Thursday, July 29, 2004

Making a martyr

Regular readers may recall the case of Marvin Heemeyer, the man who went on a rampage in a small Colorado town with an armored bulldozer, leveling a number of local buildings before becoming stuck and apparently shooting himself. I noted back then that a number of conspiracy theories had already sprung up around Heemeyer's case, and speculated that he might become yet another accidental martyr for right-wing extremists.

A recent piece by Martin Smith in the Los Angeles Times Magazine indicates that this is precisely what's happening:
Martyr Without a Cause:
The Antigovernment Crowd Declared Marvin Heemeyer a Hero After He Died Trying to Level a Colorado Town With an Armored Bulldozer. Never Mind That the 'Patriots' Got It All Wrong.

"Getting it all wrong" is, of course, a trademark of the extremist right, which thrives on distortion and outright falsehood. And in Heemeyer's case, it seems that they're once again taking a case of outrageous miscreancy and recasting it as yet another instance of evil government tyranny:
That back story was mostly lost in the energetic mythmaking that followed Heemeyer's rampage. In truth, this was not a one-man crusade against government tyranny, as some people saw it; instead, it was a nasty personality clash between two rough-edged men with a fair amount of money at stake. And so the Granby town board became the referee in an apparent public policy dispute that masked a history of personal animosity.

I'm briefly quoted in this piece, incidentally, but the real meat comes at the end:
... [H]is sister, living in Oregon, and his sister-in-law in Castlewood, S.D., also consider it "unfair" that some people have tried to twist Heemeyer's rage at a few local enemies into something else. "Marv's father served in World War II," Cindy Heemeyer says. "And Marv was very proud of his service in the Air Force. Going through his keepsakes and stuff, those were some of the things he kept. He paid his taxes. He wasn't antigovernment at all. His problem was with just a few people."

In 2001, patriot groups also tried to adopt the McGuckin family of Sandpoint, Idaho, whose land seizure by county officials led to an armed standoff between law enforcement and mother JoAnn and her six children. Still, JoAnn McGuckin was so concerned about unwanted support from patriot groups that she later released a written statement from her jail cell: "You all are most welcome to make your own political ideas known, of course, as you wish. Please, not in my name. I cannot honor your cause[s]."

But out there in the ideological abstract, where details don't much matter, the hijacking of Marvin Heemeyer continues. Conspiracy theories multiply against all logic: One suggests that the five guns and boxes of ammo in Heemeyer's bulldozer were a figment of law enforcement imagination, and that all those bullet holes around town were the result of ricocheting police fire. (Some of them were, no doubt, as one undersheriff emptied 37 rounds into the greased rhino's few orifices, hoping to disable or kill the unknown driver). The chatter got so loud that, nearly two weeks after the rampage, the Grand County Sheriff's Department felt compelled to clarify that Heemeyer wasn't the harmless man with a gripe his supporters wished him to be. Its news release noted the "significant amount of information circulating regarding Mr. Heemeyer's lack of intent to hurt anyone during this incident" and said "statements of witnesses and physical evidence contradict that belief." It also noted that Heemeyer fired his guns at both Docheff and police officers.

No matter. The misguided mythmaking goes on. Responding to an e-mailed question for this story, John Trochmann of Noxon, Mont., cofounder of the seminal Militia of Montana, prefaced his reaction to the rampage by stressing that his organization does not "condone violence whether it comes from a private source or from public service (government)."

In signing off, though, Trochmann couldn't resist adding one last flourish. He noted that, among his compatriots, "there is suspicion that Mr. Heemeyer did not take his own life as has been alleged. We shall see."

Oh yes indeed, we shall see.

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