Friday, August 26, 2016

ANS -- Combating Climate Science Denial--ABrief Case Study

Here is an article about climate change deniers.  Interesting.  It might help if you ever need to argue with a denier.  the comments are pretty good too.  


Sunday Aug 21, 2016 · 4:40 PM PDT

I recently had a friend tell me that the number of hot days in the United States has declined over the last eighty years, thus proving that if the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is having an effect on climate, it must be cooling the United States. (He verbally added a /sarc tag.) To prove this claim, he showed me the graphic I include below.

A quick Google image search revealed the graphic was taken from climate science denier Tony Heller, aka "Steve Goddard," via his conspiracy website ironically titled "RealClimateScience." (I won't link to it because I don't want to increase his income from views to the ads on his site.)

No, the graphic he showed me wasn't one at the top of this post. I'll have it after the break.

The graphic below purportedly compares the number of weather stations reporting temperatures over 105 degrees F so far this year to the number reporting temperatures over 105 degrees F in 1936. I haven't checked whether his data is accurate. Let's take it as given.

Taken from Tony Heller. We should probably give it back.

There's quite a lot wrong with this graphic, and with the claim made by my friend. In the interest of showing how dishonest climate science denial memes work, let's list a few of the problems.

1) Incompleteness. The summer of 2016 isn't over yet, so even on the surface, it's not a good comparison.This is only a minor problem however, compared to the other ways in which this graphic is misleading and dishonest.

2) Oddity. The year 1936 was in the midst of the Dust Bowl era, a time when much of the United States was experiencing an historic drought which was caused (or at least, substantially worsened) by incredibly bad land management in the American southwest. Overfarming, overgrazing and deforestation turned perhaps a hundred thousand square miles of arable land into near-desert, leading to dry and overheated conditions in much of the continent. Comparing the U.S. today to any time in the 1930s is like comparing a vibrant city to a place that has been firebombed. It's not a valid comparison. It's a comparison that is so obviously faulty it had to be made on purpose.

Incidentally, notice also that this rather defeats any argument that human influence can't affect climate. The extreme temperatures in the continental U.S. in 1936 were caused, in some measure, by human activity, and were not entirely a function of natural variation. But let's move on.

Not good. Don't do this.

3) Cherry picking. The comparison here is of one (1) year (1936) to one (1) other year (2016). No sensible statement can be made about climate trends by comparing the current year to some cherry-picked previous year.

Imagine a worker (call him Tony) whose wage income increases smoothly by $1000 every year over a period of forty working years. But other things affect his income as well. Maybe in 2005 Tony made an extra $50,000 by selling his dad's old vintage Studebaker. Comparing his 2005 income to his 2016 income will not give you a good feel for how his wages have changed over the last ten years, and certainly won't tell you where his income is likely to go in the future. Nor will it tell you what affect his work performance is having on his income. 2005 was an unusual year, so it makes a poor base for comparisons.

In the same way, 1936 was unusually hot in America, by random natural fluctuation as well as because of human activity. Comparing that year to this one won't say anything about underlying climate trends. As implied by Item 2) above, this unusual year was specifically chosen to give the result Heller wanted. It was a dishonest and intentionally misleading choice.

4) Inappropriate yardsticks. The point that is implicit in Tony Heller's graphic, and made explicit by my denier friend's interpretation of that graphic, is that "the number of hot days" is a good proxy for "what is happening to the climate." That's just wrong. It's an inappropriate measure.

Climate is driven by (among other factors) the total heat energy in the system. This affects rainfall, wind speed and direction, severity of storms, and a host of other factors that impact plant and animal life, growing seasons, the need for heating and air conditioning, and just about every other aspect of our lives. Total heat content can be approximated by looking at average temperatures, but not by looking at the number of days above an arbitrary limit.

As a simple example, say that one year the temperatures over a 5-day summer period in Sample City are 65, 70, 103, 105, and 72. The average for these five days is 83. Say in another year, the temperatures over the same 5-day period are 95, 96, 98, 99, and 97. The average temperature of the second series is 97. The heat energy available in the second year is much greater than in the first year, even though the first year had higher maximum temperatures.

Not only has the average substantially increased (by 14 degrees), but so has the minimum temperature in the series (from 65 to 95, a jump of 30 degrees). Again, this is despite that fact that the maximum temperatures is lower in the second series than in the first (99 as compared to 105). A region that habitually exhibits temperatures in the first range will have wildly different characteristics (vegetation, animals, rainfall, severity of storms and so on) from what you'd see in a region with the second range.

Heller's tactic of counting the number of weather stations that measure temperatures above some arbitrary limit says very little about how the overall climate characteristics of the region have changed. Looking at minimum temperatures (or, even better, the average over reasonable time spans) is far more useful and informative.

the bigger the sample, the more you get.

5) Sample size. My denier friend tried to use Heller's graphic to say something about world climate. (This is, of course, exactly what Heller wants people to do.) World climate is a complex thing, affected by geography, wind patterns, ocean currents, and a host of other factors. Not all places on Earth are affected the same way by this complex system. That's why (for example) the Sahara Desert tends to be hotter and drier than Seattle, Washington. The United States accounts for less than 5% of the total world's surface area. One can't expect this tiny cherry-picked sample to say anything sensible about climate trends that affect the whole world.

Suppose I note that my favorite baseball team won one of its last twenty games. One out of twenty is 5%, just as the continental U.S. is 5% of the globe. This fact by itself doesn't mean my team won all of those twenty games, and it certainly doesn't mean they'll win the World Series. The sample size of 5% is not large enough to tell us anything meaningful about the other games, and says nothing about the challenges my team faces in playing teams other than the one it played against in that one game.

