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Southern Poverty Law Center’s ‘Enemies List’ a Fantasy

The Southern Poverty Law Center's new list of scary "Patriots" connects people as various as Alex Jones, Ron Paul, and Glenn Beck into a vast conspiracy. Robert Stacy "the Other" McCain tries — and fails — to make sense of it all.

by
Robert Stacy McCain

Bio

April 26, 2010 - 12:09 am

Catherine Bleish is a 26-year-old libertarian who was a Ron Paul delegate to the 2008 Republican National Convention. She is a leader of the Liberty Restoration Project which, among other things, opposes the federal “War on Drugs” and denounces the Patriot Act as “an assault against the civil liberties of Americans.”

Perhaps you disagree with those views, but is Bleish dangerous?

The Southern Poverty Law Center seems to think so. In a special report called  “Meet the ‘Patriots’” issued last week, the SPLC named Bleish as one of 35 people “at the heart of the resurgent movement.” The report — which also names WorldNetDaily publisher Joseph Farah and Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media — describes the movement thus:

“In the last year and a half, militias and the larger antigovernment ‘Patriot’ movement have exploded, accompanied by the rapid expansion of other sectors of the radical right. … [T]he so-called Patriots [are] people who generally believe that the federal government is an evil entity that is engaged in a secret conspiracy to impose martial law, herd those who resist into concentration camps, and force the United States into a socialistic ‘New World Order.’”

The SPLC’s scary references to militias and conspiracies and a “resurgent movement” very much echo Bill Clinton’s recent conflation of the tea party with Timothy McVeigh and, like Clinton, the Montgomery, Ala.-based organization singled out Rep. Michelle Bachmann, calling her an “enabler” of the Patriot movement. Also labeled “enablers” by the SPLC were Glenn Beck and Andrew Napolitano of Fox News, as well as Ron Paul, the Texas congressman whose quixotic 2008 presidential campaign helped turn Bleish into a full-time political activist.

A graduate of the University of Missouri who majored in communications, Bleish says she has postponed her graduate studies — she aims to get a master’s degree in political science — to become involved in a variety of libertarian projects. She participated in the July 2008 “Revolution March” of Paul supporters in Washington, D.C., and attended a May 2009 conference in Jekyll Island, Ga., that also included several others named in the SPLC “Patriot” report. The SPLC says that “seminal” meeting — organized by libertarian activist Bob Schulz — “helped lay the groundwork for the resurgence of the [Patriot] movement.”

Bleish says she’s not sure why the SPLC — which typically monitors hate groups like the KKK and the Aryan Nations — is now targeting libertarians like herself.

“They’re indirectly associating people who aren’t violent and aren’t racist with violence and racism, and that’s unfortunate,” Bleish said in a telephone interview.

If Bleish is considered a “conspiracy theorist,” that’s probably because of her group “Operation: De-Fuse,” which depicts the Department of Homeland Security as part of a “police/surveillance state” that is “militarizing and federalizing our police forces.”

Bleish and others say that this isn’t conspiracy theory, but conspiracy reality. The name of Operation: De-Fuse is a reference the DHS “fusion centers” such as the Missouri Information Analysis Center, which issued a controversial 2009 report identifying Ron Paul supporters and pro-life activists (as well as fans of Rambo movies and Tom Clancy novels) as potential terrorists.

“Militia members most commonly associate with 3rd party political groups,” the MIAC report said. “It is not uncommon for militia members to display Constitutional Party, Campaign for Liberty or Libertarian material.”

If DHS is identifying third-party political movements as threats, is it irrational for supporters of those movements to consider the DHS a threat?

Regardless of the legitimacy of Bleish’s concerns about DHS, however, the SPLC report is at least correct in portraying Bleish as part of a “movement.” Looking over the “Patriot” report, Bleish identified about a dozen names on the list — including Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party — as people she’s communicated with or met at various events. But some of the names on the SPLC’s list call to mind the lyrics of an old Sesame Street song: “One of these things is not like the others.”

Why, for example, does the SPLC list that includes 9/11 “Truther” Alex Jones also name Kincaid, whose Accuracy in Media is a well-established conservative organization devoted to identifying media bias? In fact, Kincaid denounced the 9/11 “inside job” conspiracy theory as “absurd” in a recent column warning that Jones is “playing a destructive role” that could discredit the tea party movement.

Jones and Kincaid are clearly not part of the same “movement,” and there is no connection between Kincaid and libertarians like Bleish, except for their all being named in the same SPLC report. The same is true for Farah, a veteran conservative journalist whom the SPLC report called “a leading fomenter of the baseless claim that President Obama was not born in Hawaii, but in Africa” — an accusation Farah flatly denies.

“[T]hough I have spoken and written hundreds of thousands of words about Barack Obama’s failure to prove his eligibility, I have never said or written that he ‘was not born in Hawaii, but in Africa,’” Farah wrote in his column last week. “What I have said is ever so simple: Obama has not proven he was born in the United States and is a natural born citizen.”

Critics may dispute Farah’s argument, but that argument doesn’t make him a member of the same “movement” as Bleish, Jones and others named in the SPLC report, such as militia activist Mark Koernke and anti-tax radical Red Beckman. However, Farah proudly endorsed those whom the SPLC labeled Patriot “enablers.”

“I’m joined by some good company [on the SPLC list] — my buddy Rep. Michele Bachmann, whom I would support for president tomorrow, Glenn Beck, Judge Andrew Napolitano, Rep. Paul Broun and Rep. Ron Paul,” Farah wrote in his column.

How do these “enablers” fit into the movement that the SPLC is concerned about?

“One reason the resurgent antigovernment ‘Patriot’ movement is taking off so quickly is the support for many of its central ideas that comes from ostensibly mainstream figures in politics and the media,” the report says. “These men and women have helped to put key Patriot themes — the idea that President Obama is a Marxist, that he and other elites in the government are pushing a socialist takeover, that the United States plans secret concentration camps and so on — before millions of Americans, many of whom actually believe these completely false allegations.”

The federal government took over General Motors, “invested” billions of taxpayer dollars in Wall Street financial firms, and recently passed legislation to expand government control over the nation’s health-care system, but concerns about a “socialist takeover” are “completely false allegations”?

If you’re tempted to ask a question like that, you must be a dangerous kook, too. Don’t worry, though — as Farah says, you’re in good company. Over the years, the SPLC has steadily expanded its list of “far-right” menaces to include mainstream conservatives — the American Enterprise Institute, David Horowitz, the Bradley Foundation and Dinesh D’Souza, among others — and as National Review’s Mark Krikorian recently noted, the SPLC accused his Center for Immigration Studies of “spreading bigotry.”

So what about this grab-bag of names on the SPLC’s “Patriot” list? Is it really possible that a single “movement” could include Joseph Farah, Michelle Bachmann, Cliff Kincaid and Alex Jones? Andrew Napolitano, Glenn Beck, Ron Paul and Red Beckman? I put that question to SPLC director of research Heidi Beirich.

“I think our definition of what a ‘Patriot’ group is is very clear. And all these folks, to my mind, fall within that definition,” said Beirich, a Ph.D. in political science from Purdue University who has been with the SPLC since 1999. “It may not seem that way to you, but from my perspective and given our definition, I’m actually surprised that you would ask me this question. The connections are crystal clear.”

Connections between people who’ve never met — some of whom vehemently disagree with each other — are “crystal clear”? Sounds kind of like a “secret conspiracy.” But only dangerous kooks believe in that stuff.

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party . A frequent contributor to the American Spectator, he blogs at The Other McCain.
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