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The river of discontent running through America turned toxic in the fevered mind of the Pentagon shooter and others of his ilk. In a culture awash in conspiracy theories and raw anger at government, they are lone wolves who find a sense of community for their hate — yet act alone.
They are, in some ways, more unsettling than organized and trained terrorists because they come from us.
Their diatribes and smoldering grievances are familiar and homegrown. For the Texan who steered a small plane into IRS offices last month, it was taxes. For the Nevadan who shot at a courthouse in January, it was his Social Security.
In these times, disgust with authority — a president, a tax law, a health plan, one political party or both — comes with a hard-edged hallelujah chorus.
Few kill. But many rant.
The litany that made accused Pentagon attacker John Patrick Bedell smolder and rant is varied, and still coming to light. His history was one of mental illness, not fringe-group agitation.
In an Internet posting, Bedell had suggested an act like the 2001 terrorist attacks could have been the work of a criminal organization controlling the U.S. government, accepting a “sacrifice of thousands of its citizens … as a small cost in order to perpetuate its barbaric control.”
His poisonous view of the government appears well out on the extreme — until you see what some people close to the center of power are saying these days.
“America is teetering towards tyranny,” Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina told the Conservative Political Action Conference last month. He accused the governing Democrats of peddling socialist policies “that have been the enemy of freedom for centuries all over the world.”
Republicans have been branding Democratic policies as some form of socialism for generations, par for the course.
But tyranny? America has real issues with that — it violently overthrew that enemy at the start.
However outrageous the notion that the government would sacrifice its citizens “as a small cost,” it’s not limited to warped malcontents.
It was California Democratic Rep. Pete Stark who said, late in the Bush administration, that Republicans want to spend money “to blow up innocent people — if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.”
Multiply rhetoric like that and you have the new public square, swarming with bloggers and broadcasters reaching for the provocative and feeding the grievances of the like-minded.
Altogether it’s a rage against the machine. Activists such as the tea party movement tap that rage for political and policy ends — stopping the health overhaul, getting supportive politicians elected.
But it’s surely not been lost on the lone wolves, whether it fuels their acts or not.
The Pentagon gunman, who wounded two police officers and was himself shot to death, joins two other men with anti-government sentiments who have attacked the government since the beginning of the year.
Just last month, Joseph Stack flew his small plane into an Austin, Texas, IRS building. In his online turn on the public square, Stack had railed about U.S. tax laws.
In January, a Nevada man, Johnny Lee Wicks, fired shots at a Las Vegas courthouse, killing a security guard and being shot to death soon after. Wicks was angry about losing a lawsuit challenging a cut in his Social Security benefits.
All three men appeared to have acted alone, without ties to the militia or patriot groups that gained traction in the early and mid-1990s.
That was another era of rising anti-government sentiment and a decade marked by the domestic terrorism of Timothy McVeigh, who in 1995 blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City and killed 168 people.
Mark Potok, co-director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which published a report that listed 363 new patriot groups that appeared in 2009, said the Pentagon shooter does not fit the profile of radical organizations.
Not an activist himself, Bedell appeared to be one who absorbed the ideas of those groups and twisted them to his own ends, Potok said.
Oddball ideas alone are no red flag. True, Bedell subscribed to conspiracy theories about “the September 11 demolitions.”
But Debra Medina, too, said last month there were “some very good arguments” for believing the U.S. was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And she won 19 percent of the votes in Tuesday’s Texas Republican primary for governor.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press