If you are as confused as other regular Americans about the “Fast & Furious” controversy that roiled the capitol yesterday, you should watch Rachel Maddow’s backgrounder from her MSNBC show last night — see above or click here.
— Rep. Darrell Issa of California, one-time arson and grand-theft auto suspect, now the Republican Party’s chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
Maddow points to the bogusness of this controversy as just the latest example of the divide in the country today between the vast majority of normal Americans who are not compulsive Fox News watchers and those whose are.
The conspiracy theory had been incubating on Fox and in right-wing media world for over a year, she says, until yesterday when Republicans “tried drag it out into the mainstream to see if it could survive in the mainstream — see if it could survive outside the right-wing world in which it was incubated.”
The Fast & Furious conspiracy originated in March 2010, Maddow said, which was not coincidentally the same time that the Affordable Care Act passed in Congress. The passage of Obamacare sent tea baggers into fits of rage. They were most enraged about the law’s central feature — and its most conservative, pro-business element — the individual mandate.
The mandate — which was invented by the Heritage Foundation, a thimk tank so right-wing that it is a sponsor of Rush Limbaugh’s show — would require every American to buy insurance, thereby delivering as many as 40 million new, paying customers to giant health insurance corporations.
And yet, back in 2010, right-wing propagandists at Fox and Republican astroturf organizations like Freedomworks and Tea Party Express were able to convince their paranoiac and delusional base that this Republican program passed by Democrats on a party line vote — this government gift to corporations — was “socialism.” The base became so terrified of the socialist phantasm in “Obamacare” that a few of them even called for the violent overthrow the United States government.Among these self-deluded “patriots” was Mike Vanderboegh (the “beogh” in his name rhymes with “bow” as in rainbow), a former Alabama militia member, who made news that March after his call to arms on the Internet was answered with acts of vandalism across the country:
“To all modern Sons of Liberty: THIS is your time. Break their windows. Break them NOW.”
These were the words of Mike Vanderboegh, a 57-year-old former militiaman from Alabama, who took to his blog urging people who opposed the historic health-care reform legislation — he calls it “Nancy Pelosi’s Intolerable Act” — to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices nationwide.
“So, if you wish to send a message that Pelosi and her party [that they] cannot fail to hear, break their windows,” Vanderboegh wrote on the blog, Sipsey Street Irregulars. “Break them NOW. Break them and run to break again. Break them under cover of night. Break them in broad daylight. Break them and await arrest in willful, principled civil disobedience. Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats. But BREAK THEM.”
In the days that followed, glass windows and doors were shattered at local Democratic Party offices and the district offices of House Democrats from Arizona to Kansas to New York. At least 10 Democratic lawmakers reported death threats, incidents of harassment or vandalism at their offices over the past week, and the FBI and Capitol Police are offering lawmakers increased protection.
Local Democratic Party officials in New York have called for Vanderboegh’s arrest, believing he is implicated in the vandalism in Rochester, but Vanderboegh said he has not yet been questioned by any law enforcement authorities.
Vanderbeogh’s call for violence against Democrats made him an instant celebrity in the right-wing media, of course. He took to the airway as to call for armed insurrection before he latched onto the conspiracy theory that has become today’s Fast & Furious scandal.
Writing in Mother Jones last December, Stephanie Mencimer described the evolution of Vanderbeogh’s theory:
Last December , in a post titled, “Border Patrol agent killed with ATF-smuggled AR? Some ATF agents seem to think so,” he reported on rumors flying around law enforcement circles about the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. Two weeks earlier, Terry and his team had been tracking a Mexican “rip crew” — who specialize in robbing drug smugglers — in Nogales, Arizona. Shots were fired and Terry was hit in the back. He died the next day.
Vanderboegh reported that agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives believed that the gun that killed Terry had been part of an anti-gun smuggling operation — later known publicly as Operation Fast & Furious. Vanderboegh suggested that ATF agents had encouraged “snitches” to purchase hundreds of guns in the US and smuggle them into Mexico to track the weapons to high-level drug kingpins. He quoted a website set up by anonymous disgruntled ATF agents: It “appears that ATF may be one of the largest suppliers of assault rifles to the Mexican cartels!” one wrote.