To claim that "what happened to the continental United States" is a good proxy for "what is happening to the climate of the whole world" is senseless. Tony Heller wants people to draw unsupportable conclusions from this senseless sample.

6) Global. So let's look at what happened to the whole world's temperatures in the years before and after 1936, up to the present day. The graph below is the NASA GISS land-ocean average annual temperature index for the period 1880 to 2015 (in black), with a 5-year running mean (in red).

NASA GISS data, All true. The green lines are uncertainty bars, which sound like places where quantum physicists go for a drink.

As you can see, there was a peak in world temperatures in the early 1940s, so Tony Heller's graphic which includes particularly hot days in the continental U.S. might be expected to show some unusual warmth in 1936. You can also see, global temperatures have risen substantially since then, particularly in a rapid rise since about 1970. Since around 1980 the running mean has exceeded what it was c. 1936, and has never dropped back to that level. It is now far beyond where it was back then.

This reinforces what we said above about sample sizes and cherry-picking specific years and specific regions. If we want to draw conclusions about the world's climate (as my friend tried to do), we have to look at the world's climate. Tony Heller is encouraging his readers to avoid most of the data we have at our fingertips. He is engaging in dishonest misdirection.

Just some frogs to show how much nature varies things.

7) Natural variation. Although it isn't mentioned in Heller's graphic, my denier friend often draws another conclusion from memes such as Heller's. Note that in the NASA GISS graph, the world's temperature increased markedly from c. 1910 to 1940. Yet human production of greenhouse gasses (other than coal burning for household heating and industrial processes) didn't really take off until after that time. My friend argues (and with some justification) that the temperature variations prior to 1940 were mostly due to natural processes, and didn't require human activity. He then claims we therefore can't really know that the immense increase in global temperature after that time is caused by humans. It could well have been more "natural variation."

This is equivalent to saying that we can't calculate the effects of an airplane hitting a skyscraper until we know the limits of the effects of earthquakes and hurricanes on skyscrapers. Natural variation sometimes causes buildings to collapse. How do we know that the World Trade Center was brought down by being stuck by airliners?

We know because A) there were no earthquakes or hurricanes in New York on September 11, 2001, and B) we have film of the airliners hitting the World Trade Center's Twin Towers on that date. Also C) we can calculate the amount of kinetic energy those airliners imparted to the buildings when they struck, along with the effects of exploding fuel. We can also calculate the effects upon the buildings of the natural variations in weather and seismic activity on that day. It's pretty easy to tell which set of causes had more impact.

In other words, we can look at the actual causes that affected the events. We have data and we have physics. We know the concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses has increased markedly in the last century. We know the effect CO2 has on the ability of the atmosphere to retain heat. We know the various natural influences that were in effect in the 1930s, and the influences that are impacting the climate now. This isn't hard.

For this "natural variation" argument to be sensible, we have to examine the actual factors that are in force. To compare the heat waves of the 1930s to the increase in global temperatures today, we need to look at the conditions that occurred in those two time periods. We know what they are. We can calculate the results.

It's not enough to say that since something happened before, it can happen again. We have to look at what caused it to happen before, and see whether the same thing is causing events today. It's not honest to say that we need to know the limits of natural variation before we can calculate the impact of new influences. We already know quite a lot more about both natural variation and human intervention than deniers pretend we know.

The sorts of errors I describe above are common when climate science deniers try to dispute the impact that human activity has on planetary climate. (These are, in fact, only a few of the many errors in this one graphic.) Science disinformers like Tony Heller intentionally mislead unwary victims who don't skeptically examine the dishonest claims and false memes.

It is the responsibility of all of us to help inform the public about the errors and disinformation being spread by science deniers. Rational decisions cannot result from dishonest propaganda.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

ANS -- What's written in the scars of Hillary Clinton

Here is an article about Hillary Clinton and about what it takes to be a woman in politics.  She was the most admired woman in the world for many years -- until she decided to run for president.  There's still a lot of misogyny out there, and most people have no idea how prejudiced they are.  
Hillary Clinton spoke at my college graduation and she was very liberal and very inspiring.  Certainly there are things I disagree with her on, but that would be true of anyone.  I think she is being judged unfairly.  Read this.  There are comments at the website.  

What's written in the scars of Hillary Clinton

By Sandy Garossino in Analysis | August 1st 2016
#43 of 46 articles from the Special Report:U.S. Presidential Election 2016
Hillary Clinton: Photo by The Canadian Press

Admit it. Even if you support Hillary Clinton, some part of you secretly wishes some other woman *cough, Michelle Obama or Elizabeth Warren,* could be the first female president. You're worried, because Clinton's favourability numbers (38%) are in the cellar, and pollsters everywhere are saying she's the least popular Democratic presidential candidate since anyone started counting.

The girls and young women we want to be inspired by this moment aren't. They've flocked to Bernie Sanders, who's much more trusted.

Let's face it, we want girls and young women to look into the future and see a clear blue sky, and Hillary—well, Hillary just seems like damaged goods.

If we really want our girls and young women to aim high, we should tell them the truth. They're in for a fight, and there won't be anything fair about it.

Because we're telling them the biggest fattest lie in the world if we let them believe that Hillary Clinton's main problem is Hillary Clinton. Her problem is her gender.

Any other woman stepping up for this role would be attacked just as viciously and effectively as Hillary Clinton has been. And other women won't necessarily stand up for her when she is.

Until she ran for president, Clinton was the most admired woman in the world

This might surprise you now, but according to Gallup, in 2015 Americans admired Hillary Clintonmore than any other woman in the world. More than Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai or Oprah.

A lot more.

And Clinton didn't just top the list in 2015, but she's topped it each of the last 14 years, and 20 years overall. That's the best record for any man or woman since Gallup began polling this question in 1948. And those numbers matched Clinton's extraordinarily high approval rating during her tenure as Secretary of State, when she reached a high of 66%. That's far above anything Barack Obama achieved in his entire presidency, and it's well above even Michelle Obama today.

