What Lack of Faith in the Government Can Lead To: Some Personal Reflections on the Kent County Militia

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (November 1995)

It was the usual media literacy class. People were asking good questions, not too surprised by the depth of the monopolization of the media in this country. I gave participants a sampling of media bias and censorship; the Gulf War, the invasion of Panama, PR spin-doctors at work, and the power of advertising. Afterwards two men from the group came up to pay me compliments on my understanding and critique of government policies. When I asked them what they hoped to produce on GRTV they said that they were from the Militia and hoped to “clear-up the public misconceptions about the militia that has been created by the media.” I thanked them and encouraged them to take advantage of the free speech platform that GRTV provides. Before I could leave they invited me to attend their meetings to be able to see for myself what I though of their movement. I was delighted by the prospect and since mid-July I have been attending one of their weekly meetings. Before I share my thoughts on who the local militia is, I feel it is important to note what resources I have been reading on the militia movement and the related movements within the country. This does not mean that I equate the Kent County Militia with any of the other movements or even any other militias, rather, I believe, it is important to have an understanding of these reactionary movements within the country in order to put into context the one that I have come to know personally.

There have been numerous journals that have dealt with the militia phenomenon and more recently several books. The most notable journals have been The Nation, The Progressive, Klan Watch, Covert Action Quarterly, and Z Magazine. Some of these publications have dealt honestly with the militia movement, others have not. The seasoned reporters and researchers of reactionary, or what is referred to as right-wing movements, have done the best job to date in my opinion, specifically Chip Berlet and Sara Diamond. Both have been following these movements for years and have keen insight into the sociological nature of such movements. Sara Diamond recently published Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States, a very thorough investigation of reactionary movements since 1945g. Chip Berlet has two books coming out before the end of the year. In a recent interview in Z Magazine, Berlet talked about how many of the recent militia recruits were victims of the global economic restructuring, especially farmers. Many of these disenfranchised workers were directly target by reactionary movements in part because of their general disdain for government, but also because of their particular ideological view of the world. Both Berlet and Diamond agree that people have gravitated towards the militia movement in part because of the failure of the progressive or left movements to reach out to rural and working class people who have been devastated by the “new world order.” Diamond, who has been following the Christian Right for over a decade, also suggests that people should not simply dismiss the militia movement. She believes that, like the Christian Right, much can be learned from these movements about the larger, more systemic reactionary elements within our society. But she also believes that they should not be quickly dismissed, since many of these people are just like you and me.

Every Friday night from 6:30 to 7:00 people wander in to a meeting room that is adjacent to the local John Birch Society book store at 1369 Plainfield Ave. People mingle and usually talk about the latest on the Waco hearings, the Oklahoma bombing, or current draconian measures proposed at the State and Federal level. Some of the men are dressed in military fatigues, but most people look like they just finished the evening meal or a long day at work. The meeting is called to order by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. There is clearly a hierarchy involved with “ranking officers” sitting up front and facilitating the discussion. In some ways their ideas reflect a paranoid and conspiratorial view of the world and at the same time, I could not help but find myself nodding in agreement with many things that were put on the table.

The discussions are always very lively and are usually accompanied by stacks of literature, copies of audio lectures, or recently produced videos that are circulating the country. Everyone is invited to participate and I have heard at least one guest speaker. People speak very personally about how they have lost faith in the system or how they have been direct victims of “unconstitutional behavior” while serving in the USA military. People are encouraged to “think for themselves since much of what they read, hear, and see in the media are lies.” Towards the end of each meeting current legislation is discussed and letter writing usually ensues. A few members surf the Internet and print out relevant material so that members can have the full text or summaries of legislation up for discussion. This was one method they employed that impressed me even though it seems contrary to the general public’s perception. Why would a movement that “advocates” violence work within the system? One of the local militia officers said that this, in addition to education, is “how we have to change things. We can change things through the courts, the guns and training are a last ditch resort. We can change things without firing a shot.” They also talked about how they want to avoid being viewed as an extremist organization. They have adopted part of the US 131 highway to help boost their image. They also feel that producing a show on GRTV would help with their image, because then people could hear for themselves what it is that the militia is saying.

