Left Wing: The Hutaree Militia and Why Today’s Wingnuts Are Right Wing

This Week in Progressive Media

Who is more of a threat, left-wing crazies or right-wing crazies?

For its coverage of the Hutaree Militia story, Firedoglake.com carries Rachel Maddow’s extensive reporting of the FBI infiltration and capture of the members of the violent Christian militia group. Maddow tries to gauge the seriousness of their threat, describing the oddly named militia as a “strange combination of absurd and scary” with names “out of a Calvin and Hobbes strip” but spends 10 minutes exploring who they are and the charges against them. Are they representative of other right-wing groups? A guest on her show, reporter Ed Brayton of the Michigan Messenger Web site, describes them as very dangerous but also so fringe that they constitute “the wingnut’s wingnuts.” 

The question of who is worse, right-wing or left-wing radicals, and how to label radicals cropped up again most recently when pundits raced to describe recent Pentagon shooter John Patrick Bedell as right wing and conservatives lashed back that he was left wing. In a op-ed, Eugene Robinson argues that for the past few decades the most serious threat of domestic terrorism has come from those who draw inspiration and rhetoric from the far right.

“It is disingenuous for mainstream purveyors of incendiary far-right rhetoric to dismiss groups such as the Hutaree by saying that there are ‘crazies on both sides.’ This simply is not true. There was a time when the far left was a spawning ground for political violence. The first big story I covered was the San Francisco trial of heiress Patricia Hearst, who had been kidnapped and eventually co-opted by the Symbionese Liberation Army—a far-left group whose philosophy was as apocalyptic and incoherent as that of the Hutaree. There are aging radicals in Cuba today who got to Havana by hijacking airplanes in the 1970s. Left-wing radicals caused mayhem and took innocent lives. But for the most part, far-left violence in this country has gone the way of the leisure suit and the AMC Gremlin. An antiglobalization movement, including a few window-smashing anarchists, was gaining traction at one point, but it quickly diminished after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. An environmental group and an animal-rights group have been linked with incidents of arson. Beyond those particulars, it is hard to identify any kind of leftist threat.” 

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and militia groups, wrote in a recent 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." Whether they are right wing or left wing will continue to be debated, but Robinson argues that such a debate is a nonstarter.

“It is dishonest for right-wing commentators to insist on an equivalence that does not exist,” writes Robinson. “The danger of political violence in this country comes overwhelmingly from one direction—the right, not the left. The vitriolic, antigovernment hate speech that is spewed on talk radio every day—and, quite regularly, at tea-party rallies—is calibrated not to inform but to incite. “