Where did IRS get the idea that Tea Party was dangerous?
AS a taxpayer and a conservative who hopes to remain on good terms with the Internal Revenue Service for many April 15ths to come, I don’t want to speculate too freely about the motives of the “low level” I.R.S. employees who decided to single out Tea Party groups for an inappropriate level of attention during the heat of the 2012 campaign.
But I’m willing to guess this much: Even though an American Civil Liberties Union official described their excessive interest in right-wing groups as “about as constitutionally troubling as it gets,” the bureaucrats in question probably thought they were just doing their patriotic duty, and giving dangerous extremists the treatment they deserved.
Where might an enterprising, public-spirited I.R.S. agent get the idea that a Tea Party group deserved more scrutiny from the government than the typical band of activists seeking tax-exempt status? Oh, I don’t know: why, maybe from all the prominent voices who spent the first two years of the Obama era worrying that the Tea Party wasn’t just a typically messy expression of citizen activism, but something much darker — an expression of crypto-fascist, crypto-racist rage, part Timothy McVeigh and part Bull Connor, potentially carrying a wave of terrorist violence in its wings.
The historical term for this kind of anxiety is “Brown Scare” — an inordinate fear of a vast far-right conspiracy, which resembles the anti-Communist panics of our past. As the historian Philip Jenkins wrote in 2009, Brown Scares no less than Red Scares recur throughout American history. They fasten on real-enough phenomena, from homegrown fascist sympathizers in the 1930s to the militia movements in the 1990s, but then wildly exaggerate both the danger these extremists pose and their ties to the conservative mainstream.
Our own era’s Brown Scare followed a similar pattern. Early in President Obama’s first term, a Department of Homeland Security report predicted an increase in right-wing extremism, citing real threats but also employing “a definition of extremist so broad,” Reason magazine’s Jesse Walker noted, that “it seemed to include anyone who opposed abortion or immigration or excessive federal power.”
As the Tea Party movement gathered steam, liberals consistently echoed the D.H.S. report’s themes, warning that the movement’s fringier elements and often-overheated rhetoric (which were real enough, and worth criticizing) were laying the groundwork for a wave of far-right violence.
The dots-connecting peaked, of course, with the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, which was instantly deemed a case of right-wing incitement leading to political violence, with the blame going to Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and conservatism in general.
...Liberals really don't handle rejection very well and the Tea Party was obviously rejecting what it saw as the evils of liberalism as embodied by Obamacare and stimulus spending that seemed out of control. If Tea Party people seemed angry it was because politicians were not paying attention to their valid concerns. The group is still one of potent force and this IRS episode is only going to make them angrier.