Right resists tie to Pentagon gunman

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John Patrick Bedell is photographed.
John Patrick Bedell was revealed to have left behind a rambling trail of anti-government screeds. Photo: AP

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When John Patrick Bedell, killed this week in a shoot-out with police at the Pentagon, was revealed to have left behind a rambling trail of anti-government screeds, conservative commentators reacted with another collective cringe – just as they did after the discovery of the writings of IRS suicide pilot Joe Stack.

“Don’t Believe the MSM: John Patrick Bedell, the Pentagon Shooter, was no Right-Winger,” blared the headline of a piece leading the conservative media watchdog website Big Journalism Friday afternoon.

“Tragedy Occurs. Media Rush to Blame Right-Wing,”echoed one at the heavily trafficked righty blog Townhall.com.

Both items – and dozens others in the conservative blogosphere – linked to a Christian Science Monitor story headlined “Did right-wing extremism lead to shooting?”

It – and countless other media accounts – highlighted Internet rants and an audio manifesto in which Bedell, who was fatally wounded by Pentagon police after opening fire at an entrance to the building Friday, harshly criticized the U.S. government.

Bedell’s riffs against the American monetary system and “far-reaching violation of property rights” would fit in well at a rally of libertarian hero Ron Paul’s supporters (or even at the Conservative Political Action Conference, for that matter).

But conservatives were quick to point out that Bedell had registered to vote as a Democrat, seemed more hostile to the Republican administration of former President George W. Bush than the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama and seemed to believe that the Bush administration played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks, a conspiracy theory that has its roots in extreme anti-Bush circles, but that has metastasized in the right-wing fringe.

“Yes, the Pentagon shooter was a far left nutcase,” declared the conservative blogger Sistah Toljah, who linked to another conservative blog branding Bedell “a 9/11 Truther and an anti-Bush nut case.”

It urged readers to “Save this link when Big Media tries to portray him as a Tea Partier or right-winger.”

The reflexive pushback by conservatives highlights a growing anxiety about being linked to the uptick of extremism targeting bogeymen of the far-right fringe during the Obama administration.

Conservatives accused the Obama administration of bias last year when the Department of Homeland Security issued a report warning law enforcement officials that “the consequences of a prolonged economic downturn — including real estate foreclosures, unemployment, and an inability to obtain credit — could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities.”

The report said the threats had so far been “largely rhetorical,” but pointed to the April shooting of three police officers in Pittsburgh as a “recent example of potential violence associated with right-wing extremism.”

The department also issued a report on the threat of leftwing extremists, but it did not provoke the level of outrage from liberals that the right-wing report drew from conservatives.

Conservatives are right to worry about being tainted by the growth of extremism, said John Avlon, the author of “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America.”

“In the extreme edge of conspiracy theory politics, it is way beyond the simple left versus right – the two overlap,” said Avlon, a former speech writer for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, both in City Hall and during Giuliani’s campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. For example, Avlon pointed to Bedell’s belief in a cover-up about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which harkens back to an earlier strain of non-partisan conspiracy theory.

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Right resists tie to Pentagon gunman

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