"We Are at War": How Militias, Racists and Anti-Semites Found a Home in the Tea Party
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"How that will work is, the federal officers might come to your local sheriff and say, 'OK, here's our probable cause, we believe there's people at this location in your county who have a meth lab …and we wanna bust 'em,'" Marbut says. "The sheriff might look it over and say, 'Gosh, I'm glad you brought this to me, here's your advance written permission, and I will send a couple deputies to help you.'
"Or the federal officers might come to the sheriff and say, 'Here's our probable cause, it leads us to believe there's somebody in your county at this location who's manufacturing firearms without a federal license. And we want to go bust them.' The sheriff might say, 'Sorry, we have a state law in Montana that authorizes that activity, it's perfectly legal here, you may not go bust them, you do not have permission, and if you do, we can put you in Deer Lodge. We can put you behind bars in Montana for doing that.'" That brings out whoops alongside the applause.
When Marbut wraps up, it's time for Larry Pratt, the head of Gun Owners of America. Pratt, who lives in Virginia, cultivates an avuncular grandpa image these days, and it works well with this crowd, which besides being pure white is also largely on the sundown side of fifty.
He opens by celebrating the primary victory of Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell that night in Delaware and the promising poll numbers of New Hampshire Tea Party candidate Ovide Lamontagne: "The Tea Party's having a pretty good night tonight," he declares. "Even before we get to November, it looks like we've taken care of a good deal of business." (Lamontagne went on to narrowly lose the Republican primary; O'Donnell lost by a wide margin in the general election.)
Pratt then channels Glenn Beck, explaining that the root of our political problems are the "socialist" public schools, which he describes as "propaganda centers for the hard left." And it goes even deeper. "We are in a war," he says. "It is a culture war. We're in a war, and the other side knows it, because they started it."
"We are facing socialism, pure and simple," he continues. "They want our guns, of course -- that's what every socialist regime has ever wanted to do. They want our kids, they want our money, they want our land."
Pratt wraps up with a simple exhortation: "Montana, on November 2, don't forget to take out the trash."
Pratt fields several questions from audience members who have doubts about the Ravalli County Sheriff, Chris Hoffman. One middle-aged man with a walrus mustache, wearing a rumpled cowboy hat and a sidearm, has some particularly dark fears. "I walked up to Sheriff Hoffman," he says, "and asked him to his face, I said: 'Here's the scenario, Sheriff. There's the mountains over there, and there comes the enemy. And the enemy is the Federal Government.' I said, 'The enemy is the Federal Government. And they're coming down, I can see them coming over the hills, and my wife is here, and my little child is there, and you're standing there and we all got guns. Here's my question, Sheriff: What you gonna do?'
"You know what Hoffman said to me? He said, 'I dunno. I'd have to call the D.A. to find out the correct interpretation of the Constitution.' That's what he told me. So that's the kind of sheriff that we're running here. Sheriff Hoffman is obviously not one of us. He's gonna call the D.A. when the feds are coming down the hill to maybe kill my daughter or kill my wife."