So what the hell happened? The woman ran for president, that's what. Who does she think she is?

Look no further than Clinton's media coverage.

N​egative media coverage flipped perception

Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center reports that in comparison with all other candidates, coverage of Hillary Clinton went overwhelmingly negative, with 84% of stories taking a negative slant. That compares with 43% negative reporting on Donald Trump and 17% on Bernie Sanders.

To put it another way, the most qualified presidential candidate in history got twice the negative media as a racist four-time bankrupt con artist who is manifestly unfit for public office.

And Trump won HUUGE on earned media, garnering an estimated $2 billion in free coverage for his campaign, just by February alone--more than twice the coverage accorded Hillary.

In media today, traffic drives profits which drive content. Once it became clear she was going to seek the presidency, hateful or negative stories about Hillary went viral. So the media kept it coming and never stopped. Just as birtherism reinforced Obama's "foreignness," the internet became a closed circle of the collective subconscious and misogyny.

And it worked. Her approval ratings dropped like a rock.

Like every other male presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton has baggage, but hers draws a nearly hysterical public and media response.

Look at the ugliness of the Republican convention, where the delegates were blood-thirsty. Bernie's supporters weren't much better at the Democratic Convention. They swooned for Obama and Biden, who share her record, and screamed at Clinton. Even Susan Sarandon famously says that Hillary would be more dangerous than Donald Trump. What are these people smoking?

The frenzy of hatred Hillary Clinton inspires is not unique to her, because it's not about her. It would happen to any woman, and our girls deserve to know this. Because what's happened to Hillary mirrors the swarming harassment and misogyny that young women experience every day online.

Clinton objectively rated the most honest candidate, yet is perceived as dishonest

Objectively speaking, Clinton is not corrupt and dishonest and she didn't rig the nomination.

She's been rated by Politifact, the Pulitzer-prize-winning fact-checkers, as more honest than every other major candidate.

And despite being widely perceived as a puppet of Wall Street, her Senate voting record is ratedmainstream progressive--more progressive than Joe Biden's or Barack Obama's.

Nate Silver ranks her record in liberal terms as comparable to Elizabeth Warren, and not at all distant from Bernie Sanders.

Jill Abramson, the former editor-in-chief of the New York Times who has covered Clinton for decades, should be required reading on the subject of Clinton's fundamental honesty.

Even on the explosive issue of her emails, Clinton was singled out for special condemnation. Both Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice followed a similar approach to Clinton's. Yet after months of virtually non-stop negative coverage, in defiance of all independent assessments, it's almost an accepted fact that she's more dishonest than any of her colleagues or predecessors.

Hmmm, woman as liar. What an awfully familiar stereotype.

So, here we are, 98 days from the election.

The most qualified candidate in history could lose to the least

The most qualified presidential candidate in history is running against the least qualified, and it's a close race!

Older women are sitting back nodding, because they've seen this movie before. For older women, this campaign is like a looping sing-along Sound of Music, and they know all the words.

Luckily, Hillary has been doing this backward and in high heels for decades.

If Hillary Clinton stands on the doorstep of history today, it's because she aimed high and fought for it with fierce intelligence and fearless determination. It took steel and guts to get where she is, and fire too. It took wisdom, clear-eyed realism and the toughness to fail and get back up, over and over again. It took a cast-iron stomach and the skin of a rhino.

It took every quality a president needs.

Our girls can handle the truth, and they deserve to know it.

If there's a roadmap to becoming the first woman president of the United States, it's written in the scars on Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Monday, August 22, 2016

ANS -- The Real Way the 2016 Election Is Rigged

This is about the real rigging of our elections and how the media is ignoring and/or hiding this great disservice to our democracy, brought to you by dishonest Republicans doing what has never been done to this degree before.  


The Real Way the 2016 Election Is Rigged

Despite what the media tells you, the Democrats will not take the House in November. Here's why.


The U.S. House of Representatives chamber is seen December 8, 2008 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton has put the Electoral College into checkmate. She's closer to Donald Trump in many red states like Kansas and Texas than he is to her in key swing states.

As her lead swells, naturally, fired-up Democrats and a restless media have turned their attention to a more exciting story: Can Democrats retake the House of Representatives? But the outcome there is not really in doubt, either.

It's not going to happen. Democratic House candidates will likely get many more votes than Republican ones – as they did in 2012, when Democrats received 1.4 million more votes nationwide, but Republicans maintained a 234-201 advantage. Indeed, Trump is more likely to rebound in swing states than Democrats are to capture the 30 congressional seats they need to pry the speaker's gavel from Paul Ryan.

Even if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency in a landslide, there are simply not enough competitive districts remaining to give the Democrats any chance at winning the House.

The reason why is simple, structural and too often absent from the conversation: It's the radical GOP gerrymander imposed after the 2010 census on purplish states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina – all of which are likely to go for Clinton, while also electing a bright-red Republican delegation to Congress. Even if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency in a landslide, there are simply not enough competitive districts remaining to give the Democrats any chance at winning the House.

For all of the misleading nonsense about "rigged elections" coming from the Trump camp this summer, we haven't talked enough about the way our electoral map really was rigged by Republicans after the 2010 census. These tilted maps make it possible for the Republicans to govern with a supermajority in Ohio, North Carolina and Wisconsin – despite getting less votes overall. And they've created a firewall in the House of Representatives that's built to withstand a Clinton landslide upward of 10 percent.

