Saturday, March 21, 2009

Yes, Glenn Beck, militias can be very ordinary-seeming. That's their purpose.

-- by Dave

I'll wager that Glenn Beck, like a lot of people, has heard the famous Thomas Jefferson quote:

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Maybe he's even seen one of the T-shirts bearing that inscription.

But then, there's one of these T-shirts that's especially notable: It was the one Timothy McVeigh was wearing when he was arrested for blowing up 168 people at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City back in 1995.

Does this mean that anyone wearing one of these shirts, or expressing these sentiments, is a crazed militiaman eager and willing to blow up government workers and their children? Er, no. But at the same, the meaning of that T-shirt is actually critical to understanding what happened in Oklahoma City.

The Missouri State Patrol's information arm recently compiled a report about militias (you can read it here), largely as a way of helping to inform their officers in the field, who are the people most at risk when it comes to random encounters with armed right-wing extremists.

The report, unsurprisingly, created a firestorm among the conservatives who suddenly found they had more of a resemblance to a right-wing extremist than they thought:

A new document meant to help Missouri law enforcement agencies identify militia members or domestic terrorists has drawn criticism for some of the warning signs mentioned.

The Feb. 20 report called "The Modern Militia Movement" mentions such red flags as political bumper stickers for third-party candidates, such as U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who ran for president last year; talk of conspiracy theories, such as the plan for a superhighway linking Canada to Mexico; and possession of subversive literature.

"It seems like they want to stifle political thought," said Roger Webb, president of the University of Missouri campus Libertarians. "There are a lot of third parties out there, and none of them express any violence. In fact, if you join the Libertarian Party, one of the things you sign in your membership application is that you don't support violence as a means to any ends."

But state law enforcement officials said the report is being misinterpreted.

Lt. John Hotz of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said the report comes from publicly available, trend data on militias. It was compiled by the Missouri Information Analysis Center, a "fusion center" in Jefferson City that combines resources from the federal Department of Homeland Security and other agencies. The center, which opened in 2005, was set up to collect local intelligence to better combat terrorism and other criminal activity, he said.

"All this is an educational thing," Hotz said of the report. "Troopers have been shot by members of groups, so it's our job to let law enforcement officers know what the trends are in the modern militia movement."

When I saw this story a few days ago, I knew that sooner or later it was going to get trotted out on Glenn Beck's Fox News show as proof of evil government perfidy. After all, it's already become an Alex Jones special -- which is to say, the air is thick with black helicopters and jetstream contrails.

Sure enough: Yesterday on his show Beck had a segment in which he and Penn Gillette discussed how crazy it was for law enforcement to be profiling people as potential domestic terrorists for behaviors that ordinary citizens like themselves indulge happily, as they should.

They noticed, at one point, that there's actually very little about Patriot movement beliefs to which they subscribe. It's just that their libertarianism might trip some of the outward indicators suggested in the report.

One of the people interviewed in the Kansas City report expressed similar views:

But Tim Neal, a military veteran and delegate to last year's state GOP convention, was shocked by the report's contents.

"I was going down the list and thinking, 'Check, that's me,'" he said. "I'm a Ron Paul supporter, check. I talk about the North American union, check. I've got the 'America: Freedom to Fascism' video loaned out to somebody right now. So that means I'm a domestic terrorist? Because I've got a video about the Federal Reserve?"

Neal, who has a Ron Paul bumper sticker on his car, said the next time he is pulled over by a police officer, he won't know whether it's because he was speeding or because of his political views.

Here's the catch: There's nothing even remotely inaccurate in the report. Every fact that it reports can be readily substantiated.

More to the point, there's nothing in the report suggesting that any of these traits taken individually is a sign of radicalism. Rather, officers are expected to be able to take in certain signals simply as warning signs and indicators, not evidence of either criminal intent or radical behavior.

What the report reflects is a reality that law enforcement trying to deal with domestic terrorism in America must confront: Their subjects are thoroughly American; many of the people drawn into these movements are, if anything, "hyper-normal." Their version of "patriotism," for instance, is so extreme that they actually hate not just their government but their fellow citizens -- in essence, their country: because, you see, it has been "perverted" from its original purposes.

