Right-Wing Militias Haven't Always Been Racist -- But That May Be Changing
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In Pensacola, Fla., retired FBI agent Ted Gunderson tells a gathering of antigovernment "Patriots" that the federal government has set up 1,000 internment camps across the country and is storing 30,000 guillotines and a half-million caskets in Atlanta. They're there for the day the government finally declares martial law and moves in to round up or kill American dissenters, he says. "They're going to keep track of all of us, folks," Gunderson warns.
Outside Atlanta, a so-called "American Grand Jury" issues an "indictment" of Barack Obama for fraud and treason because, the panel concludes, he wasn't born in the United States and is illegally occupying the office of president. Other sham "grand juries" around the country follow suit.
And on the site in Lexington, Mass., where the opening shots of the Revolutionary War were fired in 1775, members of Oath Keepers, a newly formed group of law enforcement officers, military men and veterans, "muster" on April 19 to reaffirm their pledge to defend the U.S. Constitution. "We're in perilous times perhaps far more perilous than in 1775," says the man administering the oath. April 19 is the anniversary not only of the battle of Lexington Green, but also of the 1993 conflagration at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the lethal bombing two years later of the Oklahoma City federal building -- seminal events in the lore of the extreme right, in particular the antigovernment Patriot movement.
Almost 10 years after it seemed to disappear from American life, there are unmistakable signs of a revival of what in the 1990s was commonly called the militia movement. From Idaho to New Jersey and Michigan to Florida, men in khaki and camouflage are back in the woods, gathering to practice the paramilitary skills they believe will be needed to fend off the socialistic troops of the "New World Order."
One big difference from the militia movement of the 1990s is that the face of the federal government -- the enemy that almost all parts of the extreme right see as the primary threat to freedom -- is now black. And the fact that the president is an African American has injected a strong racial element into even those parts of the radical right, like the militias, that in the past were not primarily motivated by race hate. Contributing to the racial animus have been fears on the far right about the consequences of Latino immigration.
Militia rhetoric is being heard widely once more, often from a second generation of ideologues, and conspiracy theories are being energetically revived or invented anew. "Paper terrorism" -- the use of property liens, bogus legal documents and "citizens' grand juries" to attack enemies and, sometimes, reap illegal fortunes -- is again proliferating, to the point where the government has set up special efforts to rein in so-called "tax defiers" and to track threats against judges. What's more, Patriot fears about the government are being amplified by a loud new group of ostensibly mainstream media commentators and politicians.
It's not 1996 all over again, or 1997 or 1998. Although there has been a remarkable rash of domestic terrorist incidents since Obama's election in November, it has not reached the level of criminal violence, attempted terrorist attacks and white-hot language that marked the militia movement at its peak. But militia training events, huge numbers of which are now viewable on YouTube videos, are spreading. One federal agency estimates that 50 new militia training groups have sprung up in less than two years. Sales of guns and ammunition have skyrocketed amid fears of new gun control laws, much as they did in the 1990s.