Abundant signs suggest that political hate is up in the United States:
- Shooting police officers outside the Pentagon.
- Crashing a plane in the IRS building in Austin.
- Killing a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
- Killing three police officers in Pittsburgh.
- Attending a political rally with unconcealed firearms while blustering about socialism.
- Warning about a military coup if the president doesn’t leave the country.
- Thinking and hoping the government is about to fall.
- Speaking about the need to “water the tree of liberty” with the “blood of tyrants.”
The increasing acts of hate and statements of hatefulness are accompanied by a surge in organizational hate. That is, some angry Americans appear to be organizing into hate groups.
“The radical right caught fire last year, as broad-based populist anger at political, demographic and economic changes in America ignited an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation,” wrote Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit civil rights organization with headquarters in Montgomery, Ala.
“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 organizations 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,” he wrote recently.
Potok identified sources for the “anger seething,” citing racial changes, economic bad times, bank bailouts and the perceived liberal agenda of the Obama administration.
However, he cautioned against lumping the “tea parties” into the mix with hate groups.
They “cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism.”
As some media reports have linked recent violent acts to the extreme right-wing, some members of the political right have reacted against such linkage, according to a Politico.com news story.
That news story cited examples in which right-wingers claimed acts of violence were rooted in the political left, a claim that appears to suffer from the lack of credibility.
Given the conspiratorial rants at Tea Party events, the raw rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh, the unhinged Glenn Beck at Fox News and the truth-challenged nature of much talk radio, one is hard pressed to avoid the conclusion that the right is not responsible for the surge in hate. No doubt, the extreme right is a contributing factor to the surge in hatefulness and hate organizations.
Yet Christian moral reflection offers a cautionary warning about human nature. Sin can be confined neither to a single ideology, nor a collective group. Conversely, neither ideological purity nor theological affiliation determines personal righteousness and social justice. Sin is a universal reality. Since we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we must guard against our own sense of self-righteousness, our own sense that our side is without flaws.
Let’s offer a vigorous and public moral critique of the waywardness of the right.
At the same time, goodwill people of faith need to consider what we can do to advance the common good without creating even more anger. Let’s seek to speak with civility, to be self-defined and to keep the main thing the main thing – social justice for the poor, care for God’s creation and the making of peace.
The evidence suggests that political hate is up. Our challenge is to avoid the temptation to react in kind.
We must remember that “the stone age did not end because the world ran out of stones. The stone age ended because we found a better way.”
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.