The hyper-normality is a kind of intentional camouflage. The Patriot movement, and militias in particular, were a very specific and intentional strategy adopted in the 1990s by the white supremacists and radical tax protesters of the American far right -- and the whole purpose of the strategy was to mainstream their belief systems and their agendas. The tactic was to adopt the appearance of normal, "red-blooded" Americanism as a way of pushing out the idea that their radical beliefs are "normal" too.

In the process, they often adopted time-worn "patriotic" sayings and symbols, such as the "Don't Tread On Me" flag Beck wears, as their own -- though with a much more menacing meaning. If you've seen that flag at an Aryan Nations compound, as I have, you never quite look at it the same.

This is why the meaning of Thomas Jefferson's quote above is quite different for them than it is for you and me. To all outward appearances, it is just an expression of avid patriotism. But to a Patriot movement follower, it means something potentially deadly.

This is especially the case for law-enforcement officers in the field:

Any time law enforcement offices encounter people with extreme ideologies, safety issues potentially arise. However, for a variety of reasons, certain circumstances pose a heightened threat of violent confrontation. Some situations, for instance, are particularly stressful for extremists, increasing the chances that they may lash out or overreact.

... Traffic stops are potentially some of the most dangerous situations that law enforcement officers can face when dealing with extremists. Numerous officers have been killed, wounded, shot at, or attacked during traffic stop incidents involving extremists during the past twenty years.

Some of these confrontations have been well-publicized. In 1997, television audiences across the country watched a police car video of a shootout in Ohio between two white supremacists, Cheyne and Chevie Kehoe, and local police officers. Yet some of the more incredible incidents have received remarkably little publicity. In one recent case in March 2000, three anti-government extremists (Lloyd Burrus, his son Jeff Burrus, and Cheryl Kate Maarteuse) were stopped for speeding by a Nevada highway patrol officer about sixty miles north of Las Vegas. The officer spotted a shotgun in the vehicle and radioed for backup. While he waited, the extremists sped off. During the ensuing chase, they shot at police vehicles from both Nevada and California, then turned off-road, where their BMW became stuck. Burrus and his accomplices abandoned the vehicle but took their weapons and ammunition, which they used to shoot down a California Highway Patrol helicopter that had arrived on scene. Eventually, after a twelve hour standoff involving over a hundred law enforcement officers, they gave themselves up.

There's nothing in the Missouri report that suggests anyone of the Patriot persuasion be arrested or treated as a terrorist -- because it's perfectly legal, in fact, to hold as radical beliefs as one likes in this country. The report simply tries to give officers a factual overview of some of the motivations of right-wing extremists, and what kinds of things are likely to set them off.

What's not legal is to act criminally on behalf of those beliefs. Unfortunately, Patriot beliefs -- particularly the more radical beliefs about the government's legitimacy (or lack thereof) -- actually tend to help induce such behavior. The police officers whose job it is to stop such criminality need to be able to assess what they're dealing with on the ground -- whether someone they've pulled over for not having license plates on their car is likely to pull something stupid.

Law enforcement officers need complete and accurate information in order to survive in the field. Maybe Glenn Beck is more worried about the tender paranoias of your average Ron Paul supporter -- none of whom have been affected in the least by this report in any real-world way -- but I tend to stand with the men and women who keep us safe.

Especially when it comes to making sure they have complete and accurate information. The more they know, the more likely they are to both enforce the law appropriately, and to stay alive at the same time.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Real concentration camps USA: Our immigrant-detention system is spiraling out of control

-- by Dave

Jackie Mahendra points out an Associated Press story describing some of the most recent information about how we're detaining illegal immigrants -- and it's profoundly disturbing:

The U.S. detention system for immigrants has mushroomed in the past decade, creating a costly building boom in an effort to sweep up criminals and ensure that illegal immigrants are quickly deported.

However, an Associated Press computer analysis of the entire detention population on a Sunday night in January found that most did not have a criminal record and many were not about to leave the country soon — voluntarily or through deportation.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement database, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, showed a U.S. detainee population of exactly 32,000 on the evening of Jan. 25.

