A conversation about the Hutaree

It was tODD, who is politically more liberal than most denizens of this blog (though arguably more theologically conservative than most denizens of this blog, Wisconsin Synod Lutheran that he is), who urged me to post something about the Hutaree (above). That started an e-mail conversation that I thought was worth posting in itself. Here are excerpts, arranged in dramatic form:

tODD: This story (also) has everything for conservatives! Christianity! Eschatology! And a strong belief in a limited federal government and the Bill of Rights (or at least some parts thereof). . . .

Okay, so maybe I’m tweaking you a bit, but I do wonder. You seem to enjoy posting articles about liberal ideology gone wrong. How do you feel when you read this article? After all, these people do have vigorous conservative beliefs. Obviously, we both believe that these people are wrong, though. But how do the Hutarees’ beliefs and actions relate to the modern right-wing/conservative/Republican/tea party movement? Can the latter completely wash its hands of the former? And
if so, do left-wingers/liberals/Democrats get the same pass?

Also, does it feel to you like we get more of these stories — or possibly more action from this type of people — when Democrats are in power? I’m reminded of Waco and Timothy McVeigh. I realize that
anti-government militia types are not only anti-Democrat-run-government, but I wonder if they’re more emboldened (or frightened) by the strong talk of socialism/treason/whatever from seemingly legitimate right-wing sources these days.

But if you don’t like that angle, there is always this irony: “Each of the suspects is being held without bond and they have all requested a public defender.” Ah, nothing like depending on the same government you were allegedly planning on attacking.

ME: I’m trying to figure out, though, in what sense are these people conservative? I know the unbiased media is characterizing them as such, and associating them as you do with the “tea party” protesters.

But just as I question this cult’s Christianity (doing battle with the anti-Christ? killing the children of police officers?), I question their conservatism (killing policemen? Uh, conservatives are the ones with “support your local police” bumper stickers. Do battle against America? Conservatives are the ones who are always patriotically wanting to fight for–not against– their country). And do you really think they are Republicans? Didn’t they get started to fight a Republican administration?

When I was in college, back in the 1970’s, before I became a born again conservative, I hung out with leftists of every description. There was talk of “offing the pigs” and of rising up against the government all the time. I don’t know any of that crew who got prosecuted. The ones who come to mind are now lawyers.

tODD: Ooh, I kind of thought you’d sloughed this one off. Also, yes, I smiled when you wrote “unbiased media”, even though you may remember that my claim isn’t that the media is unbiased, but rather that it is not monolithically liberally biased. All media is ultimately biased towards ensuring its own existence (which, for the “mainstream media” is, of course, biased towards ensuring income streams, namely advertisers and readers). Anyhow.

Of course, asking “in what sense are these people conservative” is just another way of asking what “conservative” means — by no means an easy feat these days. Is conservatism an ideology rooted in a few basic principles, from which flow various applications and actions? I’m sure you’d like to think so — as would I. Or is conservatism any one or more actions taken from a checklist labeled “Conservative actions” by someone claiming to be conservative? That’s the impression I get these days from most people. It’s why people can’t tell the difference between conservatism, Republicanism, republicanism, etc. For most people, conservatism has lost its rooting in ideas.

By way of explanation from a common ground we share, you can see that the same thing has happened to Christianity. Is Christianity a core belief in Christ the Son of God, who died for our sins and was raised, etc., from which idea flow various applications and actions? Yes. But there are lots of “Christian” things out there for which that idea is alien. All you have to do to witness this is to walk into a “Christian” bookstore. “See, this music is Christian because it talks about ‘love’ and references an ill-defined ‘him’ or ‘you’.” “This exercise book is Christian because it contains Bible verses.” And so on.

So, in that sense, we agree that these militia people are not conservative — provided that you and I have in mind the same definitions for the ideology at the root of that philosophy. And I don’t know if we do, because I’m a little wishy-washy on it myself.

And yet, as I noted in my previous email, they appear — “on paper”, as it were — as checklist conservatives. Pro-2nd-Amendment? Check. Opposed to large federal government? Check. Use Christian language and symbolism? Check. I’m pretty certain that much would earn you a vote from several self-professed Tea Partiers.

And no, I don’t think these people are Republicans at all. I thought I made that clear, but I can’t see that I wrote anything about that now. No, these people would also attack a Republican-run federal government, as I understand it.

And yet, I feel you’re missing something here, when you say “Conservatives are the ones who are always patriotically wanting to fight for–not against– their country.” Well, most of the time. And yet I’m pretty certain most conservatives are also strongly in favor of the American Revolution, and see in it the expressing of their ideals. Revolution: Not exactly conservative, of course. And so we’re back to the question of what the word means. But I’m betting that most conservatives today would fight on the side of the Colonies if they were back in the day of King George III — and that means fighting against their country, doesn’t it?

I’m also worried that not a few “conservatives” see themselves in a similar situation today, and are considering whether or not it’s really “their country” anymore. After all, if King George went too far, and that resulted in armed revolution (to, it may be argued, restore the way things used to be), then what is to be done when conservatives (quote-unquote?) are arguing that Obama has gone too far, that things need to be restored? King George was accused of making the monarchy into tyranny. Is Obama accused of doing anything less with the republic?

And that was ultimately my question. When legitimate conservatives delegitimize the President and our government, when they accuse them of destroying democracy and instituting socialism, how much are they responsible for the nuts who take their arguments seriously, for taking them to their, perhaps, logical conclusion?

ME: [I don’t have the exact words, but I came back with the point that it was the left that spent most of the last decade delegitimizing the President–claiming that Bush was not really the president because they rejected the Supreme Court’s decision on the Florida recount–and claiming that he destroyed democracy, instituted a fascist state, etc. I also pointed out that this group existed before the Tea Party protests. I since learned from the Wikipedia article that they were founded in 2008. Thus, they were not influenced by today’s conservative rhetoric, and the government they were originally planning to overthrow was that of said President Bush.]

Now you jump in.