Democrats, however, prefer to raise false hopes — and raise money — by pretending the House is in play. The media, desperate for any suspenseful narrative, pretends that gerrymandering is politics as usual and that both sides do it — stubbornly refusing to understand how the brazen and technologically savvy 2011 remapping was different from any other in modern political history. The New York Times, earlier this month in a story headlined "How House Republicans May Survive Donald Trump," cast this in a bizarrely passive voice – "House Republicans have strong defenses in the congressional district boundaries, which set the terms of competition" – without mentioning how Republicans drew most of these lines themselves.

Then on Friday, the Times continued to fuel the debate with a Page One story with the opposite headline – "Republicans Worry a Falling Donald Trump Tide Will Lower All Boats" – had the same view from nowhere. It observed that "so many districts are drawn to make them uncompetitive in general election," as if they were drawn by magic or drew themselves, never bothering to note who drew them that way, and the multimillion dollar GOP project to ensure some 400 of 435 House elections were uncompetitive. (It also quotes Pennsylvania congressman Charlie Dent, wringing his hands. "We have to be concerned," said the Republican congressman whose new can't-lose district shed Democratic towns after 2011 and took on the shape of a bad toupee in a windstorm. "I don't think you can assume anybody is safe." But that Dent himself is unbeatable goes without saying in the Times piece. His "chopped-up mess" of a district in the words of the Lehigh Valley Express-Times, is so GOP-friendly that no Democrat would oppose him in 2014.)

The New York Times has managed the amazing trick of writing multiple stories across months about the likelihood of a Democratic House takeover without even using the word "gerrymander."

Instead, these stories, and others like them, tell anecdotal stories of districts that just might be in play. Indeed, one or two of them may be! For example, when conservative talk-radio host Jason Lewis captured a four-way fight for the GOP nomination for Congress in the purplish suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul earlier this month, giddy Democrats slid the open 2nd district seat into their column.

The first rule of journalism these days is that whenever a headline poses a question, the answer is no. In this case, it's hell no.

Lewis, a frequent fill-in for Rush Limbaugh, might be a master performance artist on air but figures to be a divisive fit for one of the country's last remaining swing districts. His book on states' rights, after all, manages to suggest that if same-sex marriage is legal, slavery should be too. "People always say, 'Well, if you don't want to marry somebody of the same sex you don't have to, but why tell somebody else they can't,'" he argues. "Uh, you know, if you don't want to own a slave, don't. But don't tell other people they can't."

So that just might be one for the Democrats, especially since they're running a well-funded centrist businesswoman. Trouble is: It's just one, and the Republican advantage in the House is 247-188 — the GOP's biggest margin since Election Day 1928. Democrats still need 29 more.

For those seats, the political writers at The New York Times and McClatchy looked to Kansas's 3rd district after a Survey USA poll earlier this month found Hillary Clinton with a surprising lead there. (In contrast, Barack Obama only received 44 percent that district in in 2012.) "Could super-red Kansas elect a Democrat to Congress?" the breathless McClatchy headline asked. The first rule of journalism these days is that whenever a headline poses a question, the answer is no. In this case, it's hell, no. Despite the good polling numbers for Clinton, Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder leads Democratic challenger Jay Sidie 53 percent to 36 percent, according to an August poll from Public Opinion Strategies.

When you see stories like this, do the math yourself and ask exactly where these 30 Democratic victories will come. The vague and intentionally non-specific "suburban districts where educated Republicans are fleeing Trump" is not a sufficient answer. For some actual facts about actual districts, Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball Report examines conditions on the ground in all 435 districts. Last week, Sabato did move four races in the Democrats' direction — including Minnesota's 2nd and Kansas's 3rd. Yes, this means that in one of the four House races now considered potentially in play, the Republican holds a 17-point lead. That alone should be a sign of how daunting the math is for the Democrats.

But if that's not enough, try these numbers. Sabato already has called 226 seats as safe, likely or leaning to the Republicans, and just 193 as safe, likely or leaning to the Democrats. It only requires 218 to hold the chamber, so the Republicans need only win the seats they have overwhelming leads in now — at the likely peak of their presidential candidate's meltdown — to take the House. Let's pause for a second: That number alone ought to stop every think piece about whether the Democrats can win the House dead in its tracks.

If that doesn't convince you, here are some more powerful numbers: if the Republicans are heavily favored in 226 districts, and the Democrats look likely in 193, that only leaves a handful of toss-ups. Sabato sees 16 legitimate toss-ups. The problem for Democrats? Fourteen of those 16 seats are currently held by Republicans. In the highly unlikely circumstance that the Democrats manage to take just half of those 16 remaining "toss-up" seats, the Republicans would come out of 2016 with a 234-201 advantage in Congress.

If that sounds familiar, it should: 234-201 is the exact majority the Republicans had after 2012, when Barack Obama won re-election in a landslide but failed to take the House despite those 1.4 million more votes. That was the first time since 1972 – 40 years — that the party with the most votes did not come away with the most seats. It is now likely to happen again in 2016, for the second presidential cycle in a row. This should terrify anyone who cares about representative democracy. This is not politics as usual.

Few of these numbers matter to the pundit class. They'd rather talk about split tickets! We don't do that anymore! No one votes for one party for president and the other party for Congress. This has the benefit of being true, but also missing the point entirely. Because of the way congressional districts were drawn after 2011, a majority of voters can cast a straight-ticket ballot and it still won't change the Republican dominance of the House. In 2012 — when fewer voters split tickets than in any election in almost 100 years — Mitt Romney lost the election by 3.5 million votes and by an Electoral College margin of 332-206. Nevertheless: Romney still carried 226 congressional districts to Obama's 209. In Pennsylvania, for example, Obama carried the state for the second time. But Romney won 13 of the 18 congressional districts — and nine by near double-digits. That's the math Democrats have to defeat — lines that were drawn to push back any blue avalanche.

