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'Rage on the right' threatens Washington

As the Obama administration struggles to get its extremely modest health care bill through Congress, it faces not just a hostile Republican Party that has effectively opted out of the usual bipartisan politics on Capitol Hill, but the menace of far right-wing groups that have found a new lease of life across America.

Their surfacing reflects frustration not just at the political impasse in Washington but the collapse of economic activity in many areas, alongside the phenomenal rate of home repossessions by banks and mortgage companies that recall the hungry days of the 1930s Great Depression.

Undoubtedly, the re-emergence of so-called Patriot Groups – armed militias that see the US government as a threat to civilisation and the “American way of life” (which are not necessarily the same thing) – can also be seen as a response to the extremely aggressive stance taken by the Republican Party against the first African-American president.

Republicans and their supporters in the media like Fox News have routinely denounced Obama as a non-patriotic, possibly even non-American, who is introducing socialist measures that threaten society. Resistance to a health care bill that relies on insurance companies led to Obama losing his two-thirds majority in the Senate at a by-election.

Now he is relying on a simple majority to get the legislation passed by the middle of this month and the fury has gone way beyond the control of the Republican Party.

The Southern Law Poverty Centre (SLPC), one of the most significant civil rights organisations in the country, says in a new report that “the radical right caught fire last year”, adding:

Hate groups stayed at record levels — almost 1,000 — despite the total collapse of the second largest neo-Nazi group in America. Furious anti-immigrant vigilante groups soared by nearly 80%, adding some 136 new groups during 2009. And, most remarkably of all, so-called "Patriot" groups — militias and other organisations that see the federal government as part of a plot to impose ‘one-world government’ on liberty-loving Americans — came roaring back after years out of the limelight.

The report called “Rage on the Right” is in no doubt that what it calls “seething anger” has its roots in demographic changes to the population, “soaring public debt and the terrible economy, the bailouts of bankers and other elites, and an array of initiatives by the relatively liberal Obama Administration”.

The spectrum includes the "Tea Parties" and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months. These are populist organisations championed by people like Sarah Palin, herself ostracised by the Republican establishment after her failure as a vice-presidential candidate in 2008. With a predominantly middle-class membership, Tea Parties have won support by denouncing bank bail-outs, for example. The SLPC says that they “cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism”, adding:

Sixty-one percent of Americans believe the country is in decline, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Just a quarter think the government can be trusted. And the anti-tax tea party movement is viewed in much more positive terms than either the Democratic or Republican parties, the poll found.

The malaise deep in the heart of the American political system is paralleled by the more passive – so far – rejection of traditional politics in Britain, where only 54% say they are certain to vote at the upcoming general election, according to a new survey. Allowing the far right to make the running is impermissible. Developing revolutionary solutions that enhance democracy in new ways, placing power in the hands of ordinary people has to take centre stage.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
5 March 2010

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