shoe Klan rally.
Tea Party members do have some legitimate complaints that deserve to be heard in the public sphere, but if the party is going to allow itself to be infiltrated by, or become a front for domestic terrorists and political extremists to organize, the organization needs to be monitored. Anyone who pretends that the Tea Party movement hasn’t in some ways come dangerously close to fomenting violence is either deluding themselves or looking for votes this fall.
Health care may be a contentious issue, but the reactions by many Tea Party members to congressmen for simply casting a vote goes beyond citizen activism. No organization has the right to threaten public officials with violence or bodily harm for simply carrying out their jobs. And an organization as large as the Tea Party patriots cannot abdicate responsibility by presenting one message at rallies and then claiming innocence when members enact violence in the name of the organization later. Isn’t that how the Klan started? Or even better isn’t that what Hamas says every time some of its wayward members bomb someone?
If these patriots don’t get their own membership in order soon the president and the FBI might be forced to crack down on their activities, and then this little Tea Party might be over before it even gets started.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)