The credulous pundits who argue that Democrats could carry the House this year because voters no longer split tickets are grasping at straws. It takes no imagination at all to conjure suburban Republican voters in northern Virginia, Denver, Pennsylvania and elsewhere who believe Trump is a line too far — but who also cringe at the idea of giving Clinton a blank check in the House. Republican leaders and financiers are already planning on siphoning money away from Trump and using exactly this line to defend Congress.

Polls suggest that it will work: Real Clear Politics aggregates surveys that ask voters whether they want the Democrats or Republicans to control Congress. On this generic congressional ballot, the Democrats only lead by 5 points. In contrast, in June 2008, the last time the Democrats won the House, the Democrats held a 53-38 advantage on this question in an NBC poll.

Could a miracle happen? Sure. But it's high time that we're honest about what that miracle would look like. Democrats would have to win all 16 of the remaining toss-ups – 87 percent of which are currently held by Republicans. Then they would have to reverse 20-point deficits in several other districts to even get close.

This is not an accident. Chris Jankowski, who directed the audacious REDMAP strategy that delivered the GOP control of the House for this entire decade, if not longer, told me that he raised the necessary money in 2010 by telling Republican donors that they would save them money – and take expensive, competitive seats off the table for 10 years. "There are 25 true swing congressional districts," he said. "We found that $115 million had been spent on those 25 [from 2002-2008]. We had a graphic on the screen: $115 million hard dollars or $20 million in soft and we can fix it. We can take control of these 25 districts. We can take them off the table."

That's exactly what happened – and it's why the Republicans will control the House come January, no matter how big the Democrats win this fall, or how many times the topic gets debated on "Morning Joe" or in The New York Times. The media does our democracy a disservice by treating this like a true contest, and not being honest about the way one side tilted our democracy so that they could govern with fewer votes.


I had trouble reading this article because it's so scary.  but read it.  Interesting conclusion.  It's from February.  



BY  ON 2/4/16 AT 6:02 AM
The North Florida Survival Group teaches "patriots" of all ages to handle weapons and survive in the wild. Its goal is to defend "our Constitution against all enemy threats."BRIAN BLANCO/REUTERS

Inside a storefront Chinese restaurant in upstate New York, neon light from a multicolored window sign glowed on the face of an extremist plotting mass murder. He had been seeking backing for his attack and, at this small establishment in Scotia, was meeting with a man who had agreed to take part in his scheme to build a radiation device, a weapon of mass destruction that would slowly and painfully kill anyone who walked near it.

"Everything with respiration would be dead by morning,'' the man who devised the attack told his confederate in tortured English. "How much sweeter could there be than a big stack of smelly bodies?"

But there would be no attack. The purported accomplice at Ming's Flavor restaurant in June 2012 was an FBI informant, and the discussion had been recorded. In the months that followed, another man joined the plot. Finally, in June 2013, with the conspirators hard at work on their ghastly weapon, armed FBI agents swooped in, storming a warehouse in Schaghticoke and arresting them.

Try Newsweek for only $1.25 per week

Their names were Glen and Eric.

02_12_Militia_split_23Crawford, left, and Feight, are accused of plotting to build a radiation device that would kill Muslims, as well as government officials in Albany, New York, and Washington, D.C.SKIP DICKSTEIN/THE ALBANY TIMES UNION/AP

Clearly, these were not the typical "Islamic terrorists" described in the boogeyman stories of American politicians who exploit fear for votes. Glendon Crawford, the industrial mechanic who conceived the plan, has all the panache of a Macy's shoe salesman; Eric Feight, a software engineer who helped build the device, looks like a less impish version of Kurt Vonnegut. But their harmless appearance belies their beliefs—Crawford was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and the plot he hatched with Feight involved killing scores of Muslims, as well as officials at the governor's mansion in Albany, New York and at the White House.

They and untold thousands like them are the extremists who hide among us, the right-wing militants who, since 2002, have killed more people in the United States than jihadis have. In that time, according to New America, a Washington think tank, Islamists launched nine attacks that murdered 45, while the right-wing extremists struck 18 times, leaving 48 dead. These Americans thrive on hate and conspiracy theories, many fed to them by politicians and commentators who blithely blather about government concentration camps and impending martial law and plans to seize guns and other dystopian gibberish, apparently unaware there are people listening who don't know it's all lies. These extremists turn to violence—against minorities, non-Christians, abortion providers, government officials—in what they believe is a fight to save America. And that potential for violence is escalating every day.

"Law enforcement agencies in the United States consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence that they face," the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security reported this past June, based on surveys of 382 law enforcement groups.

The problem is getting worse, although few outside of law enforcement know it. Multiple confidential sources notified the FBI last year that militia members have been conducting surveillance on Muslim schools, community centers and mosques in nine states for what one informant described as "operational purposes." Informants also notified federal law enforcement that Mississippi militia extremists discussed kidnapping and beheading a Muslim, then posting a video of the decapitation on the Internet. The FBI also learned that right-wing extremists have created bogus law enforcement and diplomatic identifications, not because these radicals want to pretend to be police and ambassadors, but because theybelieve they hold those positions in a government they have created within the United States.

The unusual—and often daffy—world view of some right-wing extremists was on daily display during the January armed takeover of federal facilities at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Expressing dismay that two ranchers convicted of arson were ordered to serve out the remainder of their mandatory minimum prison sentences, members of various militia groups occupied a building at the wildlife refuge, declaring their willingness to fight the government and, if necessary, die for their cause. They proclaimed that the federal government was tyrannical, that the Constitution is under siege.

