But first, the more recent and unambiguous terrorist threat. An FBI agent inside the Christian-Right multi-state militia known as the Hutaree called in the department to round them up and quickly, when he learned that they had settled on their action plan, their goal for creating an incident that they hoped would trigger a civil war aimed at overthrowing President Obama and the Democrats by force. Some time in April, probably on the 24th, they were going to murder a police officer, lay low until his funeral, and then lay armor-piercing improvised explosive devices along the route from the funeral service to the graveyard; once they had killed every police officer in the funeral convoy, they were planning on retreating through several home-made minefields in hopes of luring more police to their death. The agent had to move fast; they were planning an armed reconnaissance in the next week or so, and had plans to kill anyone, civilian or otherwise, who spotted them. (See Corey Williams & Devlin Barrett, "9 militia members charged in police-killing plot," Associated Press, 3/29/10, and subsequent news stories everywhere.)
I keep having to make this next point, don't I? When the Department of Homeland Security issued their April 2009 report "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," (PDF) just about every Republican in America screamed bloody murder, demanded that they retract it, and accused the Obama administration of trying to criminalize peaceful political dissent. How many right wing assassins, murderers, and terror squads will it take before even one of them admits that they were wrong about that? Do any of them have at least that much minimal honesty or basic decency?
We need to just face facts: there is a large minority in this country, large enough to be dangerous, who just flatly do not accept the fact that they can lose an election. When they win elections, they are all about "democracy" and "the rule of law," but the minute they lose an election, they pick up their guns and start planning for violent revolution to overturn the will of the people. Pretending that these people do not exist, pretending that they are not numerous, and pretending that the Republicans do not stoke these people's paranoid fantasies because of the party's dangerous delusion that they can control them, can use them as a tool, will not change the fact that they are there and they are dangerous.
But I was already thinking about how law enforcement should respond to threats like this, before we even found out about the Hutaree, because of another event I saw announced on the news, one that has an especially strong historical resonance with the Founding Fathers. On this April 19th, the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City when two or more right-wing militia members murdered 99 federal government employees, at least 50 other adults, and 19 children, a group of right wing activists are planning on marching, armed, to within one mile of the Capitol Mall, their so-called "Restore the Constitution rally / Muster Outside DC."
I wonder what George Washington would have done about either the Hutaree or the Muster Outside DC? Well, no, actually, I don't wonder, because exactly similar situations did happen during the life of the first President of the United States, and I know exactly what he ordered done about it, and what he did about his day's TEA Party while he was at it.
|"Rebellion against a king may be pardoned or lightly punished, but the man who dares to rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death." |
Samuel Adams, 1787, on the subject of Shays' Rebellion
A few years later, in 1791, after General Washington had been elected President (which shows you how uncontroversial the Founders' generation thought his wholesale arrest of and the substantial death toll among Shays' gun rights enthusiasts were), he faced another group of "protesters." People in the mountain west (which at the time meant the Appalachians, not the Rockies) had already decided that they were being Taxed Enough Already, that if the government needed to make national debt payments it should reduce federal government instead of raising taxes, when the Washington administration persuaded Congress to pass the first "sin tax," a tax on whiskey and other distilled spirits. In the considered legal opinion of those who felt that they were Taxed Enough Already, this was an unconstitutional tax. The first "Tenthers," they argued on 10th amendment grounds that nothing in the Constitution gave the Washington administration, or Congress, the authority to collect taxes on anything other than a per-citizen tax on states and any taxes on imports, that under the doctrine of enumerated rights the federal government could not tax anything else. The courts, and Congress, were unpersuaded by their argument.
Rather than pay the tax, though, and then vote out those who disagreed with them in the next election, the protesters who felt that they were Taxed Enough Already began holding increasingly loud and violent protests, which culminated in attacks on the homes of tax collectors. At the first sign of violence, President Washington responded to the Whiskey Rebellion the same way he responded to Shays' Rebellion: he called up the army and sent them after the anti-tax protesters. Knowing from recent history that Washington wasn't bluffing, they surrendered, and 20 of their leaders were put on trial for their crimes. Had they not surrendered, there is no meaningful doubt what would have happened: George Washington would have ordered the army to gun down any of them too stupid to lay down their weapons and peacefully disperse.
Since then, we've perhaps gone a little soft. Scarcely a generation had gone by before the American people began to wonder if maybe Washington had over-reacted to those rebellions, if some more peaceful way of negotiating with them could have worked, if calling up the army was really the appropriate response. And in acknowledgment of the fact that soldiers are trained to shoot to kill, not to make arrests, we've long since ruled out any future use of the military to put down any but the largest and most heavily armed of rebellions. Still, have no doubt about this: "the original intent of the Founders," were they here today, would be to order all of these loud-mouthed vandals and heavily armed rednecks to lay down their weapons, peacefully return to their homes, and respect the electoral process ... or else be gunned down by federal troops, or else to die in the dirt like dogs.
So for a group of armed men to declare their intention to march, weapons in hand, to within a mile of the Capitol on the 15th anniversary of the worst act of domestic terrorism since the Civil War, and expect us not to treat this as a threat of armed rebellion just because they promise to stop one mile short (this time?) is so outrageous that I'm leaning more and more towards taking President Washington's side in this, and was already leaning that way before allies of theirs were arrested on the verge of unveiling a horrible act of murderous terror a few states over. On the day before the health insurance reform vote in the House, members of this movement (egged on by idiotic Republicans waving from the balcony above) waved signs outside the Capitol building saying "We Came Unarmed -- This Time" and "If Brown Can't Stop It, A Browning Will." Do they expect us to forget that this is the next time?
These are people who have made it clear that they will not honor the results of last November's election, and made clear their intent to take up arms over it. I'm increasingly convinced that it is time for the federal government to treat them, and their leaders, the way that they increasingly deserve. Some reliable and professional branch of federal law enforcement like the US Marshals should confront them well short of that park, guns loaded and drawn, accuse them of armed insurrection, and order them to lay down their weapons and disperse. If they refuse, or resist? Well, then that'll settle it: President Washington was right, and his was the only way to preserve American democracy.
(Watch Republican officials and opinion leaders squirm uncomfortably, this week, as they only now, belatedly, only after feeding these treasonous psychotics' paranoid fantasies for two years, as only now they insist that the only legitimate outlet for the rage and fear they've stoked against Democrats and against the US government in general is at the ballot box this November. It's a little late for that now, I think. To borrow another phrase much loved by the Founders, they sowed the wind; they will reap the whirlwind. Or at least, now that the guns are drawn, they deserve to.)