That’s Some Mighty Authoritarian Tea

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Via the comments,

the libertarian writer Jim Bovard visited a Maryland Tea Party on Tax Day, and found little more than a different variety of authoritarianism:

…there is scant evidence that most tea partyers have studied the copies of the Constitution they generously hand out to bystanders.

At a Tax Day tea party in Rockville, Md., the speaking venue was draped with a huge banner: “Tired of Big Government?” Members of the “Tyranny Response Team” stood near the front of the rally with their official blue T-shirts. Giant American flags and ones with “Don’t Tread on Me” (with a coiled rattlesnake) were carried around by men with tri-corn hats. Political campaigns busily sold “9/11 Remembrance” bracelets.

And yet, the crowd of 300 seemed most outraged that the US government is not being sufficiently aggressive in using its power.

Ken Timmerman, the author of “Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America” and other hawkish books, declaimed that the US government must take every step to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons…

Running through a litany of President Obama’s greatest failings, Timmerman denounced him for forcing US agents to “stop using enhanced interrogation methods. Has that made us safer?”

“No!” the crowd hollered indignantly.

Jeffrey Kuhner, a local talk-show host, sneered that Obama “has found his inner Muslim” and raged against his bowing to foreign leaders and kings. He complained that Obama has “taken over college loans,” and warned that illegal immigrants could be “the shock troops of Obama’s socialist revolution.” The crowd ate it up.

One of the MCs gushed about how he and everyone else in the crowd loved the police. There was not a word spoken about the video released earlier that week showing a nearby horrendous police beating of an innocent University of Maryland college student.

The rally featured a string of Republican candidates praising fiscal responsibility and denouncing the national debt. One would have thought that it had been 50 years, rather than 15 months, since the Republicans controlled the White House.

There was almost no dissent from any of the 300 attendees. One 50-something man in a faded green T-shirt walked around with a handmade sign declaring, “Stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – Bring Our Troops Home Now!” He told me that almost no one he’d talked agreed with his message…

Much more in tune with the crowd was the 20-something woman carrying a sign: “PROUD to be the Military Super Power.”…

None of the speakers criticized the warrantless wiretaps that the National Security Agency began during the Bush administration. The feds’ vacuuming up thousands of Americans’ phone calls and e-mails without a warrant seems to be a nonissue for these folks. Perhaps some tea party leaders hope that Republicans will soon be in position to use such powers to surveil the left…

If tea party activists cannot vigorously oppose torture and other high crimes, then counting on them to stalwartly resist any government policy that doesn’t mulct their paycheck is folly.

America needs real champions of freedom – not poorly informed Republican accomplices. Either tea partyers should become more principled or they should ditch their Gadsden flags and wear T-shirts of the lobbying group that organizes the rally they attend.

There’s obviously not going to be pure ideological unity at these events, and I’d have no problem if the Tea Parties were merely silent on issues like foreign policy, law enforcement, and the war on terror—that is, if people who disagree on those particular issues had come together for the purpose of rallying against government debt, bailouts, spending, and so on. But it’s increasingly looking like the right’s favored big government policies are a fairly important part of the agenda of a fairly large portion of the Tea Party crowd. Advocating for more police power, more foreign policy imperialism, and more power for the federal government to detain, torture, and abrogate basic civil liberties sort of misses the entire message of the original Tea Party.

It also makes a mockery of the media narrative that these are gathering of anti-government extremists. Seems like in may parts of the country they’re as pro-government as the current administration, just pro-their kind of government.

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60 Responses to “That’s Some Mighty Authoritarian Tea”

  1. #1 |  Phelps | 

    I don’t have any faith in the ability of government to create anything. That’s the lefty ideal. I have inexhaustable faith in government’s ability to cripple, smash and destroy, which is all I want them to do to tyrants and dictators.

  2. #2 |  Douglas A. Willinger | 

    Strange how the ‘tea party’ says nothing about the drug war (criminal mercantilism) nor the over centralization within Washington, D.C. particularly regarding the Jesuit Order’s Georgetown University and their direction of U.S. foreign policy to commit counter reformation war crimes against non Roman Catholic countries as Serbia:

  3. #3 |  Andrew Williams | 

    As a lineal descendant of Christopher Gadsden, it bugs the shout out of me that these numbskulls are waving “Don’t Tread on Me” flags when it’s just that they want other people to be trod on.