The Malheur occupiers were belittled on late night talk shows and social media as "y'all-Qaeda" and "yee-haw-dists," but what was unfolding in Oregon wasn't funny—it was frightening. These people speak of martyrdom, bloodbaths and killings, sentiments that can be heard on any Islamist recruitment video. And when law enforcement finally took action on January 26 in a mass arrest, one of the militia members, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum—who had proclaimed he would rather die than go to jail—was shot dead.

02_12_Militia_05The FBI says Finicum, who had said he'd rather die than go to jail for his role in the occupation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon, was killed as he reached for a weapon during a traffic stop.JAROD OPPERMAN/THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX

And while those right-wing militia members were occupying federal land, other extremists around the country were hard at work. Fliers seeking recruits for the KKK appeared on lawns and doors in Alabama, California, Georgia, New Jersey and Oklahoma. In Johannesburg, California, police discovered bombs and booby traps in the home of a man who threatened to blow up the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other federal buildings. In Colorado Springs, a white supremacist suspected of being connected to the 2013 murder of Colorado's prison chief was shot and wounded in a firefight with police. In Lafayette, Louisiana, officials released the diary of the man who killed two people at a movie theater this past summer—it was filled with rage against the federal government and praise for a racist killer. In Oakdale, California, two honey farmers were charged with fraud involving a scheme by extremists who declare they are not bound by the laws of any government. And the day after the first arrests of the Malheur occupiers, a New Hampshire man who told an FBI informant he was part of a group that wanted to bring back "the original Constitution," and had as much as $200,000 on hand for explosives and rockets, was taken into custody after he illegally purchased hand grenades.

Who are these right-wing militants? And what makes them believe Americans have to engage in armed combat with their own government rather than vote, kill their fellow citizens rather than tolerate differences, blow up buildings rather than just get a job? Billions of words have been written and spoken on violent Islamic extremists. The time has come to do the same for the good old-fashioned Americans who may pose the greatest threat to us all.

A Fairy Tale of Violence

They aren't all like Timothy McVeigh.

McVeigh, the infamous anti-government extremist, murdered 168 people in 1995 when he detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. But not all of these violent right-wing radicals agree with McVeigh's beliefs or have the capability to execute such a devastating attack. In fact, these militants are a surprisingly diverse lot. Experts say there are three distinct groups, including some factions that despise one another.

02_12_Militia_04Persian Gulf War vet McVeigh was executed in 2001 for the bomb he planted in front of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 that killed 168 people and injured more than 600.JIM ARGO/THE DAILY OKLAHOMAN/AP

According to Arie Perliger, director of terrorism studies at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, the three ideologies within the violent American far-right are racist, anti-federalist and fundamentalist. Each has subgroups—the racists include white supremacy groups such as the KKK, neo-Nazis and skinheads, which can differ in subtle ways. The anti-federalists include militias, self-defined "patriot" groups and what are so-called "sovereign citizens,'' who hold that they are legally bound only by their personal interpretation of common law and are otherwise not subject to federal, state or local laws. The fundamentalists are primarily Christian identity groups that believe the biblical war of good vs. evil is between descendants of Anglo-Saxon nations and all other ethnic groups. Tangential to the fundamentalists are the anti-abortion attackers, who also invoke religion as a foundational motive for their violence. These disparate groups of people—violent and nonviolent—pine for different versions of a highly idealized past.

The granddaddy of the three in the United States is the racist movement, the modern iteration of which is usually traced to the formation of the KKK in 1865. The Christian Identity movement began a few decades later, with the emergence of believers who subscribed to the theology of John Wilson, a British man who argued that the lost tribes of Israel had settled in northern Europe. The anti-federalists are much younger, exploding onto the scene in the early 1990s with prominent groups such as the Militia of Montana and the Michigan Militia; many experts maintain that the movement was a product of the financial crisis for farms in the 1980s, rapid economic and cultural change, and the adoption of gun control and environmental protection laws. In recent years, an explosion in the number of militias has been linked by experts to the beginning of the Great Recession in December 2007 and the election of Barack Obama months later. In 2008, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 42 militia groups; today, there are 276.

And although they are frequently dismissed as people with crazy beliefs, right-wing extremists often seem like the guy next door. While experts say many of these individuals are paranoid and narcissistic, with strong anti-democratic tendencies, "the most common trait among terrorists is normalcy," says Perliger of West Point.

What drives them, according to studies, is not so much ideology as their social network. When friends and associates all proclaim that the government is destroying freedom, or that all Muslims are terrorists, or that minorities are dragging down the country, the social pressure to conform with that opinion is intense.

02_12_Militia_06Experts say the grandaddy of all modern racist violent extremist factions in the U.S. is the Ku Klux Klan, which was created in 1865.JOHNNY MILANO/REUTERS

Making it worse is that many of these extremists base their views on falsehoods. At a 2009 speech in Hamilton, Montana, a militia leader told an assembled crowd, "You know how the Oxford English Dictionary defines terrorism? 'Government by intimidation.' That is profound." Not really, because it's not true. Oxford defines terrorism as all other dictionaries do: "the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims." People setting off bombs to trigger a revolution meet this definition, while the government that clears the area after a blast does not. But those zealots in Hamilton were told a fairy tale and believed it.

The rationales and "facts" cited by the sovereign citizens are often so convoluted that they would be funny if they didn't get people killed. The radicals base their beliefs on variations of this conspiracy theory: Many years ago, some outside force infiltrated the federal government and replaced it with an illegitimate and tyrannical one. Then, that "illegitimate government" enslaved all Americans by using the 14th Amendment to create "citizens of the United States" who had no rights. The sovereign citizens believe Americans are tricked into accepting their designation as citizens of the United States by carrying driver's licenses and Social Security cards, which are hidden contracts surrendering personal sovereignty to the government. Some of these sovereign citizens won't use ZIP codes, because they think that might constitute a contract with the illegitimate federal government. Others insert punctuation, like commas or periods, to separate their first and middle names from their last name, which they consider to be their government-given name.

