Rural Radicals: Righteous Rage in the American Grain

Rural Radicals: Righteous Rage in the American Grain

Rural Radicals: Righteous Rage in the American Grain

Rural Radicals: Righteous Rage in the American Grain

Synopsis

When terrorists blew up the Alfred R. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, a shocked nation could scarcely imagine that the perpetrators were home-grown. If they were, Catherine McNicol Stock explains, they participated in a long tradition of rural extremism. The arrest of Timothy McVeigh, the alleged perpetrator, gave terrorism a face, and it turned out to be the white-skinned, blue-eyed, clean-shaven face of a small-town boy who had served in the Gulf War. The network of militiamen, conspiracists, survivalists, and white supremacists suddenly visible to media attention had been there all along, Stock suggests. They are heirs to a tradition even older than the country itself, characteristically angry and frequently violent, rendering patriotism as intolerance. As early as 1676, rural Virginians took up arms to protest what they considered economic and political injustices, and the fierce protective responses did not stop with the Revolution. Stock examines recurring themes in rural radical movements, including anti-federalism, white supremacy, populism, and vigilantism. These themes suggest to her some of the seemingly contradictory responses implicit in rural discontent. The politically conservative fear of outside power and authority in the form of government, corporations, international institutions, experts, and the media is juxtaposed with the potentially democratic desire to protect and revive community, culture, and the cooperative tradition. Stock believes we need to understand both the historic roots and the diverse manifestations of rural radicalism in order to make some sense of the action that tore a hole in this country's heartland in the spring of 1995.

Excerpt

This book began when I saw a cartoon reprinted in the Sunday New York Times on May 7, 1995, just weeks after the devastating bombing in Oklahoma City. in the cartoon, a group of people in a farmhouse discuss how they will pay for the materials they need to build "a bigger bomb" to "wipe out the federal government." One of them suggests that they simply wait until they receive their federal farm-subsidy check before going shopping. At first I laughed at the cruel irony of farmers' planning to blow up the hand that fed them. Then I realized what an important insight into radicalism in rural America the cartoon displayed. Hatred of and dependence on the federal government have long been a part of rural politics. Likewise the support of causes and ideologies on both the right and the left—and the violent assertion of them—is a unique heritage of the rural experience in the United States.

What follows is not intended as an intensive investigation into primary materials, a detailed study of any one radical movement in any one location, or a prolonged debate about the historiography of American radicalism as a whole. Instead, it is an extended interpretive essay that draws together two themes that are generally presented separately in treatments of rural radicalism: the politics of rural producer radicalism and the culture of vigilante violence. This approach makes it substantially different from the kind of work most historians do: the book no doubt omits important aspects of individual accounts and overlooks . . .

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