Montana Politics The Media

Dealing with TEA Party Extremists: Ignore Them or Expose Them?

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(I’ll lead with the caveat. Not everyone in the TEA Party is an extremist, and not all of them engage in violent rhetoric. Enough do, however, and are even given leadership roles, that it’s fair to ask how we should deal with them.)

A discussion this evening about the upcoming TEA Party open carry rally at the Capitol tomorrow has me wondering, as I have for months, what the best response to the extremists in the TEA Party should be: to ignore them, as they likely represent very few people, or to expose them, so that their often hideous views are seen by as many people as possible?

Tomorrow’s event is just another example of the grandstanding, attention-seeking nonsense that has come from the self-proclaimed leader of the TEA Party in Montana. Mr. Ravndal, who still seems not to have learned the importance of precise diction, not only attributed a misquoted line from Shakespeare to The Alamo (one has to assume the movie), but promised a “very very very loud message” to the legislators inside the Capitol. Not exactly ideal language for a gun rally, but that’s Ravndal’s strategy—to make inflammatory remarks and then acted shocked when people find them offensive or even dangerous.

This leads me to believe that he and his fellow traveler Gary Marbut should simply be ignored. No matter how many people they claim to represent, their hostile, fringe views on guns and LGBT Montanans simply don’t speak for many—and every time the media or a blog mentions either, it just fuels their delusions of grandeur and sense of relative political importance. So, ignore them.

Yet, as others pointed out to me, it’s important for Montanans to see this extremism for what it is. Whether it’s Ravndal making jokes about the death of Matthew Shepard or testifying that the UN is a dangerous organization or it’s Marbut advocating for concealed weapons in banks or neutered federal law enforcement officers, it’s important for Montana voters to see the kind of unregistered lobbyists with whom Republican legislators have thrown in their lot, and just how extreme the agenda they are promoting has become. So, pay attention to them.

I guess my answer would be that, in an ideal world, the media would report on these characters for what they are. I don’t mean to pick on Cody Bloomsburg, because I think he’s written some great stories on the session, but in this story, he treats Ravndal like he’s some kind of political leader, not the discredited self-appointed leader of a fringe fringe group. And the media is far too willing to quote Gary Marbut, despite there being little evidence that his organization has significant membership. Ideally, the media would cover them, but not act like they’re credible.

Maybe that’s too much to ask, and I don’t even mean that sarcastically. It’s got to be a tricky balance.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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