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Tilting at Windmills

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August 27, 2009

DON'T APPLAUD SELF-DESCRIBED 'TERRORISTS'.... Rep. Wally Herger (R) of California, a right-wing back-bencher who rarely generates national attention, held a town-hall event last week, in which he described health care reform as a "threat to our democracy."

But what turned out to be the most newsworthy aspect of the event was a comment from one of the attendees, who declared, "I am a proud right-wing terrorist." The Republican congressman said with a broad smile, "Amen, God bless you. There is a great American."

There's now a video of the remarks. For those of you who can't watch clips from your work computers, the man, whose name is apparently Bert Stead, sounds like a mild-mannered Tea Bagger, repeating fairly predictable nonsense. Government is bad, health care reform is bad, Obama is bad, birth certificates are good, yada, yada, yada. He comes across as the pleasant-but-annoying right-wing relative who sends a bunch of weird emails to his family members.

But he also says, to great applause, that he considers himself a "proud right-wing terrorist." And Wally Herger thought that was great.

In my heart of hearts, do I really think Bert Stead is a violent lunatic? No. Is he likely to encourage others to commit acts of political violence? I seriously doubt it. The guy probably called himself a "terrorist" because he's bought into the nonsense he's been fed about the Department of Homeland Security report(s) on extremists.

But there's a larger context to consider. The threat of political violence is real. Right-wing activists are showing up at presidential events with assault rifles; they're making death threats against members of Congress; and they're painting swastikas on lawmakers' signs. By one count, threats against the president are up 400%.

Conservative David Frum recently went so far as to accuse the "reckless right" of courting violence, imploring the right to "tone down the militant and accusatory rhetoric."

And it's against this backdrop that Republican lawmakers are hearing dangerous rhetoric from their own constituents. In Iowa the other day, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) heard from one town-hall attendee, "The president of the United States, that's who you should be concerned about. Because he's acting like a little Hitler. I'd take a gun to Washington if enough of you would go with me."

Around the same time, Bert Stead boasted about labeling himself a terrorist. The appropriate response for a reasonable elected official is not to cheer the guy on.

Abraham Lincoln Ella Wheeler Wilcox* once said, "To sit in silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men." Wally Herger is Exhibit A.

Update: Herger doubles down, reiterating his praise.

Second Update: I was fairly sure the quote was Lincoln's, but Mark Kleiman emails with proof it's from Wilcox.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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We are a savage people.

Posted by: Hunter Gathers on August 27, 2009 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

These people are clearly crazy. Their talking points are nonsense, and their approach to social discourse is that of a snapping turtle: when you see something, bite it, even if it's not really there.

When you try to compromise with a snapping turtle, the only discussion is how much you're going to get bit off. And you're still negotiating mostly with yourself.

Posted by: Cap'n Chucky on August 27, 2009 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

From a local report:

One speaker [Bert Stead] said he could trace his ancestors back to the Mayflower and said “they did not arrive holding their hands out for help.” “I am a proud right wing terrorist,” he declared to cheers.

His Mayflower ancestors were incompetent sailors who lost their way at sea, arrived accidentally in Massachusetts, and found a long, cold winter in progress. While it's true that they repeatedly looted Native American stores of food, they did it because they were starving -- not the usual definition of "terrorism" -- although they did get around to the latter as well, not long after, yes, "holding out their hands for help" from the likes of Massasoit and the Wampanoags.

Herger praised the man’s attitude. “Amen, God bless you,” Herger said with a broad smile. “There is a great American.”

If by "great" we mean "as stupid as a box of hammers."

Posted by: Cervantes on August 27, 2009 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

As one whose ancestors also came over on the Mayflower, or some similarly botanically-named boat, I have to agree with Cervantes.

Posted by: Cap'n Chucky on August 27, 2009 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

I like how in the right wing world, your more American if you can trace your ancestry further back. The Native Indians had been walking around North America for about 15,000 years only to have Bert's ancestry pillage, break contracts, and systematically commit acts of genocide against them. Bert maybe a proud domestic terrorist, but his ancestry were foreign terrorists.

Posted by: oh my on August 27, 2009 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

The "Great American" (unwashed variety) that Rep Herger praises is one of millions of the downtrodden, suffering through decades of wage stagnation and simultaneously buffeted by rising prices of bread, gasoline, and healthcare.

