Are we America the Angry?
Vicious words during debate over President Barack Obama’s historic heath care bill have turned into actual violence since its passage.
Opponents, apoplectic with rage, have targeted both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, hurling insults and bricks through windows. This week, nine members of an anti-government Christian militia in Michigan were thwarted in their alleged plans to launch an armed attack on authorities.
Eight of them Wednesday pleaded not guilty, but their alleged plot has shaken Americans.
“People see it as symbolic of the extreme anger that is palpable in the country,” said Daniel Levitas, author of “The Terrorist Next Door.” “Who knows how this is all going to ultimately unfold?”
An FBI assessment has found that the likelihood that other militia extremists are plotting bloodshed to be “low,” and Republicans leaders have condemned other hostile acts. House Minority Leader John Boehner said “violence and threats are unacceptable,” and the Florida Tea Party told Obama they’re in “stark opposition” to “derogatory characterizations, threats of violence.”
Nevertheless, militias have tripled in number to 130 since Obama took office, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The trend reflects a wave of militia violence in the 1990s that preceded the Oklahoma City bombing, said Booth Gunter, spokesman for the law center.
“We can only hope and pray that it doesn’t get to that level,” Gunter said. “So far we haven’t seen quite the level of criminal violence, but we’ve definitely seen resurgences.”
Extremist groups raging over jobs lost and the impeding demographic shift in the U.S. as minorities become the majority, experts said.
“It’s vicious anti-government sentiment fueled by the election of an African-American president,” Levitas said. “If you are of that mindset, it is easy to point to the health care bill as symbolism of government takeover.”
The vitriol threatens to undermine America’s integrity, some New Yorkers said Wednesday. “What could happen is the country being divided not by things political, but by race, gender and faith,” said Albert Capozzelli, 47, of Chelsea. “Violence will spread and people will withdraw into their own circles.”
Psychotherapist Jay P. Granat said the rage is spurred by distrust of both political parties.
“There is a widespread disenchantment with the government and the two-party system,” Granat said. “There are dirty tricks on both sides that get people worked up as well as some underlying racism.”
Politicians must lead by example if they want to cool constituents’ anger, Granat said. There was “no camaraderie, no collegial actions between the two parties,” he said. “They have to unite and be seen working together.”
The AP and Julia Borovskaya contributed to this story.