"We Are at War": How Militias, Racists and Anti-Semites Found a Home in the Tea Party
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In some cases, the Tea Party has helped create a local organizing focus for newborn Patriot organizations such as Celebrating Conservatism, which has effectively become the main Tea Party group in Ravalli County, even though it is clearly a Patriot group. In other instances, Patriot groups have spun off of Tea Party organizing, spreading their own conspiracist and constitutionalist ideas while maintaining close Tea Party alliances. Often the most active and vocal Tea Party organizers are simultaneously leaders of local Patriot groups. This is especially true in rural areas.
In the process, leaders of the two movements have developed strong ties. Potok points out that Richard Mack, a major national militia-movement figure in the 1990s, has given scores of speeches to Tea Party groups around the country over the past year. Meanwhile, new Patriot organizations like the Oath Keepers have built their new followings largely through their heavy involvement in the Tea Parties.
Travis McAdam, executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network, has seen this political hardening at play here in Montana. Celebrating Conservatism's tone and message, he notes, have changed sharply over time. "Early on, they were portraying themselves very much as just this benign group that was educating the public about the Constitution and American history," he says. "Then months down the road, a year down the road, they're taking out an ad in the local paper where they're basically saying that if the government tries to restrict our access to firearms, it is our obligation to rise up and overthrow such a government. And then Mona starts to say things like, 'You know, we're not violent. But we could be.'"
Back in the '90s, he recalls, the Militia of Montana paid lip service to voting, but always followed with a grim punch line: 'When the ballot box doesn't work, we'll switch to the cartridge box.'"
That certainly seemed to be the sentiment this September in Hamilton.
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Mona Docteur, a fortyish brunette dressed in a stylish black sweater and jeans, is running the show tonight. She kicks things off with a prayer, then launches into the story of her recent trip to Missoula to watch Sarah Palin speak. She says she was skeptical of Palin, but came away changed. "You know what I felt from that woman? She really is all about God and family and country."
Docteur spoke with Palin about Celebrating Conservatism, she says, and "the thing I got from Sarah Palin was this…. We have got to get together. The divisions are exactly what the enemy wants. And maybe we don't agree on a whole lot of things, but maybe we can agree on one or two things. How about limited government? Does everybody agree about that?" There were cheers. "OK, that's one thing. At least we can agree on that. Can we agree on the fact that we still maybe might have our Constitution? Maybe?" More applause.
That's when Docteur introduces Richard Celata, of KT Ordnance in Dillon, Montana, to talk about his gun kits. "How many of you like having the government know what firearms you have?" he asks rhetorically, to a sea of rolled eyes and disgusted snorts. "Well, these firearms do not have serial numbers on it, nobody knows you've bought it but you and I. What you do is you build it yourself." Buyers get a valuable lesson in the inner workings of their gun, he explains, "plus, nobody knows you have it."
If you buy one of the winning raffle tickets, you get to walk away that evening with the makings of either a 1911 .45-caliber handgun, or one of two semiautomatic assault rifles, an AR-10 or an AR-15.