They came out of nowhere -- with their angry slogans and their occasionally misspelled signs -- almost the split-second that the inaugural words of Barack Obama stopped reverberating off the concrete monuments of the National Mall. Fueled by megawattage of talk radio and Fox News Channel and then spread virally across the Internet, these Tea Parties and 9.12 Patriots and Oath Keepers and their right-wing fellow travelers hijacked the national debate over issues like immigration and climate change, forced political icons like Arizona Sen. John McCain to the extreme right and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist out of the GOP altogether, making nation figures out of radical libertarian Rand Paul while making multi-millionaires out of McCain's ex-running mate Sarah Palin and the movement's spiritual leader, conservative media king Glenn Beck. Over the last 15 months, this New Right and its radical ideas -- from rolling back a century of social progress to claiming that the president is not an American citizen -- have dominated the headlines, befuddled progressives expecting an era of positive change, and led to countless armchair pundits seeking to psychoanalyze the Tea Party from afar. But no journalist has gone behind the lines to report at what is really at the heart of the Obama-inspired backlash.
The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama is the first book about the new right-wing movement based upon extensive, in-the-field reporting. From the fall of 2009 through the spring of 2010, I traveled from the sun-baked day-laborer outposts of East Phoenix to the leafy and unlikely New England bed-and-breakfast where the radical Oath Keepers first gathered, from the opening prayers of the first National Tea Party Convention in Nashville to the closing tears of Beck's American Revival in Orlando, all with the backfire of the Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot still ringing in my ears. I met rank-and-file, self-styled freedom fighters like Russ Murphy, the grizzled and resentful yet plucky Vietnam vet and biker who leads the Delaware 9-12 Patriots, and leaders like Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, the most radical congressman in America, and I walked the tragic Pittsburgh cul-de-sac where a young and increasingly delusional talk-radio fanatic named Richard Poplawski gunning down three police officers in cold blood.
I saw first-hand the ways in which the anxiety generated by massive, structural unemployment in the United States and by massive cultural and demographic changes created a vortex of prejudice and fear -- some of it lamentable and some of it understandable -- and how the greatest threats to America were the hi-def hucksters who whipped these tempest-tossed masses into a frenzy, the shameless media stars who wanted ratings and fame and the cynical politicians clinging to their jobs and the circling vultures who looked at the Tea Party movement as a way to make an easy buck. But ultimately, what lies at the heart of the backlash is that awful things that Franklin Roosevelt once described as "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." America conquered those fears in 1933, but we may not be so lucky in 2010, and if we are not, the grim consequences will be more gridlocked politics, more outbreaks of senseless violence, and a threat to this nation's greatest ideals.
The Backlash is scheduled for publication on Aug. 31, 2010. But it is now available for pre-order from Amazon.com (a more complete Amazon page will be up in a couple of days).
The book's publisher is HarperCollins, which has more info here.
Please consider joining the official Facebook group for "The Backlash." You can follow Will Bunch (me!) on Facebook and on Twitter. A short online bio is located here. The home page for this blog, Attytood, is here, and this is the homepage of the Philadelphia Daily News, where I am senior writer. I am also a senior fellow for Media Matters for America.
Several of my favorite authors have previewed "The Backlash" and offered these reviews: