It has, in fact, been a major challenge to understanding and addressing right-wing extremism over the past quarter century: when incidents of right-wing violence occur, the right tries to deflect and derail, rather than joining efforts to take on extremist threats.
But part of the problem was that members of Congress had connections with the militias, too.
In part, as a result of some Republican hesitance to denounce militias too harshly, the congressional hearings into the growing militia movement wound up highlighting, even glorifying the militias by allowing them to present themselves as regular Americans defending their basic freedoms.
Though the administration clarified immediately that they did not mean programs like Limbaugh, he nonetheless used the moment to indulge in grievance politics. “I believe the people who have been ranting and raving about starving schoolchildren, calling those people involved in legitimate political dialogue ‘extremists,’ are in fact promoters of paranoia and purveyors of hate and divisiveness,” he said, adding that “anyone who uses Oklahoma City for political purposes should incur the wrath of the American people and be voted out of office.”
And it makes sense that he and others on the right did so. Because the militia movement passed through the porous boundaries between the Republican Party, the conservative movement and the violent fringe, many Republicans felt the need to soft-pedal their criticism.
Republican officeholders and conservative pundits erupted, arguing that the report, which discussed the vulnerability of returned veterans to recruitment by extremist groups, reflected the administration’s anti-military bias.
That’s why, while Stitt’s words at the memorial may sound like an offhand attempt to insert culture wars commentary into a moment of serious reflection, they are worth taking seriously: they are part of a long trend on the right of using grievance politics to undermine efforts to tackle extremism, rather than working to address and dismantle that threat.