I have a neighbor who owns a howitzer. Not a model, toy, or an ancient replica. A modern, working howitzer. My neighbor has very potent, effective ammunition for the howitzer, too. My neighbor could level entire city blocks with a few well-placed shells, fired from miles away.
Funny thing, though. Outside of a few Nervous Nellies with their own agenda, none of us in the neighborhood are concerned about my neighbor and the howitzer. See, my neighbor is known to be a very rational, level-headed person. My neighbor is regarded by all of us as a model of responsibility, and someone who not only abides by the law, but by a very high moral standard that informs every act they perform.
What is remarkable, my howitzer-equipped neighbor is regularly mocked and called all kinds of vile names. Stupid kids violate his property and commit minor vandalism. My neighbor never responds with any kind of violence...especially not a salvo of high-explosive shells.
In our same neighborhood, there is a neighbor who has a paring knife...a little, short knife like everyone has in their kitchen for cutting fruit. But this neighbor has a really evil reputation for violence, for being a hair-trigger hot-head. This neighbor has attacked several people, severely wounding some, even killing others. This neighbor constantly wields that paring knife.
Nobody will even make eye contact with the paring knife neighbor. They know what can happen...how little it takes to set this person off.
South Park could air a devastating series of episodes lampooning my neighbor with the howitzer, reviling his most sacred beliefs, and people would laugh. Some would agree with the darkest depiction of my neighbor, in spite of the truth. The people whose network aired those episodes would thump their chests, and their peers would give them shiny awards for their courage and artistic integrity. My neighbor would just smile and shake his head sadly.
But nobody would dare to air an episode of South Park that even mentioned my neighbor with the paring knife. And nobody at the network or their artistic peers would even wonder why. They all know.
If...IF...people were really afraid of TEA Party-goers, would they call them the vile things they call them? If they were pious Muslims, how different would their treatment be? How many mosques and madrassas are on the list the Southern Poverty Law Center publishes? Do you even find a Crescent symbol on their "hate map"?