Thursday, September 30, 2010

Patriot Games

Paranoid, delusional, and heavily armed -- I can't think of a more frightening combination.

From the most recent issue of Time magazine:

"'I don't know who the redcoats are,' says Brian Vandersall, 37, who designed the exercise and tried to tamp down talk of politics among the men. 'It could be U.N. troops. It could be federal troops. It could be Blackwater, which was used in Katrina. It could be Mexican troops who are crossing the border.' Or it could be, as it was for this year's exercise, an Islamic army marauding unchecked because a hypothetical pro-Muslim President has ordered U.S. forces to leave them alone. But as the drill played out, the designated opponents bore little resemblance to terrorists. The scenario described them as a platoon-size unit, in uniform, with 'military-grade hardware, communications, encryption capability and vehicle support.' The militia was training for combat against the spitting image of a tactical force from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), FBI or National Guard. 'Whoever they are,' Vandersall says, 'we have to be ready.'

In a reversal of casting, the armed antigovernment movement describes itself as heir to the founders. As they see it, the union that the founders created is now a foreign tyrant. 'It's like waking up behind enemy lines," says Terrell. He says he smelled a setup when the FBI arrested nine members of Michigan's Hutaree militia in March and charged them with plotting to kill police. (Their trial is set to begin in February.) Terrell and other leaders put their forces on alert, anticipating a roundup. 'There was a lot of citizens out there in the bushes, locked and loaded,' he says. 'It's only due to miracles I do not understand that civil war did not break out right there.'"

Do yourself a favor and read the cover story a whole lot of people are going to be talking about. It's a near-flawless snapshot of the farthest and most dangerous edges of the lunatic fringe in the age of Obama.

Time: The Secret World of Extreme Militias/9.30.10

And because it seems appropriate, here are just two of the times over the past year that I've written about the rise of the new "Patriot Militia" movement in America -- the first dealing with the Hutaree arrest referenced in the quote above.

"The Enemy Within" (Originally Published, 3.30.10)

Remember back in July of 2007 when a U.S. Attorney, the FBI and the NYPD trumpeted the capture of four men they claimed had been trying to engineer "one of the most chilling plots imaginable" in New York City: the detonation of fuel lines under JFK airport? Chances are you do, the same way you likely remember every other self-congratulatory press conference held over the past several years in which the government announced with supposedly appropriate bombast that it had thwarted an imminent terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Thing is, though, quite a few of these plots -- to say nothing of the more than a dozen times that the terror alert level was raised based on nebulous information and with politically suspicious timing -- turned out to be a lot of horseshit. It's not that the actions of some truly dangerous people weren't uncovered; it's that there were more than a few times that the would-be terrorists hyped as being directly related to al-Qaeda turned out to be more like the Keystone Kops, their plans for mass destruction nothing more than the product of a lot of bravado and maybe a little too much to drink.

The point, though, is that you always heard about it -- shouted far and wide across the media landscape -- when the United States had supposedly foiled a terrorist attack from outsiders. We're always eager as hell to call someone not from this country who desires to attack us and spread fear and chaos a terrorist -- as well we should. What we're not as eager to do is call someone from within this country -- like, say, a far-right, white Christian militia member who believes the government is evil -- a terrorist even if he or she hopes to accomplish the same goal.

Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that nine members of an ultra-right Christian militia group known as Hutaree had been arrested across the Midwest on charges of seditious conspiracy and the attempted use of weapons of mass destruction. Investigators claim the group was planning to wage war against the U.S. government -- a war that would begin with the murder of a Michigan cop, followed by a coordinated attack on that officer's funeral procession. The hope, supposedly, was that the strike would inspire a bloody, Turner Diaries-style uprising against the government. Needless to say, relatives of those arrested deny that the group is dangerous, one of them going so far as to make the not-very-reassuring statement that if the good people in Hutaree were going to kill somebody they would've done it already. It's a bit of a dubious claim, regardless, considering that a quick scan of the material posted on the internet by the group and its leader, David Brian Stone, reveals them to be every bit the standard paranoid white-guy gun fetishists with delusions of militaristic grandeur who've occupied a tiny portion of the cultural imagination for decades.

