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Tragedy in Tucson: A Somber Anniversary's Call to Repudiate Right-Wing Extremism

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of the attempted assassination of Gabby Giffords that ultimately killed six and wounded 13 others in the worst act of political violence in this country since the bombing of the 1995 Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  I remember that moment of shock first seeing the news but at the same time not being surprised to find out that Gabby was thetarget.

I knew that she regularly received death threats; that the Tea Party demonstrated outside her office carrying weapons every week and that her office had been shot at following her 2010 vote in favor of health care.  After the 2010 incident, I wrote that it was "not enough for [Republican Leader] Boehner to say these actions are wrong, if he leaves unchecked the hatred his party so diligently pollinated."  Yet the Republicans only added fuel to the fire, as months later Giffords' Republican opponent had a fundraiser to "target" victory and "remove" her from office where donors could shoot an M16 rifle.

Republicans are trying to have it both ways when it comes to its extremist fringe, expressing displeasure over their most outrageous conduct but stoking the mania that fuels it.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the Republican presidential sweepstakes where the candidates are willing to condemn the racist rants in Ron Paul's newsletters, only to then engage in race-baiting themselves as Newt Gingrich did in equating African-Americans and food stamps.

Chuck Baldwin Quote by Bennet Kelley
The worst thing about Paul, however, is not the dated newsletters but his more recent actions such as endorsing Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin (a white supremacist with ties to the militia movement) for President in 2008 and not Republican nominee McCain; inviting neo-confederates to testify before his subcommittee or his ongoing ties with white supremacist groups.  

This has not come up, however, both because the media has been shamefully lazy in reporting on Paul's more recent activities and because you will not hear Gingrich or other Republicans criticize Paul's embrace of the neo-confederate fringe since that has become part of the Republican base.  This is especially true as we head into the critical South Carolina primary; home of prominent neo-confederate Representative Joe Wilson who gained national infamy for yelling "you lie" during President Obama's address to Congress on health care.

The reality that no Republican will challenge Paul's white supremacist ties does not alter the fact that they should.  In 1992, Bill Clinton angered Jesse Jackson but gained credibility when he repudiated racist remarks by Sister Souljah that called for the killing of white people.  John McCain attempted a similar feat before the 2000 South Carolina primary, calling the confederate battle flag a "symbol of racism and slavery," but recanted three days later.

With Paul pursuing a strategy that focuses on the caucus states where organization is key, as long as Republican treat him with kid gloves and refuse to repudiate his David Duke-lite candidacy (Paul is endorsed by Duke), he will come to the GOP convention in Tampa with a sizeable slate of delegates.  The Republican nominee would need to placate him to ensure a successful convention, which could undermine his attempt to move to the center as the fall campaign begins.  Once again the tail would be wagging the dog, just as in Congress where Republicans have suffered political defeats due to the Tea Party Caucus' insistence on extreme and politically unpopular positions.

When Barack Obama was sworn in, I naively thought that the nation align="left"
Militia Groups by Southern Poverty Law Center
was finally entering into a post-racial era.  The bitter cold of that day should have served as a warning, as there has been a 553 percent increase in patriot and militia groups since that time returning to peak pre-Oklahoma City levels.  Yet when the Department of Homeland Security issued a report warning about the rise of right wing hate groups, Republicans cried foul and demanded an apology.

I am not saying that Republicans as a whole condone the tragedy in Tucson or right wing hate groups, in fact the Republicans I know are appalled by both.  Yet when Republicans say things like "reload", encourage people to bring guns to public events or embrace white supremacist groups without condemnation by the party leadership, their "silence utters very loud".

The upcoming anniversary and the rise of Ron Paul give the party a chance for a "Sister Souljah moment" that would allow it to break free from a fringe that is hurting it politically.  More importantly, it would allow this upcoming election to be based on competing visions of our future and not the ugly scars of our past.


More Info on Ron Paul:

Southern Poverty Law Center --   The Year in Hate 2010

Related Columns

Year of Living Dangerously Part II: Responding to Tucson's Day of Terror

America's Year of Living Dangerously

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Bennet Kelley is an award-winning columnist, a political commentator, radio host and the former Co-Founder and National Co-Chair of the Democratic National Committee's Saxophone Club (its young professional fundraising and outreach arm during (more...)

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