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Angry Voters, Right-Wing Populism, & Racial Violence: People of Faith Can Help Break the Linkages


Imagine 2050 Staff • Jan 31, 2010

This article was written by Chip Berlet and originally published at religion dispatches on January 26, 2010.

We are in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in US history as illustrated by the Tea Party and Patriot movements. Will religious and progressive activists provide a voice and outlet for populist fear and anger or will these dispossessed voices find a home among the potentially violent elements of the far right?

Eric Ward is nervous. He’s seen it before—the angry right-wing populist crowds, the strident calls to “Restore America” and “Take it Back.” In the mid 1990s, Ward was a community organizer for a human rights group in the Pacific Northwest. As a burly young black man with a loud voice and strange hair, Ward stood out when he addressed the predominantly white audiences of folks concerned about rising prejudice and bigotry. After April 19, 1995, people began to take Ward more seriously, as bodies were removed from the Oklahoma City Federal Building, collapsed by a truck bomb delivered by a domestic terrorist seeking to shift the right-wing populists into an armed insurrection. Timothy McVeigh failed to achieve his goal, but 168 people died in the process.

On January 19, the people of Massachusetts elected a conservative Republican backed by the Tea Party movement, Scott Brown, to the Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy. Scott will try to shift the right-wing populists back into an alliance with the Republican Party, which itself is already moving to the political right.

After Scott was elected, President Obama began using populist rhetoric to try to regain support for Democratic Party reforms. Progressive activists urged a campaign to win back the populists from right-wing ideology. Conservative icon Pat Buchanan, wrote the Scott victory meant that Republicans should target the white vote by vowing an “end to affirmative action and ethnic preferences, an end to bailouts of Wall Street bankers, a moratorium on immigration until unemployment falls to 6 percent, an industrial policy that creates jobs here and stops shipping them to China.”

The mainstream media suddenly began to take the angry right-wing populist fervor more seriously; but while the coverage was intense, it has been overwhelmingly superficial, for the most part failing to consult historians, social scientists, and human rights groups about what happens to a society when it is buffeted by the gusts of populist anger. Is it fair to mention Republican Scott Brown, the right-wing populists, and the Oklahoma City bombing in one article? Can there be a role for people of faith and their allies in ensuring that no such linkage develops and that history does not repeat itself?

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