  4. #4 |  nj | 


    To quote Jim Henley:

    “Hayek doesn’t stop at the water’s edge.”

  5. #5 |  libarbarian | 

    JS & Flukebucket,

    Think of it in terms of Hayeks concept of a relative hierarchy of competing values. We all value the same things, but we do not all value them to the same degree relative to one another. Furthermore, for an individual, the relative value of any given idea or principle can change depending on context. So, not only can two people disagree on whether some particular “freedom” X is more important than another competing value Y in a given context, but a single person can also value X more than Y in some circumstances while valuing Y more than X in others. This may be the result of a deliberate choice or may be unconscious and below the level of awareness.

    The “freedom haters” don’t hate freedom so much as they just think other values, which we also share to some degree, are more important than it in some given context(s). I don’t mean this is a pedantic way. I understand that, on a practical level, it is possible for a person to so consistently rank other things higher than “freedom” as to effectively appear to not value it at all and even “hate” it, but I don’t think this applies to many people. The fact that everyone feels the need to at least pay lip service to the first amendment while rationalizing exceptions to it, for example, shows that there is still not a lot of people who consciously think “Social stability and maintaining social norms is generally more important than freedom of expression”.

    In moderation, however, this is an important point and relevant to arguments going on today. Take illegal immigration and accusations of racism. I think we all tend to think that the “rule of law” is generally important. We also, however, tend to think that “compassion” is also generally important. Likewise the “freedom to pursue a better life”, etc. These are all generally things we agree with. However, as we can see, there is a wide range of opinions on the exact relative priority of these things when it comes to the issue of illegal immigration.

    One of the ways allegations of “racism” come into things is that people observe that, for some people, the relative value of the “rule of law” is highly correlated with the identities of the criminals. So when it comes to mexicans illegally crossing the border Malkin thinks that the most important thing is the rigorous application of the rule of law regardless of anything else, but when it comes to white fundamentalist Christians who sleep with 13 year old girls, then she thinks it’s less important than the spirit of the law and the idea that consentual acts shouldn’t be crimes. Clearly her passionate belief in the rule of law is not a general principle but highly context dependent. Of course, the people who are doing this often don’t even recognize why this looks hypocritical to others and get all offended at the accusations.

  6. #6 |  orogeny | 

    “It also makes a mockery of the media narrative that these are gathering of anti-government extremists.”

    The tea partiers are not and have never been “anti-government extremists.” They are anti-Democratic Party government extremists. If a Republican administration were enacting the exact same policies right now, the screamers and spitters would all be happily sitting at home, singing the praises of the administrations actions.

  7. #7 |  Bill | 

    Thank you, Radley. This is very refreshing from a true libertarian. If the current Tea Partiers were truly libertarian they people would have been kicking and screaming about the authoritarianism that occurred during the Bush years. A large portion of them are just disgruntled Republicans.

    And of course, the recession is also stirring up a lot of angst.

  8. #8 |  harry | 

    Maybe you can get some of your compatriots over at Reason to finally see the light about the ‘baggers. Some of them are still harboring romantic delusions on the subject. Kind of reminds me of some liberals doing the same over the Black Panthers in the late 1960s (Tom Wolfe, where are you?)

  9. #9 |  Fascist Nation | 

    300. They previously drew thousands. The people you were looking for hopefully found something else to do.

    But you got to admit they have the accoutrements down. Perhaps they can’t read.

  10. #10 |  donttread | 

    Tom is right. Those of you who support libertarian ideals complaining about the purity of the Tea Party movement are out of your gourd. The Tea Parties are very loosely defined, so it is not unexpected that the message is somewhat muddled. I’ve been to several Tea Party rallies, and the one coherent message that comes through clearly is that the state is too large and interferes too much in our lives.

    As a 20 year supporter of the Libertarian party I’ve never seen the Libertarians be able to motivate this kind of sentiment in even a tiny fraction of the number of people currently active or interested in Tea Party activities. I’m 100% in the Libertarian tent, but to reject this movement because they don’t all support immediate legalization of heroin or want to immediately abolish the income tax is ludicrous.