The Posse Goes to Washington

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Last month, when the U.S. Forest Service sought to persuade a big New Mexico rancher, Kit Laney, to stop overgrazing public lands with his cows, Laney promised to meet the rangers on his property line the next morning backed up by 100 men with guns. "Will I have to shoot the next son of a bitch who tries to tell me where I can or can't move my cows?" he asked. In the old West, the sheriff would have taken on the lawless rancher. Not in modern New Mexico. Here, Pete Domenici, the state's senior U.S. senator and a Republican who has been at the forefront of opposition to President Clinton's range reforms, intervened behind the scenes on behalf of the rancher. Critics charge that as a result, the U.S. government meekly backed down. In the southern part of the state, newspapers have been printing threats against environmentalists--one called on responsible citizens to tie them to boulders and drown them in the river. And in Catron County legislators have been attempting to pass an ordinance requiring every environmentalist to register with county officials in order to fight off federal rangeland reform. The ordinance also recommends that every household in the county arm itself. Seldom has there been such open acceptance of vigilantism. Unfortunately, in New Mexico it's not even news. Here gun law and the militia movement have become an accepted fixture of everyday life. Just nine days after the Oklahoma City bombing, Republican governor Gary Johnson met with representatives of five state militias and praised them as "responsible, reasonable, lawful." As Johnson put it, "They're here to help in time of emergency." On Capitol Hill, the New Right that controls Congress won't actually come down against the racialist militia leadership, and even last week thwarted any serious investigation that would have singled out militia leaders for attacks on government works. Instead, they are pushing inquiries into the botched federal sieges at Randy Weaver's Idaho cabin and at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. At the same time, Clinton has yet to come down on militias in any serious way. Overall, right-wing politics in America is shaping up along the lines played out in Germany during the early 1990s. Then, mainstream German leaders led by Chancellor Helmut Kohl distanced themselves from the increasing rash of Nazi skinhead attacks on Turkish immigrants and other foreigners. Those skinheads functioned as the brownshirts for fringe far-right political parties, who were never seriously condemned. Vigilante law in New Mexico is the most eye-catching example of how far-right-wing influence can pay off at the highest levels of U.S. government. In Congress, militia members have worked on the election campaigns of Republican representatives Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, Linda Smith of Washington, and Texas's Steve Stockman. Another House member, Washington's Jack Metcalf, has long been a featured speaker on the far right with ties to the Populist Party and The National Educator, a publication with links to both the Aryan Nations and its paramilitary offshoot, the Order. Chenoweth is the so-called poster child of the militia movement, and a 1993 speech she gave entitled "America in Crisis" is sold by the Militia of Montana. "We are in a day and age now when we are facing an unlawful government from time to time," she said, making a point to link environmentalists to the "Communist threat." The decision to protect the spotted owl in the Northwest, she said, is leading to a "breakdown in state sovereignty and possibly leading to a one-world government." In February, Chenoweth wrote to the assistant Agriculture Secretary Jim Lyons, voicing militia complaints that "black helicopters" were being used by federal rangers to enforce the Endangered Species Act. Chenoweth promised to be the secretary's "worst nightmare" unless the government ceased its alleged harassment. Among those who worked on Chenoweth's last election campaign was Sam Sherwood, director of the U.S. Militia Association now notorious for his remarks at a March 2 meeting where he told attendees to "go up and look legislators in the face, because some day you may be forced to blow it off." Most recently though, it is Steve Stockman, a former salesman, accountant, laborer, and, briefly in 1980, a vagrant, who has drawn the most attention for his militia ties. On the same day as the Oklahoma blast, Stockman's office received a fax from Michigan militia leader Mark Koernke, which seemed to discuss the bombing. Koernke, who has reportedly been associated with two suspects in the case, James and Terry Nichols, then disappeared, only to reemerge denying any involvement in the bombing. Stockman denied knowing Koernke. Stockman has long been considered a friend by the militias. In March, he sent Attorney General Janet Reno a letter warning her not to carry through with an impending federal raid on armed citizens militias he said he had learned about from "reliable sources." At the time, militia groups were speculating on such a raid in Internet postings. And in an article written for the current issue of Guns & Ammo, Stockman drew more controversy by accusing the Clinton administration of staging the raid at Waco two years ago to build support for its ban on assault weapons. Clinton, wrote Stockman, wasn't bothered by the raid. Had he been, he would have indicted Janet Reno "for premeditated murder." Last week, Stockman told the Dallas Morning News he wasn't suggesting the Clinton administration wanted to see people killed, but was anxious to seize a cache of weapons to "sensationalize their issue." Stockman's views are consistent with militia thinking on Waco, which suggests that Clinton staged the Oklahoma bombing to divert attention from the Whitewater investigation and the death of Vince Foster, whom the militias believe Clinton had murdered. In the Senate, two Republicans, Larry Craig of Idaho and Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina, have also taken up the militia's cause. They both wrote to Attorney General Reno asking about reports that federal