Monday, November 20, 2006

The roots of extremism

[A militia meeting at the Maltby, Wash., community hall in 1994.]

As we already know, the nativist right was not exactly chastened by the results of the November election. Rather, they seem to have been even more emboldened -- encouraged, it seems, by the blather of pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin that the reason Republicans lost was that they weren't conservative enough.

Thus the Minutemen are not only continuing their recruitment apace, but stepping it up, particularly in the "heartland" communities that are seeing many more Spanish-speaking brown faces in their midst these days.

Carolyn Szczepanski at the Kansas City magazine The Pitch had a profile last week of just such a recruitment drive. As always, the Minutemen's foremost claim is that they actually represent a mainstream point of view:
"It's not one or two or three coming through in the night," he continues. "It's an invasion. It's nothing short of that. The federal government's not doing anything about it, so, by God, the Minutemen will do it for them."

The crowd erupts into applause. At least one man is carrying a gun and extra ammunition.

"We're not vigilantes. We're not the KKK. We're a majestic form of neighborhood watch," Garza says. "And in the last few years, it's become so powerful in its momentum that we've gone from 10 people to well over 8,000 nationwide."

I've pointed out previously that it was only a decade ago that we heard the same claim, in the same language, issuing forth from the leaders of the Patriot/militia movement. In fact, the militias continued calling themselves a kind of "neighborhood watch" well into the 21st century, and specifically formulated themselves in those terms after Sept. 11.

Here's how John Pitner, leader of the Washington State Militia (described in some detail in In God's Country) put it back in 1996, when a local grange decided not to let him host militia meetings in their hall any longer:
Pitner was furious, protesting that the militia had been unfairly smeared as a pack of radical revolutionaries. "We're not anti-government, we're anti-bad politicians," he said. "We feel it's time to change the way government does things."

He argued that all citizens are members of the militia under the law. "We're volunteering ourselves beforehand," he told Cathy Logg. "We're just painters, carpenters, bricklayers. We're trying to help our communities. We were out sandbagging in the floods and helping save livestock in Lynden. We're directing traffic at accident scenes. We serve when we're called to serve. We have Christmas programs for children. We’re community-oriented people."

Pitner issued a plea for understanding: "Don't judge us by what we say -- judge us by what we do."

A year later, Pitner was on trial in federal court for plotting to build pipe bombs and engage in a wide range of acts of domestic terrorism, charges of which he was eventually convicted. So much for mainstream then.

And so much for mainstream now. While the claims that the Minutemen are not a racist organization are are dubious at best, for the sake of argument let's grant these Minutemen organizers' claims that they are not the KKK in fresh clothes.

Nonetheless, what their own words reveal, beyond any serious doubt, is that they are classic extremists, by nearly any standard.

The first sign of this is their paranoia:
A deep voice accompanied by the sound of shattering glass ominously warns of the perils posed by illegal immigration.

"Every minute, they're crossing our borders looking for quick-cash jobs, transportation and accommodations," the voice intones. "Some may be Mideastern terrorists with look-alike resemblance to our south-of-the-border neighbors."

The second message: "Did you know that your congressmen and the president take an oath of office ... to protect each state from invasion? So what about the millions of illegals from alien nations crossing our borders ... ? Is that an invasion? Would you call a burglar in your home a houseguest?"

And then the third: "These folks in Washington, D.C. ... are granting amnesty to illegal aliens, and giving them everything from Social Security to free health care is just the tip of the iceberg.... Is that what you want? We don't think so."

Even more indicative of their extremism is their willingness to believe things that are provably false and to continue to believe them in the face of contrary evidence or outright proof of their falsity. They also are willing to make incendiary charges without a trace of evidence. These are traits that often go hand in hand with the paranoia:
"They've taken over California," Hayes tells the crowd. "They're working on Arizona, New Mexico, Texas. We're going to become a minority of illegal immigration." He tells them to research the National Council of La Raza -- the nation's largest advocacy organization focusing on the civil rights, education and employment of Hispanic Americans. "They're a Salvadoran group of terrorists. We have them in Kansas City right now. La Raza believes the Southwest is theirs and we should leave. They want illegals to come up here and have babies and take over the United States."

Hayes' emotion builds before he stops for a disclaimer that punctuates each meeting.

"This may insult some of your intelligence. But we're not bigots. We're American patriots. If you're a skinhead or a member of an extremist group, leave now."

