Saturday, March 19, 2011

Arizona Senate Wises Up: Pearce's Latest Round Of Immigrant-bashing Bills Summarily Tossed

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

People tried to warn Russell Pearce, president of the Arizona Senate and the father of SB1070, that it might not be a good idea to push hard on yet another round of immigrant-bashing legislation while Arizona's economy continued to suffer and groan from the weight of his previous "landmark". And there were plenty of warning signs that Arizonans were waking up to the cold reality of what they had done to themselves.

But of course, Pearce being the extremist nutcase that he is, there was no persuading him to turn back. Which produced yesterday's stark repudiation by his fellow Republicans in the Senate:
The state Senate voted down a package of birthright-citizenship bills, with Republicans split over the measures and Democrats opposed.

Four other significant Senate immigration measures also failed. Those bills would have banned illegal immigrants from state universities, made it a crime for illegal immigrants to drive a vehicle in Arizona, required school districts to check the legal status of students, and required hospitals to check the legal status of patients.
The impetus for the bills' defeat, as it happens, came from the Arizona business community, whose leaders penned a letter to the Senate warning them that the bills were a horrendous idea:
A coalition of Arizona business groups delivered a letter to the Arizona State Senate Tuesday saying it would be unwise for the Legislature to pass additional immigration legislation, despite lack of action on the federal level.

Sixty CEOs - from a wide swath of industries and including heavyweights such as Doug Parker, Gerrit van Huisstede and Linda Hunt - signed the letter as legislators mull a new slate of immigration bills. Last year’s passage of Senate Bill 1070 created a firestorm of criticism and boycotts against the state. The CEO’s point to its “unintended consequences.”
The letter's reasoning was quite clear:
Arizona’s lawmakers and citizens are right to be concerned about illegal immigration. But we must acknowledge that when Arizona goes it alone on this issue, unintended consequences inevitably occur. Last year, boycotts were called against our state’s business community, adversely impacting our already-struggling economy and costing us jobs. Arizona-based businesses saw contracts cancelled or were turned away from bidding. “Sales outside of the state declined. Even a business which merely had ‘Arizona’ in its name felt the effects of the boycotts, compelling them to launch an educational campaign about their company’s roots in Brooklyn. It is an undeniable fact that each of our companies and our employees were impacted by the boycotts and the coincident negative image.

“Tourism, one of our state’s largest industries and employment centers, also suffered from negative perceptions after the passage of SB 1070. The fact Gov. Brewer directed $250,000 to repairing Arizona’s reputation strongly suggests these efforts – whether fair or unfair - are harmful to our image.
Pearce's main gopher, State Sen. Ron Gould, was typically petulant about the reversal:
On Twitter he provided the names of all the Republicans who voted against the bills and told his followers to “contact them."

Following the session he said that too many Republicans talk tough on the campaign trail but don’t deliver when it comes to votes.
He was especially pissy toward the business community:
Senator Gould was asked if that letter perhaps played a role to which he replied, “Well there’s some people who are bought and paid for by the Chamber of Commerce.”
When asked if he will try to introduce similar legislation next session he said, “Maybe we will put everybody through the same misery one more time.”
You'll note in the video above that the reporter talks to one of the signees -- a local small businessman. Unsurprisingly, he was inundated with hate mail and threatening phone calls.
Kos has more on the larger immigration picture around the nation.

James O'Keefe Won't Let Others Videotape Him

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Hypocrisy, O'Keefe is thy middle name:
Conservative activist James O’Keefe, who has gained notoriety for his hidden-camera stings of NPR executives, ACORN employees, teacher unions, and CNN reporters, gave a speech to a New Jersey Tea Party group today. The Asbury Park Press reports that O’Keefe had only one condition: that his speech not be videotaped in any way. A representative for the Tea Party group told a photojournalist from the Press that she didn’t agree with O’Keefe’s order, but explained that “This is a guy that’s in trouble with the law, he’s got lawsuits up the gazoo for trying to help you with your freedom.”
ThinkProgress' George Zornick quotes O'Keefe's speech, wherein he says:
"It all goes back to one fundamental principle — and that is to make (the media and public officials) live up to their own book of rules. If you want to call out a hypocrite, the best way to do that is look at how he lives his life."
Quoth the guy who tried to lure a CNN reporter onto his Loooove Boat.

Bombing Libya: Airstrikes Open A Coalition War Against A Mad Dictator

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

I'm almost never in favor of going to war, but at least against Libya there is a real lifesaving component involved, and at least this time it's multilateral:
A coalition of American and European forces bombed Libyan targets by air and sea Saturday in the first phase of a military campaign to drive Moammar Gadhafi from power.

French warplanes fired the first shots in the broadest international military effort since the Iraq war, destroying government tanks and armored vehicles in the region of the rebels' eastern stronghold, Benghazi. Hours later, British and U.S. warships and submarines launched more than 110 Tomahawk missiles against Gadhafi's air defenses around the capital Tripoli and the western city of Misrata, which has been besieged by Gadhafi's forces, Pentagon officials said.

The aim of the operation, dubbed Odyssey Dawn, was to enforce a United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya and stop Gadhafi from attacking overwhelmed rebel forces in the east.

"This is not an outcome the U.S. or any of our partners sought," President Barack Obama said from Brazil, where he is starting a five-day visit to Latin America. "We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy."
It doesn't hurt that this mission will prevent certain slaughter of his own people by a madman/dictator.

Libya is saying the airstrikes inflicted considerable damage:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bachmann Accuses Weiner Of Trading In 'Fiction' On Budget. His Retort: 'I Don't Think You Want To Go There'

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

There's something about Anthony Weiner that seems to really get under Sean Hannity's skin. Maybe it's the way he makes both Hannity and his guests look like utter buffoons. That might have something to do with it.

Such as when Michele Bachmann went on with Hannity and Weiner the other night, producing hilarious exchanges such as this one:
HANNITY: Here's my point, $3.7 billion, we have nearly $5 trillion now accumulated Obama debt, $5 trillion. You tell me how much you are willing to cut out of the budget?

WEINER: Well, let me ask you something. Is it accumulated Obama debt when President Bush left office, there was 700,000 job losses that month. There are more private sector jobs created under President Obama in his two years --

HANNITY: That's a lie.

WEINER: It is a fact.

HANNITY: Congressman, I know you are a Democrat and I know you're a bitter partisan. But in the month of February --

WEINER: No, I'm just a partisan.

HANNITY: Stop it. In the month of February our deficit --

WEINER: Don't call me names, Sean. It is almost St. Patrick's Day you are going to call me names?

HANNITY: Yes. Our deficit was $223,000 for the month. In 2007, if we are looking at real dollars and real money, we paid less in a year than we did for the month of February!

WEINER: Well, look, I will tell you this. The deficit right now comes from three places. One, unfunded wars, two, enormous numbers of jobs lost a tragedy that President Bush drove us into this cliff and three tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.

HANNITY: Congresswoman Bachmann, you know, George Bush has been out of office for nearly 2-1/2 years he can't get over it. Barack Obama's budgets nearly $5 trillion in debt. He won't mention where he would cut. I'll ask you the same question --

WEINER: What do you mean he?

HANNITY: That would be you! Congresswoman, where would you cut?

BACHMANN: You know, Sean. I had no idea that Representative Weiner was such a reader of fiction. He's a huge fiction reader because that's all of his numbers. I wanted to mention --

WEINER: Bachmann, I don't think you want to go there. I don't think you want to go there, Bachmann.
Weiner later repeated that Bachmann's little bit of projection was "ironic". No kidding. After all, this is the congresswoman who's been running around (mostly on Fox) for the better part of a couple of weeks now claiming that there is $105 billion in health-care reform implementation "secretly" tucked into the budget -- even though it's one of the most publicly debunked bogus republican claim in awhile. The Washington Post's fact checker dismissed it as "bordering on the ridiculous", while PolitiFact dismantled it as well.

I also liked the parting shots that Weiner got in:
WEINER: I believe when there are millions of Americans not working because of the Bush decisions that we do have to take care of those people and that adds cost, no doubt about it.

HANNITY: Congressman, you're going to have to man-up. You have to sit at the table and put your pants on --

WEINER: Make it three on one or four on one next time, I'm ready for you.

HANNITY: You are a star. Just go look in the mirror.

WEINER: I love these balanced debates.

HANNITY: Yes, well, that's what it is.

