Magazine article Tikkun

Militias and the Broken Heartland

Magazine article Tikkun

Militias and the Broken Heartland

Article excerpt

A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate, by Kenneth S. Stern. Simon & Schuster, 1996. 303 pp. $24.

On April 19, 1995, a bomb blew the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and 169 of its occupants to smithereens. Many Americans seized upon an eyewitness's claim that he had seen a dark-skinned man leaving the scene shortly before the explosion, jumping to the conclusion that "the Arabs" were to blame. But from the outset, Kenneth S. Stem, the author of A Force Upon the Plain, suspected that the perpetrators were homegrown. He, along with a loose network of private individuals and groups who monitor the ultra-Right, had little doubt that white-supremacist, anti-Semitic members of extremist militias caused the carnage. The explosion's date and its target suggested to Stern and others that the 5,000-pound car bomb carried a "made in the heartland" label.

The bombing took place on the anniversary of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms' bloody raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, and on the scheduled execution date of an American Nazi who had been convicted of murder. Given the militia members' worldview, a central tenet of which is the U.S. government's satanic conspiracy against its citizens, the destruction of a federal building and its bureaucratic inhabitants would be an appropriate act of retaliation for the sins of Waco.

Indeed, Timothy McVeigh, the accused ringleader of the bombing plot, turned out to be a full-credential racist, a Jew-hater with militia ties. Through his examination of McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing, Ken Stern brings to light, in brilliant detail, the history, ideology, pathology, and modus operandi of the American militias. Stern argues that the militia movement is a genuine grass-roots, all-American fascist movement that has sprung up on the periphery of our political vision--one that represents a very real threat to our nation's democratic life.

Stern knows his subject quite well. The American Jewish Committee's expert on hate and hate groups, he is plugged in to a nationwide network of researchers who keep track of the militias through means that vary from reading their computer bulletin boards to infiltrating their ranks. And the portion of the story that he offers is lively, witty, insightful, and nuanced. Unfortunately, the portion of the story he's left out is the part we most urgently need to know.

Stern fails to approach the militia madness from a sufficiently broad historical perspective to allow us the political and psychological grasp of the phenomenon we need to formulate an effective strategy of total resistance.

Although he treats the militias as the spawn of specific events and narrow historical antecedents, in fact, their lineage is more complex: They are the offspring of the unraveling, since the 1960s, of the American social fabric.

For Ken Stern, the passage of the Brady Bill, (which requires a five-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns), the Waco conflagration, and the FBI siege against white separatist Randy Weaver, resulting in the deaths of Weaver's wife and child, are the stations of the cross along which thousands of ordinary white Christian Americans traveled to the belief that the government is out to get them, hell-bent on taking away their freedom.

Initially, a mange of hard-core racists, anti-abortionists, tax resisters, and assorted enemies of the environment formed the membership of the militias. Their ideology was an eclectic mix of old-time McCarthyite conspiracy paranoia, the John Birch Society's "Eisenhower is a Communist" perspective, the Minute Men's militarism, and the Christian Identity movement's love of a white God. Required reading for the militias' founders included that golden oldie anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and William Pierce's The Turner Dairies, a literary tract for revolution from a Nazi point of view. …

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