And they can expound on the topic for hours on end, spinning words into a convoluted kaleidoscope of claptrap. "By metaphysical refinement, in examining one form of government, it might be correctly said that there is no such thing as a citizen of the United States,'' wrote Richard MacDonald, one of the prominent ideologues of the movement. "But constant usage—arising from convenience, and perhaps necessity, and dating from the formation of the Confederacy—has given substantial existence to the idea which the term conveys. A citizen of any one of the States of the Union, is held to be, and called a citizen of the United States, although technically and abstractly there is no such thing."

Some gullible people listen to the endless flow of arguments, peppered with "freedom" and "tyranny," and come away believing they do not have to pay taxes, or have money to cover the checks they write or otherwise obey the law. As a result, lots of sovereign citizens end up under criminal investigation, leading to trials in which judges rub their temples while listening to droning about some grand conspiracy. But in the worst cases, all that simpleminded gibberish drives believers to violence, particularly against law enforcement during traffic stops. The most famous of those cases: the two Arkansas police officers killed by sovereign citizen Joseph Kane in 2010 after they pulled him over. Kane mowed them down with a variant of an AK-47.

Then there are the militia groups, whose pronounced fealty to the Constitution is exceeded only by their apparent refusal to read it. They too throw out a lot of sentences with "freedom" and "tyranny" (in fact, a decent portion of sovereign citizens are also militia members), then wave around their pocket version of the Constitution, but the Founding Fathers would be stunned to hear the mumbo jumbo mouthed by militia members about their greatest creation. Start with the obvious: The Constitution is not some philosophical tract composed with soaring words about freedom; it is the blueprint dictating how the American government is supposed to function, while the amendments are the enumeration of citizens' rights. The recent flurries of militia madness, with camo-clad warriors spewing angrily about constitutional freedoms, run directly counter to the words of the document those people claim to cherish.

Consider the Bundy standoff in 2014. It began when the government decided to finally take action against Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who had grazed his cattle on federal lands for two decades while refusing to pay the required fees—racking up a bill in excess of $1 million. When Bundy sent his cattle back onto protected lands for a snack, officials with the BLM began to round them up. Bundy spoke publicly about this "outrage" using the words of the sovereign citizen movement, which led anti-federalist groups such as the Oath Keepers, the White Mountain Militia and the Praetorian Guard to come running, guns drawn. In no time, Bundy the scofflaw was a hero of the militia movement, as he declared he did not recognize federal authority over the land. The Constitution and freedom were at stake, he averred.

Except they weren't. In fact, the issue beneath this battle of wills, with Bundy's supporters proclaiming their willingness to murder federal agents if need be, is directly addressed in the Constitution. In Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2, the Constitution grants Congress full authority to make all rules and regulations for the management of federal lands. In the early 20th century, Congress used that power to direct the executive branch to handle the operations and planning for those lands. The Legislature, of course, still retains the constitutional authority to stop the president from playing any role in federal land management, but it has not. In other words, Bundy and his supporters, by proclaiming the federal government had no authority over federal land, were spitting on the Constitution.

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy led a tense standoff with federal authorities in 2014 because he didn't think he should have to pay for the privilege of grazing his cattle on federal land.JIM URQUHART/REUTERS

The same foolishness was behind the armed occupation at the Malheur refuge spearheaded by Bundy's sons, Ammon and Ryan. Soon after the occupation began, the issue of the ranchers who had been sent to prison for arson slipped in significance as militia members demanded that federal land be turned over to the people and urged ranchers to tear up leases through which they pay grazing fees. Once again, militia members claimed this was done in the name of the Constitution, despite the document's words that make it clear their beliefs are wrong.

The Assault on Islamberg

Conspiracy gourmand Alex Jones trotted out a new theory for the listeners of his radio show on March 19, 2015: The federal government was preparing to invade Texas.

"This is going to be hellish," Jones said. "Now this is just a cover for deploying the military on the streets…. This is an invasion." The reason? Either an impending financial collapse or the first step in Obama's plan to not relinquish the presidency at the end of his second term.

Message boards and other online forums for right-wing extremists exploded with the news. The military was undertaking what it deemed to be a training exercise, which it called Jade Helm 15. A map that had been printed in newspapers weeks before to inform residents about the exercise was declared to be a secret record that showed the military was calling Texas and Utah enemy territory—the kind of description any reasonable person would expect for documents in this kind of training mission.

Over the next week, the only media to take note of the online hysteria about Jade Helm were a couple of newspapers that mercilessly ridiculed it. Then, on March 26, Megyn Kelly, an anchor at Fox News, introduced the first national news story about the Jade Helm panic. "While the military says it's just training soldiers for the realities of war, critics say the Army is preparing for modern-day martial law,'' she said.

At about that same time, Robert Doggart, an anti-government extremist in Tennessee, was on the phone with a militia sympathizer in Texas. The two discussed Doggart's evolving plan to launch an attack on a heavily Muslim community near Hancock, New York, called Islamberg. They thought martial law would be declared in Texas and probably Utah, and that development should play a big role in the plot.

"We'll wait on, on, what happens in Texas, and the intelligence as it comes in,'' Doggart said. "[A]s soon as the thing in Texas and Utah happens, then you hit it, right then. Right then, because it will divert the entire federal government into 'Hey, we've got a problem in this other state.'"

Doggart—an ordained Christian minister in the Christian National Church who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2014 as a far-right-wing independent—bemoaned the fact that he and the 10 other members of his attack team would never be celebrated as heroes after their assault on Islamberg because history is all lies written by the winners. "But we're still going to do this thing."

All of Doggart's words were recorded. The FBI had caught wind of the Islamberg plot and had placed a wiretap on his phone days before.

