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Pro-democracy rally frightens conservative media

Right-wing news outlets are portraying an upcoming protest on voting rights and money in politics as a bid by dangerous radicals to sow chaos and confrontation.
Supporters for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton are silhouetted in a large American flag at a rally following Super Tuesday on March 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty)
Supporters for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton are silhouetted in a large American flag at a rally following Super Tuesday on March 2, 2016 in New York City.

A plan by progressive groups to stage a Washington protest on voting rights and money in politics has kicked over a hornet’s nest among conservative media.

An array of leading right-wing news outlets has portrayed the upcoming event, known as Democracy Spring, as a bid by a mob of dangerous extremists to sow chaos and confrontation. Some of the coverage has aimed to tie the effort, with little evidence, to recent protests at Donald Trump events, which at times have been marked by violence between the GOP front-runner's supporters and opponents.

“Some of the same radical groups involved in shutting down Donald Trump’s Chicago rally last week are plotting a mass civil disobedience movement to begin next month,” warned Breitbart News in a story that led the Drudge Report for much of Wednesday and had over 12,000 comments as of Thursday afternoon.

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“The radicals believe this will result in the arrest of thousands of their own activists,” Breitbart added.

“A stealthy, and very dangerous new movement is about to explode across America and few people know it's coming,” announced Catholic Online, a right-wing Catholic site, noting that Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter “may” be involved in the effort.

Another conservative site, WorldNetDaily, said the involvement of the grassroots progressive group would “raise red flags with law enforcement agencies” since MoveOn had taken credit for shutting down Trump's Chicago rally.

The Washington Times, too, has reported on the event, under a picture of protesters at the Chicago rally. 

In fact, many of the major groups behind Democracy Spring, including the AFL-CIO, the National Organization for Women, Public Citizen, Demos and People for the American Way, are respected and well-established players in mainstream progressive politics. They’re planning a march starting April 2 from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to Washington, DC, where they’ll hold a “powerful, peaceful and massive sit-in.” Days later, more pro-democracy activists plan to pour into the capital for a series of meetings and actions known as Democracy Awakening.

And the causes driving the effort—expanding democracy by getting big money out of politics and protecting voting rights— are supported by clear popular majorities. Trump himself has talked frequently about the pernicious influence of special interests.

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But the panic on the right reflects a growing backlash against the string of recent protests, whether against Trump or police brutality, orchestrated mostly by young people of color. It suggests that many conservatives now view any popular protest organized by progressives as dangerous and destabilizing, even those in support of widely accepted principles.

“They think that they have the stage. They’re wrong,” right-wing radio host Michael Savage said Monday on his show, referring to anti-Trump protesters. “They don’t have the power in this country. They’re a small group of people ... They’re going to provoke violence on the other side, and that is bad for America. It’s very bad for America. That is what the left specializes in, which is violence and anarchy of this nature.”

Democracy issues are likely to play a greater role in this year’s presidential campaign than any in recent memory. Bernie Sanders has put campaign finance at the center of his insurgent bid, and Donald Trump has portrayed himself as immune to special interest influence thanks to his wealth. Hillary Clinton, too, has backed aggressive policies to protect and expand access to voting and get big money out of politics, including overturning Citizens United