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Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing.  But inciting a riot with corporate underwriting and support of the mainstream media is a completely different thing.  Add to that the endorsement of a major political party, and what you have is a danger to our democracy.

That is what comes to mind when I look at this crazy Birther movement, those people who refuse to believe that President Obama is a U.S. citizen, and demand that he produce his “real” birth certificate that shows he is Kenyan, or Arab, or Martian, or whatever.  At the same time, there is the unwashed, thuggish opposition to healthcare reform- the angry people who are disrupting town hall meetings throughout the nation, hanging lawmakers in effigy and threatening the safety and lives of members of Congress.

These two groups are cut from the same cloth-a white sheet, that is.  They are among the right-wing hate groups that were the subject of a report by the Department of Homeland Security called “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” The report warned that the current recession and the election of a Black president have provided recruitment opportunities for White supremacist and radical right-wing groups.  The current environment could lead to confrontations between these extremists and government authorities, such as the Oklahoma City bombing and other examples of domestic terrorism in the 1990s.

These right-wing, anti-government groups are united by their hatred of immigration and Latinos, their hostility towards gun control legislation, and their racial resentment towards President Obama.  Those sentiments were on full display at the McCain-Palin campaign rallies in 2008, in which crowd participants called Obama a terrorist and a traitor, carried around Obama monkey dolls and called for his death.  And the sentiments were on display at the tea parties, with their abundance of racist, anti-Obama signs.  It is no accident that hate crimes and hate groups have increased in recent times, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.  James Von Brunn, the White supremacist who opened fire and killed a security officer at the National Holocaust Museum was part of the Birther movement, which itself has racist and anti-Semitic roots.  And the President receives 30 death threats a day, posing a challenge to the Secret Service charged with protecting him.

The tea parties were an example of “astroturfing”: top-down, corporate-sponsored activities disguised as a grassroots movement.  Two of the lobbying organizations that orchestrated the tea parties include FreedomWorks (a conservative action group led by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey), and the free-market group Americans For Prosperity.  Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, these two entities are also involved in the orchestrated fringe opposition to healthcare.  They provide the loud protestors who disrupt healthcare town hall meetings for the sole purpose of shutting off debate.  Americans For Prosperity, for example, operates under the front group Patients United Now.  And another anti-healthcare reform group, Conservatives For Patients’ Rights (CPR), has claimed responsibility for recruiting Tea Party activists and other third parties to disrupt the town hall meetings.  CPR operates in conjunction with the people who brought you the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth during the 2004 presidential campaign.  CPR is operated by George W. Bush business partner and private healthcare executive Rick Scott, who was forced to pay an unprecedented $1.7 billion settlement for defrauding taxpayers.

These activities should be denounced, but instead have earned the blessings of the Republican Party.  Consorting with Birthers, tea-baggers, fringe hate groups and angry mobs is the way of the new GOP.  And the new GOP is actually the old GOP on steroids.  A party that thrived for years on the Southern Strategy-appealing to White racism for votes-the Republicans have little else but a Southern Strategy left.  Divested of any real ideas and lacking broad-based support, the GOP lost a presidential election, holds a minority in both houses of Congress, and is facing long-term minority party status.  They appeal to their shrinking Neanderthal base by displaying their disdain for Latinos and Latino judges, in the face of rapidly shifting demographics.  Their base cannot undo the election that placed Obama in office, and they cannot keep back the winds of change that have swept through Washington and the country.  Their only alternative is to hate the man for what he is, to question his American-ness, and to stop his administration and its agenda of universal healthcare.

Trying to fight progress, the GOP base is now reduced to playing the role of Bubba, that character from 1950s central casting who was always on hand to beat up a civil rights worker at the segregated lunch counter.

And mainstream media court jesters-cable TV entertainers such as CNN’s Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck of Fox News- use the airwaves to legitimize the hate groups, with the apparent support of their respective corporate networks.  Dobbs expressed his support for the Birther movement, and Beck charged that Obama hates White people.  We would expect nothing else from Fox.  But CNN-which touts its journalistic professionalism-cannot claim to be the network of “Black In America”, “Latino In America” or “Generation Islam” while also harboring and enabling an extremist sympathizer such as Dobbs.  The Southern Poverty Law Center called on CNN to oust Dobbs for his racism and questioning of Obama’s citizenship, but he remains on the network.

Protest and dissent have played an invaluable role in American history.  However, so too has the extralegal presence of the lynchmob.  What is passing as the current public “discourse” regarding healthcare reform has only served to elevate the lynchmob.  Fortunately, the Democrats have caught on.  Hopefully it is not too late. Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a journalist and human rights advocate based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive Media Project and McClatchy-Tribune News Service, among others. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International UK spokesperson. His blog is