Back in late 2008, right around (surprise, surprise) the election of Barack Obama, one member of Hutaree, a guy who menacingly called himself "Pale Horse," posted a video on YouTube which showed him armed with a Kalashnikov and spouting all kinds of extreme-right bromides about how the U.S. was in peril and it was time for freedom-loving people to arm themselves, etc. etc. Whether or not he was ever truly on the verge of trying to turn his revolutionary fantasies into cold-blooded reality is anybody's guess. But that's not really the point; the point is that even after, say, the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City or the Austin IRS building plane crash -- Timothy McVeigh and Joe Stack's proven actions -- many in this country are still reluctant to label an American citizen a terrorist. Maybe it's because to do so would cause all kinds of cognitive dissonance, since it would put that person on the same level as the foreign insurgents raging against their own governments overseas whom we're more than happy to call terrorists but who refer to themselves as merely freedom-fighters (a lack of distinction, ironically, that militia members here at home have accepted for years).

What's really ironic, however -- and more than a little frightening -- is that not only will yesterday's announcement be unlikely to stick in the minds of many Americans or in the media's collective consciousness; it'll actually go a long way in fueling anti-government sentiment. In the absence of widespread outrage that it's entirely possible a burgeoning new anti-government movement bent on redneck revolution may be out there plotting murder and mayhem, the movement itself can only flourish under the weight of a federal law enforcement crackdown, since such action just proves the point of those who believe the government is comprised of jack-booted thugs who aim to trample free, decent, heavily armed Americans. In the cataractous eyes of guys like "Pale Horse," the fact that the feds are willing to arrest the Hutaree group only shows how much Hutaree is necessary to fight off the feds.

Remember, Oklahoma City was considered a direct response to both Ruby Ridge and Waco. And while each of those incidents may have indeed involved gross federal overreaction, it doesn't change the fact that until we admit that there are potential domestic terrorists among us -- not patriots, terrorists -- and refuse to let that be deflected by the contrived indignation it may incite from one group or another, we'll continue to be at their mercy.

We need to stop hedging and call those Americans who want to wage war against our nation or simply kill other Americans in the name of a political end what they are. Because there are far, far fewer of them than there are of us.

"Protecting America From Whatever" (Originally Published, 10.21.09)

It never ceases to amaze me just how absolutely fucking crazy it's gotten out there. You'd think that by now -- after Tea Baggers, Birthers, "death panels," Glenn Beck's warnings of the encroaching commie threat to our precious bodily fluids, etc. -- that I'd be used to whatever shameless absurdity the apoplectic right sees fit to conjure out of thin air these days. But, no, they just keep turning up the burner of weird-and-dangerous so far past the boiling point that all the water's evaporated and the pot itself is just about on fire.

The latest example: The Oath Keepers.

Not to be confused with Pop Christianity's gift to snarky assholes everywhere, the "Promise Keepers," the Oath Keepers are a group of military vets and ex-law enforcement officers who've banded together to once again rise up and defend the supposedly core values of our beloved country during this time of great crisis. These values, as set forth by our now officially invoked-to-death forefathers, are the standard-issue litany of paranoid white guy t-shirt slogans: an almost sexual obsession with guns, state sovereignty, fear and suspicion of the federal government, watering the tree of liberty with blood every so often -- the kind of overarching, largely irrational belief system adhered to by just about anyone who subscribes to Soldier of Fortune magazine. As for the crisis currently afflicting the country that was once America, do I really even need to bother spelling it out at this point? Is there anyone out there not keenly aware of the ever-growing stable of ridiculous boogeymen created and perpetuated by the pants-wetting right these days?

So just what oaths are the Oath Keepers taking an oath to keep?

Try these on for size -- from the group's website:

"1. We will NOT obey orders to disarm the American people.

2. We will NOT obey orders to conduct warrantless searches of the American people.

3. We will NOT obey orders to detain American citizens as 'unlawful enemy combatants' or to subject them to military tribunal.

4. We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a 'state of emergency' on a state.

5. We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.

6. We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.

7. We will NOT obey any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.

8. We will NOT obey orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people to 'keep the peace' or to 'maintain control.'

9. We will NOT obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies.

10.We will NOT obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances."

All I can say is, thank God for the Oath Keepers -- otherwise we'd all be disarmed and in U.N.-controlled concentration camps right now.

Jesus freakin' Christ -- these clowns may as well be saying, "We will NOT aid the Majestic Consortium in its plan to deliver an extraterrestrial virus to the American population through Africanized bees, leading to the spontaneous colonization of the planet." That's how likely any of the paranoid whack-job conspiracy theories the Oath Keepers espouse is to ever actually come true. Once again, thank God these ex-law enforcement specialists are on the case to defend us from absolutely fucking nothing.

