On Thursday, seven anti-government protesters who took over a federally owned wildlife sanctuary in Oregon last winter were acquitted of all charges. Led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, sons of rancher Cliven Bundy, who is being tried for another illegal standoff with the federal government, the group's lawyers were somehow able to persuade a jury in federal court that this was a case of government over-reach, not domestic terrorism. The acquittals on all federal conspiracy and weapons charges shocked many.
At the time that the Second Amendment was ratified, the United States had just successfully separated from Great Britain and was in the precariously weak position of being a brand new country. There was the risk of attempted reconquest by the British (not likely, but still a risk), there were the unsecured frontiers and indigenous Native Americans who at times aggressively resisted the violent expansionism of white settlers. Plantation owners were wary of the risk of slave rebellions. Lawlessness existed in the countryside with little in the form of law enforcement. There were many perceived dangers in post-colonial American life that could be redressed with a shooting iron. Granted, the origin of many of these perceived dangers were clearly self-inflicted by the reckless and short-sighted foolishness of settlers, the barbarous institution of slavery, the agenda of a wealthy slave owning class of politicians, and a bad tendency of American men to get caught up in the blindingly stupid gentleman’s ritual of duels with pistols. The Second Amendment, in its original iteration, was established so that the nation could defend itself from the perils of post-colonial America and its people could enjoy a passing sense of security well into the future.
My official Oath Keepers membership card is in my outstretched hand. With great power comes great responsibility: my duty is to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. No compromise. I’m now a member of a controversial conservative group whose members make Ted Nugent look like a bleeding-heart Rachel Maddow. Our mission is to keep the government accountable. Just remember: Not on my watch.
Reading last week's disturbing news accounts about the Midwestern arrest of nine alleged members of a Christian militia known as the Hutaree, a group whose members were reportedly planning to kill cops in order to spark a wider, armed revolt against the U.S. government, I noticed this nugget [emphasis added]:
There is no universally agreed-upon definition of the word "terrorism." As I've often said, the reason it's next to impossible to define the term is that everyone wants it to mean: 'violent acts in the pursuit of political goals with which I disagree.'
We need to beware of the right-wing militia movement in America. It poses a danger to our democracy. And shamefully, it is fueled by a few mainstream politicians and media personalities.
A new report finds that after a ten year lull, armed militia groups are growing rapidly, and officials worry that full blown domestic terrorism could soon follow:
On April 18 and 19, I attended gun shows in Antioch, Calif., and Reno, Nev., to probe the culture of gun enthusiasts at the onset of the Barack Obama era.
Imagine if Fox News had been on the air back on February 28, 1993, just months into the new Democratic president's first term, when agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted to serve warrants on David Koresh's Branch Davidian compound, located on the outskirts of Waco, Texas. Agents arrived because federal authorities got a tip that Koresh and the followers of the misguided messiah were stockpiling weapons.
The authorities were right. Outgunned, ATF agents quickly met resistance from the Davidians, who had a .50-caliber rifle, machine guns, and more than a million rounds of ammunition at their disposal. The shootout lasted hours and became the longest in American law-enforcement history. In the end, four ATF agents were killed, and 16 were wounded. Inside the compound, five Davidians were killed and scores more injured, including Koresh, who was shot in the hip and the wrist. The gunbattle signaled the start of a 51-day standoff between Koresh and federal authorities.
Rupert Murdoch's all-news channel didn't debut in America until October 1996, but it's chilling to consider the what-ifs of how today's Fox News lineup of doomsday, anti-government prophets would have reacted to controversial and defining news events in the early 1990s -- like Waco.
As news of the failed Waco raid broke, would Fox News' notoriously weepy and apocalyptic host Glenn Beck have broken down on the air and wept for the tyranny that he saw unfolding in the government's raid? While FBI negotiators tried to win the release of Koresh's followers, would Beck have warned viewers that the president would "take your gun away one way or another"?
Amidst the 51-day siege, would Beck have warned against the creeping "totalitarian state" inside America? Would the host have gravely announced that we'd "come to a very dangerous point in our country's long, storied history"?
Would Beck have routinely vilified President Clinton as a fascist? Would he have told viewers that he wanted to debunk the militia-movement conspiracy theory that the federal government was building prison camps, but that he just couldn't knock the story down -- and that, at first glance, it appeared to be "half true"?
And can you even imagine Beck's on-air reaction when the FBI's final, failed assault on the Waco compound unfolded on live TV on April 19, 1993? As the horrific images of the compound going up in flames and the grim realization spread that Koresh's followers were not coming out -- that they had staged a mass suicide (and in some cases, executions), rather than surrendering to federal officers -- would Beck have claimed that the scene of destruction reminded him of the "early days of Adolf Hitler"?