Of those, 18,690 immigrants did not have a criminal conviction, including for illegal entry or low-level crimes such as trespassing. More than 400 of those with no criminal record had been incarcerated for at least a year. A dozen had been held for three years or more; one man from China had been locked up for more than five years.

Almost 10,000 had been in custody longer than 31 days, the average detention stay.

For an up-close look at what's going on at these detention centers, check out Breakthrough Media's incredibly informative site, Homeland Guantanamos, which describes the detention system we've created in response to right-wing agitation about illegal immigration. You know, the same right-wingers who are now stewing over non-existent FEMA concentration camps.

The video below also explores the subject in some depth, focusing on the situation in Illinois.


Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

FEMA concentration camps? The militia good times are rollin' again

-- by Dave

David Shuster was making fun of Glenn Beck's preoccupation with militia-style right-wing conspiracy theories yesterday on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and wondering why mainstream conservatives have so much trouble standing up to and denouncing this stuff.

There's actually a reason why mainstream conservatives never stand up to the far-right elements within their own coalition: they find them very useful.

It has ever been so. Harkening back to the days when Monarchists attacked the Enlightenment's pro-democracy thinkers as a plotting cabal of elites (which is where the old Illuminati conspiracy theories originate), the wealthy and those otherwise invested in maintaining the status quo in our civilization have always found these kinds of conspiracy theories a handy way of stirring up working-class resentment against progressive reformers.

That's why they'll be gaining in popularity as long as Democrats are in power: Because mainstream conservatives need them to make their wedge politics work.

So watch Beck telling folks that he "couldn't debunk" the existence of supposed concentration camps being built by FEMA:

Funny thing about "not debunking" the FEMA camps: Beck no doubt is discovering that it's not easy to "debunk" the existence of something for which there is simply no evidence of its existence in the first place.

In reality, these claims originated back in the 1990s with the far-right "Patriot"/militia movement. I first heard about them back in 1994, when I attended this militia meeting in Maltby, Wash.:

Militia Meeting-Camps1_58013.jpg

The fellow up on the stage is a guy named Bob Fletcher, who at the time was the chief spokesman for the Militia of Montana. The map he has up on the stage with him shows what he claimed was a "United Nations reserve" being created just to the east of us, in the Northern Cascades, in which the feds were busy creating concentration camps, run by FEMA, which he assured us were being built to hold gun owners after the government rounded them all up.

Of course, no such camps existed. When I tried to get Fletcher or other MOM officials to help me pinpoint their exact location so I could go check them out, they never were able to get back to me on that.

I described these characters in my first book, In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest,:

Fletcher is a self-described ``congressional researcher’’ who came to work for the Militia of Montana in the fall of 1994. Within a short span of time, Fletcher became the prime speaker at MOM events, delivering the militia message with a little more deftness than the often-erratic [John] Trochmann [the founder of the Militia of Montana].

For the better part of the next year, especially during the uproar that followed Oklahoma City, Fletcher was the point man for the militia movement. When there was a televised Town Hall meeting on the militias in Seattle, Fletcher -- backed by an audience stacked with Patriots -- was the spokesman. When informal congressional hearings were held on the militias, Fletcher and Trochmann sat together and answered questions.

... Fletcher also ran the militia meetings very smoothly. He was adept at saying things that were simultaneously pessimistic and empowering:
``My personal feeling is that it's too late to stop this,'' he would tell crowds. As for surviving, he’d say, ``I recommend a year's worth of food and plenty of ammo.''

John Trochmann either originated or became the chief promoter of many of these conspiracy theories:

The New World Order, he says, is a shadowy one-world-government group that conspires to put an end to the U.S. Constitution by subsuming it under the "Communist" United Nations. Conspirators include the President, the Speaker of the House, and most financial and political leaders around the world.

The new world government Trochmann envisions would be a population-controlling totalitarian regime. Guns will be confiscated. Urban gangs like the Bloods and the Crips will be deployed to conduct house-to-house searches and round up resisters. Thousands of citizens will be shipped off to concentration camps and liquidated, all in the name of reducing the population.

... Trochmann told me that Ruby Ridge and Waco were mere harbingers, test runs for what they intended to start doing to average citizens. Street-gang members from the Bloods and Crips, he said, were being trained in Spokane right then for house-to-house-search-and-seizure techniques. When the big crackdown came, they’d round people up, ship them off to concentration camps (which he said were already being built), and then ``liquidate’’ them until the population was stabilized.