(Before the meeting, Hayes told the Pitch: "We've been called bigots, racists, homophobes. I could go on and on. When the pro-illegal-immigration folks start cutting us down like that, though, we know we're doing something right. When they start calling me names, I look at them and I see the real racist. Because we are not. They're either a racist or an employer.")

Hayes tells the group that these issues are too important for the Minutemen to be intimidated by schoolyard name-calling. There are terrorist camps in Mexico, he says.

"They're teaching Middle Easterners Spanish, teaching them how to dress Hispanic, and now they're all over this country, and Lord knows what they'll do." He says illegal aliens are draining the health-care system, bankrupting hospitals and crowding schools. As a former law-enforcement officer, Hayes says, the thing that really burns him is the impact on public safety.

"They're in vehicular accidents where they leave the scene or have no insurance," he says. "Rapes, robberies, killing cops and running back to their home country -- these people are breaking the law every day they're here. They're 10 percent of the nation's crime, and our prisons are full of them."

Note the requisite eliminationism: these border crossers are all criminals. And of course, there's only one thing to do with such types: ship them all out.

The willingness to believe palpable nonsense, particularly the right-wing kind of urban legends that handily conflate the issue of Mexican border security with the Global War on Terror -- a notion pushed with great regularity by Michelle Malkin and her VDare nativist friends -- is also a common trait among the Minutemen's recruits:
The two friends, who met thanks to their adjacent cubicles at a local engineering company, were inspired to join the Minutemen by a trip to the border in March 2006. They set aside 10 days for the trip and checked into a hotel just outside Tucson, Arizona. The plan was to spend three days driving down to the Minuteman Command Center, 50 miles southwest of the city, check in for a briefing and then head to "the line."

They admit that they didn't see much. Griffin says "the line" is actually 30 miles from the border. Volunteers there station themselves on public lands and on the private property of ranchers who are supportive of the Minuteman mission. Cox says they ate a lot of peanut-butter crackers.

Though they didn't witness confrontation, Cox says, they did hear about it.

"It didn't happen directly in front of us, but, from what the Border Patrol said and during different shifts in different areas, a number of the people they were finding coming across the desert weren't from Mexico. A large contingency were from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan -- many that had confirmed ties to Al Qaeda."

All this brings to mind the militias' favorite legend back in the 1990s, namely, that blue-helmeted United Nations troops were massing secretly on the Mexican and Canadian borders in advance of a long-planned invasion of the USA (wherein, of course, all good freedom-loving gun owners were scheduled to be liquidated in concentration camps).

What's also interesting is the way the jingoism that arose in response to this year's pro-immigration rallies mutated into even further mythologizing:
"I think when these [immigrants' rights] groups started doing demonstrations and burning the American flag and wanting to sing the national anthem in Spanish — these people that are here as criminals, these people who came here illegally and started demanding their rights as U.S. citizens — I think that just took some good old Americans and pissed them off," he says. "I guess, being a U.S. Army vet, I don't take too well to burning the flag, either, especially when it's foreign nationals doing that."

The national anthem brouhaha, of course, was thoroughly contrived, as we saw, since Spanish versions of it (as well as German, French and Italian versions) had been around for decades, and even videotape of President Bush singing it in Spanish cropped up.

As for flag burning, there was only one minor incident of a lone kook burning one at one of the early rallies; at most of the subsequent rallies, the American flag was being waved pronouncedly by the marchers. Most of the outrage over supposed mishandling of the American flag by Latino marchers was whipped up by Malkin with an incident in which the Mexican flag was placed above the Stars and Stripes at a high school.

No, the only flag burnings of note in this debate were Mexican flags being set aflame by right-wingers. Unsurprisingly, all this was being fomented by right-wing pundits like Michael Savage.

This is a special kind of gullibility that was common among the followers of the militia movement. At times, they would express extreme skepticism, especially when it came to the so-called "official story" that appeared in mainstream media and was sometimes generated by the government. But it was a very selective skepticism, reserved almost strictly for those things that might refute or contradict anything they were already predisposed to believe. That which didn't was recast, falsified or distorted to fit those predispositions. And chief among those predispositions, of course, was a powerful and ceaseless paranoia. In other words, they became suckers for anything other than the official story, and were especially drawn to those that underscored their paranoid beliefs and conspiracy theories.

These are all traits of extremism, part of the authoritarian psyche that is its root. And as the nativism advocated by the Minutemen spreads, so do those roots.

No comments: