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On July 10, 2010, the Orange/Sullivan County NY 912 Tea Party organized a "Freedom from Tyranny" rally in the sleepy exurb of Middletown, New York. Via the group's online Meetup page, anyone who was "sick of the madness in Washington" and prepared to "[d]efend our freedom from Tyranny" was asked to gather on the grass next to the local Perkins restaurant and Super 8 motel for the afternoon rally. Protesters were encouraged to bring their lawn chairs for the picnic and fireworks to follow.

There was a time when I would have found an afternoon picnic a surprising response to "Tyranny," but I have since come to expect it. The Tea Party movement that has grown so exponentially in recent years is shrouded in irony. There is of course the business of "keep your government hands off my Medicare" and, more generally, the apparently unselfconscious effort to build a coherent community of radical individualists, what intellectual historian Mark Lilla recently called "the politics of the libertarian mob." But what interests me here is the sense of victimization the movement's adherents seem to experience. Tea Party supporters tend overwhelmingly to be white, are disproportionately male, and are wealthier and better educated, on average, than the general population. American tyranny has had its victims over the years, and these are not they. One could be forgiven the impression that the movement rather invents suppression, or at least seeks it out, that it may dissent.


First Amendment | Law


Free Expression and Democracy in America: A History by Stephen M. Feldman, University of Chicago Press, 2008, pp. 544, $55.00.