“Empathy, alone stands apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us.” Eric Hoffer
The problem with mass movements is that they often breed a near religious devotion and fervor in their leaders and followers. The resulting sense of messianic purpose breeds a corresponding lack of compassion, empathy and even hatred toward others who do not agree with them, or who they blame for the ills of the world.
Mass movements have often had religious roots, and even those that do not, and appear more political in nature have an element of faith that is critical to their cohesion and success. That faith is a central part of their message, as National Tea Party Founder and Leader Michael Johns said in 2010 when asked about the centrality of the Christian faith to it: “I’d say religion is not core, but I would say that faith is.”
The core beliefs of a mass movement can be religious, or an ideology, or a combination of religious and political ideas that sets them apart. This elevates the cause of the “true believers” in the movement to the level of a religious-political crusade, and allows them to wrap that cause, their ideology and themselves with an exaggerated sense of messianic certitude that allows for no deviation, no tolerance of others and which does not countenance or cultivate empathy.
Captain Gustave Gilbert who served as the Army Psychologist to the defendants ant the Nuremberg major War Crimes trials wrote of his experience:
“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”
Much of this can be seen in the words and actions of leaders of the Tea Party movement, the growing anti-government militia movement and other extremist groups. The apocryphal quote attributed to Sinclair Lewis “When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross,” does seem appropriate. However, I think a more descriptive and accurate quotes from Lewis’s books It Can’t Happen Here and Gideon Planish are far better. In It Can’t Happen Here Lewis wrote: “But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word ‘Fascism’ and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.” In Gideon Planish he said: “I just wish people wouldn’t quote Lincoln or the Bible, or hang out the flag or the cross, to cover up something that belongs more to the bank-book and the three golden balls.”
The fact that many Tea Party leaders and followers embrace a political ideology-theology called Christian Dominionism helps endow that movement with a near religious fervor not typically seen in American politics.
It allows the movement’s leaders and media champions to make astounding comments, like this from Rush Limbaugh:
“Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?”
Likewise compare this comment of Gary North, a major supporter of the Tea Party and adviser to Rand Paul to the German Nuremberg Laws, which deprived Jews of the citizenship and rights. North wrote:
“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”
The Nuremberg Laws stated:
“A citizen of the Reich is that subject only who is of German or kindred blood and who, through his conduct, shows that he is both desirous and fit to serve the German people and Reich faithfully.” and that “A Jew cannot be a citizen of the Reich. He has no right to vote in political affairs and he cannot occupy public office.”
While one espouses a religious litmus test and the other a racial one does not negate the fact that they are both written with the same intent, to deprive other citizens of equality and freedom.
North’s understanding of the use of democracy to achieve total domination of the country and culture is well documented. He wrote:
“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”
While many Tea Party leaders deny the religious-ideological goals of the Dominionists, the fact is that they often walk hand in hand, working alongside each other for the same basic ends. The veneer of faith masks the evil that lies at the heart of the movement. Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer:
“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”
It is with this understanding of their lack of empathy that we must weigh the words, actions and announced goals of those in Tea Party leadership, be they elected officials, organizers and leaders, media supporters and of course their religious benefactors.