By now, you've heard at least something about the rowdy, often irrational, sometimes insane behavior at the health care town hall meetings across the country. You may have even been to a town hall meeting, encouraged by HCAN or Organizing for America to support health care reform and stave off the naysayers.
The script is roughly the same for each: a well-meaning senator or congressperson (doesn't seem to matter which party they're part of) holds a town hall meeting in his or her home district or state to dispel myths and answer questions about the health care reform being proposed in Congress. Protesters gather outside the building with signs, often depicting Obama as Hitler. And a few minutes, or sometimes even a few seconds into the meeting, participants begin shouting over their elected official's answers, loudly vocalizing their opposition to any health care reform. Many will ask strange questions, or shout accusations about Obama's "death panels." Some will go completely off topic, to protest Obama or said officials' supposed trampling of the Constitution. At least one even brought along a gun.
There's been a lot of debate about whether or not these people are being organized by anti-reform front groups. And there's been a lot of chatter on cable TV about whether or not Obama's PR team has been handling these folks the right way.
But really, who cares?
Because if you watch and listen to the loudest of the protestors, it becomes clear that health care reform is not really the main issue, or even the issue at all for a fringe few. It becomes clear that health care reform has simply become a catalyst for a larger fear of the unknown, a sense that their country is somehow being "taken away." (Seriously, listen to a selection of those crazy town hall videos and just count how many times someone in the crowd screams, "I want my country back!" or something similar. )
And all this would be okay if it were everyone were just voicing their opinion. Most are. And that's good. That's democracy. But the palpable fear of the fringe few is real. The anger is real. That gun was real--and loaded.
And I thought about that today, when I saw a new study released by the Southern Poverty Law Center today, showing that paramilitary militia groups are on the rise once more. The study finds that:
Almost a decade after largely disappearing from public view, right-wing militias, ideologically driven tax defiers and sovereign citizens are appearing in large numbers around the country. "Paper terrorism" — the use of property liens and citizens' "courts" to harass enemies — is on the rise. And once-popular militia conspiracy theories are making the rounds again, this time accompanied by nativist theories about secret Mexican plans to "reconquer" the American Southwest.These are people who really, really don't like the federal government. So whether it's immigration reform, health care reform, education reform--they don't want any part of it, because they don't want any part of the government in their lives.
I just wonder how much all the media focus on these town halls, all the anger working like a magnet to draw more angry people out to the meetings, all the hatred of the government simmering just below the surface will serve to catapult extremists into action? As the SPL Center points out:
Authorities around the country are reporting a worrying uptick in Patriot activities and propaganda. "This is the most significant growth we've seen in 10 to 12 years," says one. "All it's lacking is a spark. I think it's only a matter of time before you see threats and violence."