In the last weeks of their struggling national campaign, the McCain-Palin ticket and the Republican National Committee have chosen to attack Barack Obama for his rare and insignificant contact with Bill Ayres, a former Weather Underground member charged but not convicted of bombing federal targets at the height of opposition to the Vietnam War four decades ago.

Palin has led the charge that Obama "pals around" with terrorists, based solely on the very limited contact he had with Ayres decades after his Weather Underground days. Some of that contact is due to education projects funded by Walter Annenberg, who is also donating to the McCain campaign. Annenberg has not been accused of funding terrorism by McCain or Palin.

But the most compelling hypocrisy of the "terrorism" issue is Palin’s own contemporary associations with fringe groups more committed to themes of antigovernment violence. A number of reports have noted, for instance, Palin’s association with the Alaska Independence Party (AIP), a group that is trying to get Alaska to secede from the United States. Largely unreported is the deeper extremism of the AIP and its national party organization, the Constitution Party. The Ayers story is a distraction from the real and ongoing relationships that Sarah Palin has with armed rightists, a story she invites with her vacuous allegations on "terrorism."

The Constitution Party, formerly known as the U.S. Taxpayers Party (USTP), was founded in 1992 as an electoral vehicle for the growing vigilante movements that called themselves militias, as well as racists and violent antiabortion militants.

The origins of the national party go back to the American Independent Party of 1968, which was a joint effort of the John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Klan to run George Wallace for president. Various carryover elements, including the Birchers, led to the creation of the Constitution Party.

After the party was formed, a 1994 research report by Planned Parenthood, which was tracking antiabortion violence, characterized the group as "the new political home to a growing and unusual convergence of militant antiabortion leaders, elements of the violent and racist right, members of the John Birch Society and Far Right politicians."

Palin first attended an AIP event in 1994, according to ABC News interviews with party officials. By that time the theocratic and paramilitary elements of the party were manifest. An examination of who was part of the party at the time that she first made contact with the AIP and concurrent with her husband’s joining the AIP, you can see the nature of the movement that she had comfort with:

• At a Wisconsin party convention in 1994, Rev. Matthew Trewhella called for the formation of church-based "armed militias" to fight abortion and bragged about training his 16 month old son on the identification of his trigger finger, according to a Planned Parenthood report on potentially violent antiabortion groups. Trewhella, a member of the national committee of the Constitution Party, also sold manuals on behalf of his Party titled Principles Justifying the Arming and Organizing of a Militia on methods of organizing and training "militias" and conducting house assaults. He recommended that that party members "buy each of your children an SKS rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition." Trewhella also publically cosigned a statement saying that killing abortion doctors was morally justifiable.

• Florida party head and National executive committee member Jeffrey Baker in 1994 also endorsed the "justifiable homicide" of any doctors who performed abortions, or their associates.

• Organizer Michael Bray had been convicted in 1985 and served four years in prison for bombing 10 clinics. He later wrote A Time To Kill, advocating the killing of doctors who perform abortions. He was characterized as the "father of violence" in Wrath of Angels, a book about antiabortion violence. Prior to this convention, a number of doctors who perform abortions had been wounded or killed and about 200 clinics had been bombed, torched or vandalized. The endorsement of these murders was not merely a symbolic statement.

• Byron Dale, a 1994 convention speaker and workshop leader, had been a "confidant" of Gordon Kahl of the Posse Commitatus, a racist and anti-Semitic paramilitary group. Kahl killed two U.S. marshals in South Dakota before dying in a shootout. Dale said that he would kill any feds that tried to encroach on him.

• Randall Terry, who led the Operation Rescue blockades of abortion clinics, ran for Congress on the US Taxpayers Party ticket. He called for Christians to "take up the sword" and to "overthrow the tyrannical regime that oppresses them" so that they can install a theocratic regime based on "Biblical law." Other OR leaders involved with arrests for antiabortion actions were also Party leaders and candidates, according to the Planned Parenthood report.

• Prior to founding the Constitution Party, Howard Phillips, was the foremost American organizing support for the apartheid regime of South Africa and its African surrogates in the 1980’s. He organized trips to South Africa for American sympathizers to meet the top political, intelligence and military leaders of the apartheid regime, which was the only surviving post World War II nazi party still holding power. Phillips and his allies supported Renamo, which the Ronald Reagan’s State Department had condemned for having murdered over 100,000 civilians in Mozambique, as well as Unita, which was conducting killings in Angola. This writer attended one of his private organizing meetings where he marshaled his decades of political networking experience to push the Reagan State Department and the Congress to support the slave state of South Africa. Phillips was the 1992 and 1996 presidential candidate for his Party.

• Joining the formation of the Party and holding a seat on the national executive committee in 1994 was William K. Shearer of Lemon Grove, California. Shearer took his position after the folding of the Populist Party, a group formed by Willis Carto and his Liberty Lobby. Most notorious for creating the-holocaust-didn’t happen propaganda and maintaining links to white supremacist groups, the Liberty Lobby and the Populist Party were condemned by the Anti Defamation League and the Atlanta-based Center for Democratic Renewal for what the latter group called "an amalgamation of neo-Nazis, skinheads, former Klansmen and other extremists who banded together."

In 1989 this writer attended a Populist Party meeting in Chicago chaired by Shearer where the featured speaker was David Duke. Security was provided by Art Jones, Chicago’s foremost uniformed Nazi, who choked a TV news reporter with his necktie for critically questioning Duke at the meeting. Jones was also a regular participant in Aryans Nation gatherings when they were planning insurrectionist activities, at least two of which were witnessed by this writer. It is not clear why Shearer picked Jones to provide security or why Phillips selected Shearer for national leadership of the new Party.

