BY RICHARD L. FRICKER
I seldom write in the first person. But there is always the exception.
The reports of violence against members of Congress and by people upset over the Health Care Reform [HCR] act come as no surprise. Last Sunday [March 21], as I stood at the steps of the nation’s Capitol while the House of Representatives prepared to vote on HCR, I learned firsthand the true nature of the Teabag movement.
In what can only be described as a surreal moment reminiscent of “Night of the Living Dead” a group of Teabaggers accosted me. One of their number had overheard my phone conversation with another reporter, or at least he thought he did. I soon learned fact and truth have no place in the Teabag world, and like zombies of the Living Dead they are willing to devour anything they don’t understand, perceive as a threat, or is not of their making.
There is, I observed, no philosophy to their politics nor theology to their religion. The Teabag world is filled with Communists, Socialists and Nazis and they don’t have the intelligence to know which is which, but they imagine President Obama is most certainly one of these, or perhaps any combination of the three. The Teabagger is never quite sure, but they will carry placards declaring all three just to cover the bases.
Sunday was the warmest day of the year thus far in the city which had just a couple of weeks previous been covered with the deepest snow fall in modern history. My wife and I were enjoying spring break visiting a Washingtonian couple, both journalists for European publications, sightseeing, overeating and just getting out of town.
The wife is a science writer and the husband is a political essayists and reporter. He was covering the HCR vote in the House.
I was to accompany the ladies sightseeing. “Accompany” may be too strong a word. It was obvious the ladies were engaged in their own conversation. I could have been abducted by space aliens and not been missed.
It was agreed that I would call in a report on the Teabag protest when we reached the Capitol. The protest was in its second day.
Arriving at the steps I encountered several hundred Teabaggers, not the thousands reported to have amassed the previous day. I walked around and through the crowd for a few minutes observing and listening.
The previous day this same group had called African-American congressmen N—–, yelled “Faggot” to Congressman Barney Frank, and shouted down the elderly and infirm at Town Hall meetings across the country, all in the name of patriotism. These “patriots” were now making a last ditch stand against HCR.
Mostly they talked among themselves. The anti-health care leadership knew the measure would pass, they had abandoned the Teabaggers. There were no name brand speakers and the media wasn’t interested; the action had moved to the house floor.
Some of the more notable comments from within the crowd came from people who said they had talked to their local preacher. One man recited how “proud” his preacher was that he was protesting health care. Another man spoke of how “preacher” had helped organize his group. Religion danced through the crowd like David before the Temple; thankfully these people were clothed.
Bright yellow “Don’t tread on me” flags sold by street vendors were in abundance. Placards relating to God and the Constitution were no less viable. I found the co-reference rather confusing.
My wife and I had viewed the document the day before. There was nothing in the National Archives suggesting it being written by the Christian God or any other deity.
The only references I am aware of that God or New Testament Jesus ever wrote anything is the latter wrote in stone and the former in the sand. The Constitution, written by plantation owners and Yankee businessmen, is inscribed on paper.
There was enough God talk to warm the heart of any televangelist. And there were hymns.
Specifically, Amazing Grace, written by a former slave trader, and We Shall Overcome, written in 1901 by an African Methodist Episcopal minister, popularized during the 1945 strike by black workers against the American Tobacco Company. If there were any people of color among the Baggers I failed to see them.
Many placards had reproductions of the racist white-face portrayal of the president. As an onlooker remarked, “They’re really mad because a black man is in the White House.”
I called and reported what I observed. I’ve covered any number of protests: civil rights, anti-war – name one over the last four decades and I’ve seen it.
My assessment was something to the effect that there were several hundred people, lots of God and Constitution placards, white-faced Obama posters, hymns and that it all looked rather disorganized and sophomoric. Little did I know the game was on.
Apparently, a couple overheard my report. They began following me through the crowd yelling for my attention. The man finally stepped in front of me yelling that he was not a redneck. I had said nothing about rednecks.
It was obvious he was a patriot. He was wearing a tri-corner vest and three day growth of beard.
I replied, “I don’t know you, stop bothering me. Just leave me alone,” I said, assuming reason might prevail.
The yelling continued as we walked.
He changed themes long enough to say he had an MBA from somewhere. “I guess that just proves the sorry state of American education,” I said.
Then from nowhere came what can only be assumed to be his greatest insult. Pointing at me, he said, “I think you’re a professor!”
This took me aback. I have been called many things in my career, but never “Professor.” In fact I had never heard “Professor” used as a derogatory term.
My son’s Godfather is a professor. I know and socialize with many professors. Hell! Even my bartender has a PhD.
No sooner had I been declared a “Professor” than his wife began motioning to the crowd to join in the altercation, saying, “He’s on the Horowitz list.” She repeated this several times as the crowd moved toward us.
It didn’t occur to me she was talking about David Horowitz who had written a book in 2006 about the 101 most dangerous professors in America. Apparently the only criteria to making the list was to disagree with Horowitz. He encouraged cadres of students to tape classes in order to ferret out professors who were un-American. The Republicans embraced Horowitz and this was the result.
He repeated, “I think you’re a professor.”
Replying I said, “I don’t care what you think, I know you’re an asshole.”
He grabbed my arm. As he was looking me in the eye, I said, “Let go! You touch me again and I’m calling the cops, and you better hope they get here in a hurry.”
My wife had arrived by that time. We were now standing in the open.
Several people, more onlookers than baggers, walked up behind me asking what was going on. The situation defused itself. I had learned.
These people had no idea who I was or why I said what I did. The crowd needed only to be told I was on the Horowitz list to attempt to surround and intimidate me.
Even scarier, this guy felt no hesitation to grab a total stranger on the steps of the Capitol for no other reason than that he disagreed with him. This was not a serious assault as assaults go, but it did show that getting physical was an option for the Teabag revolution.
They have been embraced by the GOP and allowed to hurl insults to members of Congress, berate the infirm, and shout down those engaged in honest debate. They now feel justified in making physical attacks on those who disagree.
The GOP let this dark genie out of the lamp. Now, it will not go quietly back to where it belongs.
It is my fear the Teabag movement will continue this campaign of intimidation, much like the Brown Shirts of pre-war Germany, until there is serious destruction, injury or even death. The GOP leadership has disavowed the violence of these people, but they share part and parcel in what is happening.
What this group is doing is tantamount to urban terrorism. Attacking duly elected officials because of legitimate legislative positions. It is an effort to intimidate the democratic process. It is an attempt to replace the ballot box with threats of violence. The GOP MUST disavow these people or the republic is in deep peril, a peril of the GOP’s making.
The Health Care Reform bill passed the House as my wife and I were flying home, Spring Break over and a new work week on the horizon. And lessons learned.
I have never been a college professor. But, if it is education, information and truth these people fear – I relish that brief moment when I was placed in the ranks of my many friends.
The last site I visited before heading home was the Navy Memorial. There it is inscribed:
“Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worth while … can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction. I served in the U.S. Navy.” – John Kennedy 1963.
I meet that standard. I don’t need a silly hat and racists placards to prove I’m a patriot. And, I don’t have to bully people to accept my opinion; they have theirs, I have mine.
Watching President Barak Obama sign the Health Care Reform bill Tuesday I was struck with a rare feeling of investiture. I had seen the heart of darkness and with the signing knew the republic was safe for a while longer.
– Richard L. Fricker lives in Tulsa, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer