Interviewing a Time magazine writer who conducted an in-depth investigation into right-wing militias, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell on the September 30 "Last Word" tried to draw a parallel between the reported resurgence of extreme militia groups and the rise of the Tea Party.
"The surge in recruits to what could be the training ground of our next Timothy McVeigh parallels the rise of the Tea Party and includes at least one man who had serious plans to kill the president by going nuclear," warned O'Donnell, before enlisting the help of Barton Gellman, author of "Locked and Loaded: The Secret World of Extreme Militias," to connect the dots.
After laying the groundwork with questions about Holocaust Museum killer James von Brunn and a man who was fashioning a dirty bomb to assassinate President Barack Obama before being killed in his sleep by his wife, O'Donnell peddled his offensive comparison: "Now, do you see any relationship in the parallel rise in time only – I'm only suggesting there's a parallel in time – of the Tea Party and this tripling of the militias?" Just as prefacing an insult by giving someone all due respect does not absolve the critic of the uncouth statement that may follow, O'Donnell's attempt to cover for himself does not excuse his highly objectionable insinuation.
Instead of receiving reflexive agreement for such a shrewd observation, O'Donnell was refuted by the Time editor-at-large: "It's tricky because I do not want to give the impression that I'm associating the Tea Party with these militias. It almost doesn't matter what the anti-government extremists believe. What matters is that they are arming and training and practicing and planning for bloodshed."
Apparently O'Donnell missed the part where Gellman dismissed the comparison between extreme militia members and Tea Party activists: "Theirs is not Tea Party anger, which aims at electoral change, even if it often speaks of war. In the world of armed extremists, war is not always a metaphor. Some of them speak with contempt about big talkers who 'meet, eat and retreat.'"
After only one week on the air, O'Donnell has managed to malign Tea Party supporters as "narcissistic," interview a Rolling Stone "reporter" who insulted them as "incredibly stupid," and compare the conservative activists to the likes of McVeigh and von Brunn.
A transcript of the segment can be found below:
September 30, 2010
10:20 p.m. EDT
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: Locked and loaded. Since Barack Obama became president, the number of heavily-armed anti-government militias has tripled. That's right, tripled. The surge in recruits to what could be the training ground of our next Timothy McVeigh parallels the rise of the Tea Party and includes at least one man who had serious plans to kill the president by going nuclear. Joining me now is the author of Time magazine's special investigation, "Locked and Loaded: The Secret World of Extreme Militias," Barton Gellman, Time magazine's contributing editor at large. Tell us about the guy who was building – really seriously building a nuclear device that he hoped would take the president.
BARTON GELLMAN, Time magazine: Well, a dirty bomb, he hoped – a radiological dispersal device.
O'DONNELL: This is what we fear from al-Qaeda, that there will be some suitcase bomb, there will be some dirty bomb, so called, that will end up on the New York City subway. But we had a domestic terrorist who was working on it.
GELLMAN: Well, two things to say about this guy. One is he probably is the most serious – came the nearest to being able to actually build a dirty bomb of any of the domestic threats we've ever heard about, certainly way more than Jose Padilla, the accused al-Qaeda dirty bomber. On the other hand, he wasn't – he wasn't ready yet. He wasn't there. But it is by the happenstance that he was killed in his sleep by his wife that we found out about it at all.
O'DONNELL: And why was he killed in his sleep by his wife? So, there were things wrong with him as a husband as well as a citizen.
GELLMAN: There were issues. The judge – the judge found that she had suffered so greatly in terms of domestic abuse that he waived any prison sentence at all, even though she killed him in his sleep.
O'DONNELL: Lenient judges have their place in our judicial system. You write that the Holocaust Museum killer, James von Brunn, that he had written, was that on his Web site that he wrote this or?
GELLMAN: No, actually, more chillingly. When he went and killed the guard at the Holocaust Museum, he double-parked his car, got out, raised a rifle and shot the guy point-blank in the chest. In his double-parked car was his planning notebook. And in that notebook, you found evidence of the other targets he had in mind.
O'DONNELL: He had a note there saying "Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do." And he had other names on the card?
GELLMAN: He did have other names. One of them was David Axelrod, the president's closest political adviser. And you don't have to think that one life is more important than another to understand that it would have been a very different kind of event had an assassin killed one of the president's, you know, inner circle members. And a thing that put a jolt through the Secret Service and Homeland Security and FBI was that this is a guy who demonstrated motive, means, intent to kill – actually did kill. And he had a plausible plan to get to David Axelrod.
O'DONNELL: Why didn't he go after the president or Axelrod? Was the Holocaust Museum just easier? All you had to do was walk in?
GELLMAN: Actually, it's not clear to me it that the Holocaust Museum was easier because, you know, having cased the place, he knew there were armed guards all over the place. That does not happen to have been the case at David Axelrod's home and the address was listed. I think that Jews were whole central to this guy's whole concept of evil in the world that he couldn't resist.
O'DONNELL: Now, do you see any relationship in the parallel rise in time only – I'm only suggesting there's a parallel in time – of the Tea Party and this tripling of the militias?
GELLMAN: It's tricky because I do not want to give the impression that I'm associating the Tea Party with these militias. It almost doesn't matter what the anti-government extremists believe. What matters is that they are arming and training and practicing and planning for bloodshed. In most cases, they consider it defensive. They're expecting, you know, Obama to send troops to declare martial law, to seize their guns and round them up in concentration camps and so on. But they are training to kill opposition forces that look exactly like the ATF or the FBI or National Guard unit.
O'DONNELL: Now, having been with these people, is it your sense that the election of President Obama has provoked this increase in the militia, or at the same time the worst economy, you know, since the depression has provoked to this, or something else?
GELLMAN: Well, both. The FBI calls that a perfect storm. You had – you had – look, anytime you have the bottom drop out of the economy, it increases discontent greatly, and it sort of increases the voices of people who think that, for example, special interests are running the world to their own detriment, who were alienated from Washington. And many of the people in this sort of highly alienated, anti-government Right have hated every recent president. They hated the Bushes. But Obama also sort of jolted that movement because in one guy, you united – because of his race, because of what they imagined his religion was, because of what they imagined his, you know, his birthplace was – he united the bigotry of racists and religious bigots and nativists. And so, he was a perfect symbol for all of them.
O`DONNELL: Barton Gellman with the cover story of Time magazine this week, "Locked and Loaded," an amazing story. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.
GELLMAN: Thank you, Lawrence.