What Is a Patriot? 3 only to increase his glory”—it is only the demagogue who stirs dis- sension. “He does not inquire what he may do for them but what he may draw from them by this means he sets up an interest of profit, pleasure, or pomp in himself repugnant to the good of the public.” He declares the active defense of justice to be “sedition and rebellion” and strives to “diminish that strength, virtue, power and courage which he knows to be bent against him.” He is fearful of truth, and so “will always, by tricks, artifices, cavils, and all means possible endeavor to establish falsehood and dishonesty. . . [to] bring the people to such a pass that they may neither care nor dare to vindicate their rights.”6 Thus, in the beginning of the American political consciousness, there is a clear meaning of the term “patriot” as one who quietly, behind the scenes, supports his country and does his best to promote public virtue and the general welfare of the people. By the mid-18th century, how- ever, there are at least two meanings for the term “patriot”: “one whose ruling passion is the love of his country” and “a factious disturber of government.”7 In this context, a patriot may be one who is either (a) a passionate supporter of his country in its current iteration and one who is willing to defend the policies and programs of government despite vitriolic and constant criticism or (b) a detractor of current government policies and programs hearkening instead to some idealized version of past government that is deemed far superior to the current state of government. In the American context today, both uses of the term “patriot” are common and deemed valid by the public. The first is applied to those who support the government regardless of their personal opinions or points of view. Military personnel, public servants (including local, state, and federal government officials), and average American citizens who support their government despite which political party is in power might rightly fall into the former category. On the other hand, members of the Tea Party, states’ rights advocates, militia groups, and strict con- stitutional constructionists might also rightly be called patriots. These are individuals who wish to see a return to cherished political, social, and cultural values that have been subverted or replaced in the current version of American politics. Either of these “patriots” may use violence to promote their views and have done so on many occasions. Of particu- lar interest to this study is how such violence—most often political in nature—has been cloaked as “patriotic” and those who promote and justify such violence label themselves as “patriots.”
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