BACHMANN: Tell me about it.

HANNITY: Tell me about it.
If Weiner keeps this up, they'll never let him back.

Another 'Isolated Incident': California Man Charged With Firebombing Planned Parenthood Center, Vandalizing Mosque

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

[Video from CBS 47]

We've been getting lots of confirmation lately that, contrary to the claims undergirding Rep. Peter King's Islamophobic witch-hunt hearing, the greatest domestic-terrorism threat to average Americans is not from homegrown Islamic radicals, but from the same singular source of domestic terrorism we've had to deal with for more than a generation: the radical right.

David Holthouse at Media Matters
directs us to the most recent 'isolated incident':
Compared to the political theater of the King hearings, these busts of accused right-wing domestic terrorists received scant media attention. Even less publicized was the arrest, also on March 9, of another accused right-wing extremist who allegedly firebombed a Planned Parenthood clinic and vandalized an Islamic center in Madera, California.

The case of Donny Eugene Mower further illustrates the narrow-mindedness of Rep. King and his conservative media cheerleaders for focusing on Muslim domestic terrorists to the exclusion of all other violent extremists, including white supremacists, militia members and anti-abortion radicals.

According to the federal criminal complaint against Mower, he admitted to throwing a Molotov cocktail through the window of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the middle of the night last September 2. No one was injured, but the damage was extensive.

Mower left a note at the scene: "Murder our children? We have a 'choice' too. Let's see if you can burn as well as your victims." The note was signed "ANB," short for American Nationalist Brotherhood. The same entity had claimed responsibility for menacing letters posted outside the Madera Islamic Center.

The first of those messages appeared last August 18: "No temple for the God of terrorism at Ground Zero. ANB." At the time Fox News and others were feverishly manufacturing outrage at the supposed "Ground Zero mosque" in New York City.

Two days later, according to investigators, Mower threw a brick at the Islamic center, causing minor damage, and then returned his focus to the Planned Parenthood clinic, posting another threat: "Murdering children? That is your choice? Reap your reward. ANB."

On August 24, another message appeared at the Islamic center: "Wake up America. The enemy is here. ANB."
The ANB, like a number of hate groups, really is just an army of one -- Mower himself. He wrote a manifesto outlining his ideology:
ANB is AMERICAN nationalist, not white nationalist, black nationalist, or any other racist motivated group. The signs posted, the things to come, and yes even the brick, are not hate motivated, but rather messages. The (sic) are the voices of us who refuse to allow America to continue to be torn down brick by brick. Notice also, that the mosque was not the only target of choice. We are here to revive American pride, which has been dampened by a lot of things: The rise of Islam in America, despite 9/11; the sickening number of murdered children since 1973, hidden behind the guise of "abortion" or "choice"; the abomination of homosexuality being rewarded, while those who chose (sic) natural relationships are bigots. These and so many more are (sic) the hate crimes, they hit America with a sucker punch... isn't it time that someone hit back?
As Digby sez:
Sadly, the lack of attention to this problem -- or our blase acceptance of it --- has even led people like Bill Maher to speciously contend that homegrown Islamic terrorism presents a much greater threat than any other kind of homegrown terrorism. I honestly don't know why he thinks that. These are really the same kind of people except for the fact that they are being radicalized for similar purposes by Americans instead of foreigners.

There are reasons why these things crop up at times of great social transition and stress. And that's worth looking into and attempting to deal with. But those who are pretending that it's a"foreign problem" are coming to the point of being culpable. After all, when the department of Homeland Security merely noted the potential of a problem in their annual report, the right wing didn't distance itself from these radicals, it sprung into gear and basically shut the report down. Cui bono?
Here's our interactive map and listing of domestic-terrorism incidents involving right-wing extremists since July 2008. We're up to 24 now -- and still counting:


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fox Nuclear 'Experts' Sound Just Like J. Frank Parnell: 'Ra-di-a-tion. Yes, Indeed. You Hear The Most Outrageous Lies About It.'

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Not only is Fox News now racing to promote the narrative that the meltdown the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, in the wake of this week's killer earthquake and tsunamis, is really nothing for anyone (and especially not Americans!) to worry about, but the other night on Hannity, one of their "experts" -- Jay Lehr of the Heartland Institute -- tried to claim that everything was working according to plan and no harm would come to anyone's health as a result of the radiation released.
HANNITY: How realistic is this threat?