Now before you go thinking that I just trolled the fringes of the internet looking for a band of crazies this crazy, and that the Oath Keepers wouldn't cross the mind of anyone with an IQ larger than a fruit salad's, MSNBC's own Grandpa Caligula -- Pat Buchanan -- wrote an entire column for yesterday praising the group's efforts. Sure, Buchanan's a fucking racist reactionary (the subtle, not-at-all-inflammatory title of his Worldnet piece is "Traditional Americans are Losing Their Nation") but he's also, inexplicably, a member of the supposedly mainstream media -- or at the very least their invited guest. And so, with a couple of keystrokes from a skeletal hand, the Oath Keepers go from being extremist basement-dwellers to genuine players -- stepping up to a seat at the big kids' table with the likes of all the other conspiracist lunatics whose opinions have somehow been lent undue credence by a conflict-addicted media and a right wing that's completely lost its mind after losing the White House.

I've said it many times before but it bears repeating over and over again: Where will all of this end? Not when, since I'm not sure it will on its own -- where?

All this unfocused rage, completely immune to logic and reason, has to go somewhere -- and where it sometimes seems to be headed just scares the hell out of me.


Lily said...

There are a lot of crazy people out there, including 2 on trial now in Oregon for murdering two police officers with a bomb when they tried to rob a bank.

They were mad about Obama's election, and one month later acted.

Anon said...

I look at cases like this and my heart sinks. Because we're supposed to be better than this. Because a democracy depends on a well-informed sane public.

And then I think back to the last decade, where how many people swore up and down:
"If you don't like it, leave it"
"These colors don't run," or any number of absolutist sayings where if you weren't with the country 110%, you were an absolutely abhorrent traitor.

And, young as I am (26), I keep wondering to myself, has our politics always been like this? Have we always been slaves to crazies pushing an agenda of total compliance?

Lord knows that I've lost some friendships over this shit - when I couldn't keep my mouth shut and smile and nod anymore and I wouldn't embrace a fringe viewpoint and called for a saner middle ground, I got booted out of a social group or two.

And it's stuff like this that makes me wonder where we are heading at this bullet train speed.
Idiocracy? A Second Civil War?

The answers escape me, and as much as I want to work for the greater good, I am sorely tempted to remove myself from the political process entirely.

CNJ said...

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." .Second Amendment to the Constitution.

"The great object is that every man be armed . . . Everyone who is able may have a gun." Patrick Henry, in the Virginia Convention on the ratification of the Constitution.

"The advantage of being armed . . . the Americans possess over the people of all other nations . . . Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several Kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms." James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, in his Federalist Paper No. 46.

"To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them." Richard Henry Lee, Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, initiator of the Declaration of Independence, and member of the first Senate, which passed the Bill of Rights.

George Mason remarked to his Virginia delegates regarding the colonies' recent experience with Britain, in which the Monarch's goal had been "to disarm the people; that [that] . . . was the best and most effectual way to enslave them."

Chez said...

Uh-huh, sure thing, CNJ. The difference is that for those people the reality of a truly oppressive regime was still very fresh in their minds -- the threat was still very real to them. These batshit crazies, on the other hand, have fashioned a looming threat to the American way of life completely out of thin air. They make up ludicrous fantasy scenarios then engage in laughable "military exercises" to defend against ghosts. Oh, and incidentally, it would be nice if, just once, somebody didn't robotically parrot the Second Amendment without adding that the right of gun ownership comes with a huge amount of responsibility. But hey, if Founding Fathers t-shirt slogans are good enough for you, who the hell am I to argue, right?

CNJ said...

I can't claim the idiots in the post as sharing my beliefs, but if you don't look back into history, even very recent history, and identify that the government needs to be held in check, then I cannot say anything that will change your mind.

I do so enjoy the irony of how most anti-2nd folks are the first ones to scream indignantly when they feel the other none rights are being trampled upon. Especially with the lack of understanding of the 9th, in particular.

Like it or not, if it wasn't for the 2nd Amendment, you very would not have the other nine.
I am sorry that I rely on Madison so much for guidance; I am sure he meant for both of us to have our own interpretations.

BTW, It's bumper stickers, not T-shirts.