Put down the guns, let’s talk

David Busch

Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff, riveted the crowd with his rhetorical magic. The group, “Friends for Liberty,” an umbrella group under the famed “Tea Party Movement,” was held at bay with each clever remark by Mack. And then, with the crowd at his fingertips, it was brought to its feet — 1,400 people in all — as his speech turned to the necessity of confronting a despotic federal government.

“Friends for Liberty” is just one branch of an ever-expanding web of the Tea Party Movement. Members include Ron Paul supporters, Aryan Nation supports and Neo-Nazis; gun rights activists, anti-tax crusaders, “birthers” who doubt President Obama’s citizenship and the Sovereign States movements. In the background are conservative lobbying groups, most notably FreedomWorks. Also represented are “Oath Keepers” who claim to be “Guardians of the Republic” that recruit military and law enforcement officials and have informal ties with militias. Each group, though, is united by the belief that America is being held captive by a tyrannical dictator and a large federal government.

David Aaronovitch, author of “Voodoo Histories: The Role of Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History,” writes that overarching theories tend to be “formulated by the politically defeated and taken up by the socially defeated.” Many conservatives, still reeling from the election of Barack Obama, have become avid members of this movement, and Sarah Palin has claimed a crown seat for the future. Aaronovitch further writes that, “If it can be proved that there has been a conspiracy, which has transformed politics and society, then their defeat is not the product of their inherent weakness of unpopularity … it is due to the almost demonic ruthlessness of their enemy.” Thus, for the Tea Party Movement, conservative members have clamped onto conspiracy theories that makes sense of the current political and social world. In the case of Obama, it is big federal government and centralization –— a tyrannical takeover of America.

As a grassroots protest movement, the Tea Party movement is exemplifying its rights that have been vital for America’s democracy. Protests and grassroots movements have shaped America’s democracy as shown in the 1960s and 1970s with Civil Rights Activists and Vietnam Marchers, or even seen as recently with the movements for gay rights. Democracy is a public square of debate and conversation, of argument and reconciliation — a gray area that fuses many ideas and beliefs together.

The Tea Party Movement defies this ideal of democracy. As Mack’s speech suggests, the Tea Party is facing an all-or-none moment, a worldview that pins “the people” against the “Bolshevik” U.S. government. The Tea Party movement has created a conspiracy narrative and made it mainstream reality. The Tea Party is envisioning the nation on the verge of war or, as Mrs. Stout, president of a local Tea Party chapter in Sandpoint, Idaho, said, “It (a Civil War) is my deepest fear … I don’t see us being the ones to start it, but I would give up my life for my country.”

Let’s be realistic, though. As history has shown, each generation faces moments of great conflict and disaster whether it was the American Civil War or the Lost Generation of World War I, the Great Depression or the Cold War. Today is no different. But anger and the loading of guns, the gathering of militias and the calls for the return of the Articles of Confederation will not solve the problem. The attempt to simplify the world and our nation into black and white boxes, us vs. them ideologies will not bring an end to the constant and difficult changes that characterize modernity.

Just as Obama has called for an open debate with Republicans about health care reform, the same needs to be done at the grass-roots level because if we don’t, all of us will be the victims of history. Put down the guns, let’s talk.

David Busch is a senior psychology and history major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].