An Unending Harvest

On Aug. 19, 1986, an Oklahoma farmer named Bill Stalder took a shotgun and killed his wife, two children and the family dog. He then lit his house on fire, walked inside and blew his head off. It was the height of the farm crisis in middle America, a time when farmers killed themselves almost daily. Usually, they made it look like an accident so their life insurance would save the family farm from foreclosure. But Stalder didn't slaughter his family to save them from financial ruin. He believed that the time of tribulation, as described in the Bible, had arrived.A growing belief among rural Christians that the time of tribulation is at hand is why domestic terrorism will only get worse, writes Boulder author Joel Dyer in a forthcoming book, Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City is Only the Beginning.Combined with farm foreclosures, community psychosis, conspiracy theories, sovereignty issues and gun-rights debates, a belief that tribulation is at hand has pushed some people over the edge, according to Dyer. He draws a direct line from the evolving world economy, which has forced farm foreclosures, to the actions of Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted of blowing up Oklahoma City's federal building in the worst domestic terrorist attack in US history.When the 1980s found tens of thousands of farmers losing their land and livelihood to unscrupulous agribusinesses bent on monopolizing food production, the farmers looked for answers. As the government ignored their plights, in stepped antigovernment groups. Spouting conspiracy theories about a Jewish plan to take over the world and starve Christians, antigovernment factions planted a seed that has recruited soldiers for their ultimate goal: The overthrowing of the government and the creation of a Christian theocracy.The movement galvanized at a meeting held in Estes Park, Colorado in 1992. Although the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous was organized and run by the leaders of racist hate groups, the rhetoric was toned down to drive home the point that it was now "us against them.""When they come for you, the federals will not ask if you are a Constitutionalist, a Baptist, Church of Christ, Identity Covenant Believer, Klansman, Nazi, homeschooler, Freeman New Testament believer, [or] fundamentalist," self-acknowledged racist Louis Bream told the gathering. "Those who wear badges, black boots, carry automatic weapons and kick in doors already know all they need to know about you. You are enemies of the state."While most of us see such rantings as paranoid delusions, farmers who found themselves abandoned by their government have been exposed to such theories for so long that many now take them as fact. The theories help people cope with the changing world economy, and help explain why they have lost everything that ever meant anything to them. And when people's support systems tell them over and over that this is the way it is, writes Dyer, a community psychosis takes over.Which leads to violence, or in a bigger sense, war. Between 1991 and 1995, writes Dyer, more than 3,000 pipe bombs exploded across the country. Targets included federal facilities, abortion clinics and gay bars. More than 5,000 Molotov cocktails were thrown during the same time period, including at least 200 that burned churches, the result of hate crimes. As the end of the century approaches, the belief that we have entered the 1,000 days of tribulation is spurring militias and other antigovernment groups to act now. Dyers' book, well-researched and descriptive of how economic realities and political apathy have fed the antigovernment movement, paints a grim picture.For those who doubt the ability of these radicals to carry out a terrorist campaign that will cost thousands of lives, Dyer describes the structure of their armies and their chilling resolve to save the soul of America or die in the attempt.It would be good for all of us to read Harvest of Rage. It puts the current upheaval in historical perspective and, if Dyer is correct, will help us understand why so many people are about to die. Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City Is Only the Beginning, by Joel Dyer. WestviewPress. 292 pages. $24.

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