As James Vega pointed out in a post last night, threats or even acts of violence by right-wing fringe groups are entirely predictable--and even rational from the point of view of their perpetrators--in an atmosphere where even "respectable" conservatives often indulge themselves in charges that the country is sliding into some sort of totalitarian system.
I'd add that the problem goes even deeper than overheated rhetoric about the alleged "government takeover" of the health care system or the economy, or claims that an individual mandate to purchase health insurance (which, as progressives should mention as often as possible, has been supported in the very recent past by a large number of Republicans, among them 2012 presidential front-runner Mitt Romney) represents some sort of enslavement. More fundamentally, conservatives have sought to delegitimize the authority of the president and Democratic majorities in Congress by suggesting that they were not properly elected in the first place. That's the obvious thrust of the "birther" argument, which Republicans continue to flirt with. And it's the even more obvious implication of the "ACORN stole the 2008 election" meme, to which a significant share of rank-and-file Republicans appear to subscribe.
Moreover, the massive upsurge of militant constitutional "originalism" (a signature principle of the Tea Party Movement) is a new and alarming development, insofar as it implies that generations of Supreme Court rulings, by justices nominated by presidents of both parties, have consciously conspired to destroy the Founders' design along with basic American liberties. To put it another way, if signficant numbers of citizens come to believe that elected officials aren't legitimately holding power, and that the justice system has failed to exercise any restraints on "tyranny," what forms of civil authority are left? The armed forces? "Militias" exercising their Second Amendment rights to bear arms in self-defense?
Back in 1996, an obscure but significant dispute broke out among conservative intellectuals in the pages of First Things, a conservative ecumenical politics-and-religion journal edited by the late Rev. Richard John Neuhaus. To make a long (and controversial) story short, a number of Neuhaus' colleagues argued that the "judicial usurpation" of democratic decisionmaking over abortion and same-sex relationships denied "the current regime" any genuine authority, or any loyalty from citizens. A number of other conservative intellectuals--many of them Jewish members of the "neoconservative" camp--recoiled in horror at this potentially revolutionary line of reasoning.
We've come a long way since then, it appears. Now similar arguments, aimed at all three branches of the federal government, are endemic on the Right, and have, for the first time since southern resistance to civil rights for African-Americans, a mass base in the population.
Thoughtful conservatives need to reflect on this development, and its implications, which go far beyond who wins or loses in 2010 and 2012. We are edging ever closer to the situation described by George Dangerfield in his famous study of pre-World War I British politics, The Strange Death of Liberal England, when Tory politicians opportunistically embraced revolutionary rhetoric against Home Rule for Ireland and nearly brought the United Kingdom to the brink of civil war.
It's a trend that no American of any political persuasion should welcome.