Recent news of a planned domestic terrorist attack to be carried out by an anti-government militia in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, perfectly illustrates the many double standards practiced by American conservatives when it comes to terrorism.
Many conservatives have rallied to the defense of the accused militia members. Glenn Reynolds of PajamasMedia - a popular and well known conservative blog -- suggested that the arrests were suspiciously timed, even though law enforcement officials believed that an attack may have been just weeks away. Another conservative questioned the FBI's use of force and armored vehicles, despite video of the group practicing "paramilitary maneuvers" with automatic weapons long available online, and plots to use explosives to defend fixed positions from federal agents once their attacks had been carried out.
The handful that I've personally encountered, which may or may not represent the feelings of conservatives generally, went to great lengths to remind everyone that these people are accused of a crime, are presumed innocent, and should get their day in court.
All of that is true, and I strongly support the rule of law and the practice of democracy which means providing legal counsel and fair trials to everyone accused of a crime, regardless of who they are or what they are accused of.
Contrast that to near-universal conservative belief that accused Muslim terrorists are as good as guilty whether they receive a trial or not (a justification often used to torture them), that any foreigner accused of a terrorist attack should be tortured for intelligence, and then either given a trial via questionable military commissions with reduced rights, or simply detained at the Guantanamo Bay military prison indefinitely without any trial at all.
That institutionalized double standard of treatment - seemingly based either on the crime a person is accused of or what their religious beliefs are - makes it hard to take seriously the demand that accused domestic terrorists have rights that accused foreign terrorists do not, for petty and often barbaric reasons.
If it is the alleged terrorist act that justifies torture and indefinite detention without trials, how is that not the preferred way to treat Americans accused of plotting terrorist attacks?
There are also strong objections from conservatives to any mention of the religious beliefs of the anti-government militia, even though they've used those beliefs as a justification for their actions on their own website.
"Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment", says their website, according to Fox News. Militia members believed they'd be fighting along side Jesus against the Antichrist, and then declared the target of their animosity to be the "foot soldiers" of the federal government - state and local police. This gave rise to their plan to kill a police officer, and then used Improvised Explosive Devices that they learned how to make from Iraqi insurgents - used to kill American soldiers - to slaughter more offices attending the funeral procession.
It's hard not to connect the dots between this form of Christian extremism and the allegations of planned domestic terrorist attacks, if not impossible to separate them. Just as it's impossible to believe that these people weren't motivated by extreme fear and hatred of all forms of government, a belief shared generally with the Republican party and the Tea Party movement, but taken to the outer limits of sanity.
It's also hard not to notice the recent rise in right-wing, anti-government extremism a year after the Department of Homeland Security released a report warning of precisely these types of growing threats. That report was universally condemned by Republican politicians, conservative pundits, and thought leaders as an attack on mainstream conservatism and a politically motivated smear campaign by the Obama administration.
It turns out the DHS was right on the money, which I suppose ought to be of some comfort even to conservatives, since it means they are doing their jobs.
Arguments that media personalities like Fox News' Glenn Beck, and Minnesota's Republican Representative Michelle Bachmann, aren't playing a role in stoking anti-government fear and egging on violent paranoia are quickly becoming laughable. Beck's infamous suggestion that the Obama administration was creating internment camps for conservatives to be run by FEMA, and Bachmann's claims that those internment camps would be used to "reeducate" Republicans are precisely the kinds of lunatic fringe conspiracy theories that drive already unstable individuals over the line when they come from people with real credibility, such as a Congresswoman or the Fox Network's biggest TV star.
While it's not fair to place all the blame on conservatives like Beck and Bachmann, it's painfully clear that they share some responsibility in fostering anti-government fear and paranoia, and that such fear mongering is contributing to the formation and growth of extremist groups intent on killing Americans.
GOP leaders will issue their token condemnations of militias like this, but won't bother to remind you that it's because of the Republican party that groups like this own fully automatic weapons in the first place. Many of the weapons possessed by these people were undoubtedly banned during the Clinton administration, but that ban was allowed to expire due to Republican opposition.
Weapons such as that pose a significant threat to our safety, and you never seem to hear how some courageous home owner defended their family from an armed home invasion with his AK-47. But rarely do you see violent extremists like this one armed only with pistols, locked safely under their beds with gun locks and secured in safes.
Instead, they run around the woods, practicing with fully automatic military-style rifles for the day they'll shoot you and the rest of us when they finally snap.
Nor will GOP leaders condemn the Glenn Becks of the world for encouraging anti-government fear and paranoia, or people like Glenn Reynolds, who is more concerned with finding a way to frame these psychos as gun-loving patriots who are being treaded on by the evil Obama administration, than he is with condemning the people who planned mass murder against the real patriots of America: the police that protect us.
I don't believe that Reynolds, Beck, or Bachmann are directly responsible for this behavior, nor do I think they should be forced to apologize and denounce every act of right-wing extremism (no more than Muslims should be forced to denounce every act of terrorism.) But that doesn't mean they don't have a hand in things or have a responsibility to look within their own party for the spark that started the fire.
And on the most important matter, it hardly seems reasonable or sane for conservatives to argue that this militia is merely accused of a crime, not convicted, and to demand fair trials and constitutional protections because it's the right thing to do in one breath, and then deny those things to accused foreign terrorists, whose only difference is their religion or color of their skin.