Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is a senior political columnist for The Daily Beast and author of the new book "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America." Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.
By John Avlon, Special to CNN
In the wake of the health care vote, we’ve seen an escalation of angry rhetoric and actions, fueling this week’s wingnuts to ugly new heights of incitement.
At least ten members of the House of Representatives received death threats this week while Republican House Leader Eric Cantor reported that bullets had been fired at his district offices in Virginia. Four local Democratic Party offices and district congressional offices had their windows broken with bricks.
All this follows the online exhortations of militia leader Mike Vanderboegh, who wrote on his blog this past Friday: “If we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat party headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary.”
I interviewed Vanderboegh at length late last year for my book "Wingnuts." He is a self-described “former leftist” and SDS member who became a Second Amendment activist and leader in the militia movement during the 1990s. Last year, he co-founded a loosely-affiliated Hatriot group known as the Three Percenters.
Over the past year, he has detailed his unhinged opposition to the Obama administration: “You should understand that we are rapidly coming to a point in this country when half of the people are going to become convinced of the illegitimacy of this administration and its designs upon our liberty. Need I remind you that this side is the one with most of the firearms?”
This week he’s been hitting the radio show circuit to promote his message. This isn’t just wingnut stuff, it’s indicative of a new breed of Hatriot militias – those who believe its patriotic to fear the government and hate the president. It’s the politics of incitement.
At a time when Sarah Palin posted a Facebook page with gun-scope cross-hairs on the districts of Democratic representatives she is seeking to unseat this fall, the unhinged could be getting further encouragement from the former GOP VP nominee. In light of the death threats, decency and a modicum of good judgment should inspire Palin to take that map down immediately.
On the left, radio host Mike Malloy is at the ugly rhetoric again, this time targeting conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni. Mrs. Thomas formed a group with sympathies for the Tea Party protesters, remarking “I did not give up my First Amendment rights when my husband became a justice of the Supreme Court.”
Malloy exercised his first amendment rights by launching an ugly attack on Justice Thomas, calling him a “House Negro” and in transcripts raising the question of whether the Thomas’ interracial marriage ("She’s a very, very, very, very, very white Omaha, Nebraska woman married to a very, very, very, very black South Georgia man") would cause a problem for the Tea Party protesters he reflexively calls racist. This is an example of race-baiting from the left, wrapped in the arrogance of assumed ideological superiority.
Hate is a cheap and easy recruiting tool in politics – and in talk radio. But we are starting to see the results of hate in the service of hyper-partisanship. The extremes encourage and incite each other. We shouldn’t have to wait for further escalation to recognize the danger of this dynamic on our domestic politics.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.