"What did I do wrong", he asks. "I played by the rules". "It's not my fault!"

And so he lashes out at what he has been TOLD is the cause of all his problems.

He, and the other Middle Americans like him, are clay, ready to be molded by powerful (self)interests, who do not have the ideals of our Founding Fathers at the top of their list.

Historical parallels are easy and often wrong.

That said, a look at post WWI Germany might be educational. . .

Posted by: DAY on August 27, 2009 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

Wasn't there also a sign recently about "Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids"?

Posted by: GEM_in_Orange on August 27, 2009 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

What especially bothers me is the smug smile on Wally's face, the exact same smug look a used car salesman has when spying a chump. I don't know anything about Mr. Herger, but I'd wager while Bert spends his weekends mowing lawn and fixing his Ford Taurus, Wally's playing golf on the back nine of some exclusive country club. Folks, Rupert Murdoch's work here is done.

Posted by: wtf on August 27, 2009 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

Just to add to the Mayflower comments above, this country was not built by the decendents of the Mayflower (the "Pilgrim Paradigm" I've heard it called), it was built by rich land owners with slaves and big plots of land given to them by the Gov't of England. Yes, there were many more, but Bert's type always seems incapable of holding more than one idea in his head.

Maybe Bert should take a cue from his relatives. They were a bunch of malcontents who couldn't make it in their own country, so left to find a place where they could enforce their beliefs on everyone else.

Posted by: martin on August 27, 2009 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

Paranoid, hysterical, ignorant and arrogant racists are easy marks.

Posted by: Jim B on August 27, 2009 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

A plea to Media Matters who left Denver last winter: "Please come back." Meantime, from my listening post on denver talkradio, the following:

The attack on the local Denver Democratic HDQS is being compared, by one local rightwing host who routinely calls Hitler, "Die Fuehrer," as the Reichtag Fire....where the Nazi set the fire and used it as a pretense to institute total control in Germany..

Again, Media Matters, where are you????

Posted by: joanneinDenver on August 27, 2009 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

It isn't reckless. It's intentional. Of course the party of death wants violence. It is all they know.

Posted by: Jay on August 27, 2009 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Good call on the sarcastic use of "terrorist". It's like the self-named members of the vast Right Wing Conspiracy, who similarly indicate that their brains are in a lockbox at FoxNews.

They're PROUD of it. That's the problem.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on August 27, 2009 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

i'm sure as the mob grows and the repugnant party regains its strength to begin taking power, we can continue to parse the relative qualifications about wally and bert, and whether or not they are really meaning what they are saying...

and there will, no doubt, be 100s of 1,000s of others' actions and words we can parse too.

it'll be just like the lead up to the iraq invasion only, you know, right here in the "good ol' usa..."

Posted by: neill on August 27, 2009 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry to say, Wally Herger is my representative. Roll Call named him to the "Obscure Caucus" in 1994, 2003, and 2007. In '07 he was named a Chairman Emeritus. Because of his longevity in the House, Mr. Herger is ranking Republican on the Health Subcommittee of Ways and Means, 2nd ranking on the whole Committee.

Mr. Herger says through a spokesman that he was praising Mr. Stead's military service and praising his willingness to exercise his First Amendment rights. Mr. Stead says he meant to say "right-wing extremist" not terrorist. Doesn't matter. Mr. Herger's praising him was a failure to provide leadership, although no one around here really thinks he is a leader in any sense of the word.

Posted by: jpeckjr on August 27, 2009 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

It would be nice if someone explained the historical context of conservatism. Conservatives by their nature (& this currently seems to be their ONLY idea) resist progress. But it's called progress for a reason. When the Constitution was ratified there were basically no rights for women or people of color. But it's still a pretty remarkable document, isn't it? And it was written by progressives. (Someone break it to poor Bert.)

Progressives stood up for the idea of a new nation, way back when. Conservatives in 1775 fled to Canada or Mother England. They were called Loyalists and were on the wrong side of history.

Conservatives in the 1930s had their America First thing going for them. Terrified by the German menace, they wanted to keep America out of any potential conflict. If Bert wants some fun, he should look into what FDR had to do to help Churchill's England in those early days of the war when England was the only country standing in Germany's way. Republican obstructionism almost screwed the pooch.

