The Southern Poverty Law Center released a report (pdf) Tuesday detailing the resurgence of right-wing militia movements. Sadly, one major difference between the movement in the mid-1990’s and today is that the movement is being fueled by public statements from prominent political and media figures.
Lest we forget, the movement previously resulted in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the largest domestic terrorism attack in our country’s history. Here is a picture from NASA’s Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team as they sorted through the wreckage of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building:
Here are a few snippets from the report:
They’re back. Almost a decade after largely disappearing from public view, right-wing militias, ideologically driven tax defiers and sovereign citizens are appearing in large numbers around the country. “Paper terrorism” — the use of property liens and citizens’ “courts” to harass enemies — is on the rise. And once-popular militia conspiracy theories are making the rounds again, this time accompanied by nativist theories about secret Mexican plans to “reconquer” the American Southwest. One law enforcement agency has found 50 new militia training groups — one of them made up of present and former police officers and soldiers. Authorities around the country are reporting a worrying uptick in Patriot activities and propaganda. “This is the most significant growth we’ve seen in 10 to 12 years,” says one. “All it’s lacking is a spark. I think it’s only a matter of time before you see threats and violence.”
A key difference this time is that the federal government — the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy — is headed by a black man. That, coupled with high levels of non-white immigration and a decline in the percentage of whites overall in America, has helped to racialize the Patriot movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by race hate. One result has been a remarkable rash of domestic terror incidents since the presidential campaign, most of them related to anger over the election of Barack Obama. At the same time, ostensibly mainstream politicians and media pundits have helped to spread Patriot and related propaganda, from conspiracy theories about a secret network of U.S. concentration camps to wholly unsubstantiated claims about the president’s country of birth.
Fifteen years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote then-Attorney General Janet Reno to warn about extremists in the militia movement, saying that the “mixture of armed groups and those who hate” was “a recipe for disaster.” Just six months later, Oklahoma City’s federal building was bombed.
A remarkable aspect of the current antigovernment movement is the extent to which it has gained support from elected officials and mainstream media outlets. Lawmakers complaining about the intrusiveness of the federal government have introduced 10th Amendment resolutions (reasserting that those powers not granted to the federal government remain with the states) in about three dozen states. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry raised the prospect of secession several months after Obama’s inauguration — a notion first brought up there in the ’90s by the militia-like Republic of Texas. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she feared that the president was planning “reeducation camps for young people,” while U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), evoking memories of the discredited communist-hunter Sen. Joseph McCarthy, warned of 17 “socialists” in Congress. Fox News host Glenn Beck, who has called Obama a fascist, a Nazi and a Marxist, even re-floated militia conspiracy theories of the 1990s alleging a secret network of government-run concentration camps.
The original movement also had its mainstream backers, but they were largely confined to talk radio; today, Beck is just one of the well-known cable TV news personalities to air fictitious conspiracies and other unlikely Patriot ideas. CNN’s Lou Dobbs has treated the so-called Aztlan conspiracy as a bona fide concern and questioned the validity of Obama’s birth certificate despite his own network’s definitive debunking of that claim. On MSNBC, commentator Pat Buchanan suggested recently that white Americans are now suffering “exactly what was done to black folks.” On FOX News, regular contributor Dick Morris said, “Those crazies in Montana who say, ‘We’re going to kill ATF agents because the U.N.’s going to take over’ — well, they’re beginning to have a case.”
Let’s hope that the SPLC is raising the alarm early enough this time and that they will be heard better than they were 15 years ago. I especially congratulate them for naming names and pointing out iresponsible statements from prominent political and media figures. With the resurgence of militia movements and the incitement being heard from on high, the small skirmishes we have seen so far at town hall meetings seem guaranteed to grow into more overt and widespread violence.
The racial aspects of the report can’t be emphasized enough. Check out this flyer that was faxed to Congressman David Scott on the day the report was released.
Who will step up to call a halt to the dangerous direction in which we are headed?