Conservatives scoffed in April when the Department of Homeland Security warned that the United States could face another wave of homegrown attacks.
Is the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller in Kansas this past weekend the start of a new anti-choice terror campaign? Combine with Tiller's assassination the right-wing outcry over President Barack Obama's restoration of federal money to overseas organizations that perform abortions and there could be serious cause to worry.
During the Clinton administration there were seven murders and 17 attempted murders of doctors and medical staff who worked in pro-choice clinics. The bomber of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics made it clear that his goal was to "shame" the nation for allowing abortions.
Before the rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, before the attacks on 9/11, there existed operationally decentralized but ideologically coherent gangs of pro-life, pro-gun, anti-black, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant crazies who represented the clearest and most present danger to the nation. Their crowning achievement: the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 and wounded hundreds more.
Drawn from the ranks of fundamentalist Christians, neo-Nazis, survivalists, Ku Klux Klansmen, and radical pro-lifers, these nativist cadres have proven to be far more resilient than any of the putrid spawn of the so-called New Left, such as the Weather Underground.
Tiller's alleged assassin, Scott Roeder — an opponent of all but local government, a sometime tax resister who was once found by police with bomb-making materials in his car — appears to be a member of similar factions, including the "sovereign citizen" movement.
Like the New Left, the New Right advocates "power to the people" —its "people" being largely white, male, and Christian.
The mainstream political figure who most eloquently articulated the philosophy of the contemporary right was Senator Barry Goldwater. In his 1964 speech accepting the Republican nomination for president, Goldwater preached, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Roeder would no doubt agree.
Ever since Goldwater, Republicans have successfully played footsie with the most repulsive elements on the right. It was part of President Richard Nixon's malevolent genius that he was able to defang the 1968 candidacy of segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace, capturing enough angry, racist votes to win the White House.
Ronald Reagan proved just as slick, kicking off his 1980 campaign at an all-white Southern church and pledging himself to "state rights," which is rightspeak for keeping the black man in his place. It was during the Reagan era that the many and varied apostles of hate and other assorted political misfits found common cause.
Today, these people form a very disquieting base within the Republican core. It is a group that, short of apocalypse, can never be satisfied. These political primitives, however, can be coddled and petted — as President George W. Bush proved time and again with his appointments to the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary. It is probably not a coincidence that anti-abortion killings were suspended during Bush's time in office. Why risk symbolic violence when others can achieve your goals within the framework of government?
Obama's election shattered this comfortable assumption. The president's commitment to engage in a rational discussion about abortion is clearly driving the hard right crazy, as is his nomination of appellate judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.