In the 1960s & beyond, of course, conservatives were anti-Civil Rights, just as now they are anti-Gay rights. I admire Eisenhower's highway expansion plan & Nixon's formulation of the EPA, to give some examples, but for the most part no Republican since Nixon resigned in disgrace has presented anything that actually helps our country. I mean, I can't think of a single thing, off hand. People say Reagan "brought down the USSR" but that's patently absurd.

You can only stand between progress and the future for so long. I think a whole lot of Conservatives have been standing there so long that our future is imperiled as a result. And the crowning indignity of it all is that they simply have no workable ideas to offer the country.

Posted by: zhak on August 27, 2009 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Hmm. Steve, you seem somewhat laudatory towards Frum, who wrote that if Obama really were a fascist/Nazi/etc., then someone should shoot him. The problem with what Frum wrote is that there are some people who do believe that Obama is those things, and Frum is telling them that, rather than work to have Obama impeached, why, someone should just shoot him. That's reprehensible on Frumbo's part.

Posted by: josef on August 27, 2009 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

The guy was trying to be funny. Which from the mouths of reactionaries always comes out silly. Give him credit for at least trying.

Posted by: buddy66 on August 27, 2009 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

"He comes across as the pleasant-but-annoying right-wing relative who sends a bunch of weird emails to his family members."

Sounds like Steve knows my Dad.

Posted by: Chris on August 27, 2009 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, thanks a lot for the new practice of explaining what's in the videos for those of us at work. It's not helping my productivity, but still, I really appreciate it.

Posted by: BrendanInBoston on August 27, 2009 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

I thought it was illegal to make threats against the president or against the country? If these people talking about guns, terrorism and killing the President aren't terrorists what is? Or does all this talk come under the definition of free speech? Threats are not free speech in my opinion. Although I think Bush was a disaster and I would have liked to have seen him impeached ( after Cheney) I would never say lets kill him...Never... I respect the office no matter who holds it.

Posted by: Joan on August 27, 2009 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

The modern American "conservative" is not a conservative by any reasonable definition. They're reactionary theocrats controlled by kleptomaniacal fascists.

Posted by: ... on August 27, 2009 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Funny how the only people who are getting injured in political violence lately are victims of the Left?

Posted by: am on August 27, 2009 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK


unless you don't count the number of cops killed..

in pa. and fla.

and a museum guard in d.c.

Posted by: mr. irony on August 27, 2009 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Like just about everyone who lives in Massachusetts and New England, I can trace my ancestry back to the Mayflower, too. But unlike that Mayflower descendent in the video who said our Pilgrim Fathers built this country "without looking for a hand-out" I'd always been told that my ancestors would have been wiped out that very first cruel New England winter had it not been for the charity of the local inhabitants -- an intervention, complete with hand-outs, we celebrate today as Thanksgiving.

Posted by: Ted Frier on August 27, 2009 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

This is the final step in process of the 1860 Democratic Party turning into the Republican Party of today -- the admission that they'd rather wreck the Republic than see it be governed by people who disagree with them.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on August 27, 2009 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

OK -- Where did the OTHER side of his family come from?

He may not be as American as he lets on.

Posted by: Northern Pike on August 27, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

There is a huge problem here that we won't get out of. The Republicans are playing to a shrinking and becoming dangerous base. The media is treating them as though they were the majority of the population. We're witnessing a small group of extreme fringe characters being encouraged by one of our two major political parties and being propped up by a fawning media. Untill the attention faucet is turned off over these lunatics the problem will continue.

Posted by: Saint Zak on August 27, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

Sure Barack Obama and Adolf Hitler are comparable. Let's see: Hitler murdered 11 million human beings - Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, the handicapped, other "undesirables." Obama: Ummmmm...yeah.

No, wait: Hitler started a war that ultimately led to the deaths of 50 million human beings. Obama: Well, not so many. But he's young yet. Give him time.

But other than that, they're exactly the same!

Posted by: Screamin' Demon on August 27, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

In all seriousness, I really do think there are a number of latent issues we may be dealing with with this newly emergent right wing:

First, I really do think that at some level these conservatives want to undo the nation and separate themselves from the rest of us so that they can live as they see fit in their provincial and fundamentalist Christian communities -- and that this is really what is behind all these attacks on "Big Government."

Second, I think that for many on the Right who believe in a kind of radical individualism with almost no connections to community at all, they would just as soon return to a State of Nature where nihilistic freedom and survival of the fittest prevails.

