A few days ago, this item appeared on Yahoo! News, from the Associated Press - "Oklahoma tea parties and lawmakers envision militia". From the article:
OKLAHOMA CITY - Frustrated by recent political setbacks, tea party leaders and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a new volunteer militia to help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.
Tea party movement leaders say they've discussed the idea with several supportive lawmakers and hope to get legislation next year to recognize a new volunteer force. They say the unit would not resemble militia groups that have been raided for allegedly plotting attacks on law enforcement officers.
"Is it scary? It sure is," said tea party leader Al Gerhart of Oklahoma City, who heads an umbrella group of tea party factions called the Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance. "But when do the states stop rolling over for the federal government?"
Thus far, the discussions have been exploratory. Even the proponents say they don't know how an armed force would be organized nor how a state-based militia could block federal mandates. Critics also asserted that the force could inflame extremism, and that the National Guard already provides for the state's military needs.
Even though the story's authors should have said "some tea party leaders and conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature," the story still paints a relatively accurate picture of what is really going on, which is probably nothing more than a few poorly thought out lunch-at-Denny's conversations between a handful of extreme right political career activists and fringe right members of the Legislature. We have quite a bit of both here in Oklahoma.
Naturally this bit of news piqued my interest, since I have been lightly involved with the Tea Party effort here since its inception -- I have attended two Tea Party rallies at the state capitol, I am a member of the OKC Tea Party's FaceBook group and subscribe to their emails, I am a FaceBook friend of some of the group's leaders, and I have visited briefly with Alan Webb, who organized the first Tea Party rally in February 2009 on the steps of the state capitol.
Before I read the AP story, I had never heard of Al Gerhart or the Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance. A little Googling quickly told me why.
The Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance apparently held "Oklahoma's first ever indoor Tea Party at the Capitol" on February 1 of this year, immediately following Governor Brad Henry's annual State of the State address. According to a write-up by Andrew Griffin at OklahomaWatchDog.org, the OCA is a loose coalition of mostly extreme far right conspiracy enthusiasts, Christian fundamentalists, gun nuts, Ron Paulians, isolationists, and others including The Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, The Oklahoma Chapter of the John Birch Society, Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ, Radio Free Oklahoma, and WeAreChangeOklahoma. The Oklahoma Watchdog report did not provide an estimate of how many people attended this rally, but OCA's Facebook page for that event lists a whopping 7 "confirmed guests" and 13 that "may be attending". By comparison, the April 15 2009 rally sponsored by the OKC Tea Party drew between 3000 and 5000 attendees. Yesterday's OKC Tea Party rally at the state capitol drew over 1000.
It's pretty easy to conclude, then, that Alan Gerhart's Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance is pretty far out of the mainstream with respect to the broad Tea Party movement here in Oklahoma. Of course that inconvenient fact hasn't stopped the liberal blogosphere from attempting to use this story as "proof" that all Tea Party supporters are pistol-packing birther loonies. News outlets republished the story with slightly altered headlines: "Oklahoma Tea Partiers Consider Creating Militia" (CBS News), "Oklahoma Tea Party Plans To Form Armed Militia" (Huffington Post). Charles Johnson gave the story obligatory coverage and declared that the proposed militia would be "heavily armed." Writing at the Huffington Post, Stephen Herrington envoked the word "brownshirts" after only three paragraphs.
Of course no one on the Left seemed to recall candidate Barack Obama's equally vague notion of a "civilian national security force":
"We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded." (July 17, 2008)
I'm not exactly sure just what role a White House-led civilian national security force with nuclear weapons ("just as powerful") and a $500 billion budget ("just as well-funded") would play in tandem with our existing military, but such an outfit would certainly be much more fearsome than a tiny group of hard-right political activists whose fevered dreams probably don't even have a prayer of making it out of state legislative hearings. As Instapundit Glenn Reynolds noted, their ideas are simply "kind of silly."
On today's editorial page, the Daily Oklahoman gets it right:
Many pundits have portrayed all "tea partiers" as ultra-conservatives who hold extreme, anti-government views, when in truth many who have attended tea party rallies here and across the country are people of all political stripes who simply are concerned about the course federal policy has taken and wish to make that concern known.
Ginning up ideas about forming militias only serves to strengthen the stereotype. That's damaging to the tea party movement, not to mention that it casts Oklahoma in an unflattering light.
... A co-founder of the Sooner Tea Party acknowledges that the militia idea is "scary" for many, but says, "When do the states stop rolling over for the federal government?" His frustration is understandable. This idea is not. The Legislature, which would need to recognize such a volunteer force, needs to make sure it gains no traction.