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Mar. 24 2010 - 2:08 pm | 642 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Is the Tea Party becoming a network of lynch mobs?

Bismarck Tea Party

Image by bisongirl via Flickr

Politico is reporting that the brother of Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello might have been targeted by Tea Party activists who were upset over the congressman’s support for the recently passed health care bill. Local law enforcement and the F.B.I. are investigating a cut propane gas line outside Perriello’s brother’s home in Charlottesville, Va.

Though the investigation is, of course, only in preliminary stages, Politico already noted that “Mike Troxel, an organizer for the Lynchburg Tea Party, posted on his blog what he thought was the congressman’s address, encouraging tea party activists to ‘drop by.’”

I’d say the fact that this incident is being in any way associated with the Lynchburg Tea Party is merely sick coincidence, but all evidence to the contrary. This is only the latest scary incident to be associated with Tea Partiers frustrated by the “tyranny of the majority” (although back during the Bush administration, the same thing apparently was just “democracy”). Over the weekend, as the health care bill politicking was reaching its crescendo, angry Tea Party activists spewed some good ol’ fashioned hate speech at legislators like Emanuel Cleaver and Barney Frank. And, let’s not forget Joe Stack, the man who last month flew a plane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas. The New York Times wondered whether Stack should be considered the first “Tea Party Terrorist.”

The notion of vigilante justice – of taking the law into one’s own hands when it’s deemed to be bungled by the government – is a scary one that has deeply racist roots. Lynchings of blacks from Reconstruction up through the 1940s were intricately tied to regional legal systems. Anytime a person of color was so suspected of even the slightest instance of misbehavior, he or she (usually he) could become the target of what scholar Michael Pfeifer calls “violent, ritualized, public mob executions.”

Here’s how Glenn Greenwald summarizes lynch mob mentality: “an authority figure appears and affixes a demonizing Other label to someone’s forehead, and the adoring crowd — frothing-at-the-mouth and feeding on each other’s hatred, fears and desire to be lead — demands ‘justice.’” Sound familiar? Though Greenwald wasn’t speaking specifically about the Tea Party, I’d say that’s as close to a depiction of a rally as you’re going to find.

What set lynchings apart from ordinary murders or acts of assault was the fact that they were committed with the consent (or at least without the objection) of a community. The Tuskegee Institute, which documented lynchings since 1882, finally stopped counting in 1968. But it’s looking more and more as if the Tea Party might ultimately devolve into a scattershot collection of rabid, unreasonable lynch mobs — taking “justice” into their own hands.


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    I'm a Los Angeles-based writer and editor focusing on pop and politics, race and culture, and where Gen-Yers fit into it all. My writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, WashingtonPost.com, the San Francisco Chronicle and People magazine. Among other things, I'm Oregon-born, hip-hop-addicted, and weirdly optimistic that the journalism business will stay alive.

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