A Primer for the Neo-Patriots

"Come and join our band
We’re standing up for freedom and liberty
‘Cause patriots have shown us that freedom ain’t free."
Lloyd Marcus, "American Tea Party Anthem"

Right-wing activists were outraged last week when it was revealed that the Department of Homeland Security tapped into open-source intelligence – in other words, they trolled Web sites and blogs – to assess the threat level from "right-wing extremists," including so-called disgruntled ex-GIs and the pro-life movement, both of which might "fuel resurgence in radicalization and recruitment."

Welcome to the party. Now perhaps the tea-party patriots will realize there’s a way to "pay for freedom" other than a soldier picking up a gun at Uncle Sam’s bugle blast.

The patriots pressing into town hall meetings to shout down members of Congress as fascists and liars this month seem conflicted about what they want to be. On one hand, they openly and ironically crib from liberal Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals to pursue aggressive "direct action" against their opponents. On the other, they play the victim, blaming the so-called MSM and burly "union thugs" – and now the Department of Homeland Security – for marginalizing them as zealots and impinging on their First Amendment rights.

The Joan of Arc act is particularly rich, since this particular group, now egged on by born-again revolutionaries like Michelle Malkin and the cast of National Review, spent the last eight years marginalizing antiwar protesters and civil libertarians as zealots, or in Malkin’s words, "unhinged," "bongo drum beating retreatists." Resistance to then-president Bush’s policies of spying on American citizens, waging a "global" war and making the entire world a legal battlefield, authorizing the deployment of the U.S. military on American soil, and using the perversely titled "PATRIOT Act" to pursue the slow erosion of heretofore constitutionally protected rights of the citizenry was summarily dismissed as paranoid, tin-foil-topped fever dreaming of the kookiest extreme.

What a difference a year makes. Now that, as Malkin implies, "counterinsurgent" is no longer a dirty moniker, the Founding Fathers are properly exhumed and reanimated, and the Jeffersonian march against the forces of tyranny (cue fife and drum) is on, there seems to be a learning curve – and a bit of consternation – on the part of these neo-patriots as to what to expect (or more aptly, their crosses to bear) as organized dissidents.

Again, welcome to the party. Perhaps a little primer?

Intimidating "thugs" will show up at protests. Much has been made so far of the union "thugs" materializing as a counterweight at the recent town hall meeting rallies and protests. Certainly they are a nuisance. This man claims to have been brutalized by such goons, needing hospital care and even a wheelchair (though as this video shows, he is quite ambulatory after the alleged incident). But that is beside the point. The opposition – in this case, Democrats and left-wingers – are bound to get wise and pursue rude intimidation tactics at these otherwise reasonable forums for informed discourse.

The best approach is to ignore them, just like when Malkin and company fueled rumors and encouraged Rolling Thunder and a host of salty, leather-bedecked, pro-war muscleheads to form a "gauntlet of honor" through which the "Jane Fonda retreads" were forced to walk at the 2007 antiwar rally and march on the Pentagon. They waved the Stars & Stripes (and the middle finger), shouted obscenities, ripped up protest signs, and reminded everyone at every chance that they had spilled blood for free speech. Then they told the marchers to go home.

The counter-protesters were able to claim inflated numbers and victory among themselves on the blogosphere – it was good for morale. That kind of stagecraft cannot be avoided. Either counter-spin the counter-protest, or ignore it altogether

Be prepared to answer for your attire. Patriots chortled and then became angry after Sen. Barbara Boxer alluded to the "well-dressed" protesters at the recent town hall events, advancing the narrative that this is an orchestrated movement ginned-up by K Street wisecrackers and white suburbanites.

"If it pleases Madam Boxer then I will wear a pair of shorts from last year, my ugly crocs, an old T-shirt and will not shave my legs & underarms nor wear deodorant. Perhaps that will make me more like one of her stinking hippie friends back in CA," read one of the comments to the above-linked Hotair.com story.

"What? The protesters aren’t tattooed, pachouli [sic] soaked, ripped T-shirt ner’do’wells [sic] therefore they are unauthentic?" wrote another.

It’s no fun to be judged by the way you look, but don’t let them see you sweat (especially if you choose not to wear deodorant).

But again, this is to be expected. There might even come a time when a patriot is handcuffed and tossed out of an event for what he or she is wearing, much like these citizens in 2004, who had the audacity to wear their anger at the Bush administration to a rally. He or she may be removed from a local establishment. Political bumper stickers may also get you into trouble. Don’t be surprised if this happens a lot. The Obama White House has its predecessor’s playbook to follow if it so chooses. Funny, the patriots weren’t ready for this one.