Would he have invited self-styled militiamen onto his show to game out how the pending civil war against the Clinton-led tyranny was likely to play out and to ponder whether members of the U.S. military would fire on American citizens when the blood began to flow in the streets? And setting aside all decency, would Beck -- post-Waco -- have pretended to douse a Fox News colleague in gasoline and, lamenting how the government was disenfranchising its citizens, then urged Clinton to just "set us on fire," or pleaded that it would be better if Clinton had just shot Beck "in the head"? (That's how Koresh died inside the Waco compound: from a bullet to the head.)
Based on the paranoid, anti-government rhetoric that Fox News has embraced since President Obama's inauguration, it's no leap to suspect that if Murdoch's outlet were broadcasting in the early 1990s -- and if it were broadcasting the same fringe message it's echoing today -- that the militia movement would have found a friend in Fox News during the Waco era and throughout Clinton's first term, when the conspiratorial patriot movements flourished.
And that's the chilling significance of what's now unfolding. Last week, I wrote about the inherent dangers and irresponsibility of Fox News consciously shaping itself into a kind of militia news outlet and how it's impossible to ignore the anti-government message some viewers such as Richard Poplawski, the man accused of shooting and killing three Pittsburgh police officers, might be taking from Fox News.
But let's take a step back and see just how extraordinary Fox News' latest lurch to the revolutionary right really is. And let's clearly understand how Fox News is actively trying to mainstream fringe allegations, how Murdoch's outlet functions as a crucial bridge -- a transmitter -- between the radical and the everyday.
What Fox News, and specifically Beck, is doing in early 2009 is giving a voice -- a national platform -- to the same deranged, hard-core haters who hounded the new, young Democratic president in the early 1990s in the wake of Waco (i.e. the Clinton Chronicles crowd). What Fox News is doing today is embracing the same kind of hate rhetoric and doomsday conspiratorial talk that flourished during the '90s, and Fox News is now dumping all that rancid stuff into the mainstream. It's legitimizing accusatory hate speech in a way no other television outlet in America ever has before.
Today's unhinged, militia-flavored attacks from the right against Obama are clearly reminiscent of 1993 and 1994 and the kind of tribal reaction conservatives had to the Democratic White House. What's different this time around is that that it's being adopted and broadcast nationally by Fox News, as it proudly mainstreams and validates the fringe.
Back in the early 1990s, marginal critics, militiamen, and so-called "Patriots" had to rely on somewhat crude methods of communications to spread their conspiratorial distrust of government. They used grassroots fax networks, the very early days of online bulletin boards, and even passed around copies of The Turner Diaries. At the top of their media pyramid were right-wing talk-radio hosts as well as the writers on The Washington Times' and The Wall Street Journal's editorial pages, who eagerly disseminated the culture of partisan paranoia.
But in terms of television, the most influential mass medium in America, nowhere on the TV landscape in the early 1990s were rabid government haters able to hear their message of fear amplified on a nightly or weekly basis the way Obama haters are able to today via Fox News. Even Rush Limbaugh, who from 1992 to 1996 hosted a syndicated television show, didn't go there. Limbaugh's purely partisan television program avoided describing the new Democratic administration with the same doomsday language that's now casually thrown out about Obama: that he's a Marxist or a fascist, or that totalitarian rule remains a real and imminent threat. Even Limbaugh (or his producers) thought that kind of rhetoric was too much for American television.
Fast-forward two administrations, and that kind of talk has become Fox News' signature.
To be accurate, there was one person with a national television audience back then who did regularly promote outlandish conspiratorial claims about Clinton: the Rev. Jerry Falwell. He actively pushed the now-infamous Clinton Chronicles documentary on his Old Time Gospel Hour television show. The Clinton Chronicles, which was produced by Citizens for Honest Government, which in turn paid off key Clinton critics who cooperated with the house-of-mirrors film, claimed that the new president had accumulated a long criminal record while governor of Arkansas and continued his lawbreaking ways as president, that the Clintons were associated with drug-running, prostitution, murder, adultery, money laundering, and obstruction of justice, just to name a few.
Playing that hypothetical card again today, is there anyone who doubts that if Beck were broadcasting on Fox News back in 1994 that Citizens for Honest Government reps would have been ushered onto his program to discuss Clinton's alleged depravities? I don't doubt it, simply because Beck has, at times, become the voice of the militia this year -- and the militia devoured The Clinton Chronicles. As author David Neiwert, an expert on the right wing, reported, "The militia movement provided most of the early audience for The Clinton Chronicles; large stacks of the books and videos sold well at Patriot gatherings."
What's so startling today is that the unhinged, irrational attacks being leveled against Obama sound so similar to the unhinged, irrational attacks leveled against Clinton more than a decade ago. For instance, here's a line from the introduction to The Clinton Chronicles: "The hijacking of America was under way, and its impact on future generations would be incalculable."
That claim would sound familiar to any casual viewer who has tuned into Fox News since Obama's inauguration.