The pretext, he said, would be ``most likely a food shortage.’’ And they would start with urban dwellers.

``Look at the cities,’’ he said. ``Look at them. They're totally captive. Somebody supplies their heat, somebody supplies their light, their transportation, their water, their communications, food. Look how vulnerable they are. They'll obey to the letter, or they'll die, because they're not ready for what's going to happen.’’

From there, the theories filtered out to a variety of like-minded "Patriots" who then held their own militia meetings. Locally, it was a Monroe, WA, landscape contractor named Don Kehoe:

[Kehoe] suggests that ecosystem-management efforts, like the international plan proposed by local environmental groups for the North Cascades extending into Canada, are part of a government plan to drive people out of those areas altogether. The New World Order, Kehoe says, plans to install concentration camps in the Cascades to house and liquidate the masses needed to implement population control.

The flyer below was a popular handout at MOM meetings:
Militia Flyer-FEMA_4551d.JPG

While its "documentation" books included such entries as the one below:

FEMA Camps_d6f33.JPG

Now, only a couple of years back, progressives had a similar wave of paranoia hit them about concentration camps being built in the heartland by the Bush Administration. It didn't go very far, because it quickly became clear that there was no there there. No one was actually building any new camps; all that had happened was that a Halliburton subsidiary had been given a contract to build them in the event of an emergency, but the contracts had never been activated.

But the list of camps being touted by Glenn Beck's friends is identical to the list I examined in 2006, and here's what I reported then:

The [FEMA] concentration-camp claims have continued to enjoy a kind of half-life as well. You can still find them on the Web at sites like this one, which offers the standard number of "over 800 camps" that we now see floating around the current claims.

Note some of the camp descriptions:


Minidoka/Jerome Counties - WWII Japanese-American internment facility possibly under renovation. Clearwater National Forest - Near Lolo Pass - Just miles from the Montana state line near Moose Creek, this unmanned facility is reported to have a nearby airfield. Wilderness areas - Possible location. No data.

[The renovations at the Minidoka camp are strictly for purposes of making it into a national monument in commemoration of the internment. The Lolo Pass facility is a Forest Service work camp. As for the wilderness area sites, well ...]


Malmstrom AFB - UN aircraft groups stationed here, and possibly a detention facility.

[There is no detention facility at Malmstrom.]


Seattle/Tacoma - SeaTac Airport: fully operational federal transfer center

Okanogan County - Borders Canada and is a site for a massive concentration camp capable of holding hundreds of thousands of people for slave labor. This is probably one of the locations that will be used to hold hard core patriots who will be held captive for the rest of their lives.

Sand Point Naval Station - Seattle - FEMA detention center used actively during the 1999 WTO protests to classify prisoners.

Ft. Lewis / McChord AFB - near Tacoma - This is one of several sites that may be used to ship prisoners overseas for slave labor.

[The three known facilities listed here all have legitimate purposes as part of the law enforcement or military systems. But the "concentration camp" in Okanogan County is entirely fanciful and does not exist. Nor is there any known project to hold or transport people for slave labor.]

Anyway, you get the idea. None of the so-called detention centers were designed or constructed for that purpose. Certainly there was never any publicly acknowledged program to build them during the Clinton years.

As Jeffrey Feldman observes, the idea of FEMA being involved in concentration camps came gurgling up into popular media through X-Files scripts:

Rumors that FEMA has set up 'concentration camps' as part of a plot to take over America and the world flourished after the X-Files film, died down, and then resurfaced as the video site YouTube became more popular in 2006.

One video expounding on the X-Files theory of FEMA concentration camps, which was posted to YouTube in mid-2006, has been watched almost one million times. The theory Glenn Beck is pushing is a version of the X-Files plot adapted to support Beck's argument against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed recently by the Obama administration.

And now, thanks to Glenn Beck, they're receiving mainstream media play by Fox News people who say they "can't debunk" their existence.

How much longer before Beck just organizes his own militia group? Is that what the "912 Movement" is going to evolve into? Stay tuned ...

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.