And third, at some level they would never admit, I think that many on the radical right, who yearn for the purity of a homogeneous white Christian culture, also oppose government assistance in health care because they believe that people who cannot afford health care on their own are by definition un-desirable. And so it would be better for the country in the long run if we just make it as hard as we can for these people to get medical attention so that they will die off due to natural causes and spare the rest of us the burden of caring for them.

This is the real "death panel" we have to worry about.

Posted by: Ted Frier on August 27, 2009 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK


conservatives sure seem to be taking out police officers...

exhibit a: 3 Pittsburgh Cops Dead in Shootout; Suspect Feared Obama Gun Laws - AP 4/4/09

exhibit b: Joshua Cartwright: Another Deadly Gunman "Severely Disturbed" Over Obama's Election 4/27/09

exhibit c: Security guard shot and killed by suspected white supremacist at Holocaust Museum - 6/10/09

Posted by: mr. irony on August 27, 2009 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Ted Frier,

Oh, puhlease Ted. You expect us to believe that Thanksgiving was about some sort of indigenous population's generosity? Pshaw.

Thanksgiving is about eating until you can't move and then eating some more and early morning shopping and it always has been. Why, Pilgrims lined up for miles in front of Ye Olde Best Buy.

Posted by: doubtful on August 27, 2009 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK


You forgot to add the traditional football game between the Plimouth Planters and the Maize and Blue.

Posted by: Ted Frier on August 27, 2009 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

The concept of holding a feast of thanks to celebrate a bountiful harvest is as old as agriculture and should be no more or no less objectionable to anyone whether it is celebrated by Americans, Sumerians, Bantu, Chin, or Mayans.

The American holiday of Thanksgiving dates back to 1864 and was formalized to celebrate the nation's success and expected victory over a against a gang of violent, slaveholding rebels. The link to the Pilgrims was made later, as it was less controversial.

Posted by: Midland on August 27, 2009 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

I'm surprised that no one finds his comment about Obama being a "self-appointed king" equally disturbing. Obama won by a huge margin and was legally and without question elected by the American people. He ran on health care and has a mandate to enact it. I've heard many right-wingers deny this fact, they just cannot or will not accept a Democrat as a legitimate occupant in the White House. Yet, when George was appointed by 5 Republican judges the left was told to not be spoiled sports about it all. Their denial of his legitimacy is what fuels the teabaggers, birthers, and all of this other nonsense.

Posted by: wild west on August 27, 2009 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

This is really something. They hate terrorists, want to torture them, want to kill them, don't believe they have any kind of rights, but then, they are proud to be terrorists. That's the GOP today in a nutshell.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on August 27, 2009 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

They hate terrorists, want to torture them, want to kill them, don't believe they have any kind of rights, but then, they are proud to be terrorists.

As Frank put it in Rocky Horror,

. . .I wanted to be dressed just the same

Posted by: cld on August 27, 2009 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

I've heard many right-wingers deny this fact, they just cannot or will not accept a Democrat as a legitimate occupant in the White House . . . Their denial of his legitimacy is what fuels the teabaggers, birthers, and all of this other nonsense.

Welcome to the crisis of 1860. By and large, since most of these righties think they're taking part in a reality TV show and wouldn't have the courage or the energy to actually take up arms, I don't expect any significant uprising. Violence, however, there is going to be.

More worrisome is that Obama, like Lincoln, has to enforce his authority over a military overpopulated with officers who agree with the radical right. I expect that is why he is treading so carefully in dealing with them. If he can get through this first year in good shape, he should be able to push through more reforms.

One advantage over Lincoln: Secretary of Defense Gates is too soft on the military hierarchy, but he appears to at least want to clean up the mess he helped create. Secretary of War John Floyd was a theif and a traitor who deliberately shipped weapons south where the radicals could get access to them. He left Fort Donelson to be surrendered by Simon Buckner because he was afraid he'd be tried and hung for his actions before the war.

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Posted by: Ambien on September 15, 2009 at 1:37 AM | PERMALINK

It's not like we didn't have to deal with the same type of craziness during the Bush years. The only difference this time is that the weirdos are from the right wing instead of the left. Bert Stead didn't do anything wrong though; he obviously meant that he was a "terrorist" according to the supposed Department of Homeland Security definition of extremists.

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