Talking heads will marginalize you. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but some labels can also pack a punch, especially when they are repeated over and over and come to define your movement and the people within it. No one wants to drive all the way to a congressman’s office carrying a homemade sign declaring "Hitler had his ovens; Obama has his hospices," demand the lawmaker engage in open dialogue, and then go home only to flip on the TV and hear some mainstream media maven call you a "bully," "crazy," or "nuts." So what if some patriots are packing heat at these town meetings, or making veiled references to spilled blood and the liberty tree, or hanging effigies of congressmen outside their doors?

You’re not all like that, right? No need for all to be tarred with the same brush (that was already done, by the way, to an effigy of Rep. Alan Boyd [D-Fla.] at a rally in June).

When White House spokesman Robert Gibbs charged that attendance at various town meetings had been largely generated through well-heeled "Astroturf" enterprises like Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, National Review‘s Rich Lowry tried to explain the futility of such demonization. "The ultimate point of the attacks on the town hall protesters," he said, "is to define that opposition as illegitimate."

Lowry should know. In an Aug. 16, 2005, column for National Review Online, he blasted antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan for "unforgivably sloppy moral reasoning" (she said Bush killed her son Casey, a soldier who died fighting in Iraq in 2004). He called Sheehan "unhinged" and paranoid, and he ridiculed her references to "a fascist state" and the MSM, which she called "a propaganda tool for the government." Sounds familiar.

She represented the "howling at the moon, bile spewing Bush haters," he continued, not all those decent people "skeptical" about the war. According to Lowry, the whole of "the Left" were among the former. He crowned Sheehan as their leader and complained that they are all "still incapable" of providing "a responsible, constructive opposition."

Expect government spies and false arrests. The outrage against the aforementioned news that federal intelligence agencies were browsing the Web to monitor the activities of so-called right-wing extremist groups is surprising in that there seems to be genuine incredulity that such surveillance activities are going on. Either the neo-patriots have been sleepwalking through the last eight years or they never guessed their own First Amendment rights were ever in jeopardy.

Another possibility is that they never got the news. Contrary to popular right-wing belief, the MSM only really covers antiwar protests if some black kerchief-wearing anarchists start throwing rocks through plate-glass windows, not if some bespectacled flower child gets searched and handcuffed after an FBI plant fingers her gang of peaceniks as agitators ahead of party conventions.

But that is exactly what happened in 2004 and 2008, the most militarized national party conventions on record. If what happened there portends anything for the tea-baggers at future political hoedowns, get ready for the "free-speech zones" and the inside of a paddy wagon.

Just last year, the FBI was up to its old tricks, working with state and local law enforcement to intimidate and deter protesters at the Denver Democratic convention and the Republican confab in Minneapolis-St. Paul. In a series of raids tipped off by FBI plants, the Minneapolis and St. Paul police stormed houses without warrants, aimed weapons in peoples’ faces, shoved them to the floor in handcuffs, and confiscated laptops and journals. Only a handful of the approximately 50 activists in question were ever formally arrested, and they were charged with "conspiracy to commit riot."

Unfortunately for the cops, the houses had been filled with bloggers and radio journalists with their equipment on hand. Always useful if you want the story to get anywhere.

Meanwhile, this month, a man was accused of infiltrating antiwar protest groups in Washington state since 2007 on behalf of the U.S Army.

Taking a cue from the Feds, state and local law enforcement have gotten into the act, too. From 2005 to 2007, the Maryland State Police infiltrated protest groups and meetings, at one point labeling as terrorists two Catholic nuns and a Democratic congressional candidate.

In Connecticut, a friend of mine, antiwar activist and journalist Ken Krayeske, was taken off his bike and into custody by a throng of cops when he dared photograph Republican Gov. Jodi Rell during her inaugural parade in 2007. Turns out he was on a "list" of potential rabble-rousers gleaned from e-mails and press releases among state activists. After 12 hours in jail and an arraignment on charges of breach of peace and interfering with an officer (see: contempt of cop), the case was dismissed.

What does Krayeske think of these resurrected patriots, who, according to the "Tea Party Anthem," "believe in the Constitution and all it stands for/Anyone who tramples it should be booted out the door"?

He has only one thing to ask. "Where were they the last eight years?"

Indeed. Time to play catch-up.

Author: Kelley B. Vlahos

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer, is a longtime political reporter for FoxNews.com and a contributing editor at The American Conservative. She is also a Washington correspondent for Homeland Security Today magazine. Her Twitter account is @KelleyBVlahos.