Hutaree Militia Ruling: Left-Wing Tea Party Smears Hardest Hit

Yesterday, a federal judge dismissed charges against seven members of the so-called "Hutaree" militia, bringing to an end a four year case that sought to prove the group intended to overthrow the US government:
U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts said the members' expressed hatred of law enforcement didn't amount to a conspiracy to rebel against the government... 
"The court is aware that protected speech and mere words can be sufficient to show a conspiracy. In this case, however, they do not rise to that level," the judge said on the second anniversary of raids and arrests that broke up the group.  
Roberts granted requests for acquittal on the most serious charges: conspiring to commit sedition, or rebellion, against the U.S. and conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction.

The collapse of the case is a particular blow to left wing commentators and the Southern Poverty Law Center who worked together to hype the arrests in March of 2010. Recall that the "Hutaree" arrests came just a few days after the controversial passage of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. 

This made them a convenient left-wing talking point and a way to frame the resistance of the Tea Party to Obamacare as an outgrowth of rabid, and possibly violent, anti-government sentiment. Here's a bit of what SPLC's Mark Potok had to say on MSNBC's Keith Olbermann show:

We have record numbers of hate groups. Put all that together and what we really saw was about a 40% increase in the numbers of these groups, so they all add up to something like 1,700 groups. You know and that doesn't even tell the whole story because we see a great deal of the rhetoric and ideology and in many cases conspiracy theories and streaks of racism of these groups entering larger formations like the Tea Party. I think that's very clear.

Asked by Olbermann to clarify the overlap between fringe militia types and the Tea Party, Potok at first suggested the Hutaree were quite far out but then concluded, "There's really a great deal of overlap and I think you hear it in the rhetoric of the Tea Party leaders." 

Potok was certainly not alone in drawing these lines between the little known Hutaree and the broader political scene. Here's the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson working the same material:

The arrests of members of a Michigan-based "Christian" militia group should convince doubters that there is good reason to worry about right-wing , anti-government extremism - and potential violence - in the Age of Obama...

Robinson concluded by connecting this threat of violence to the Tea Party (note that this was still 18 months before the rise of Occupy with its constant refrain of "revolution").

It is dishonest for right-wing commentators to insist on an equivalence that does not exist. The danger of political violence in this country comes overwhelmingly from one direction - the right, not the left. The vitriolic, anti-government 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.

Now that the leading case used to help push this sweeping attack on the Tea Party and conservative media has collapsed for lack of evidence, the left seems to have forgotten how much weight they placed on it two years ago. Potok, interviewed today by TPM, is resorting to the 'fake but accurate' approach often favored by media progressives when the stories they embraced don't hold up to scrutiny:

"These cases are often close calls and its often impossible to judge them without being in the courtroom. It really is a question for the judge and jurors," Potok said. "That said, the fact that so many of these people were acquitted does not mean there's not an active and a dangerous right out there, there really is. Whatever becomes of this case, the fact remains we've seen an an enormous expansion of the radical right in recent years."

What's most evident with the benefit of two years worth of hindsight is how relatively mainstream the Tea Party was, tranforming itself from a protest movement to a serious player in the 2010 elections. And, by contrast, how fringe and unhinged the left's answer, i.e. Occupy Wall Street, has been. 

In just its first three months, OWS undid all the claims of progressives like Eugene Robinson that the left's radical, anti-government element was in remission. Just imagine what Robinson or Potok would have said if the Tea Party had run up a string of 6,000 arrests and dozens of serious crimes in a few months time.

You'll have to imagine it because they, and the various left-wing media hosts who used them to attack the right, clearly have little interest in correcting the record or exploring facts that don't support their conclusions. I think someone once called that "epistemic closure."


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