Magazine article The Nation

Militia Forum

Magazine article The Nation

Militia Forum

Article excerpt

If Senator Arlen Specter had been half as hard on the militia movement as he was on Anita Hill, his recent Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the militias might have truly discredited the radical right. Instead, the inquiry became a soapbox for the "patriots" rather than the critical forum that was so badly needed. Aired live on CNN and C-SPAN, the session--like past Congressional hearings on right-wing groups--will only bring the militias new recruits.

True, Senators Max Baucus and Carl Levin opened the hearing with strongly worded denunciations of the militias. And federal and state law-enforcement officials unanimously concluded that the militias were "disturbing and dangerous." But the militia leaders who testified succeeded in portraying themselves as down-home patriots and beleaguered defenders of the Constitution.

Specter erred by failing to invite civil rights groups and outside experts to testify about the racist and anti-Semitic agenda of many militia activists. He preferred to take center stage himself, was poorly prepared and greatly underestimated the rhetorical skills of the militia leaders.

John Trochmann, founder of the Militia of Montana, claimed that the militias were nothing more than "a giant neighborhood watch," while his well-established links to hate groups like Aryan Nations--an outfit that teaches that Jews are satanic and blacks are subhuman--went unexposed. (Specter has a letter issued by Aryan Nations staff documenting Trochmann's close ties to the group, yet failed to question him about it.) And the presence of James Johnson, a utility company lineman from Columbusi Ohio, who is one of a handful of blacks in the movement, undermined charges of white supremacy that have hobbled the militias.

The question the hearing failed to raise is this: Given the freedoms of the First Amendment and the embrace of the Second Amendment by militia proponents, what measures, if any, can be employed to prevent the creation of private armies of thousands of heavily armed right wing fanatics intent on creating a white Christian republic? …

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