Rachel Maddow, McCarthyite The FBI, the left, and the war on "extremism"

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Every government lives in fear of its own citizens. The fear waxes and wanes, as the tides of public opinion and economic ups and downs crest and wash over the political landscape. In good times, the fear is somewhat subtle: discontent, albeit ever-present, is masked by prosperity and contained; in bad times, the fear overflows into the everyday life of the citizenry, which is viewed with the utmost suspicion by the ruling elite. In Washington, they’re wondering: how long will they put up with it?

Today, the answer to that question is: not much longer — and the fear is manifest in the latest campaign against "extremism," which is being touted by the "mainstream" media, the authorities, and the professional "extremist"-hunters who work in tandem with both. To give you the flavor of the witch-hunting atmosphere being whipped up by the media-FBI complex, get a load of Rachel Maddow, the "liberal" MSNBC commentator, last Thursday night. After running a videotaped interview with anti-abortion militant Scott Roeder — recently sentenced to life in prison for the murder of an abortion doctor — in which Roeder expressed support for the "sovereignist" doctrine that the federal government has no right to institute drivers’ licenses, she averred:

"So, yes, so you can see Roeder as an anti-abortion extremist. You can also identify anti-abortion extremism as one branch of the broader movement of violent, militant, anti-government extremism in this country. We associate that movement with the early and mid-’90s, which is when that tape of Scott Roeder that you just saw was filmed. But just in the last 18 months since President Obama took office, a white supremacist shot and killed a security guard in an attack on the Holocaust Museum in Washington. An anti-tax extremist flew a plane into a building in Texas that housed an IRS office. He killed an IRS worker. Nine suspected militia members [were] arrested for allegedly plotting an attack on police officers as part of a war they wanted to wage against the United States government. A Tennessee white supremacist convicted of plotting to kill President Obama near the end of the presidential campaign in ’08.

"And, of course, there’s Scott Roeder killing Dr. George Tiller.

"And, of course, there’s the wave of threats and property damage against members of Congress after the health reform bill passed.

"Is it helpful to find the connections between these disparate acts, to understand what American extremism is now? Or are these all individual crazy people with no connection to politics, no connection to each other, no connection to a broader movement or to the broader country at large? What’s the better way to understand this and is this stuff going to stop? Joining us now is Eugene Robinson…"

One can easily guess Robinson’s answer to Maddow’s largely rhetorical question, but let’s rewind just a bit, and note the smearing methodology employed here: the classic amalgam. Grouped together in one intellectual package deal are:

  • "antigovernment" activists
  • white supremacists out to kill the President,
  • antiabortion fanatics out to kill abortionists,
  • and crazed anti-Semites out to attack the Holocaust Museum.

One of these things is not like the others, and Maddow — no dummy — knows it.

That’s why the plaintive tone is taken — "Is it helpful?" — when posing the question of whether this is a unitary movement that needs to be infiltrated by law enforcement and its members arrested and jailed. The whole idea is to discredit "antigovernment" (i.e. pro-liberty) movements and politicians in the mainstream by associating them with hate and — most importantly — violence, or the threat of it.

How quickly these lefties forget. Intoxicated by power and by the prospect of smashing their political enemies using the mailed fist of the State, modern "liberals" of the Maddowist persuasion either don’t know or don’t want to be reminded of how J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was used as a political weapon of mass destruction by the Nixon administration to crush political dissidents of the left during the 1960s and 70s. White leftists and black nationalists were infiltrated, disrupted, set up, and jailed — the government used agents provocateurs to initiate violence, and then moved to repress these movements, jailing the leaders, and using massive force against antiwar demonstrators: remember Kent State?

The FBI’s massive campaign of disruption was known as "COINTELPRO," and the revelations of how extensive were the government’s efforts to infiltrate leftist and black groups are generally considered shocking in retrospect. For example, at the height of the antiwar movement, at least a third of the members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), at the time the main Trotskyist group in the US — and a key organizer of the mass protests — were police agents, either FBI or paid informants. These agents actively encouraged violence, planted "evidence," and set up radicals for government repression. The same tactics, and worse, were used against the Black Panther Party, which, in a gesture unconsciously mimicked by today’s right-wing populists, once showed up on the steps of a Sacramento courthouse armed with shotguns and posed for the cameras.

Paid informants spying on the legal activities of American citizens, agent provocateurs, and outright dirty tricks (such as disseminating printed materials meant to cause division and provoke violence) — it was an altogether shameful chapter in the history of American law enforcement, one that nearly everyone but the most unrepentant neocons agree shouldn’t be repeated — and yet here is Ms. Maddow, an alleged "liberal," celebrating its rebirth.

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Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.

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