Following the election of the nation’s first African American president, backlash by a virulent new breed of fanatics who seemingly use patriotism as a thin veil for racism, began metastasizing.
Although it’s a relatively progressive state, in recent years some of the nation’s most radical organizations have set up camp in Connecticut.
From anti-government dissenters including patriot groups, Tea Party factions, militias and sovereign citizens to controversial groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the World Church of the Creator, the John Birch Society and the Birthers, far right extremist ideologies are becoming increasingly active and vocal across the Nutmeg state.
The combination of a black president with a foreign-sounding name and a downturned economy has seemingly created the perfect cocktail for haters.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the latest GOP candidate to toss his hat in the presidential ring, has been blowing the racist dog whistle at every available opportunity. He recently called President Obama “the most successful food stamp president in modern American history.”
After Obama released his long form birth certificate in response to the media circus created by former quasi-presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s obsessive “carnival barking” on the subject of his citizenship, the Birther movement was delegated to relative obscurity.
“Donald Trump’s campaign to make President Obama show his birth certificate took us back to the days of slavery when the black man in America had to show papers to prove that he was allowed in society,” said Carolyn Vermont, president of the Greater Bridgeport Branch NAACP. “Trump’s behavior was shameful.”
Trump also stated that he didn’t believe Obama was qualified to attend Harvard Law School, where he graduated magna cum laude. Vermont’s daughter graduated in the same Georgetown class as Trump’s son in 2006.
Last year, state Sen. Michael McLachlan (R-24th) proposed bill number 291, “An Act Concerning Qualifications to Appear As A Candidate For President or Vice-President On A Ballot In This State,” which recently died in committee. It would have required presidential candidates to provide U.S. certificates of birth in order to be placed on the ballot in Connecticut. Birther bills have been proposed in six other states and are still being debated in more than a half-dozen others.
McLachlan did not respond to the Independent’s request for an interview.
Statewide, numerous so-called patriot groups have sprung up since Obama’s election.
“It’s racism, pure and simple,” said Vermont. “These groups cannot accept a black president. They will create all kinds of tales and tricks to try to stop him from carrying out his duties as the president of the United States of America. But they fail to realize that is was divine intervention that placed President Obama in his position. He will continue to succeed in making America a better country for all of its residents.”
At many anti-Obama/Tea Party rallies funded by big corporate donors, including the Koch brothers, signs depicting the president as a terrorist or tribal have been commonplace.
“I don’t think that these groups truly believe that President Obama is tribal or terrorist, however they do want to brainwash Americans into thinking that way about our president,” said Vermont.
Tom Scott, a former Milford state senator and conservative talk radio personality (who is considering a lawsuit against Gov. Dan Malloy over his proposed budget) has linked a number of these organizations to his Website.
Alongside the names of various Tea Party factions is the long-established group, the John Birch Society, which renders a blond-haired, blued-eyed Jesus Christ on its home page.
Birch Society leader Art Thompson offers site visitors his video monologues on topics ranging from conspiracy theories on the death of Osama bin Laden to immigration and the persecution of Christians.
The Connecticut Grassroots Alliance, boasting 28 conservative groups, also has a campaign school. Along with McLachlan and state Rep. John Hetherington, the CGA held a 2010 news conference requesting a public hearing for three proposals to reassert the state’s rights under the 10th Amendment declaring federal legislation unconstitutional.
Other conservative state chapters include the Council of Conservative Citizens, the Connecticut Survival Alliance, the Campaign for Liberty, the Connecticut Patriot Alliance, Committees of Safety, Oath Keepers, Continental Congress, Restore the Republic and Sovereign Citizens — a network of anti-government individuals who believe they are neither subject to the jurisdiction of the government nor to its laws at the state or municipal level.
Right Principles is led by Fairfield resident Bob MacGuffie, best known for his instructional memo on disrupting town hall meetings that sent the health care debate into chaos in 2009. At one meeting, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., endured racial slurs and spitting by protestors.
“There is an undisguised racist element prominently projected in the signage and the rants of far too many at the rallies last summer and at many of the town meetings, where members of Congress have had to either capitulate to the mob or stand for American values with our President Obama,” said Vermont.
“The mob mentality is not open to the nuance of debate and compromise — preferring to vilify all of the current administration’s initiatives as being ‘un-American’ — that is to say against what they have been manipulated to see as their best interest … Their affirmative action in the form of white privileges is disappearing and they are scared,” she explained.
Recently, MacGuffie spoke at the annual Tea Party at the state Capitol, giving a shout-out to his “radical extremist brothers and sisters.” He told gatherers that their liberty movement was responsible for electing 63 new congressmen and seven new senators last November and that it had sent former House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi to the backbench. MacGuffie also praised a new crop of governors whom he said were heroes of the Constitution including Brown of Arizona, McDonnell of Virginia, Perry of Texas, Christie of New Jersey, Kasich of Ohio and Walker of Wisconsin, who recently attempted to shut down unions.
The Connecticut 51st Militia, located in Terryville, has a Website featuring the animation of a firing rifle and an illustration merging the American flag with the United Nations flag. It makes no bones about using violence to set its agenda.
Many of these groups advocate “taking their country back.
“The Tea Party/patriot groups consistently demonstrate racist behavior by their actions,” said Vermont. “Exactly where do they want to take the country back to? Slavery days? These groups have created so much hate. They act like modern-day Ku Klux Klans without the hood. They have managed to motivate others to kill.”
Following the raid in Pakistan that took down bin Laden, a Connecticut company gained national attention by issuing the Rambama SEAL Team 6 action figure.
Located in Oxford, Hero Builders — which caters to a mostly right wing clientele — also markets a doll that depicts Obama as the Joker from Batman. Since issuing the Rambama action figure, the toy company began receiving angry correspondence from haters who cannot accept Obama depicted as anything other than a joker.
“I have actually received death threats since I began selling the action figure,” said Emil Vicale, owner of Hero Builders. “You can’t imagine some of the things people are saying and the phone calls and emails just keep on coming.”
Vicale said half are orders for the action figure (selling for $34.95 plus tax and shipping) and half are furious conservatives.
A conservative himself, Vicale admits he finds all the railing from people on the right “embarrassing.”
“Somebody just sent an email saying he knows where I live,” said Vicale. “I have never seen the political climate as bad as this. I’m just a toymaker and I have something for everyone. For example, I sell three different versions of Sarah Palin, so both Republicans and Democrats can be happy.”
But those on the far right fringe may never be happy so long as a black president sits in the White House — even if he did successfully issue the order to hunt down and kill the nation’s number one terrorist.
“…But a wise person sees through the propaganda,” Vermont concludes.