LEHR: Sean, it's not at all realistic. I can tell you with the utmost confidence there will not be a health impact from anything that's going on at the Fukushima power plant.
Lehr was featured throughout Hannity's show, and he continued on in this vein -- minimizing the health effects of disasters like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, and attacking a nuclear engineer for saying that there is at least some concern about fallout drift to the West Coast of the USA.

As Digby sez: "Call me nuts but that fellow doesn't sound all that trustworthy."

He reminds Digby of a movie character, Gen Buck Turgidson. He reminds me, on the other hand, of another character altogether. You remember J. Frank Parnell, don't you?

J. Frank Parnell: Ever been to Utah? Ra-di-a-tion. Yes, indeed. You hear the most outrageous lies about it. Half-baked goggle-box do-gooders telling everybody it's bad for you. Pernicious nonsense. Everybody could stand a hundred chest X-rays a year. They ought to have them, too. When they canceled the project it almost did me in. One day my mind was full to bursting. The next day - nothing. Swept away. But I'll show them. I had a lobotomy in the end.

Lobotomy? Isn't that for loonies?

Not at all. Friend of mine had one. Designer of the neutron bomb. You ever hear of the neutron bomb? Destroys people - leaves buildings standing. Fits in a suitcase. It's so small, no one knows it's there until - BLAMMO. Eyes melt, skin explodes, everybody dead. So immoral, working on the thing can drive you mad. That's what happened to this friend of mine. So he had a lobotomy. Now he's well again.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Schaeffer Cox And His Alaska Militia: The Classic Sovereign-citizen Saga, From Laughable To Lethal

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

The details about Schaeffer Cox, the Alaska militiaman arrested in a plot to kill and kidnap state troopers and local judges, are starting to emerge -- and they have a distinctly familiar ring to them. From the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:
Details emerge in alleged plot to kill Alaska State Troopers judge
State court documents made available Friday detail the murders and kidnappings allegedly planned by Schaeffer Cox and militia followers as well as the secret FBI recordings that helped expose the plan.

The plan, which members of Cox’s Peacemakers Militia reportedly code-named “241” (two for one), was created as a potential retaliatory response to any attempt by law enforcement to arrest Cox, who had an outstanding bench warrant for not attending a trial over a misdemeanor weapons charge.

Under the plan, Cox and other militia members would kidnap two law enforcement officers or court officials for every militia member arrested. They would kill two officials in retaliation for every militia member killed in any conflict with authorities.

The document accuses the group of assembling an arsenal that included pineapple grenades allegedly stolen from Fort Wainwright, multiple tripod-mounted machine guns and “dozens of other high-powered assault rifles and pistols.” The court documents don’t say whether search warrants for the weapons were obtained, or if the weapons have been seized.

Most of the information in the charging documents come from private militia “command staff” meetings “lawfully recorded by the FBI through technological means available to them.”

Four of the five defendants accused of conspiring to murder and kidnap are described discussing the plan in a 17-page criminal complaint. Besides Cox, the co-defendants are Coleman Barney, 36, of the North Pole area and Salcha residents Lonnie Vernon, 55 his wife and Karen Vernon, 66.
It's abundantly clear that Cox is following the career of so many "sovereign citizens" before him -- from Gordon Kahl to Randy and Vicki Weaver to Jerry and Joe Kane: You start out as a laughable loony nutcase who believes in an alternative universe constructed of provably untrue conspiracy theories, and you end up a violent, extremist nutcase willing to gun down federal officers.

You can observe this gradual but inexorable career arc just in the videos Cox made before his arrest, including the above interview with a fundamentalist pastor made in January. In it, you can hear Cox's violent fantasies starting to bubble up, even as he claims to have 3,500 members in his Alaska militia organization:
COX: If there came a time where they were endangering my family, you bet I would kill those federal agents. And what kind of a father and husband would I be if I wouldn't? Would I sacrifice my family on the altar of submission to the wicked state? No, that would be despicable, we would highly criticize anybody who did that, stood by and watched in history. And we've got to reckon with the fact that that's our time right now.

