Fast and Furious: The Second Amendment conspiracy theory

The brouhaha over Attorney General Eric Holder and the contempt of Congress charge brought by U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa is providing new evidence that the lunatics are running the Republican asylum.

Mr. Issa, the California Republican who is chairman of the House Oversight Committee, would have us believe President Obama's assertion of executive privilege in the dispute -- "an eleventh-hour stunt," he called it on Fox News -- is part of a White House cover up of something much more sinister.

At issue are Justice Department documents related to a botched Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operation run out of the bureau's Phoenix office. As the ATF had done at least twice during the administration of George W. Bush, "Operation Fast and Furious" allowed illegal purchases of about 2,500 guns so that agents could follow the trail of the firearms to drug gangs in Mexico. In the event, the Phoenix team lost track of the guns, only to have a couple of them turn up after a firefight in which Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed.

When Congress began looking into the failed operation, the Phoenix office made things worse by providing false information to the DOJ that was then passed on to the investigating committee. Now, the committee wants every document related to the incident. Mr. Holder, backed by the president, is refusing to give Congress complete access.

In response, conservative bloggers have gone ballistic about Mr. Obama's invocation of executive privilege, comparing it to Richard Nixon's Watergate cover up.

Just what is being covered up is not so apparent, at least to objective observers. But less-than-objective right-wing conspiracy theorists have a ready answer: Operation Fast and Furious was part of an elaborate plot to undermine the Second Amendment and take away citizens' guns.

Michael Vanderboegh, a blogger with militia ties and a long history of talking up armed resistance to the government, asserts that the ATF purposely let the guns go to the bad guys in Mexico so that, after the ensuing bloodbath, the feds could justify a crackdown on assault weapons and gun shows.

Now, to rational human beings, that may sound totally ludicrous, but not to the folks at Fox News. They have made Mr. Vanderboegh a prime source for their coverage of this dispute, being elastic enough in their measure of qualifications to identify him as an "online journalist." It's not just Fox News, though. Mr. Vanderboegh's curious theory has been picked up and repeated by Republican members of Congress, including Iowa's previously sane Sen. Chuck Grassley who, in a TV interview, echoed the idea that Messrs. Obama and Holder could be using the Phoenix fiasco to build a case against gun rights.

This fits in with the broader conspiracy theory of Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association. The NRA boss has insisted that the reason Mr. Obama has done nothing to harm the Second Amendment in his first term is so he can win another four years in office, at which point his administration will start confiscating guns with no fear of retribution from voters. That's right, according to Mr. LaPierre, President Obama is not taking your guns now so he can take them later.

And what do the paranoid delusions of firearms devotees have to do with Darrell Issa's investigation? Well, Issa and other Republican members of his committee are also claiming the administration concocted this mess so they could mess with guns. "Very clearly," Mr. Issa told Fox News, "they made a crisis and they're using this crisis to somehow take away or limit people's Second Amendment rights."

Can a smart guy like Mr. Issa honestly believe this? And if not, what is he really up to?

As an answer, House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has her own conspiracy theory. She asserted in her weekly press briefing that the Republicans are gunning for Mr. Holder with the clear aim "to undermine the person who is assigned to stop the voter suppression in our country. I'm telling you, this is connected. It is no accident."

Ms. Pelosi may be wrong, but at least her theory has some political logic, which is more than can be said of the gun-nut fantasy being peddled by Darrell Issa.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.