WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) – Public hostility toward the government has reached record highs, according to a major new survey released on the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, the worst deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. territory before 9/11.
The survey, which comes amid growing media attention to the openly anti-government “Tea Party” movement rallies, could spell bad news for incumbent Democrats in next November’s mid-term Congressional elections, although Republicans have also suffered a sharp decline in their popularity in just the last two months, according to the poll results.
“The Tea Party movement, which has a small but fervent anti-government constituency, could be a wild card in this election,” according to Andrew Kohut, Pew’s veteran director and author of a lengthy analysis of the April 19 survey’s findings.
“On one hand, its sympathizers are highly energized and inclined to vote Republican this fall. On the other, many Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the Tea Party represents their point of view better than does the GOP (Grand Old Party, or Republicans).”
The poll, which was carried out in mid-March, found that three out of four of the more than 2,500 respondents queried said they were either “frustrated” or “angry” with the federal government. Only one in four respondents said they had a favorable opinion of Congress, the lowest rating in more than two decades.
Thirty percent said they see the federal government as a major threat to their personal freedom, while only 22 percent said they can trust the government in Washington “almost always” or “most of the time.”
That was the lowest score in 50 years and slightly below the previous nadir in 1994, just before a Gulf War veteran, Timothy McVeigh, blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.
Days earlier, Bill Clinton, who was serving his first term as president at the time of the bombing, warned in a speech at the Center for American Progress of “parallels between the anti-government tone that preceded that devastating attack and the political tumult of today.”
“The fabric of American life had been unraveling, more and more people who had a hard time figuring out where they fit in,” he went on. “… It is true that we see some of that today.”
Indeed, in recent months, and particularly since the onset of the debate over health care reform legislation that was ultimately approved by majority Democrats in Congress in March, virulent anti-government sentiment has become a growing focus for both the mainstream media and law enforcement agencies that have tracked the revival of the kinds of militia movements and extremist groups from which Mr. McVeigh and his accomplices emerged 15 years ago.
The FBI recently arrested several individuals for making death threats against Democratic lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while the number of serious other threats to members of Congress has nearly tripled over the last six months, the Senate’s Sergeant at Arms told Newsweek in April.
“We are in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in United States history,” according to Chip Berlet, a long-time monitor of radical right-wing groups for Boston-based Political Research Associates (PRA).
“We see around us a series of overlapping social and political movements populated by people (who are) angry, resentful, and full of anxiety,” he wrote earlier this year.