chapter  8
20 Pages

From Tea Parties to militias: between the Republican Party and the insurgent ultra-right in the US


The rapid rise of the Tea Party movement in the US from 2008 to 2010 highlights the range of groups that exist between the core of the Republican Party and the militant ultra-right. The latter sector consists of neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and other formations of organized white supremacists, doctrinaire anti-Semites, and aggressive xenophobes. Martin Durham suggests that more attention be paid to the boundaries that separate all these groups on the political right (Durham 2000). In public discussions of mass dissent in the US, however, there is a tendency to picture an idealized political center periodically under attack by radicals and extremists of the left and right. In this model, subtle analysis and the complexity of boundaries are discarded. Most social scientists have a more complicated view of the political spec-

trum in which a range of dissident reform-oriented social and political movements exist between the centrist political parties and the revolutionary ideologues of the insurgent ultra-left and ultra-right. The Tea Parties and the armed citizen militias active in the contemporary US are two examples of this type of dissident yet reform-oriented right-wing populist mass movement. Similar movements with a regressive restorationist frame have blossomed periodically since the Jacksonian period in the mid-1800s (Berlet and Lyons 2000). This paper explores current manifestations of dissident right-wing populism in the US as rooted in and prompted by a number of factors:

economic fears, reflecting the harsh reality of downsizing, job loss, and mortgage foreclosures while financial institutions that propelled the recession hand out bonuses;

the inflammation of legitimate fears and the identification of scapegoats by histrionic claims and convoluted conspiracy theories about betrayal by liberal elites, socialists, and Democrats;

the election of Barack Obama as president; a backlash among many white people in the US worried about shifts in

racial demographics; the changing faces of recent immigrants (especially Mexicans, Africans, Muslims, and Arabs); and

gender anxiety exacerbated by portraying abortion and gay rights as threatening traditional hierarchical family structures interpreted as an integral element in preserving the “American way of life.”