During and after this period Sarah Palin maintained friendly relations with the Alaska branch of the Constitution Party for many years, according to many news reports. She attended their convention again in 2000 and in 2006 sought their support for her run for governor. In June 2008 she sent them a video wishing them "good luck on a successful and inspiring convention, keep up the good work and God bless you."

Her husband Todd joined the party during the period of militancy in 1995 and changed his voter registration in 2002 to "undeclared."

A recent review of the websites of the AIP and its parent Constitution Party demonstrates that these groups are still the home of the violence-inclined far right. The national platform, for instance, pledges to "support and encourage unorganized militia at the county and community level."

Its origins in the southern racist elements is reflected in the group’s calls for repealing "hate crime legislation," the Voting Rights Act (which ended the disenfranchisement of millions of voters in the deep South) and, most tellingly, supports the claim that states ( not just Alaska ) can secede from the United States at any time. The plank on secession states that "each state’s membership in the Union is voluntary."

The well-reported fact that the AIP advocates secession from the United States is also supplemented by the group’s constitution, which requires playing only the Alaska Anthem, not the national anthem. This could not be lost on Palin, who has attended at least three AIP conventions and continues to praise them.

Another element of extremism in the Constitution Party is its assertion that the U.S. should be governed by "Biblical law" and places as their first policy plank a complete prohibition on all abortions, regardless of the circumstances. They also call for the repeal of the federal law that restricts antiabortion militants from physically disrupting clinics where abortions are performed.

The influence for these views comes from the Christian Reconstructionist movement founded by the late R.J. Rushdoony, a Constitution Party cofounder. The conservative evangelical magazine Christianity Today in 1987 published a critical article about Reconstructionist goals to assert Old Testament law over society in which "homosexuals, adulterers, blasphemers, astrologers and others will be executed." The formation of so called militias ( read: vigilante groups ) as the armed forces of Reconstructionism is the core of what the Constitution Party is about.

Reporters for, funded by the Nation Institute for Investigative Journalism, found that Palin had local ties to this extremist movement. They reported that in Palin’s successful campaign for mayor of Wasilla, that Mark Chryson, a long time state leader of the AIP, and Steve Stoll, a leader of the John Birch Society, played influential roles. "During the 1990’s, when Chryson directed the AIP, he and another radical rightwinger, Steve Stoll, played a quiet but pivotal role in electing Palin as mayor of Wasilla and shaping her agenda afterward. Both Stoll and Chryson not only contributed to Palin’s campaign financially, they played a major behind-the-scenes roles in the Palin camp before, during and after her victory."

Chryson told Salon that he stays in touch with secessionist groups in 30 states. He said that he and Palin worked to together to alter the state constitution "to better facilitate the formation of antigovernment militias." Chryson added that "every time I showed up her door was always open. And that policy continued when she was governor."

Palin also tried to install Stoll in a vacant city council seat when she was mayor, even though he was well known in the area as "Black Helicopter Steve," according to the report, apparently due to his militia-like conspiracy theories.

When she was city council member, Palin posed for what appears to be her official photograph with a John Birch Society publication. The JBS is the ideological core of the so-called militia groups and coined the phrase that "the US is a republic, not a democracy" and opposed the public election of US senators, instead having them appointed by state legislatures, a view reflected in the Constitution Party platform. The Birchers became notorious years ago for characterizing the U.S. as partially communist and placed presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon as complicit in the "Communist conspiracy."

Another arena in which militant talk is associated with prospectively violent results is in Palin’s church life. Since becoming Governor, she has attended the Juneau Christian Church, which has affiliated itself with leaders of the "Toronto Blessing." The Toronto Blessing an ultracharismatic practice centered on "Holy Laughter" (otherwise known as hysterical laughter) which includes howling, barking like dogs, screaming, spasmodic jerking and rolling on floors as part of, even the substance of, "church" services. This has been reported on, taped and criticized by traditional, conservative evangelical ministries but it has spread across North America.

This may sound harmless, but it binds members together in perceived antidemonic "power evangelism" to turn their cities into citadels for the righteous. One of those leaders, Rodney Howard Browne, exhorted congregants to great applause when he claimed that their movement is "going to shake this nation to its very foundations, to its very core…its going to shake America like a tsunami" and told them that "if it means death, so be it."

In a video posted by Bruce Wilson on the website of Talk To Action, Browne is described as closely linked to Palin’s Juneau church and its minister. They are identified as part of a movement that seeks to "restructure the churches of America to do battle with evil prior to the return of Jesus. They are also preparing a generation of youth to serve as "Joel’s Army" and to attack the "demonic strongholds" of America." Joel’s Army refers to a violent end time army in the Old Testament book of Joel. Wilson previously published videos that caused John McCain to drop his affiliation with controversial ministers John Hagee and Rod Parsley.

It is unclear what Palin believes regarding the themes of violence of most the extreme elements of the groups that she has associated with for many years. But if she is going to use guilt by association methods based on activities that occurred decades ago, she has some more recent associations of her own to explain. If she believes her frequents assertions that the US is a "great nation," then why does she associate with secessionists that try to break it up? If she opposes domestic violence for political ends, how can she be associated with a group with leaders that have embraced ‘justifiable homicide"? It is disturbing that she declined to condemn the violence and murder against abortion providers in the NBC interview with Brian Williams, even though he asked her twice about that matter.

There is no statewide elected leader, either as governor or U.S. Senator, that has more extreme right wing, violence-prone associations that Sarah Palin. John McCain has asked us to endorse her, but even if the ticket fails this time, he has elevated her to a contending position for the 2012, energizing and empowering the extreme right in the process. No wonder that even some informed elements of the Republican Party are abandoning him.