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Why Glenn Beck Is the Perfect Pitchman for the Tea Party's Deranged Ideas About US History

How the tea party crowd's talk about individual rights is rooted in centuries of racial demonology.

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Today, though, not just Fox News Jacobins like Beck and Hannity but nearly the entire leadership of the Republican Party are fanning those flames.  Newt Gingrich hopes the Tea Party will become the “militant wing of the Republican Party,” looking to hitch his political fortunes to a movement now regularly calling for a “second bloody revolution.”  It is hard to think of another time in American history when one half of the political establishment has so wholly embraced insurrectionary populism as an electoral strategy.

Considering the right’s success at mimicking the organizing tactics of the left, it would be tempting to see recent calls for rebellion and violence as signs that the conservative movement is entering its Weathermen phase -- the moment in the 1960s and 1970s when some left-wing activists succumbed to revolutionary fantasies, contributing to the New Left’s crackup.   Except that violence did not really come all that easy to the American leftists of that moment.  There was endless theorizing and agonizing, Leninist justifying and Dostoevskian moralizing, from which the left, considering the ongoing finger-pointing and mea culpas, still hasn’t recovered.

In contrast, conservative entitlement to the threat of violence is so baked into American history that, in moments like this, it seems to be taken for granted.  The Tea Party crowd, along with its militia, NRA, and Oath Keeper friends, would just as easily threaten to overthrow the federal government -- or waterboard Nancy Pelosi -- as go golfing.

On the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building, which left 168 people dead and 600 wounded, gun-rights militants held a rally at the capital mall in Washington, along with a smaller, heavily armed one across the Potomac, where speaker after speaker threatened revolution and invoked the federal siege of Waco to justify the Oklahoma bombing.  This is the kind of militancy Gingrich believes the Republicans can harness and which he tenderly calls a “natural expression” of frustration.

Where all this will lead, who knows?   But you still “don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Greg Grandin is a professor of history at New York University.  His most recent book, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City , just published in paperback, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was picked by the New York Times, the New Yorker, and NPR for their “best of” lists.   A new edition of his previous book, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States and the Rise of the New Imperialism , will be published later this year.

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