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The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors hate groups in the U.S., has issued a new report. It focuses on the “stunning” growth in the “Patriot” movement, defined as “conspiracy-minded groups that see the federal government as their primary enemy.” Members of the groups are prone to fantasies of government persecution and grandiose visions of heroic, armed resistance. Sound familiar? Some echoes from the Tea Party summer of 2010, perhaps?

Patriot groups documented by the SPLC have grown from a low of 149 known groups in 2008 to 1,274 currently active groups. In Missouri the SPLC names 28 groups that it considers to be part of the movement. They range from full-fledged militias to fringe political parties and various off-shoots of the Tea-Party. Some, such as the Oathkeepers, are part of larger, national groups.

There are those, such as sociologist James William Gibson, who argue that patriot militias and similar groups function as a safety valve for individuals who find themselves in a world that is changing in ways that they find frightening and incomprehensible. While the SPLC report cautions that inclusion in the list “does not imply that the groups themselves advocate or engage in violence or other criminal activities, or are racist,” it, nevertheless, views the growth of these poorly informed and easily inflamed groups with alarm. The SPLC report contends that:

… If the primaries generate more attacks on the nation’s first black president based on complete falsehoods – that he is a secret Muslim, a Kenyan, a radical leftist bent on destroying America – it’s likely that the poison will spread. And if he wins reelection next fall, the reaction of the extreme right, already angry and on the defensive as the white population diminishes, could be truly frightening.

It’s hard to be sanguine about folks who, in Gibson’s own words, “are focusing on the idea that America’s problems can be resolved into something that can be shot.”

I was struck, though, as I read through the list of patriot groups, to note that former State Representative Cynthia Davis has gone to roost in the shelter of one, the Constitution Party. She is running for Lieutenant Governor as the representative of that party. Davis was always on the fringe, but she, nevertheless, managed to get elected to a state office and even served as Chair of the Franklin County Republican Party.

I also remember the right-wing hullabaloo that ensued when an internal Missouri law-enforcement report on domestic terrorism was leaked in 2009. The report “profiled” what it characterized as potentially dangerous militia members. Among the traits that were cited as red flags were many that are in themselves innocent – Ron Paul supporters, for instance, were flagged. The report presented an overall portrait, however, of a domestic terrorist that is very similar to the paranoid, anti-government, conspiracy theorist that the SPLC report spotlights. That the report enraged many members of Missouri’s GOP political class was telling.  Several contended that they themselves were at risk of government persecution based on the document’s description of risk indicators.

Does this suggest that an important segment of the Missouri Republican Party occupies the same territory that the SPLC explores in their report on radical, potentially dangerous hate-groups? I don’ really think that any faction of the state’s GOP pols are necessarily violent or condone violence – but it is interesting that many of Missouri’s GOP political functionaries seem to share an intellectual terrain where the crazies are also in residence.

Certainly, such a supposition would go a long way toward explaining lots of things – such as a GOP Speaker of the House who wants to bestow state honors on America’s foremost spewer of right-wing invective and hate-talk. It would also help explain the failure of the Missouri legislature to function effectively over the past ten years. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted in a recent editorial, Missouri seems to be falling way, way behind in almost every measure of citizen well-being, and the legislature seems to be hell-bent on accelerating the decline with policies that “keep so many of its residents in poor health, poverty or prison.” But then, fear-crazed, anti-government zealots shouldn’t be expected to do a good job of running government.

* Fifth and last paragraphs slightly edited for clarity.