law enforcement agencies were training at Fort Bliss in Texas. Strom Thurmond also wrote inquiring about militias, as did representatives Robert Dornan of California, Mac Collins of Georgia, and James Hansen of Utah, "passing on concerns" of militia groups. Washington's ties to the far right do not stop with the militias. Both Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi and Missouri congressman Mel Hancock have gone on record as backers of a little-known conservative organization, the Council of Conservative Citizens, which has ties to David Duke's Louisiana campaigns and is viewed as a successor to the old, dreaded white Citizens' Councils of the 1960s. When the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in 1954, Southern racists turned to the Citizens' Council to preserve segregation and the Southern "way of life." In Mississippi, the council became a powerful political machine, pushing Ross Barnet into the governorship, and creating an atmosphere where violence became an accepted way of life. Blacks were targeted both physically and economically--those people connected to the NAACP were often fired from their jobs. And it was the Citizens' Council that played an open and instrumental role in raising the money and putting together the defense for Klansman Byron de la Beckwith when he was accused of the 1963 killing of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Beckwith was a Citizens' Council member and called the group "my first love." The council shut down in June 1989. But Robert Patterson, who headed Mississippi's Citizens' Council, told Jerry Mitchell of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger in 1994 that the council's beliefs are still alive. Patterson pointed to the Council of Conservative Citizens as picking up where the Citizens' Councils left off. Started in St. Louis in 1985, the COCC boasts a membership of 80,000 to 100,000 members across 24 states. Its membership is concentrated in the southeastern and northeastern part of the country, and past speakers at its gatherings have included former Alabama governor Guy Hunt, as well as Lott and Hancock. The COCC has received an enthusiastic endorsement from Patterson. "The liberal trends in our government over the past 40 years have been brought about by well-organized and highly financed liberal and minority pressure groups," he writes in a blurb for the group. "Conservatives in our country must organize permanently to counter these actions. Organization is the key to victory." The COCC supports the use of the confederate symbol in Southern flags and opposes affirmative action and racial quotas. It is vehemently against the United Nations, and, according to a poll cited in CCOC literature, favors legislation "requiring English be used as the official language in the U.S." Not surprisingly, it is opposed to the Martin Luther King holiday. The Mississippi chapter, which has 7000 members, built its membership base from an old white Citizens' Council mailing list, and as Bill Lord, the field coordinator for the state, told the Clarion-Ledger, many former Citizens' Council members have joined the new group. "We try to elect conservatives running for office and work to raise money for office...and private schools," he said. "We call ourselves `the voice of the no-longer silent majority."' In Mississippi, Governor Kirk Fordice has said, "I endorse the Council of Conservative Citizens in their efforts to strengthen the traditional family concept and preserve the U.S. Constitution by returning rightfully delegated powers to the people and the states." Last year, the Conservative Citizens hit the headlines in North Carolina with a Confederate flag-draped meeting dinner at a Winston-Salem hotel, hosted by conservative Mississippi state senator Mike Gunn. The dinner featured Kirk Lyons, attorney for David Duke and Aryan Nations. (Lyons is a prominent figure on the far right. He was married by Aryan Nations head Richard Butler at Nations headquarters in Hayden Lake, Idaho, and is generally viewed as a roving ambassador of "goodwill" for the movement.) The meeting was called together by A.J. Barker of Clemmons, North Carolina, former chairman of the Populist Party, which backed David Duke's 1988 presidential campaign, and it featured Republican Harold Brubaker, the new Speaker of the state's House. Brubaker told the Raleigh News & Observer he attended at the invitation of Gunn, whom he had met through the American Legislative Exchange Council, a New Right organization that organized conservative support in statehouses across the nation during the last decade. Brubaker claimed he had never heard of the Council of Conservative Citizens before Gunn asked him to speak and mistakenly thought it was a mainstream conservative group. The direct mail company run by Gunn and his wife did work for Duke's 1991 Louisiana governor's race. In 1990, Gunn had worked for Duke in his senatorial race, and indeed, Duke supporters appear to be scattered throughout the Conservative Citizens group, as do various adherents of the racialist Christian Identity groupings, and former members of the far-right Populist Party, and members of other racist groupings, including the National Association for the Advancement of White People. The most visible link between Congress and the far right is Larry Pratt. Pratt is a former member of the Virginia state legislature, and, during the 1980s was a fixture of the New Right scene. In 1980, Pratt led a New Right walk out of a White House conference on the subject of family. Pratt objected to the conference's support for the right to abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment and what he interpreted as its progay attitudes. Pratt later founded the 250,000-member English First, a group that sponsors right-wing efforts to block bilingual education. In the late 1970s, he became executive director of Gun Owners of America, a lobbying group that argues that Americans not only have the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment, but should be able to own arms to protect themselves and their property. Gun Owners and English First share offices in Springfield, Virginia, just outside Washington. One of