Thursday, August 13, 2009

SPLC report: The "Second Wave" of militia activity is now upon us

-- by Dave

We've been reporting steadily on the return of the militia movement in post-Bush America, and now that reportage has been confirmed by a disturbing report from the Southern Poverty Law Center describing a "Second Wave" of militiamen organizing across the countryside.

The AP has the story:

Bart McEntire, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told SPLC researchers that this is the most growth he's seen in more than a decade.

"All it's lacking is a spark," McEntire said in the report.

It's reminiscent of what was seen in the 1990s — right-wing militias, people ideologically against paying taxes and so-called "sovereign citizens" are popping up in large numbers, according to the report to be released Wednesday.

You can read the report here [PDF file]:

They’re back. Almost a decade after largely disappearing from public view, right-wing militias, ideologically driven tax defiers and sovereign citizens are appearing in large numbers around the country. “Paper terrorism” — the use of property liens and citizens’ “courts” to harass enemies — is on the rise. And once-popular militia conspiracy theories are making the rounds again, this time accompanied by nativist theories about secret Mexican plans to “reconquer” the American Southwest. One law enforcement agency has found 50 new militia training groups — one of them made up of present and former police officers and soldiers. Authorities around the country are reporting a worrying uptick in Patriot activities and propaganda. “This is the most significant growth we’ve seen in 10 to 12 years,” says one. “All it’s lacking is a spark. I think it’s only a matter of time before you see threats and violence.”

A key difference this time is that the federal government — the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy — is headed by a black man. That, coupled with high levels of non-white immigration and a decline in the percentage of whites overall in America, has helped to racialize the Patriot movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by race hate. One result has been a remarkable rash of domestic terror incidents since the presidential campaign, most of them related to anger over the election of Barack Obama. At the same time, ostensibly mainstream politicians and media
pundits have helped to spread Patriot and related propaganda, from conspiracy theories about a secret network of U.S. concentration camps to wholly unsubstantiated claims about the president’s country of birth.

As you can see, the report also details how nativist, anti-immigrant sentiment has been an important undertow in the reborn "Patriot" movement and the associated militia-organizing activity. Some of this is built on the bones of the now-moribund Minuteman movement:

Such exhortations have little to do with border security or undocumented immigration, the issues that launched the original Minuteman Project in 2005 and inspired its many spin-offs, imitators and splinter factions. Instead, the antigovernment screed ringing through Camp V represents a significant, ongoing shift in the nativist vigilante subculture, as major elements of various Minuteman organizations appear to be morphing into a new paramilitary wing of the resurgent antigovernment “Patriot” movement.

Increasingly, Minutemen are giving credence to the sort of fringe conspiracy theories that have long typified militia and other so-called Patriot groups. Although the Minuteman movement from its inception has been permeated with the Aztlan or “reconquista” conspiracy theory — which holds that the Mexican government is driving illegal immigration into the U.S. as part of a covert effort to “reconquer” the American Southwest — the conspiracy theories that are now taking root in the movement have little or nothing to do with border security or immigration. They include the belief that a massive cover-up has been conducted regarding Barack Obama’s birth certificate, which supposedly shows that he was born in Africa and is therefore ineligible to serve as president of the United States. At several eastern San Diego County vigilante camps in mid-May, there were serious discussions about the global banking system being controlled by an ancient secret society called the Illuminati. Another theory floated involved a cult devoted to the Egyptian god of the afterlife, Osiris, operating within the NASA space agency and perhaps arranging with extraterrestrials for a hostile takeover of Earth.

Further indicating the nativist-to-Patriot drift of the Minutemen is the fact that in recent months a number of Minuteman factions have begun promoting the ideology of so-called “sovereign citizens,” a bizarre pseudo-legal philosophy whose adherents claim they’re not U.S. citizens and are not subject to federal or state laws, only to “common law courts” — a sort of people’s tribunal with no judges or lawyers. The most notorious advocates of sovereign citizens ideology include Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and members of the now defunct Montana Freemen, a violent militia outfit. The larger Patriot movement is made up of tax protesters, militia members and sovereign citizens.

We've been reporting on the sudden spike in militia organizing for awhile now. We've also explored a disturbing trend discussed in this report: the rise of Patriot-oriented veterans groups that have been spreading some of the most bizarre conspiracy theories out there -- and doing it as featured speakers at Tea Parties. More to the point, perhaps, they're fearfully fingering their guns because of the nature of these conspiracy theories.

The only thing missing, perhaps, from this report is the role of the mainstream media in helping to spread this fearmongering and paranoia, essentially validating these extremists in their beliefs on national television -- something that has a powerful permission-giving effect for the most unstable and extreme of this particular lot.

Glenn Beck -- who has promoted not just FEMA concentration camp theories, but also far-right "constitutionalist" theories on states rights and secessionist movements, just to name a few -- is easily the worst of the lot in this regard.

But he's hardly alone. Other right-wing talkers -- including Sean Hannity and especially CNN's Lou Dobbs.

Hopefully, this report will get everyone to take a long hard look at the rest of the story here.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

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