Here's what Neiwert highlighted in 2003:
This video drops a major asterisk on the so-called "success" of the surge in Iraq touted by John McCain, George Bush, and many other conservatives. If violence has declined, it is largely because the U.S. military has carved up cities like Baghdad with miles of 12-foot tall concrete walls. So while there may be stability at the moment, these barriers have separated Sunnis and Shias without improving their living conditions, isolating them in a desperate situation. Which leads me to ask how long such stability can possibly last?
Part 2 of this report that looks at a makeshift cemetery and victims of militia violence.
And part 3 focuses on the lost generation of Iraqi children who have been affected by this war.
BAGHDAD -- The war is over on Sixth Street, where Sahar al-Jawari's family lives in a modest brick house. Dust has filled the shrapnel holes in concrete fences, stagnant water has pooled in the crater left by a roadside bomb, and the ash and the few charred chunks of the Iraqi police car that the bomb blew up are barely visible on the sidewalk.
But Jawari, 33, has little faith that her life is about to improve. Every night the wind carries the sounds of gunshots and occasional explosions from other parts of Baghdad, where the war still goes on. Every day is a struggle to get by in a city that gets only four hours of power and running water a day. Jawari is divorced and unemployed, but Iraq's weak government gives her no financial aid. Nor does it make her deadbeat ex-husband pay child support to help raise her 12-year-old daughter, Roula.
"We have no money, no electricity, no water, no security, no future, nothing," Jawari says. "Maybe in 50 years it will get better."
Many Iraqis in this part of southwestern Baghdad say the same thing. They have little hope for help from a government that has been unable to deliver even the most basic services, and little faith in the Iraqi security forces, tainted by their past association with sectarian militias and infamous for defecting under fire.
And although American forces have effectively established security in the streets here, every time residents go outside, bomb craters, bullet holes and buildings damaged by explosions remind them of the sectarian violence that raged here less than a year ago.
Sahar and Roula live with Sahar's mother, Salimah, and her two nieces, Basmah, 16, and Thohara, 14. The girls' mother, Jawari's sister, died of kidney disease 12 years ago: Because of the United Nations' sanctions and mismanagement by the dictatorial government of Saddam Hussein, Baghdad's hospitals did not have the proper medicine to treat her, and the family could not afford to send her abroad for surgery. The girls' father, an engineer, died last year of a heart attack.
"He could not bear what we are suffering in Iraq," Jawari says.
On a recent afternoon, the women and girls gathered in the kitchen to listen to Jawari's aunt, Nuriyah, who lives in Denmark and came to Baghdad to visit her family. Nuriyah immigrated to Denmark 10 years ago.
"Over there, we live in heaven," Nuriyah told them. "All the people there are good. They help everyone, even Iraqis. They send me a social worker to clean my house once a week. They give me health insurance. And every 14 days a nurse comes and gives me my medicine--for asthma, for high sugar content in my blood, for cholesterol and high blood pressure."
Jawari shook her head.
"They take care of them as though they were little children," she said. "I want to go to Denmark, any place, just to leave Iraq. What is here for me?"
"That's a pretty pessimistic view. Iraq is going to get better," interjected U.S. Army Lt. Rusty Mason, whose platoon was patrolling Sixth Street that day and who stopped by Jawari's house.
"People are giving their lives to improve the life here: American soldiers, other soldiers," said Mason. Four soldiers from his platoon were killed not far from Sixth Street in March when an explosively formed projectile, one of the devices that U.S. forces say are supplied to Iraq's sectarian militias by Iran, pierced the armor of their Bradley fighting vehicle. "Iraqis are giving their lives."
"We saw nothing good," Jawari shot back.
Her family fled the violence that engulfed Sixth Street last summer, when Sunni and Shiite militias battled each other in the streets of this neighborhood, Saidiyah. The women stayed with relatives in another part of Baghdad, and when they returned, they found their door broken and their computer and television missing.
The government said it would give all returning refugees a one-time payment of approximately $900 to help them resettle in their homes. But in Saidiyah, where almost 400 families have returned since February, only 285 have received the money, said Lt. Col. Johnnie Johnson, whose 4-64th Armor Battalion of the 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, patrols the area. Jawari's family was not among them.
The family depends on the government-issued ration cards, which all Baghdad residents receive to buy heavily subsidized rice, flour, oil, sugar and chickpeas. To pay for electricity, clothes and the rare treats of meat or fried fish--once every month or two--Jawari and her mother have been selling their jewelry. They also sold a plot of land they had owned in the country. Even on a diet of rice, eggs and pasta, the family spends between $250 and $400 a month.
Mason tried words of encouragement.
"Things will get better," he said. "The security is already better. Hopefully, soon the power will get better in all of Iraq."
"Under Saddam Hussein, that's what they used to tell us, too: This will get better, that will get better, the power will get better. And--nothing," she said, showing Mason the empty palms of her hands. Then she added, in English, for emphasis: "Never."