Two days prior to the presidential visit, handbills were circulated throughout the city. It pictured two photos of the president – one facing the camera, the other depicting his left profile, resembling a police mug shot. Beneath the pictures, in bold letters, was the caption “Wanted for Treason,” followed by seven reasons why the president of these United States was a traitor.
The first reason charged the president with handing over U.S. sovereignty to international organizations like the United Nations. Three others linked the president with communist organizations and sympathizers. The sixth indictment questioned the president’s Christian commitment. The final condemnation simply called the president a liar.
When the shot that killed President John F. Kennedy rung out from the sixth floor of the Dallas Book Depository Building, only one man may have pulled the trigger. In reality, all who contributed in whipping up an angry, hate-filled hysteria were as responsible. They created the atmosphere that justified the extreme acts of simpletons and lunatics. What greater act of patriotism exists within feeble minds than to assassinate perceived traitors and tyrants?
Today, I fear that the volatile political atmosphere created by the Tea Party will bring about bloodshed. I pray I’m wrong. The actions of the Tea Party members and others, who were unable to make their will mandatory through the electoral process, are crossing a dangerous line into a social activism that condones violence.
My suspicions of the Tea Party’s racist underpinnings were confirmed on the day before the House of Representatives voted on the health care bill. Until then, even though images of their rallies continuously depicted a sea of whiteness, I held my suspicions to myself lest I be accused of playing the so-called “race card.”
But when black representatives were spat upon and called the “n-word,” my suspicions were confirmed. After all, no white legislator was spat upon, although one, Barney Frank, who is openly gay, was the recipient of a homophobic slur.
I am convinced that it didn’t really matter what the issue was. Be it health care, immigration, tax reform or education, Obama’s political opponents would have opposed him. The rise of the Tea Party had more to do with the amount and type of melanin possessed by the president than any political stance he might take on the issues.
If indeed the Tea Party was concerned with fiscal responsibility, then why didn’t they organize during the last administration?
At least 10 Democrats who voted for the bill have faced acts of violence. White powder in a letter mentioning the health care bill was sent to Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-New York). Pictures of a noose were faxed to Congressmen Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) and James Clyburn (D-South Carolina). The glass door of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s (D-Arizona) office was shot out by a pellet gun or air pistol. And a brick was thrown through the glass door of the Monroe County Democratic Committee with a note: “Exremism in Defense of Liberty Is no Vice.” (If you plan to quote Cicero, at least learn how to spell!)
Is it possible that the Republican leaders are stoking the anger that is leading extremism? Consider these examples:
- Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin posted on her Web site Democrats marked for defeat by situating their districts in the crosshairs of a rifle.
- The Republican National Committee Web site has the Speaker of the House encircled by flames.
- Instead of calling for the apprehension and prosecution of those breaking the law and threatening violence to members of Congress, House Minority Leader John Boehner called for these perpetrators to “redirect [the anger behind such acts] to registering voters and volunteering on political campaigns.”
Shortly after the president’s inauguration, Rush Limbaugh proclaimed, “I hope Obama fails.” Following his lead, the opposition party over the past year has tried to ensure that the president fails by denying him any legislative victory. This overarching desire to see Obama fail has created an alliance with fringe elements that are crossing from the rule of law over to political bullying.
Imagine what would happen if Hispanics used similar tactics as the Tea Party in demanding comprehensive immigration reform? Fox talk-show hosts would be leading the charge of portraying Latinos and Latinas as un-American and not fit for this nation’s democratic tradition. For them, the political activities that would be condemned if practiced by Hispanics are justified if practiced by the Tea Party.
Ironically, leaders from the Republican Party and Tea Party are now distancing themselves from such acts of violence. They have condemned violence as a political tool. But once the monster goes on a rampage, should not the Frankenstein that brought it to life still be held responsible?
As in the days leading to the assassination of President Kennedy, a dangerous atmosphere has been created by the Tea Party and others. Does someone need to die before we realize that rhetoric – based on half-truths and outright lies – kills?
Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.