Around 10 House Democrats have reported being threatened with violence and even death upon return to their districts because of their support for health-care reform, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. The FBI, Capitol Police, and sergeant at arms gave the imperiled lawmakers a briefing Wednesday, reportedly offering extra security detail after some Democratic campaign offices were vandalized.
In another disturbing pattern, windows are shattering in Democratic field offices. Wingnuts author John Avlon talks exclusively to the militia leader who called for the attacks.
Late Saturday night, on the eve of the health care vote, a brick was thrown through the window of the Monroe County Democratic Party headquarters in Rochester, N.Y. A note quoting Barry Goldwater was attached to the brick, reading “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.”
This came on the heels of shattered windows at Congresswoman Louise Slaughter’s district office in Niagara Falls and a Democratic Party headquarters in Kansas, and just before a similar attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ office in Arizona.
All this follows the online exhortations of militia leader Mike Vanderboegh of Pinson, Alabama – who wrote on his blog “Sipsy Street Irregulars” this past Friday: “if we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat party headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary.” The parallels, intentional or not, to the Nazis' heinous 1938 kristallnacht, or “Night of Broken Glass,” so-named for the 7,000 storefront windows that were smashed, are hard to ignore.
“Need I remind you that this side is the one with most of the firearms?”
Like most of his ilk, Mike Vanderboegh sees his calls to violence as patriotic and defensive, designed to stop civil war—“if we are to avoid civil war, we must get their attention BEFORE the IRS thug parties descend upon us each in turn—when we will be forced into dozens of defensive slaughters and then, to end it, forced yet again to call Pelosi and the other architects of this war upon their own people to final account.”
I interviewed Vanderboegh at length late last year for my book Wingnuts. He is a self-described “former leftist” and SDS member who had a political epiphany after reading Nobel economist Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom in the mid-1970s. He became a Second Amendment activist and became involved in the militia movement during the 1990s. The homebound father of three now believes that escalation is all but inevitable.
Over the past year, he has detailed his unhinged opposition to the Obama administration while bracing for revolution: “You should understand that we are rapidly coming to a point in this country when half of the people are going to become convinced of the illegitimacy of this administration and its designs upon our liberty. Need I remind you that this side is the one with most of the firearms?”
Vanderboegh is the co-founder of the Three Percenters, one of the threefold increase in militia groups—I call them “Hatriot” groups—that has sprung up in the first 15 months of the Obama administration, as detailed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They take their name from the questionable statistic that only three percent of the American colonists actively fought for independence. Therefore, the Three Percenters position themselves both as an elite group and also a direct link to the Founding Fathers, making their extremist alienation from mainstream America a badge of honor and secret knowledge. They describe themselves as “promoting the ideals of liberty, freedom and a constitutional government restrained by law.”
But beneath the benign bumper sticker, the loosely-affiliated group also professes that they “embrace the American Resistance Movement philosophy”—a survivalist militia-incubating network that teaches its followers how to train for the coming fight against tyranny. Their online forums offer a glimpse into a lunatic fringe that is itching to get the fight on: “This government has failed,” writes one registered user known as JV67. “At what point do we follow the example of the Founding Fathers and take up arms against these tyrants?”
In our conversation, Vanderbeough also raised the specter of a “race war” that he believes could erupt under Obama. “Now we have a gangster culture in the middle of the cities,” he told me. “We've imported into this country over the last 20 years a significant subculture that comes from south of the border that also has not bought in and identified with the larger culture. Our fear is that any breakdown in this country of law and order will turn into a three-sided race war and I can't think of anything that's more calculated to bring long-term tyranny and chaos than something like that.”
Vanderbeough has warned his supporters to prepare for what he calls “The Big Die Off”: “When a computer crashes, you simply discard it and obtain another. When political systems, nations or civilizations fail, they collapse in a welter of blood and carnage, usually ending in mountains of bodies, slavery and a long dark night of tyranny. This is referred to by people today who recognize the existential danger by the short-hand acronym of ‘TBDO’—‘The Big Die Off.’ This is not a video game. There are no do-overs. This is as real as it gets. Your system has experienced one or more fatal errors and must shut down at this time. Whether you survive The Big Die Off with anything left that is worth preserving is up to you.”
This revolutionary rhetoric is standard operating procedure on Hatriot websites in this burgeoning subculture. It is the extreme expression of what happens when fear is used to fire up hyper-partisanship and hate is deployed to try and delegitimize a duly elected president. As Vanderboegh’s home page warns “All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war.”
John Avlon's new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback. He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.