Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Tea Party And Violence Thing

Dance has been pretty vocal regarding her concerns about The Tea Party and my take on domestic terrorism. Her criticisms are well-taken.

But I guess my point here is this:
Dance has a problem with the politics of The Tea Party. Consequently, she overestimates the threat of the violence. I'm probably not being very clear here and that's because it's muddled a bit in my head, but let me put it this way.

Most people abhor violence. Yet, we have, certainly not sympathy, but perhaps understanding of violence motivated by what we agree with.

So, an environmentalist is less concerned about the ELF than people who aren't environmentalists.

Pro-life people are less concerned about murders of abortion doctors.

People who think the Tea Party is correct are less concerned about violence.

My point here is not that this makes it correct, but that perhaps we all have a bias on these things. Perhaps my relatively sanguine position about the possibility and consequences of domestic terrorism spurred on by Tea Parties is part of a bias that says the complaints of the Tea Party have some merit even if they're very poorly articulated. Likewise, possibly Dance, whom I believe to be turned off by much of the Tea Party's agenda, overestimates the threat.

All told, the threat of terrorism is pretty fucking low. And history shows that the tactic isn't terribly effective as a political tool anyway. So, I think our opinions about the ends of the violence cannot help but influence our perception of the potential for violence and its impact.

This isn't to say that I have any sympathy for McVeigh or the IRS bomber or ELF or any of these wackjobs. It's just that when I think of the Tea Party's agenda, I don't immediately think wackjob. I think, hey, they're like my somewhat misguided conservative co-worker. He's not going to blow anything up. Yet, when I think of Greenpeace, I think of wackjobs. (Not so much for some other environmental and conservation groups, but definitely Greenpeace.) And so I see how they could progress to violence like ELF. They all ought to be caught, tried, and punished. I just see less consequences from one than the other.

I feel like this is making less and less sense, but here's the gist. Terrorism is a very low risk and isn't particularly effective as a political tool. We naturally have a greater fear of both the possibility and effectiveness of violence used for political ends that we don't agree with, but the possibility of it being effective is damn near nil.

The issue really is the agenda, not the violence. I think the focus on the violence somewhat a way of self-justification that the other side is filled with irrational nutjobs.


FLG said...


The issue is not about concern, but about relative concern.

I'll explicitly include that in the sentence:
Pro-life people are less concerned about murders of abortion doctors than pro-choice people.

So, the question becomes, do you think you are more concerned about it than an equivalently pro-choice person?

dance said...

Actually, my central problem is that your Fed-blgs-only! argument is nonsense, and I wish you'd stop spouting it and produce an argument that really engages with the concerns people are expressing.

Similiarly, I fail to see the distinction between "AQ makes attacking average people a goal", while "anti-fed-govt militias see average people as collateral damage not worth worrying about but not a specific target", which is the hair you seem to be splitting.

I think this post continues to miss the point.

Note, by the way, that the media quotation referred to "homegrown extremism", which *you* are conflating with the Tea Party, not me.

I do not think the Tea Party is a mass of militia members, and while I think they are misguided overall, I have some sympathy for some of their concerns. I do think there is a legit risk that the violent extremists might use the Tea Party to hide themselves or to build their network, and that avoiding suspicion this way might enable them to execute more actual violence in the US than AQ, regardless of what is planned. Yes, that concern would also apply to the ELF. I am not very familar with the ELF, but my sense is that they have blown up closed buildings after-hours, and that they are concerned about death via collateral damage. From your wikipedia link "The ELF's guidelines require that individuals or groups acting on its behalf "take all necessary precautions against harming any animal — human and nonhuman.""

My second concern with the Tea Party is that they will encourage the sort of laws that we have seen in Arizona. Again, you can have similiar concerns with the environmental movement, but I find legalizing racial/class profiling by the police far more problematic than a city ticketing people for not separating out their recyclables, as they might give parking tickets.

Also, could you add the links back to the previous posts in this conversation, please? I'm a historian and missing citations make me twitch.

George Pal said...


I see your point and concede it has the advantage of the intuitive assumption.

However, a pro-life position, well thought out, and leaning on Christian values can engender a greater concern then you might suppose. As well as damaging the cause, such a murder deprives the victim of a chance for repentance/redemption, such a murder might deprive the movement of a formidable ally, and any delight in such a murder is an occasion of sin.

So what of the more concerned, the pro-choice person? Is it a concern of more abortionists’ murders to come? - reasonable, on the face of it. A concern that wholesale murders of abortionists will sweep the country? – unlikely. A concern such murders might lead to a shortage of abortion providers? And you can’t deny that there might be, in rare cases, and for one fleeting moment, just a soupcon of political delight in such murders.

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