Doggart was arrested on April 10, but no one publicly linked his plan to the Jade Helm conspiracy theory. And so some politicians started playing games again, suggesting with winks and nods that perhaps Obama was about to impose martial law.

On April 28, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation to ensure constitutional rights and civil liberties wouldn't be infringed. Days later, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas announced he had asked the Pentagon about Jade Helm and been assured it was a training exercise; still, he said, "I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty, because when the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don't trust what it is saying." Republican Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas pumped the fire a little hotter, saying, "When leaders within the current administration believe that major threats to the country include those who support the Constitution…patriotic Americans have reason to be concerned.''

02_12_Militia_08Alex Jones, center, told the listeners of his radio show that a military training exercise in Texas called Jade Helm 15 was part of a coup by Obama, who planned to stay in office beyond 2017.JIM BOURG/REUTERS

Meanwhile, in Gastonia, North Carolina, two anti-government extremists—who had their fears about Jade Helm reinforced by the words and actions of politicians like Abbott, Cruz and Gohmert—were working to construct bombs they could use on American troops when martial law was declared. The plot was allegedly conceived by Walter Eugene Litteral, who had arranged for a pal to construct the bombs. Authorities say Litteral wanted to pack tennis balls with smokeless rifle powder and a binary explosive that can be detonated with a gunshot; then, for added destructive power, Litteral wanted to tape nails to the outside of the balls, so he could shoot them from a distance and blow shrapnel into a passing soldier. He planned to do the same with coffee cans, which he would load with ball bearings.

As the weeks passed, the swirl of rumors about impending martial law grew more intense in the extremist online forums. Authorities say Litteral acquired ammunition for a .338 caliber rifle, handheld radios with throat microphones for communication, military issue Kevlar helmets, body armor vests and cloth headgear designed to expose only parts of the face. A third conspirator joined up, agreeing to help build pipe bombs. But the attack never took place. Someone Litteral approached for help instead alerted the FBI, which arrested the men on August 3.

Once again, America got lucky.

There has been no new attack on the scale of the Oklahoma City bombing conducted by McVeigh. But that is not for lack of trying. There was the so-called "241 Plan" in 2011, which involved murdering two state officials if one militia member was killed. There was the right-wing extremist plot in 2014 to blow up buildings and power plants in hopes of sparking a widespread revolt against the government. Another foiled attack that same year intended to assassinate police officers and blow up the Tremonton Police Department in Utah, again with the expectation the public would rise up in the aftermath.

Then there was the Georgia militia plot—anti-government radicals planned the murder of government employees and began an effort to develop ricin, a deadly toxin, with the intent of spreading it in Washington, D.C. For months, as the FBI listened in with the help of a cooperating witness, the group talked about the best poisons, how to deliver them and the ways to kill the most people. And if nothing else worked, suggested Frederick Thomas, the ringleader of the group, they could always go back to the tried and true. "We'd have to blow the whole building, like Timothy McVeigh."

Why Wasn't Obama Arrested?

It's possible the same factors fueling the growth in right-wing extremism are what's tearing apart the Republican Party.

Statistics show that the violence of right-wing extremists goes up when Republicans control at least one house of Congress. The reason, according to an analytical report conducted for West Point, might be "relative deprivation, which occurs when the high expectations of far-right activists during a conservative Legislature are not fulfilled." In other words, these radicals expect to be ignored when Democrats are in charge, but when Republicans in power fail to champion the extremist cause, attacking the government strikes them as the only remaining option.

If true, the deprivation must be monstrous now. Think back: How many times have Republican politicians told their followers Obama could be impeached? How many times did they suggest he was a Muslim or wasn't born in this country? How many times did they say he lied to cover something up in Benghazi? How many times did they say his health care policy included death panels? How many times did they say he was committing crimes or shoving through policies that would kill people?

Then, in 2009, the Republicans directly—and almost certainly inadvertently—identified themselves as aligned with the dangerous radicals. The Department of Homeland Security produced an analysis saying that violent right-wing extremists posed the greatest terrorist threat to the country—a report since proved true. But Republicans used this to feed into another conspiracy theory, proclaiming that the Obama administration had just deemedconservatives as a terrorist threat. To those unaware of what the report actually said, it was more evidence of a coming ideological war. To those radicals who knew, it meant establishment Republicans agreed that conservatives and violent right-wing extremists meant the same thing. Congressional hearings ensued, and terrified bureaucrats shut down the Homeland Security division that conducted the analysis of right-wing extremism, just when their knowledge was most needed.

02_12_Militia_09Extremist anger increases when Republicans control at least one house of Congress, perhaps mirroring the revolution of rising expectations behind the French Revolution.HAKLEY/SIPA/AP

Republicans continued their drumbeat of conspiracy theories to bring out the base, capturing the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2012. And imagine what these right-wing extremists thought. Where were the impeachment proceedings? Why wasn't Obama under arrest? The man was a murderer, a tyrant spitting on the Constitution, a fraud holding the presidency unlawfully. There were only two possible answers for the extremists: accepting that the Republicans had been lying to them, or deciding that these politicians had sold out the minute they won control.

And so, the far-right wing—including the violent militants—has turned on the Republican Party. The establishment Republicans now fumble about, trying to understand why their preferred candidates are being kicked aside in favor of Donald Trump, who rages about sellout politicians and makes promises to do things that radicals adore. Forums like Stormfront fulminate with praise and devotion to Trump, while all but spitting on the more traditional candidates.

The Republicans played a dangerous game by giving credence to all those conspiracy theories about Obama, a game that made them a target of the right-wing rage they engendered. They have been the author of the rise of the radicals, peaceful and violent, that in turn is tearing the party apart.

Meanwhile, the right-wing extremists continue their plotting against America.