Stop it, stop it right now. Stop pretending Islamicists—or environmentalists or animal rights activists (which are, ridiculously, federal law enforcement and non-governmental terrorism-watchers' next most obsessive concern)—are the only imminent terrorist threats to our nation. We now know that students at Liberty University were ready to use homemade bombs against protesters at Jerry Falwell's funeral. One of the suspects is a soldier at Fort Benning. (Falwell had given the suspect a scholarship.)
If the media does not start connecting some dots, they will have abdicated their citizenzship duties. How many times has the nation potentially come within a hair's breadth of suffering a right-wing terrorist attack this spring? As of today, three, or possibly six times—at least that we know about.
• Late in April, 150 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers carried out simultaneous raids in four Alabama counties in a sweep that yielded 130 grenades, a rocket launcher, and 2,500 rounds of ammunition.. In the town of Trussville, it took a U-haul truck to cart away all the materiel. At the Collinsville camper belonging to militia "major" Taymond Dillard, agents first had to defuse trip-wires rigged to explode hand grenades to kill intruders.
• Right-wing vigilantes arrested in a scuffle at one of the May 1 immigration marches, in Washington D.C., was found to have a stash of automatic weapons and explosives in his home.
• Now this, the violence allegedly thwarted at Falwell's funeral. One of the suspects is a soldier at Fort Benning - yes, he traveled all the way from Georgia with his munitions. Another was a high school student.
After the Alabama incident, I set up a Google News alert to learn more about the "Alabama Free Militia," formerly known as the "Naval Militia." But there was no followup coverage that I could discover. None.
I go back and forth about what level of alarmism is appropriate when discussing the possibility of right-wing violence. On the one hand, reviewiewing it in the New York Times Book Review, I found Chris Hedges predictions in American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America irresponsibly vague and abstract. On the other hand, when a reporter named John Cloud published a profile of Ann Coulter on the cover of Time magazine that found her little more than a kicky diversion from boring politics as usual, I sent him an angry, even patronizing, letter:
The last time figures like Coulter were being mainstreamed for public consumption in this way was 1994-95. People like Gordon Liddy—who, recall, was "joking" to his listeners to shoot federal agents in the head.
This pushed the limits of the acceptable far to the right, and vulnerable, nutty people felt licensed to blow up buildings because of it.
There will be right-wing violence in the next year. Of that I have no doubt. And people who've served to push the limits of the acceptable far to the right by mainstreaming people who spew hate rhetoric, talk violence, and make things up will bear some measure of responsibility.
That was 2005, and there wasn't any right-wing violence (that made the news at least) in 2006. I was wrong.
On the other hand, I'm even more confident that if John Kerry had been elected president, the Secret Service would have been burdened with assassination attempts of a degree unprecedented in history. There is an astonishingly sizable population in America that doesn't consider any Democratic president legitimate - "not our president" was a right-wing refrain from the moment of Bill Clinton's inauguration; no less than a United States senator, Jesse Helms, said that if the President visited North Carolina he ought to wear a flak jacket. ("Who will rid me of this meddlesome president?") In the case of Kerry, the situation was complicated by the existence of plenty of mentally unbalanced former special forces officers convinced the man was literally a Manchurian candidate.
My obsession with the question will always be shaped by my experience of late 1994 and early 1995. I was absolutely engrossed by the rise of the Gingrich "Contract with America" Congress. It was what turned me, eventually, into a full-time student of the right. How was it that so many of my fellow citizens were taking things for granted that were absolutely the opposite of what I then took for granted? It's part of the fascination of belonging to such a big, complex country like America: we're all surrounded by people who are utterly exotic to us, and us to them. I started listening to more right-wing talk radio, something I had always done casually before Clinton was president.
I couldn't get over the escalation in vitriol. I vividly recall, yes, G. Gordon Liddy's injunction to listeners to "shoot to kill" ATF agents.
(It was only later, when I stared studying Watergate, when I wondered about the moral compass of a movement that would elevate as a spokesman a man who was literally thrown in jail for his eagerness to commit violence in service to subversion to the Constitution.)
I felt, at a certain point, that something very ugly would soon happen.
Something ugly did soon happen: Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
What is the line between vigilence and paranoia? I really don't know. I only know this, to return to my original point: it's far past the time for the media to start tracking these arrests as a trend—before the next arrest comes post-explosion, not pre.
| Wednesday, May 23, 2007 10:10 AM