Tuesday, March 30, 2010

WDET, Detroit's Ethnic Media Join to Raise Awareness of 'Alarming Growth of Right Wing Extremism'

From the PR Newswire. Good to see the words "Tea Party movement" and "right wing extremism" uttered in the same breath with growing frequency - and now we have a Michigan editorial effort designed to raise awareness and shine some light on these people.

WDET-FM, the Detroit public radio station owned and operated by Wayne State University, today announced an important issue-oriented collaboration focusing on Right Wing Extremism with four of the region's most-read independent newspapers, The Jewish News, The Arab American News, The Michigan Chronicle and Latino. The five media entities have established a partnership to raise awareness of the growth of Radical Right movements in Michigan, and the country at large. The Michigan media entities have collaborated with the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization and one of the authoritative research institutions in the areas of hate groups, discrimination and exploitation.

Mikel Ellcessor, WDET's General Manager says, "The explosive growth of three distinct groups, the Tea Party movement, the Patriot movement, with the militias as their paramilitary arms, and the nativist anti-immigration movement has been underway for the past year. While these are distinct movements with their own animus, there is a well documented, and rising, level of extreme rhetoric coming from all three groups. This rhetoric has contributed to an environment that is fostering violence from the extreme right and multiple instances of domestic terrorism."

The SPLC points out that Michigan seems to be ground zero for right wing militia growth - not exactly something we want to put on the travel brochures, to be sure - but documenting the activities of these groups puts the spotlight on how they routinely threaten violence in subtle and not-so subtle ways.

The partners in the project commissioned a special report by the SPLC that noted "after more than a decade out of the spotlight the militias have come roaring back to life across the country. Michigan, once again, is a hotbed of militia activity." The SPLC documented 34 militia groups in Michigan - a staggering number when one considers that a year earlier the SPLC found only 42 militias in the entire country. As of 2009, there were 127 militias in the United States - an increase of more than 200 percent.

And it not just the groups themselves that will come under this scrutiny - any politician that encourages extremism will be held accountable as well. Mike Bishop and other Republicans who have embraced the teabaggers and their "angry mobs" might want to think twice about getting too close to this fire as they try and use these groups for campaign (and donation) purposes. Media apologists like Nolan Finley should be held accountable as well, as back-handed and slippery as he is.

Arthur Horwitz, the publisher of The Jewish News, one of the collaboration partners, says, "As America and Michigan navigate a difficult economic and social landscape, it is our right and duty to engage in robust discussion about the issues of the day and to hold our elected officials accountable at the ballot box. However, when people of responsibility and power in government and the media incite others to express their displeasure through violence, slander and intimidation, they have to be called out. As representatives of Michigan ethnic media outlets, we appreciate and cherish the freedom and opportunity our country provides and the responsibilities that come with them. We have also felt the sting of bias, defamation and discrimination and are united in speaking out against hate mongers, and those who enable them."

The New York Times featured a profile of some Tea Party activists over the weekend, the examples being older people who had lost their jobs, have too much time on their hands, and are pushing for that mythical "smaller government" - even though "a number of its members acknowledge that they are relying on government programs for help". One Michigan Tea Party organizer profiled in the piece is unemployed former auto parts worker Jeff McQueen of Rochester Hills - same guy who protested at the Auto Show back in January. He blames the government and free trade agreements for his unemployment, has since spent his time organizing tea party groups in Michigan and Ohio - and apparently is becoming a media face of the movement, because he keeps popping up everywhere.

“Being unemployed and having some time, I realized I just couldn’t sit on the couch anymore,” he said. “I had the time to get involved.”

He began producing what he calls the flag of the Second American Revolution, and drove 700 miles to campaign for Mr. Brown under its banner. Flag sales, so far, are not making him much. But he sees a bigger cause.

“The founding fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor,” he said. “They believed in it so much that they would sacrifice. That’s the kind of loyalty to this country that we stand for.”

It's also the kind of "loyality" that McQueen has indicated might move Tea Party members to violence.

McQueen: This flag has never been meant to replace the national flag. This flag has a specific purpose and it's time has come. To show the politicians and the media that we're ready for a second American revolution. And with that, you know, in America we have a choice of four boxes for political change. We can go to the soap box, the ballot box, or we can go to the jury box. And hopefully we won't have to go to the bullet box.

Ashbrook: Bullet box? Are you talking about armed revolution?

McQueen: Have you seen the ammunition sales the last twelve months?

That's a pretty tame statement, but it is just one example of the rhetoric that implies violence will happen if these groups don't get their way - and it's coming from someone in our state that is gaining national visibility. Take that example to the extreme, you start to get groups like the Hutaree, who formulate plans of violence against innocent people.

Refugees of the Republican Party who think that these groups are benign because of the constant "popular" media exposure need to be aware of exactly who they are dealing with here - and the efforts of WDET and others will be instrumental in getting the word out.