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July 19, 2010

Thugs and Criminals

While Republican Senate candidates Sharron Angle (Nevada) and Rand Paul (Kentucky) have drawn a great deal of attention lately for their proposed “Second Amendment remedies,” they are far from the only Tea Party candidates with curious ideas about our Constitution. "The militant wing of the Republican Party" has been quite active this election cycle, and it has not been shy in affirming its view that the Second Amendment is “for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government.” Consider the following recent examples from states across the country:

In Connecticut, Republican-endorsed candidate Martha Dean is running for attorney general on a platform that threatens the rule of law. At a "Second Amendment March" organized by the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, she exclaimed, "If government is legitimate and truly is the voice of the people, it need never fear the people themselves when they’re armed. Only a government that uses secrecy and force to impose improper laws [to] which the people do not consent need fear the wrath of its law-abiding citizens at the ballot box or, ultimately, with arms … Our right of free speech and to back it up with arms if necessary if our government becomes tyrannical and unjust as King George’s was to the colonists are the most essential of the rights we as Americans have.” But Dean didn’t stop there—she then advocated that private citizens have access to the same firearms as our military: “I will oppose all efforts to create nonsensical distinctions that are nowhere supported by our constitutions between different types of firearms. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the government gets the effective firearms and the people the ineffective ones. Nowhere in our Constitution does it say that the government gets the modern firearms and the citizens only get the antiquated ones.”

Two candidates for elected office in Alabama have used equally strident rhetoric on the campaign trail. Dale Peterson, who ran in the Republican primary for the Alabama Agriculture Commission, aired an ad attacking the “thugs and criminals” in Alabama’s government. Brandishing a rifle at the end of the ad, Peterson warns, “I’ll name names and take no prisoners.” After placing last among the three Republican candidates in the primary, Peterson ran an even more bizarre follow-up ad endorsing former opponent John McMillan. Again brandishing a rifle, Peterson threatens, “I better not catch any thugs or criminals stealing [McMillan’s] yard signs.” As a man in overalls approaches a McMillan yard sign, Peterson fires a shot into the air, sending him fleeing.

Peterson’s violent approach was more than matched by fellow Alabaman Rick Barber, who contended for a House seat in the Republican primary in the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Barber’s first campaign ad unapologetically promoted armed insurrection against our government with the supposed approval of America’s Founding Fathers. Barber is shown sitting in a pub talking to Benjamin Franklin, Sam Adams and George Washington. At the table is a copy of the Constitution and several pistols. Barbers tells the three Founding Fathers that he would impeach President Obama and suggests that the “progressive income tax” amounts to tyranny. At the end of the ad, a clearly angered George Washington exclaims, “Gather your armies.” Barber was apparently unaware that Washington, as president, presided over the first federal tax levied on a domestic product—the whiskey tax—and then enforced collection of the tax with a federalized militia force of 13,000 men when armed mobs in Pennsylvania rebelled against it.

In his second ad, Barber sits in the same pub, this time speaking to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Barber compares taxation and "the tyrannical health care bill" to slavery and the extermination of Jews in Nazi Germany. "We live in perilous times ... We are all becoming slaves to our government," Barber warns. The "army of voters" depicted in the ad includes Dale Peterson, who is again openly armed. In a follow-up editorial in the Washington Post, Barber makes reference to "the possibility of evil conducted on a grand scale" and states, "Totalitarianism doesn't come all at once ... The road to serfdom is a long one, but I fear that we are well on the way."

Barber, a newcomer to politics, distorts the views of Lincoln, who in his first inaugural address said, “It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.” As he asked the country to go to war to protect its sovereignty against secession, Lincoln added, “And this issue embraces more than the fate of these United States ... It presents the question, whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control administration…can always...break up their government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the Earth.”

Whatever Barber’s confusion, his violent rhetoric fell short at the polls. Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby soundly defeated him in the primary on July 13.

Finally, just last week in Alaska, supporters of Tea Party candidate Joe Miller openly carried assault rifles and handguns during a popular community parade in Eagle River and Chugiak while young children marched alongside them. Miller is running against Senator Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary and has been endorsed by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who described him as a “true Commonsense Constitutional Conservative.”

It remains to be seen whether the national GOP leadership will summon the courage to speak out forcefully against such insurrectionist shows of force by Tea Party candidates that have adopted its standard. As one commentator recently noted, “A party that is intimidated and silent in the face of its extremes is eventually defined by them.”

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