Now, we have those agents -- with 3500 guys we have tremendous resources at our disposal. And we had those guys under 24-hour surveillance -- the six trouble-causers that came up from the federal government. And we could have had them killed within 20 minutes of giving the order. But we didn't because they had not yet done it.
Of course, you will notice that since Cox's arrest, those supposed 3500 militiamen have been pretty nonexistent on the scene, and none of the law-enforcement officers involved in his arrest have been subject to any kind of retaliation at all.

You can also hearing him make the usual disclaimers that they kick out any "violent" types from militias -- which, as always, are about as reliable as the Minutemen's similar disclaimers.

Dermot Cole at the News-Miner
has more details on Cox's background:
Schaeffer Cox told a “National Collective Consciousness Call” in January that law enforcement officers and the court system in Fairbanks always treated him with “total respect” because they feared the firepower of his militia.

There is no independent verification of how big or small his group is, but he has repeatedly claimed he had 3,500 members under his command.

The 26-year-old Cox said he was treated like a foreign diplomat by the Alaska courts and didn’t have to follow the rules “because I am not of them.”

“They never make me take my hat off or say ‘your honor’ or stand up like that. I refer to them as the ‘alleged judge’ or ‘your administrativeness.’ And I don’t do anything. The police are always ‘oh yes sir, yes sir,’ very nice there.

“And they’re doing that because they know we’ve got ‘em outmanned and outgunned,” he said on the Jan. 6 conference call, a recording of which is posted on the American Underground Network website

He said he told an “alleged judge” last year he could give an order for his militia members to “stand down,” but he couldn’t guarantee they would listen if they thought the case against Cox was politically motivated.

“From one father to another father, I don’t want to put my influence to the test while the lives of you and your children are on the line,” he said he told the judge.

“I said if you want a bloody fight, if you want a war, then we’ve got one hell of a war with your name on it. But if you want peace, well then that’s what we want too,” Cox said.
Likewise, David Holthouse has the full rundown on Alaska's increasingly unhinged and violent "Patriot" movement scene:
As it stands, other Alaska militia leaders are rallying to Cox’s defense in regards to the firearms case, while making no mention of his other legal troubles. “Allow me to state that I am behind Schaeffer Cox 100 percent,” says Norm Olson, leader of the Kenai Peninsula-based Alaska Citizens Militia. “His [sovereign citizen] argument is valid. The court that is claiming jurisdiction is an ‘Admiralty Court’ constructed under statute laws of the corporation known as The State of Alaska. Schaeffer wants to be tried in a court of common law where he can face his accuser directly and try the law as well as the evidence before him. Mr. Cox is fully aware that a jury that is called to listen to the charges has the right and duty to try not only the evidence, but to judge the correctness of the law itself. Schaeffer is not unwilling to be tried, but he wants to plead his case before a common law court with a jury of his peers. Can he expect that in Alaska? Only time will tell.”

Before we get into Olson’s reference to Admiralty Courts and Common Law and other Sovereign Citizen gobbledygook, it’s worth airing his take on the militia movement in Alaska. After all, Olson’s a militia O.G.

Olson started the Michigan Militia in 1994 and helped turn that state into a hotbed of right-wing extremist activity in the mid-to-late 1990s. Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols attended a Michigan Militia meeting not long before the terrorist attack he carried out with Timothy McVeigh.

Asked to assess the current strength of the militia movement in Alaska, Olson offered this response: “Of course I cannot answer that question. To do so would risk compromising our operational objectives and resources. Suffice it to say that we are ‘nowhere and everywhere.’ I will say that any move against one of our units or members is actually a way of bringing central government abuses into the forefront of the community’s awareness. The ongoing persecution of Schaeffer Cox is a boon to our enlistment efforts.”
Here are some earlier clips of Cox in action. In these, you can see Cox cocoon himself in the sovereign-citizen alternative universe, and his rhetoric becomes increasingly violent and paranoid:

This is a story that has played itself out a number of times over the past twenty years -- I've witnessed a number of court hearings involving "sovereign citizens" trying to impose their fabricated "legal" system on the real world -- and it never has a happy outcome. Inevitably, as they become hardened in their belief that their legal fantasy is reality, there comes a confrontation with law enforcement. Often, both sides suffer harm -- but only one side loses.

