Big news today as the Southern Poverty Law Center issued an alarming report “that an astonishing 363 new Patriot groups appeared in 2009, with the totals going from 149 groups (including 42 militias) to 512 (127 of them militias) – a 244% jump” from 2008.
Decidedly important, if true. This “astonishing” claim is repeated uncritically by Scott Martelle of AOL News and Dave Weigel of the Washington Independent, and breathlessly hyped by Sam Stein at Huffington Post:
The entire report presents a rather grim and alarming portrait of the state of extremist organizations in America. Pointing to media figures (Fox News’s Glenn Beck) and lawmakers (Rep. Michele Bachmann) who have indulged in some of the conspiracy theories that drive these groups and their members, the SPLC suggests that a radical ethos is gradually becoming institutionalized in American politics.
OK, so who are these dangerous “new Patriot groups” we are warned about? The SPLC’s roster includes 48 separate listings of a group called “We the People.” This a non-profit organization founded by Robert Schultz, a hyper-litigious critic of the Internal Revenue Service.
“We the People” appears to be generally libertarian in orientation: 2004 Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik addressed the group’s 2009 “Constitutional Convention,” and Schultz himself was a guest (along with libertarian figures like Reason magazine editor Nick Gillespie and Rep. Ron Paul) on an August 2009 broadcast of Judge Andrew Napolitano’s Fox News TV program.
After finding the Web site of the Alabama chapter of “We the People,” I phoned Huntsville resident Lesha Martin, one of the members listed on the site. Is “We the People” some kind of violent militia-type outfit?
“Good heavens, no,” said Ms. Martin, an admirer of Ron Paul who described herself as devoted to individual freedom and “resurrecting the Constitution.”
How many peaceful citizens like Lesha Martin are lumped together to create the “grim and alarming portrait . . . of extremist organizations” presented by the SPLC?
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