Today is Independence Day, the date on which Americans have long celebrated the establishment of the United States as a sovereign nation united under a federal government; a day on which competing political views and regional prejudices are put aside so that we may all lift up our common heritage and our shared commitment to freedom and nationhood.
Of course, July 4th has not been celebrated in every single corner of the nation on each of the 236 years of our history. There was a little window in and around the period from 1861 to 1865, for instance, in which a several million Americans stood in open rebellion to the national government. And there have been other brief periods in which smaller groups and pockets of people have openly questioned, challenged or defied the legitimacy and authority of the government.
Still, in modern times, such occurrences are rare and mostly ascribed to troubled fanatics like Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, Eric Rudolph, David Koresh and Warren Jeffs.
Or so it once seemed.
The new extremists
Ever since the advent of the Great Recession (and especially since President Obama took office), there has been a budding national movement of far right extremists who speak openly of “state’s rights,” “nullification,” the illegitimacy of the 14th Amendment and even secession. Over the last few years, more and more of these troubled souls and their wild eyed claims have percolated closer and closer to the surface of respectable debate. Last year’s 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War provided additional impetus.
Some of these groups have actually brushed up against centers of power. Remember Todd Palin’s membership in the secessionist Alaska Independence Party? Recently, North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis actually sat down with a local activist who questions the legitimacy of several important amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
This past weekend, the fringe far right took another step in their effort to win acceptance and mainstream support for their frequently-frightening agenda when one of their true believers was prominently featured at an anti-Obamacare rally in Raleigh sponsored by the Art Pope/Koch Brothers-funded group, Americans for Prosperity. The group calls itself the Foundation for a Free Society and its Executive Director – a guy named Jason Rink – was a featured speaker at Saturday’s event.
At Saturday’s event, Rink delivered a rambling speech entitled “Nullification: The Tenth Amendment Solution to Unconstitutional Federal Mandates,” in which, among other things, he questioned John Marshall’s foundational decision in the Marbury v. Madison case that the U.S. Supreme Court should be the final arbiter of what is constitutional in the United States and argued, like some kind of modern day, would be confederate like John C. Calhoun, that it is the duty of individual states to “nullify” federal laws that they deem unconstitutional.
Consider some of the following items from the Foundation’s website:
Under the heading “Agorism,” a post promotes a book entitled “The New Libertarian Manifesto,” as follows:
“Written by Samuel Edward Konkin in 1983, the New Libertarian Manifesto gave birth to the libertarian strategy of Agorism, or revolutionary market anarchism. In a market anarchist society, law and security would be provided by market actors instead of political institutions. Agorists recognize that situation can not develop through political reform. Instead, it will arise as a result of market processes.
As the state is banditry, revolution culminates in the suppression of the criminal state by market providers of security and law. Market demand for such service providers is what will lead to their emergence. Development of that demand will come from economic growth in the sector of the economy that explicitly shuns state involvement (and thus can not (sic) turn to the state in its role as monopoly provider of security and law). That sector of the economy is the counter-economy – black and gray markets.”
And then there’s this bizarre interview with a guy named Michael Badnarik at the 2010 Texas Libertarian Convention in which he claims that virtually every modern action of the federal government is unconstitutional, decries the illegitimacy of things like driver’s licenses (he claims to have driven without one since 1997) and argues that the Federal Reserve has been “counterfeiting” the currency for the last century. Badnarik explains repeatedly the ways in which he is willing to engage in physical resistance in opposition to various government actions.
He also explains in rather apocalyptic terms that traditional First Amendment rights like freedom of speech are insufficient to resist an impending declaration of martial law by the powers-that-be and that it will be necessary to “go to the Second Amendment.” Badnarik also says we should put current politicians “in jail for treason” and that, Mad Max-like, everyone needs to have a year to a year-and-a-half worth of food stashed away, guns and ammunition to protect it and all of one’s money converted to gold and silver in order to be “self-sufficient.” The interview concludes with Badnarik explaining that his favorite part of the Second Amendment is “that click when the safety goes off.”
Wow! What the heck is AFP doing cavorting with such a group? Is this really the next frontier for conservative activists and their political allies in the years ahead?
And, of course, the Foundation for a Free Society is just one of many such radical anti-government, anti-public solutions groups. As several mainstream news media outlets have reported in recent years, the proliferation of groups that “hate Lincoln, the New Deal and desegregation” and “love Jefferson Davis, secession, and nullification” has been on the rise for some time.
What’s interesting and at least a little bit troubling of late, however, is their apparent newfound legitimacy with the corporate-funded groups and politicians like AFP and Tillis. While most of these fringe actors continue to be rightfully dismissed as crackpots, there’s no denying that they have gained acceptance in some circles.
The giant irony of all this (as has been discussed in many analyses of the “tea party”) is the huge disconnect that exists between these competing right-wing movements. Think about it: Isn’t it a little strange that these groups which argue and organize so passionately about “individual freedom” and the right to be “free from tyranny” are frequently abetting a movement that is one of the biggest threats to individual freedom in recent American history – namely, the rise of an unfettered corporate oligarchy that is in the process of effecting a wholesale purchase of the American political system?
This latter movement, which is symbolized by corporate front groups like Americans for Prosperity, is one that is centralizing power and control in the hands of a few giant corporations and so-called “Super Pac’s” in a way that would make the robber barons of the 19th Century blush – or, at least, pine with envy.
So, will it last? Will the survivalists, the gold and silver hoarders and the weapons nuts continue to grow in number? And will they continue to merge their efforts with the corporate-funded front groups for the Koch Brothers and other modern day robber barons?
The suspicion here is that this will be difficult. Not only are there some fundamental and critical ideological divides between the movements, but it also seems likely that the gradual and inevitable return of economic prosperity in the coming years will tend to drain the national pool of disaffected and alienated souls that provides the front-line troops for both.
For now, however, it seems likely that the flirtation between the two will continue – at least so long as the fringe groups are gullible enough to think that the corporate oligarchs share their concerns and the oligarchs deem the fringers useful.
In other words, expect to experience at least few more Independence Days in which a noisy minority of disaffected Americans continues to publicly question our amazing national experiment with democracy and strong national government.
But don’t lose too much sleep; the country has survived much worse and will again.
Enjoy the Fourth!