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Rachel Maddow: The Growing Threat Posed by Gun-Strapped Right-Wingers at Obama's Townhalls

Rachel Maddow and Frank Rich discuss the use of intimidation as a political tactic.
 
 
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When President Obama spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Phoenix on Monday, you‘ll recall that he was greeted by a dozen or so regular citizens, not police officers, not Secret Service officers, who were openly carrying firearms.

It‘s now been revealed that a right-wing online radio host organized the "people with guns near the president” stunt, including the man who‘s carrying an assault rifle who we pictured and talked about on this show.

But the second important update about this story is about the "not just metaphorical ties” between the open display of weaponry by protestors against the president -- in other words, the use of intimidation as a political tactic -- and the political violence in our own country‘s history, even our own country‘s recent history.  We‘re now learning about actual, direct links between the gun stunt this week at President Obama‘s event in Arizona and a militia group that was convicted in the 1990s of conspiring to blow up federal buildings.

Ernest Hancock, the right-wing online radio host who carried a .9 millimeter pistol himself at the Phoenix protest and who interviewed the other people who were carrying guns -- he used to work for a group that defended a violent militia group called the Vipers.  It was a group that called themselves the Viper Reserves and they formed to defend the Viper Militia.

The Viper Militia said they were opposed to what they called the "new world order.”  They practiced advanced weapons training, including exploding rockets and making fertilizer bombs in a desert town about a hundred miles from the one-time home of Timothy McVeigh.  Twelve members of the Viper Militia were charged in 1996 with plotting to blow up at least seven government buildings.

Federal agents seized as evidence dozens of firearms, including machine guns, tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, grenades, body armor, gas masks and hundreds of pounds of ammonium nitrate which, of course, is the main ingredient used in the bomb that blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.  In the end, 11 of the Viper Militiamen were sentenced to federal prison terms, ranging from one year to six years.

In a phone interview today with this show, Mr. Hancock, who again was not part of the group but who defended them, he describes himself as having done P.R. for the group, he called the sentences for the Viper Militiamen, quote, "an injustice like you wouldn‘t believe.”  He also -- in his interview with our staff -- did not deny any of the ties he -- the ties he‘s alleged to have with the Viper Militia.  When we asked him about convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Mr. Hancock told us, quote, "I don‘t know which role he played.  I know he got blamed.”

So, when a dozen people openly display firearms near the president -- again, not police officers, not Secret Service officers, but citizens, and they‘re organized by someone with this kind of backgrounds, what‘s the next thing that we talk about in our political discussion in this country?

Joining us now is "New York Times” columnist Frank Rich.  His most recent piece on Sunday gives some historical context to the gun-toting protestors that are showing up at these town hall events.

Mr. Rich, nice to see you.

FRANK RICH, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST:  Nice to see you.

MADDOW:  In your column this weekend, you talked about similarities between the political climate today and the political climate in the early ‘60s -- of course, with looming large in that political climate the assassination of John Kennedy in 1963.

 
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