In my first book, In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest, I devoted most of the second chapter to describing the dynamics of this alternative universe:
The Patriot movement appears to operate in the mainstream world, but truthfully, it does not. Rather, its believers reside in a different universe -- one dominated by an evil government and a conspiracy to destroy America. Agents of the dark side lurk in every gathering, pawns embodied in every disbeliever. Proof of this hidden reality can be found in everyday news stories and ordinary documents, if only seen with the right eyes.

The alternative reality that becomes life in the Patriot movement is like a big quilt, a patchwork of factual items -- United Nations reports, government documents, news stories -- that are patched together with other less credible information -- black helicopter sightings, suggestions of troop movements, and the like. The thread that weaves them all together is a paranoid belief in the vast conspiracy; even if items don’t appear to fit together, the irrational fear driving the movement will overlook potential conflicts.

Everyone is free to make a contribution: a military-vehicle sighting here, an obscure document there. Believers are free to ignore some patches if they happen to disagree with any singular contribution, so long as the quilt itself hangs together as an all-encompassing blanket.

The dwellers in this otherworld can be found not just in the wilds of Montana among the most radical believers like the Freemen. They can be found seemingly everywhere in the Northwest: in suburban conference centers, in rural town halls, in small Bible study groups.

Step into one of the militias’ organizing meetings -- typically held in small community halls in rural areas and towns outlying urban centers -- and you will have walked into this world.


By challenging the mainstream view -- that the world is essentially a safe place, that the nation is, in general, functional, even if it has problems -- the Patriots persuade their followers to place themselves outside the rest of society. Simultaneously, they offer a social structure of their own, drawn together by a Patriot sensibility that informs every aspect of the followers’ lives: legal, religious, even business behavior becomes an expression of their beliefs.

This is how people are drawn into the alternative universe of the Patriots, a world in which the same events occur as those that befall the rest of us, but all are seen through a different lens. Anything that makes it into a newspaper or the evening broadcast -- say, flooding in the Cascades, or the arrival of U.S. troops in Bosnia -- may be just another story for most of us, but to a Patriot, these widely disparate events all are connected to the conspiracy. Believers tend to organize in small local groups. They all have similar-sounding names -- Concerned Citizens for Constitutional Law, Alliance for America, and the like. They play host to the touring Patriots, the local leaders nervously introducing their admired guests. These groups operate out of the public limelight, on a low-level communications system: a combination of mailings, faxes and even Internet postings all advertise the meetings locally and regionally. Rarely does an announcement make the local mainstream press.

Most of the Patriots’ real recruiting takes place before the meetings, by word of mouth. It usually works like this:
John, a Patriot, tells Joe, a co-worker at his plant who’s going through a divorce, that he can find out ``what’s really going on’’ by attending a militia meeting. The Patriots, Joe is told, have answers to the moral decay that’s behind the way men get screwed in divorce cases.

Joe attends. He thinks the New World Order theories might be possible. He buys a video tape, maybe a book. It all starts to fit together. So this is why he hasn’t been able to get ahead in the world economically, he tells himself. He attends another meeting. Pretty soon he’s getting ``Taking Aim’’ in the mail.

Joe tells his neighbor Sam about the Patriots. Sam is dubious, but he’s been having a hell of a time paying his taxes, and Joe passes on what he knows about the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Reserve from the Patriot literature he’s read. Sam is intrigued. He reads some of Joe’s material. He goes to the next meeting with Joe. A month or two later, Sam starts drawing up papers to declare himself a ``sovereign citizen.’’

Sam goes to a picnic outing at his parents’ house. His older brother Jeff, an engineer at Boeing, asks Sam about the ``sovereign citizen’’ stuff. Sam explains. Jeff, too, is dubious, but he also happens to be a gun collector and sometime hunter, and he’s received mailings from the National Rifle Association that lead him to wonder if there isn’t something to this whole militia thing. When Sam starts talking about how the government is out of control, passing unconstitutional laws like the Brady Bill, Jeff tunes in. A month later, he, too, sits in on a Patriot town-hall meeting.

One by one it builds. Any of a number of vital issues -- land use, property rights, banking, economics, politics, gun control, abortion, education, welfare -- can serve as a drawing card. In many cases, they are deeply divisive, polarizing matters that the mainstream fails to adequately address.

