Are Tea Party Members Terrorists?

I got an email from the National Liberty Federation because some Pauler, who is from my neck of the woods and thinks deoderant will rot his bones, thought it would be funny to give them my email address. I’m not exactly a fan of the intellectually lazy Libertarian ideology, as you may know. Anyway, in this email, the National Liberty Federation asks whether Tea Party groups are terrorists.

Obviously meant to be an attempt at a witty rhetorical question, it’s asked all too often. So let’s give it a real answer.  And who better to answer it than me, your humble terrorism analyst?

As before, we’ll use the United States definition of terrorism: a politically motivated act or attempted act of violence targeting non-combatants or with a disregard for non-combatant safety.

Tea Party groups are politically motivated.

The politicians and government agencies they target with their rhetoric are non combatants.

However, they’re not physically violent… usually.

This unfortunately isn’t as cut and dry as we would like to believe.  The mess comes in with the definition of violence. If I threaten to cut off the limbs of the Pauler who put me on the National Liberty Federation’s email distribution list and beat him to death with his own limbs, some people may call that a form of violence.  Similarly, if al-Qaida repeatedly threatens to blow up 1,000 polling places in California in 2014, it could cause some people to not vote for fear of their safety.  Thus, even if al-Qaida doesn’t strike, they still influenced the political process and cost tax payers millions (possibly billions) of dollars for unnecessary added security.  Government officials generally would describe this as terrorism, but threats are not kept as part of the database tracking terrorist activity.  “Threats” as terrorist activity can be hotly debated and I’m still on the fence after years of considering the question.

However, for our purposes, I think we have all been to a Tea Party where someone has made a violent threat.  The first Tea Party in Northwest Indiana on April 15th, 2009 will always have the most memorable threat. After all the speakers were done, the event organizer decided to practice true democracy by giving the microphone to whoever wanted it. After two or three speakers sincerely expressing their love for the United States a boy scout  about 11 years old went up and proceeded to show us how to tie a noose knot so we can hang our elected leaders from light poles.

I definitely heard other threats.  Two guys even threatened to kill me at the last event I spoke at. Though it wasn’t really a Tea Party, it was (supposed to be) a 2nd Amendment rally.

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Most common are threats to violently overthrow the government.

Whether or not Tea Party groups are terrorists or not is debatable for this reason. I’m inclined to say “No” because, from what I’ve seen, the leadership and most Tea Party supporters don’t make violent threats or advocate violence in any form.  To throw them into the same category as delusional nut jobs who fancy themselves successfully storming Washington, DC (and as one said, “putting the white back in the White House”) is intellectually dishonest.

With that said, there ARE some violent right wing extremists in the Tea Party. I won’t deny that. But they; along with the birthers, Paulers (pictured above assaulting a p, anti-vaccinators, and Truthers; have contributed more to the deterioration of the Tea Party movement than the IRS. When they target police officers with guns or progressive organizations and politicians with chemical and biological weapons via the mail, they become terrorists.

So, the question now is whether it is appropriate for the United States Government to investigate groups with members sympathetic towards these terrorists or who are potentially planning such attacks.

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This is another interesting question. Common (conservative) sense would dictate that you do investigate groups that terrorists may belong to. HOWEVER, the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have avoided investigating mosques unless overwhelming evidence suggests a connection to terrorism.  The reason why is interesting, though it doesn’t really provide any definitive insight into ethics of investing Tea Party groups.  Blindly investigating mosques would lead to resentment in the Muslim community and serve as false justification for the prejudices of the rest of the population.

So now, let’s ask another question. By focusing the attention of the government’s anti-terrorism resources on right wing extremists rather than radical jihadists, what is the intention of the Obama administration?  If they’re serious about the problem of right wing terrorism, then good for them.  If they’re intentionally doing this for political reasons to discredit conservatives in the eyes of moderates and fuel the flame of the unflattering violent rhetoric so Tea Parties further discredit themselves, then someone needs to be repeatedly punched in the throat for putting politics before national security.

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Kevin Tracy is an Air Force veteran, terrorism/counterterrorism expert, and jack of all trades. KTracy's day job is designing electrical systems for new fossil power plants and environmental solutions. On the side, he keeps a blog, fundraises for political candidates and the St. Baldrick's Foundation, writes and illustrates comic books, and studies foreign affairs in depth.

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