Pratt's lesser-known credits is his role as a catalyst for the modern militia movement. In his 1990 book, Armed People Victorious, Pratt argued that the civil defense patrols of Guatemala provided a model for a people's militia that could play a role in the war on drugs. "The history of the United States for years before and after the founding of the Republic was the history of an armed people with functioning militias involved in civil defense (or police work, if you will)," Pratt wrote. "While the United States has forgotten its successes in this area, other countries have rediscovered them. It is time that the United States return to reliance on an armed people. There is no acceptable alternative." What Pratt failed to point out, however, is that the Guatemala patrols are extremely controversial, being adjuncts of the army and widely accused of committing human rights abuses. He also cited the success of the Alsa Masa vigilante group in the Philippines, galvanized in the late 1980s by retired general John Singlaub, who at the time was head of the World Anti-Communist League. Organized to provide support for Cory Aquino from the right, Alsa Masa only succeeded in turning out troops of killers. In 1992, Pratt attended a meeting of far-right-wing leaders in Estes Park, Colorado. It was organized by Pete Peters, a Christian Identity minister and, along with Pratt, it featured Richard Butler, former Klan leader Louis Beam, and far-right attorney Kirk Lyons. The meeting was intended to help relaunch the then-flagging far-right movement and to plan how to react to the ATF shoot-out with Idaho white supremacist Randy Weaver. At the meeting, Pratt argued for the creation of militias--apparently the first time the far-right leadership embraced the idea. Pratt was one visible link between the mainstream New Right and the murky world of the far-right revolutionaries. By 1994, Gun Owners of America was dispensing $94,000 through its political action committee to dozens of mostly conservative Republican candidates. The two top recipients--accepting $6700 each--were Stockman and Roscoe Bartlett, a two-term congressman from Frederick, Maryland. Both Stockman and Bartlett function as virtual mouthpieces for Gun Owners in the House. Bartlett has adopted Pratt's gun line into proposed legislation that would not just reverse Clinton's assault weapons ban, but would make it a law to give every citizen the right to obtain and use firearms in self-defense. In a direct mail solicitation on his own letterhead, Bartlett asked people to sign and return petitions in support of the legislation, and then to make a contribution to Gun Owners to help offset the $390,000 costs incurred in printing, mailing, tabulating, and delivering the petitions. In the letter, Bartlett asks that petitions be returned to "Congressman Roscoe Bartlett c/o Gun Owners of America" in Springfield, Virginia. In an interview with the Village Voice, Bartlett said, "Pratt helped form the Gun Owners for Bartlett." But he insists, "I don't know anything about the militias. I don't know anyone in the militia. I've never seen a militiaman in my life. I don't even know anyone who knows anyone in the militia." When pushed on his relationship with Pratt, Bartlett says, "I wouldn't say we're friends. I don't really know him very well." But William Kelley, a former Frederick Baptist minister who owns the Gun Center of Frederick, and is a key Bartlett campaign supporter, said Pratt worked with Kelley indirectly throughout the campaign. This year, Larry Pratt has thrown Gun Owners (which claims some 120,000 members) behind Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign and continues to stake out the right fringes of the gun movement. Pratt himself joined the Buchanan campaign as the national chair of Gun Owners for Buchanan to "spearhead efforts to mobilize the Second Amendment movement behind Mr. Buchanan's candidacy." Pratt makes little attempt to mask his far-right ties. He appeared in Dallas this March at Preparedness Expo 95 (For Peace of Mind in Our Changing World) along with Mark Koernke, members of the Arizona Patriots group, far-right guru Bo Gritz, and Jack McLamb. Last weekend, he spoke at a Missouri gathering of the U.S. Taxpayers Party, which argues for an end to the income tax and was founded and is headed by Howard Phillips, a prominent leader in the 1980s New Right politics. According to the Coalition on Human Dignity, an Oregon-based human rights group, the Gun Owners Foundation, an arm of Gun Owners of America, has made contributions to a group called CAUSE, a law firm headed by North Carolina far-right attorney Kirk Lyons that is pursuing a class action lawsuit on behalf of Waco survivors. Recently, on Larry King Live, Pratt made a passionate defense of well-regulated militias, pointing out that "we the people, who are the sovereign in our government" should not avoid our rightful responsibilities. Just as the members of the original militias had the right to carry rifles, he said, in our modern technologically advanced age, citizens should have the right to own machine guns, and that protection is extended to "anything that is of a military application." Pratt has edited a new book, titled Safeguarding Liberty, The Constitution & Citizen Militias. It is a collection of essays, the introduction of which argues that an active militia in Idaho could have forestalled the FBI's siege of Weaver's cabin. "One can only speculate had there been an effective militia in Naples, Idaho, which could have been mobilized after the U.S. Marshal murdered Sammy Weaver by shooting him in the back," he writes. "It is entirely possible that Vicki Weaver would not have been murdered later on by an FBI-trained assassin while she was holding a baby in her arms." Pratt also argues that owning and using firearms is sanctioned in the Bible, and indeed is God's law. "God has delegated to the civil magistrate the administration of justice. Individuals have the responsibility of protecting their lives from attackers." As he sees it, "For a man to refuse to provide adequately for his and his family's defense would be to defy God." author

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