Once recruits pass through any of these gateways into the Patriot universe, they are drawn further, inexorably. What once seemed like a screwed-up government has become monstrously, palpably evil. Then they learn about Patriot legal theories from people like the Freemen or from Schroder and DeMott:

* The Federal Reserve is bankrupt, a front for a phony system, run by private
corporations, of printing money that really only helps keep rich bankers awash in cash.

* The Internal Revenue Service is illegal. Federal taxes actually are strictly voluntary.

* You can exempt yourself from paying federal taxes by filing a statement declaring yourself a ``sovereign citizen.’’ This ostensibly frees you from obligation to the United States -- which Patriots say is just an illegal corporation based in Washington, D.C. -- by nullifying your participation in the federal citizenship status established by the 14th Amendment.

* This distinction, arguing that only the 14th Amendment extends federal citizenship to minorities, forms the basis for the Patriots’ contention that only white male Christian property owners enjoy full citizenship under the ``organic Constitution.’’

* In fact, the only valid U.S. Constitution is this ``organic Constitution’’ -- that is, the main body of the Constitution and the first ten amendments, or the Bill of Rights. Patriots believe the remaining amendments either should be repealed or were approved illegally anyway. In any case, they would end the prohibition of slavery (13th Amendment); equal protection under the law (14th Amendment); prohibitions against racial or ethnic discrimination (15th Amendment); the income tax (16th Amendment); direct election of Senators (17th Amendment); the vote for women (19th Amendment); and a host of other constitutional protections passed since the time of the Founders.

* Establishing ``sovereign citizenship,’’ or ``Quiet Title’’ (which similarly declares a person a ``freeman’’), exempts a person from the rules of ``equity courts,’’ which means you don’t have to pay for licenses, building permits, or traffic citations, not to mention taxes.

* The only real courts with power are the ``common law’’ courts comprised of sovereign citizens, which have the power to issue rulings and liens against public officials they deem to have overstepped their bounds. If these officials fail to uphold the common-law courts, they can be found guilty of treason, and threatened with the appropriate penalty: hanging.

It is at this end of the Patriot universe that much of its deeper agenda is revealed. When Patriots talk about ``restoring the Constitution,’’ what they often have in mind is a campaign to roll back protections embodied in a wide range of amendments, as well as establishing a reading of the Second Amendment radically different from the one traditionally accepted by the U.S. court system.

It also is at this end of the universe that the charges of divisiveness and racism often leveled at the Patriots take on some weight. Plainly, the constitutional rollbacks would return the American system to a time when racial justice was not a considered concept.

Not surprisingly, this is where the Patriots most closely resemble, and arguably are directly descended from, openly racist and anti-Semitic belief systems like those found in the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations, and the Posse Comitatus.

Most of these views are often dismissed by the mainstream legal profession as simple nonsense promoted by crackpots. And for the most part, the Patriots’ legal theories completely disintegrate when factually examined in the cold light of day. Nonetheless, the movement’s ranks continue to grow, and the mainstream courts, particularly in rural jurisdictions, now are faced with a sudden deluge of ``common law’’ documents that throw an already overburdened system into a tangle.

All the same, there is no law against being a crackpot. Otherwise, hundreds of Elvis sighters and UFO abductees would be rotting in prison cells alongside the Patriots, most of whom also are quite free to spread their conspiracy theories. The concern, rather, is what happens when the agenda of the Patriots, constructed out of an insular, paranoiac view of reality, tries to assert itself in the mainstream world. If their form of ``republic’’ comes to be, most of society’s current protections against racial injustice would vanish.

Believers’ attempts to effect this agenda is certain to come into real conflict with mainstream Americans. Moreover, when Patriots begin to threaten public officials with hanging and other kinds of bodily harm, the potential for violence enters into the picture.

``What is going on in our society when somebody can come up with an idea like this, and a package of materials like this, and attract 200 people to a community meeting?’’ wonders Ken Toole, director of the Montana Human Rights Network. Toole has attended many of the sessions.

``To me, it's almost like a canary in a coal mine, and it's very indicative of how negative and hostile we've become about ourselves -- that somehow these people have managed to objectify the government at all levels, blame it for all kinds of things, and look for a way to kind of focus that anger.’’