Using what he calls the “desert telegraph” (an anonymous email system) to communicate with whistleblowers, Vanderboegh says he helped arrange for ATF agents to talk to the staff of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Department of Justice. Later, Vanderboegh connected the whistleblowers with the staff of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who took over as the committee’s chair in January. [Editor's note: This is incorrect. Neither Sessions nor Grassley have ever served as Judiciary Committee chairmen. Sessions is a former ranking member, and Grassley is the current ranking member, on the committee.]
Acting on tips from the whistleblowers, congressional investigators turned up evidence that the ATF had allowed straw buyers in Arizona to purchase more than 2,000 high-powered weapons and smuggle them into Mexico in order to follow them up the chain to high-level drug traffickers. Yet hundreds of the guns disappeared in the process, some turning up later at grisly crime scenes in Mexico. So far, the missing arms have been connected to about 200 Mexican deaths.
Of course, the program in question was initiated during the George W. Bush administration — and, despite having called Attorney General Eric Holder to testify about the program nine times, Republicans have not bothered to call any Bush officials, including Bush’s last attorney general, Michael Mukasey.
So with the connection to the Bush DOJ vanished into the memory hole, right wing propagandists set out to concoct the “secret” reason the Obama DOJ had pursued the program.
“[The original Bush administration program] got re-imagined as a conspiracy to eliminate the Second Amendment,” Rachel Maddow said last night, “to take away your guns by selling them to people on the border.
“If it doesn’t sound like it makes sense,” she continued, “it’s because it doesn’t make sense. But to the fevered mind of a full-time conspiracy theorist, who sees himself as part of an armed American resistance movement, that is what he made up. And boy has he gone places with it.”
Vanderboegh rebranded the Bush administration scheme as “Obama’s Gunwalker program,” and on the website Sipsey Street Irregulars, which advocates overthrowing the United States government, he described “Gunwalker” as “a deliberate conspiracy against the second amendment”:
VANDERBOEGH: The gun confiscationists had always danced in the blood (my term, not his) of every mass shooting and gotten nowhere, to their chagrin and frustration. What was needed was a game changer. Something that fit the meme of “we’ve got to tighten up on American gunowners, gun stores and gun shows because they are feeding the slaughter.” Mexico was perfect… If there weren’t enough semi-auto “assault rifles” in Mexico, the ATF could fix that. And the murders would follow, justifying the policy change of cracking down on “assault rifles,” gun shows and the like.
In other words, said Maddow:
…The theory here is the Obama administration sold too many guns in order to create gun violence in order to cause revulsion in the American people about the horrible thing those guns are doing in order to make people feel more positive about gun control so then they could get away with taking everbody’s guns away secretly. Some day. After they stop selling all the extra guns.
They’re being super lax in gun control as a conspiracy in order to be secretly super-tough on gun control. What? Yes. What? This is the theory. This is the theory cooked up by the “break their windows” guy. And this is the Republicans’ Fast & Furious thing that led to today’s political news.
Republicans in Congress have gone all in on Vanderbeough’s conspiracy theory. Sen Grassley, on CNSNews last summer, said:
My suspicion is that they don’t like the Second Amendment the way it is, and they want to do everything they can to hurt, uh, guns and restrict guns, uh, and, uh, so they could have been building a case for that. But I can’t prove that.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the multimilionaire one-time arson and grand theft larceny suspect who chairs the House Oversight Committee echoed the idea:
Very clearly, they made a crisis, and they’re using this crisis to somehow take away or limit people’s second amendment rights. (Emphasis added.)
If you are a person who watches Fox News all day, it is possible that you have been marinating in this conspiracy theory for long enough now that this seems feasible. (Laughs.) So therefore today’s vote to hold the attorney general of the United States in contempt of Congress over this scandal is somehow understandable to you.