Sunday, March 06, 2011

Extremism goes mainstream in Wyoming politics

Lead article in this morning's Wyoming Tribune-Eagle by Josh Mitchell:
Extremism in Wyoming: Neo-Nazis are here. So is the KKK. A white supremacist group thinks this could be a great place to thrive. But when it comes to extremism in Wyoming, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
It's an interesting piece, but the reporting only goes so far. The Southern Poverty Law Center does great work investigating traditional right-wing extremist groups. It earned its chops fighting groups such as the KKK and the John Birch Society that were battling civil rights legislation in the fifties and sixties. Sure, these groups still spout hate and actively recruit new members. The Cheyenne KKK chapter came to the Capitol a decade ago to stage a protest against an issue that I can't recall. There are Birchers in Wyoming, says Bill Hahn, PR guy for JBS national HQ in Wisconsin. He's named in the WTE article, and says he won't give out membership info for Wyoming.

Sorry SPLC, but I don't fear these groups. I fear the mainstreaming of their ideas. The Tea Party is a contemporary offshoot of the John Birch Society. For the past two years, conservative candidates have been falling all over each other to curry favor with the Tea Party. At least one Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2010 spoke at a Tea Party rally in Cheyenne. That was Ron Micheli of notoriously conservative Uinta County. He said what a lot of Wyomingites wanted to hear in 2010 and came within a gnat's eyelash of winning his party's nomination. This was stymied by sensible Republicans and a horde of cross-over Dem voters in the primaries.

If you scoff at the idea that KKK and Bircher nonsense is now mainstream, you didn't pay attention to the recently completed session of the Wyoming Legislature. Gays, lesbians, immigrants, union members, teachers and public employees were all targeted by proposed bills. Very few made it into law. But this is just the beginning. As hate and discrimination goes mainstream, fueled by the Tea Party, with its "strains of extremism," and 24/7 Fox and right-wing radio, more and more legislators with these agendas will be elected. This is especially true in the rural areas of the state, where Democrats are rare but satellite antennae grow like prairie weeds.

This legislation will be supported (as it is now) by lobbyists from conservative think tanks and large corporate interests. Progressive and moderate Wyomingites will have their hands full working against discriminatory bills. We have passion but little money. We are fortunate that there are Republican legislators such as Cale Case who continue the state's strains of moderation. But their days may be numbered as they are targeted as RINOs (Republican in Name Only) by right-wing activists backed by outside funding.

The WTE article is worth reading. It adds to our understanding about the right-wing weirdness that has entered politics in the Equality State.

For the full SLPC report, "U.S. Hate Groups top 1,000," go to

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