NPR Promotes Left-Wing Theory of 'Astounding Growth' of Militias and Connects Them to Tea Party, Talk Hosts

April 1st, 2010 7:50 AM

The leftist Southern Poverty Law Center is a National Public Radio staple in analyzing right-wing militia groups -- and then connecting them to the Tea Party movement and conservative talk-show hosts.

Imagine a conservative group connecting liberal talk-show hosts and protesters to radical leftists like...Bill Ayers. Would they get a baldly promotional interview on NPR? No. But NPR Fresh Air hostess Terry Gross both aided the SPLC with a 37-minute promotional interview on March 25 -- and aided Bill Ayers in trashing Sarah Palin days after the 2008 election.

NPR promoted SPLC's Mark Potok and his narrative of "astounding" growth of militias in the Obama era thanks to "ostensibly mainstream" conservatives on All Things Considered on Tuesday night.

MICHELE NORRIS, co-host: Beyond immigration, what's driving this? What accounts for that?

Mr. POTOK: Well, I think there are a number of things. The changing demographics of the country are extremely important, the idea that whites will lose their majority in the year 2050. Additionally, I think the economy has been very important as it gets worse and worse, at least for those people who are unemployed. There is simply more anger and frustration out there in the country and people are looking for explanations and a certain portion of them settle on these kinds of explanations.

The last thing I would say is that there has been really a, I think, kind of a vital role played by ostensibly mainstream politicians and certain commentators - in particular, commentators on cable news television shows. These people have in many instances helped to push into the mainstream absolutely groundless conspiracy theories and other ideas from the radical right.

You know, these are ideas that I think are wholly outside of the mainstream, or certainly ought to be, simply because they have no basis in reality. But the net effect of all of this is that people are very frightened out there. There are a number of people that the broad population views as leaders who are telling them things that are not true but are very scary.

Norris never asked him for specifics. But he did lay it out on NPR's talk show Fresh Air, discussing Glenn Beck's strange FEMA-trailer reporting. Host Terry Gross led her show with the Harris Poll that showed how many strange beliefs conservatives allegedly hold about Obama. She asked Potok:

GROSS: Now, where do you think these ideas are coming from, you know, like the birther idea, the idea that Obama's like Hitler or that he's a socialist or a communist, or worse yet, the Antichrist?

POTOK: Well, I think a lot of these ideas do originate on the radical right, but they are also being flogged endlessly by Republican officials. You know, even those who are considered sort of responsible Republicans have by and large completely abstained from any kind of criticism of this talk. So even way back when, when Sarah Palin was talking about Obama setting up death panels and so on, you know, what we heard was a deafening silence from the mainstream of the Republican Party.

Terry Gross was very defensive about President Obama:

GROSS: President Obama has been called a socialist, a communist. Democrats have been accused of staging a government takeover of our lives with health care reform, and I guess I'm wondering if you think that that kind of rhetoric connects at all with the extremist hate groups that you've been following.

Mr. POTOK: I do, because this idea of the government as a socialist entity, as a Marxist entity, I think very much originates in these far radical right circles.

After trashing the Minutemen, Gross and Potok turned to the Tea Parties, and Potok patronized them as victims of misinformation:

GROSS: Now, when you say youve heard racism in the Tea Party, are you talking about veiled things or overt statements? What are you talking about?

POTOK: Well, I think sometimes they are veiled - certainly the kind of Obama in white face, Obama as a witch doctor, and so on. You know, and then we get a little more right out there. You know, the idea of, you know, weve got a lion - African lion in the zoo, a lying African in the White House. You know, that kind of thing weve seen a lot of.

You know, another idea that is out there very strongly, I think, and very broadly, is the idea that violence is needed from time to time to defend the republic, so weve seen quite a lot of people either paraphrasing or wearing T-shirts paraphrasing the Thomas Jefferson quote about, you know, from time to time the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots and tyrants. You know, I just think it is worth remembering that those are the very words that were on the back of Timothy McVeigh's T-shirt on the day that he blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

GROSS: Now, the kind of language and the kind of signs that youre talking about, some people would say, look, these are extremist people who have hooked on to the Tea Party, it's not representative of the leadership of the Tea Party or of the majority of people within the Tea Party.

POTOK: Well, I think that's probably right. I think the Tea Party is a strange mix, but I think what is undeniably true is that you see these kinds of strains running through the Tea Party. I don't think that you can describe the Tea Party as uniformly an extremist group or certainly a group that is racist, nor do I think it really is a group. I mean this is a fairly inchoate movement. They are lots and lots of elements. It's hard to keep up with how it's changing and developing.

But you know, at the end of the day, you know, once again, it was people in the Tea Party crowd who spat on a congressman, who used various racist and homophobic epithets over the weekend. And you know, I dont mean to say that those are all Tea Partiers. I dont think that's true. I think many people in the Tea Party movement in fact are almost victims, are people who have been led to believe that, for instance, any kind of national health care will mean the death of their grandparents, will mean the loss of all kinds of health care and other things. So you know, I think people have been frightened, and that's what you see a lot of, not only in the Tea Parties but in many of these other groups as well.

Gross harped on the Harris poll a second time as she wondered out loud about President Obama's safety:

GROSS: The new Harris poll says that 45 percent of Republicans agree with the birthers and their belief that President Obama was not born in the United States and is therefore not eligible to be president. Thirty-eight percent say Obama's doing many of the things that Hitler did. Twenty-four percent say he may be the Antichrist.

As somebody who monitors extremist groups and hate groups, how concerned are you about Obama's safety with all of these beliefs that he's doing things that Hitler did and he may be the Antichrist and he's not really even our legal president?

Mr. POTOK: Well, I think Obama's safety is a genuine concern. You know, as we well know now, he received Secret Service protection long before any other presidential candidate in our history, and that was right. It is worth remembering that while Obama was still a candidate, before he had even, you know, actually been elected, there were two different racist skinhead plots to assassinate him - one in Denver, one in Tennessee. These were admittedly half-baked plots, but it nevertheless only takes one person to get through.

NPR has made no attempt in or around these interviews to balance out Potok or allow a critic of SPLC to contradict him.