Don’t applaud self-described ‘terrorists’

DON’T APPLAUD SELF-DESCRIBED ‘TERRORISTS’…. Rep. Wally Herger (R) of California, a right-wing back-bencher who rarely generates national attention, held a town-hall event last week, in which he described health care reform as a “threat to our democracy.”

But what turned out to be the most newsworthy aspect of the event was a comment from one of the attendees, who declared, “I am a proud right-wing terrorist.” The Republican congressman said with a broad smile, “Amen, God bless you. There is a great American.”

There’s now a video of the remarks. For those of you who can’t watch clips from your work computers, the man, whose name is apparently Bert Stead, sounds like a mild-mannered Tea Bagger, repeating fairly predictable nonsense. Government is bad, health care reform is bad, Obama is bad, birth certificates are good, yada, yada, yada. He comes across as the pleasant-but-annoying right-wing relative who sends a bunch of weird emails to his family members.

But he also says, to great applause, that he considers himself a “proud right-wing terrorist.” And Wally Herger thought that was great.

In my heart of hearts, do I really think Bert Stead is a violent lunatic? No. Is he likely to encourage others to commit acts of political violence? I seriously doubt it. The guy probably called himself a “terrorist” because he’s bought into the nonsense he’s been fed about the Department of Homeland Security report(s) on extremists.

But there’s a larger context to consider. The threat of political violence is real. Right-wing activists are showing up at presidential events with assault rifles; they’re making death threats against members of Congress; and they’re painting swastikas on lawmakers’ signs. By one count, threats against the president are up 400%.

Conservative David Frum recently went so far as to accuse the “reckless right” of courting violence, imploring the right to “tone down the militant and accusatory rhetoric.”

And it’s against this backdrop that Republican lawmakers are hearing dangerous rhetoric from their own constituents. In Iowa the other day, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) heard from one town-hall attendee, “The president of the United States, that’s who you should be concerned about. Because he’s acting like a little Hitler. I’d take a gun to Washington if enough of you would go with me.”

Around the same time, Bert Stead boasted about labeling himself a terrorist. The appropriate response for a reasonable elected official is not to cheer the guy on.

Abraham Lincoln Ella Wheeler Wilcox* once said, “To sit in silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men.” Wally Herger is Exhibit A.

Update: Herger doubles down, reiterating his praise.

Second Update: I was fairly sure the quote was Lincoln’s, but Mark Kleiman emails with proof it’s from Wilcox.