Former President George Bush sent an unmistakable message to the zealots at the National Rifle Association when he resigned his membership in protest over its description of federal agents as "jackbooted thugs" who harass and kill innocent citizens.
Mr. Bush, a gun owner and avid hunter, said that while he agreed with many of the NRA's aims, he could not stomach the "vicious slander" of federal officials that is becoming a staple of the group's extremist rhetoric.
The description of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officials as Nazis and criminals was contained in a fund-raising letter sent by NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre to the group's 3.5 million members. In making public his disgust with the ugly tone of the statement, Mr. Bush unequivocally repudiated the strident, hate-filled language that is poisoning this country's political discourse.
This is what President Clinton called upon all Americans to do in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing when he decried the "many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other." It is our sincere hope that Mr. Bush's strong words will encourage others to step forward and similarly denounce such demagogy.
There are already signs that the country is souring on the self-styled "militias" and other paramilitary groups that have sprung up to nurture the grievances of anti-government extremists, white supremacists and others on the lunatic right. After the Oklahoma bombing, for example, one "militia" group in Oregon voluntarily disbanded rather than be associated with the illegal violence advocated by some of the movement's leaders.
Groups like the Michigan Militia and its counterparts elsewhere are clearly misguided. Most people who join such organizations may be law-abiding citizens who were as appalled as other Americans by the carnage in Oklahoma City. But the movement also harbors a small minority of hard-core, violent racists, tax protesters and anti-government extremists who draw legitimacy from their association with "mainstream" institutions.
Mr. Bush recognized that the frenzied rhetoric issuing from the ,, NRA plays right into the hands of such people. In demonstrating zero tolerance for Mr. LaPierre's wild demagogy he has done honorable service for the country as a whole as well as for the federal, state and local law enforcement officials who were unfairly denigrated and demeaned by the NRA's unprincipled attack.