Monday, November 28, 2011

Militias on the rise

It seems the topic of militias pop up only when the media picks up a sensational story. Stories like the Ruby Ridge raid, the Branch Dividian siege, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Hutaree arrests draw and hold our attention for a brief time. As the story wears on the topic of militias fades into the background and is largely forgotten until another sensational story arises. As a new story emerges of militias we often see similar themes between the stories. The militias are often survivalist types, frustrated and angry with the government, pro gun, militaristic, and rural.

Professor Pruitt briefly looked at militia's propensity to be formed in rural areas in a blog post concerning the Hutaree militia. The access to relatively large open spaces and isolation seem to make sense for a group looking for privacy and room to practice "live fire" military drills, but there are other reasons. Author and reporter Joel Dyer's book "Harvest Of Rage: Why Oklahoma City Is Only The Beginning" offers a different analysis.

According to Dyer, the increased number of anti-government militias is attributed to the farm crisis of the 80's. Dyer argues that the increase in globalization, corporate farms, the use of technology in farming, and perception that the American dream is lost has driven many into the ranks of militias as the seek out some sort of support. Agricultural expert A.V. Krebs shares Dyer's thoughts concerning the pressures placed on rural communities and believes the militias view the rural inhabitants as vulnerable targets of "hate propaganda and phony schemes of a surprisingly strong, organized right-wing element." Dyer and Krebs argue that rural inhabitants feel their problems are a result of the government's lack of support or laws set against them and in turn find others of common thinking in militias.

Dyer published his book in 1998, after the Oklahoma City bombing. His book goes through the ideology of many American militias as he interviewed as many members from several different groups as were willing. At the time he published the book he stated that people like Timothy Mcveigh weren't going away and as rural areas faced additional pressure and hardship that similar incidents were likely to occur.

Fortunately we have been relatively safe from domestic terrorists since the Oklahoma City bombing. In early 2010, the Hutaree militia was arrested for conspiring to kill multiple law enforcement officers. They were arrested and stopped before putting their plans into place. Dyer may be right in his assessment, but up to this point local and federal law enforcement agencies have been successful in preventing any further incidents.

What the future holds is anyone's guess though. Since 2009 the numbers of militias and militia members has significantly grown across the nation. According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC),the number of right-wing militias has risen almost 250% since President Obama was elected. According to the same SPLC report, the number of "patriot groups" rose from 147 in 2006 to 512 in 2009. Mark Potok, a spokesman for the SPLC has stated,

"There has been a stunning expansion in these groups. In addition, there was an 80 per cent rise in hardline anti-immigration groups and hate groups like the Klan and neo-Nazis."

So with the farm crisis of the 80's long past, what's the cause for the substantial increase in militia numbers? According to Johnny Cochran, a member a Texas militia named Fireteam Diamondback, its due to the fear that America is turning away from it's traditional values and that the US government is set to become a tyrannical force. Cochran believes there will eventually be a showdown between patriot militia groups and the federal government. He even goes as far to say,

Mark Potok of the SPLC believes the growth of such groups are due to three factors: a depressed economy, changing racial demographics, and the election of President Obama who many militia groups feel does not accurately represent traditional American values based on the constitution.

I'd disagree with Potok concerning his thoughts that President Obama's election is a deciding factor. It seems too narrow a cause and more appropriate to simply state the President's politics. If Hillary Clinton had been elected, I think the rise in militias would be similar due to the similarities in politics and ideas. The rest seems to be an accurate guess as to why militias are gaining in numbers and strength. With a weak economy, hard times, and problems seemingly on the horizon, it's human nature to look for the cause and to pass blame. It appears the militias find it easy to place it on the government who they feel already has too much control and power over their lives.

Will it all come to a head next November as Cochran suggests? Will we see another extremely violent and disgusting act as the Oklahoma City bombing? Or will we let the ideas of militias drift into the background again? Time will tell but lets hope law enforcement agencies will continue to have the success they had with the Hutaree militia.


ScottA. said...

There is a great deal of harsh literature going around the militia movement as well. McVeigh was inspired by the book "The Turner Diaries" (which describes a militia response to a fictional federal attack) before carrying out his attack on Oklahoma City.

A militia member named Mike Vanderboegh has written a book that apparently inspired the so called "Waffle House Terrorists".

Mother Jones has an article on this recent militia themed terrorist plot and how Vanderboegh's book inspired the plotters.

Besides gun use, the book discusses gay marriage (negatively) and other "liberal" policies "harming" the nation and the need to kill those officials that support them.

Besides economic and racial fears, there is a lot of fear of a changing society that is not accepted by the militia members. Perhaps being in rural areas not only provides these people a place to carry out their activities, but also insulates them from the changing world they fear.

Azar said...

The whole concept of rural militias seems to be a perfect manifestation of the issues that rural spatialization and isolation can create. I think that even if people from particular rural areas disagree with certain policies and trend shifts that it perceives as the Government's fault, more transparency and effort to explain the role of the Federal Government and the logic behind some of its policies might at least hinder the extremity of some of these movements.

oceguera said...

I agree that hard times can contribute to people becoming more militant. Its interesting to look at militant groups form in sites where there is a distrust in either the government or law enforcement. For example, gang members in urban areas or the minute men on the border. Many people may also get involved because of the lack of resources made available to them and having a desire for a sense of local practical control. Unfortunately, the nation-state often further isolates individuals and doesn't necessarily provide spaces for difference ( I'm thinking here of our historic and current two-party democratic system).