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For the week of May 8 - 14, 2002

  Opinion Columns

The latest in 18th century militia revolution rhetoric

Commentary by DICK DORWORTH

Most of them are males between the ages of 17 and 40, though some are older.

They are armed and serious and are members of the same ethnic group. They hold the same extreme religious ideas, and racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia and violence run through their conversation like the drum beat in a rock and roll band. They are avowed enemies of the U.S. government. They talk of revolution and they talk of sacrifice, but they are not Islamic fundamentalists and it is not themselves they are ready to sacrifice, but, rather, always, someone else.

They are of a different order than Islamic fundamentalists, but they are just as dangerous, just as violent, just as crazy, and much, much closer to home. These are the American Militias, composed largely of white, extreme right-wing Christian fundamentalists whose most successful disciple was Timothy McVeigh.

They are present in every state with a combined membership of somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000, though it is impossible to know. Their rhetoric is repeated in circles far outside their organizations. I have heard their 18th century revolutionary rhetoric espoused by people who consider themselves responsible citizens, though they are not. They are people who have given up on the concept of democratic process: election, petition, assembly and constitutional amendment, and have the deluded conviction that the right to bear arms is their only hope for freedom.

In militiathink, bullets rather than ballots are the path to better government. American Militias are small private armies preparing for war. Their members consider themselves true patriots in the mold of Sam Adams, George Washington, Patrick Henry and other soldier politicians and thinkers of the 18th century. In the minds of 21st century militia types, the very government that Washington, Adams, Henry and others truly sacrificed to build and maintain has been cast in the role of another 18th century figure, King George. In militiathink, the U.S. government has been taken over by the "New World Order," a secret group that controls the world through the United Nations.

Though extreme right-wing Christian fundamentalists, exemplified by the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and militia movements are linked, overlapped and connected, they are not quite the same. The former have a tenuous belief in the U.S. Constitution, the democratic process and U.S. law. The latter do not, and because of this they are both more dangerous and less powerful.

The fundamentalistsí view of the U.S Constitution is best summarized by Robertson, who said, "The Constitution of the United States Ö is a marvelous document for self-government by Christian people. But the minute you turn the document into the hands of non-Christians and atheistic people they can use it to destroy the very foundation of our society." In other words, for the Christian fundamentalist, democracy isnít for everyone.

Or, to recall George Orwell, some animals are more equal than others.

Democracy that does not include everyone is not a democracy, a concept that apparently escapes people like Pat Robertson. Still, within a very confined mindset, fundamentalists do recognize U.S. law, and they are not in favor of poisoning the local water supply, blowing up federal facilities full of people or of loosely organized groups of citizens armed with hunting rifles attempting to overthrow local and federal governments.

The militia groups are another matter. Their view of democracy was perhaps best voiced by Idahoís dippy ex-congresswoman (she preferred to call herself a congressman) Helen Chenoweth, who said, "We have democracy when the government is afraid of the people." She also said, "Itís the white Anglo-Saxon male thatís endangered." In these, as in most other, things she was confused or, at least, not expressing her concerns truthfully.

We have a democracy when the government and the people are the same, and they do not fear each other. White Anglo-Saxon males are far from an endangered species. There are many millions of us on earth and more arriving every day. It is the supremacy of white Anglo-Saxon males that is endangered in America, and supremacy and democracy are antithetical.

That is both the issue and the driving force behind both the Christian right extremists and the American Militia movement, despite the rhetoric about God, principles, rights, the Constitution and King George in the 18th century.

From both can be heard the same refrains: the federal government has gone too far, that same government is out of control, and that government is essentially bad. One can listen to the virulent rants of Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson to hear the sound of religious right extremism, but the militia voices are more muted. And they are, literally, more explosively dangerous.

When Pat Robertson lost his bid to be U.S. President in 1998, the Christian Coalition set about taking over the Republican Party and imposing their concept of Christianity on the U.S. They have had more success in this than the largely apathetic American electorate recognizes. John Ashcroft is an example. Tom DeLay, who recently told a group that he is on a mission from God to promote a "biblical world view," is another.

Using their positions of power as they do are examples of this success, but so long as America remains a democracy their success will not result in supremacy of their ideas, values or members. The militias are not printing voter manuals or rallying supporters to the ballot box, but, rather, preparing small cells of armed men for acts of domestic violence. They use the latest in 18th century militia revolution rhetoric to justify their shallow thinking and readiness for violence. They are white and non-Muslim, but they are terrorists nonetheless.


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