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Friday, August 06, 2010

Worry With The Fringe On The Top

by digby

There is now a cottage industry devoted to lecturing people like me about how I'm being unfair to the Tea Partiers. They are mostly just hard working Americas who are feeling economic stress and it's unfair to paint them as extremists. Certainly, the least I could do is recognize that they are not engaged in culture war issues and are just expressing an ideological disagreement over economic policy.

So what do we make of the fact that so many of their chosen leaders are such crazy, fringe freaks?

When Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle told a Christian news interviewer this year that “entitlement programs (are) built to make government our God,” she voiced a central tenet of Christian Reconstructionism, according to academics who study the movement.

Christian Reconstructionism is a political-religious movement formed in the 1960s and ’70s that seeks to return American society to the rule of biblical law. Any attempt to expand government beyond the dictates in the Old Testament — for example, by establishing Social Security benefits, education policy or property taxes — turns government into a false idol, reconstructionists believe.

“The problem is that government becomes an idol when it overspills its biblically proscribed boundaries, and people start looking to government for salvation,” said Julie Ingersoll, a religious studies professor at the University of North Florida, in explaining a tenet of Christian Reconstructionism.

In April, Angle said her Democratic rival, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, along with President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was remaking the federal government into God.

“And these programs that you mentioned — that Obama has going with Reid and Pelosi pushing them forward — are all entitlement programs built to make government our God,” she said told the TruNews interviewer. “And that’s really what’s happening in this country, is a violation of the First Commandment. We have become a country entrenched in idolatry, and that idolatry is the dependency upon our government. We’re supposed to depend upon God for our protection and our provision and for our daily bread, not for our government.”

Her comments are getting widespread discussion and a counterattack this week by the Reid campaign.

Many of Angle’s religious and political beliefs appear to align with the tenets of Christian Reconstructionism. She’s supported eliminating Social Security and Medicare, is a home schooling champion, sees the separation of church and state as an unconstitutional doctrine that was never meant to protect the state from religious belief, and believes public policy should support the traditional family structure as defined in the Bible.

She also helped resurrect the Nevada affiliate of a national party founded by a prominent Christian Reconstructionist and has raised campaign money from reconstructionists.

But Ingersoll said Angle’s comments on government as a false idol come directly from the movement’s founder, R.J. Rushdoony, an orthodox Presbyterian minister.

“Since this spring you’ve had all this flap over the degree to which you might suggest Angle was influenced by the Reconstructionist movement,” Ingersoll said.

“But if you really sum up Rushdoony’s philosophy on government, that’s it. That really is it.”

Religious Right experts like Sarah Posner have been sounding the alarm about this for a while. The Tea Party is really just a manifestation of the Far Right fringe in all its glory. In this fascinating piece, she examines all the tentacles between the Gun Owners of America reconstructionist lawyer Herb Titus, militias and the Tea Party. Here's just one little interesting excerpt:

Rep. Ron Paul, a godfather of sorts to the Tea Parties, calls the GOA “the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington.” Indeed, Pratt, GOA's executive director, told RD that he has spoken at Tea Party events, calling his group “a natural match for the folks in the Tea Party.” Pratt believes the federal government is largely unconstitutional, and that all federal agencies save the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury (which should be “a lot smaller”), should be abolished. (The Internal Revenue Service is a part of Treasury that Pratt would like to see abolished.)

GOA’s political action arm has endorsed Paul’s son, Rand, in the Kentucky Senate race, as well as other Tea Party favorites for Senate Sharron Angle (Nevada), Marco Rubio (Florida), J.D. Hayworth (Arizona), David Vitter (Louisiana), Tom Coburn (Oklahoma), and Jim DeMint (South Carolina), as well as eight House candidates. The Angle campaign embraced the endorsement, with her spokesperson saying, “Not only is Mrs. Angle unafraid of guns, but she is also unafraid to stand up against those who would attempt to deny the legal rights of other gun owners.”

Pratt, whose advocacy has led him to intersect not only with the Tea Partiers, but also with neo-Nazis and white supremacists, sees the revitalization of the 10th Amendment movement—far-right agitators who believe the federal government is largely unconstitutional—as evidence of states “pushing back federal authority.” Pratt believes that states should be “reactivating” militias; which should be at their disposal “instead of relying on the [federal] government to come and screw things up... these things should be given new life.”

Pratt refuses the label “Christian Reconstructionist,” telling RD he prefers to identify as a “Biblical Christian.” He advocates for militias which he describes as “the sheriff’s posse” and that the “availability of it will further cool their [the federal government’s] jets. No more Wacos. Because if you try something like that again, we’re not going to stand around and watch. We’re going to put you in our jail. Which is what the sheriff in that county should have told the thugs in Waco.”

This is predicated, Pratt insists, “on the actual meaning of the word militia, as it was put into the Constitution and into the Bill of Rights.”

Citing Romans 13, Pratt said the “magistrate is a servant of God. He’s supposed to be a terror to evildoers and a comfort to the righteous. So we talk in terms of protecting the people’s liberties. That’s really the same concept.”

Now I would guess that most of the tea partiers are not aware of any of this, mostly because they are listening to Glenn Beck spew even less coherent Libertarian gobbledeygook on FOX. But you can certainly see how the various strands of the far Right Fringe can find common cause --- and it isn't on economics, at least as sentient people understand it.

When I saw Posner at one of the conferences she asked me why none of us were talking about the Christian Right influences in the Tea Party movement and the only thing I could say was that I suspected we didn't know much about it. Indeed, I find myself pressured every day by people telling me that I'm being disrespectful to these nice folks for pointing out just how nuts their movement is, so I'm sure that we're all afraid to get too far out there.

But with Tea Party star Sharron Angle going on the record with the Christian reconstructionist line, it's probably not a good idea to ignore it as just fringe of the fringe. The woman is neck and neck with Harry Reid in the polls.