The group’s fundamental belief is that we need to get back to what the founding fathers had intended in the constitution. They believe that next to the Christian Bible, the constitution is the supreme text for governing society. Some of them so firmly believe in the wisdom of the constitution’s framers that they said “if there ever was a super race on this earth it was the founding fathers.” This country, they believe, went astray in part due to the federal reserve system that was implemented around the turn of the century, but most definitely after World War II. Promoting the United Nations is at the core of their conspiracy theory. They believe that the United Nations is already engaged in taking over the sovereignty of the United States. This is demonstrated by the fact that at a United States military base in Fort Bragg, the only flag in the main office is a United Nations flag, not a United States one. I would agree that there are forces that are eroding this nation’s sovereignty, but it is certainly not the United Nations. I would suggest that anyone questioning this should read recent books by Noam Chomsky that clearly document the opposite. That the United Nations has tended to be a lackey of United States policy or ineffectual when the United States has voted against a majority United Nations position.

Another source of contention for the militia is what has happened to Gulf War veterans. This Gulf War Syndrome, they believe, was a biological experiment conducted by the Pentagon on United States soldiers without their knowledge. Here, I can agree with their analysis. In fact, we have shared resources to confirm that position. Several of their members were delighted with an article I gave them from a back issue of Covert Action Quarterly. They believe that this disease, the AIDS virus, and the Ebola virus all have some connection and that to me is not out of the realm of possibility. One of the local higher ranking officers is even trying to convene a state-wide convention just to talk about these viruses.

There also seems to be a nativist element to their ideology. They would like to see states have more autonomy from the federal government, counties more independent from the state, and common law courts revived. They are certainly opposed to big government and an intrusive government. No surprise that they would be actively opposed to any gun restriction legislation and even more up in arms over the so-called anti-terrorist legislation. Here researchers like Berlet caution us to be very careful at how the FBI and other federal agencies deal with the militia. He cautions us on how the FBI might use militias to further erode our civil rights. Clearly that is what the anti-terrorism legislation is all about. For the militias that was the purpose of the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing.

They believe that the Federal government was responsible for the bombing. This would cause a smokescreen to repress or scapegoat the militia or any other anti-government reactionary groups. While I am not convinced as to who did the bombing, I do not dismiss this as out of the realm of possibility. Anyone who does so ahs not familiarized themselves with United States history. What is important here is that we don’t use any conspiracy theories to demonize any group. There are two kinds of populist movements, a progressive participatory populism and a reactionary, scapegoating populism. I would rather be with the former. Progressive populism doesn’t see things as conspiracies, rather they tend to critique things in a structural way that says that an ongoing repression and exploitation is business as usual in the present system, not some conspiracy of people sitting around plotting global takeover. Progressive populism also does not blame or scapegoat other people who are also victims of this system; immigrants, inner city dwellers, women, gays and lesbians, or Jews. In this case the local militia has taken a negative view on immigrants for sure, stating that we should close our borders. They have not expressed any racial superiority of the Klan fashion, yet all members are White and tend to be Christian.

It is not clear to me if the group as a whole embraces the Judeo-Christian writings as a sacred text. Certainly the majority does, but not in a theologically orthodox way. They believe that this nation was founded on Christian principles and that those principles should govern society. When discussing the evolutionary theory, one member said, “I’d like to see Darwin part the Red Sea.” To many of them, evolution, abortion, gay life, and the “public fool system” are all part of the “new world order.” But the religious element still seems overshadowed by their desire to fight for basic constitutional rights.

As an organizing tactic, one night one member said that we need to get to know our neighbors, go door to door, and find out if people believe in their right to bear arms. They believe that much of the public would be behind them if there was not this misconception of who they are. Over and over again they stress the need to educate themselves and then others. The resources that keep springing up the most are materials on the Internet, Bill Cooper’s radio talk show, The New American journal, Veritas newspaper, The Spotlight, Reader’s Digest, the Chuck Carter Show, G. Gordon Liddy’s program, and the Washington Times. Certainly these are reactionary publications by and large, but they also base their actions on the state and federal constitutions, copies of which can always be obtained at meetings. Most meetings consist of 30 to 50 people, and that is just on a Friday night. They meet other days for those interested in the TV show and semi-regularly for training.

I have been impressed with many of the members’ commitment, diligence, openness, and frankness with which they confront the present state of affairs. I may not agree with much of their analysis, but I respect their desire to work for change. Certainly one must always be cautious of populist movements that are reactionary, often this is what can lead to a fascist movement’s rise to power. There is always a danger in naively accepting any group’s political position, but at the same time, it is essential that there be a healthy exchange between groups for clarity and most importantly for the opportunity to find some common ground. If we allow factionalism, sectarianism, and intolerance to govern our motives, then there can be no hope for a healthy, dynamic, and pluralistic society. I would encourage people to attend their meetings to see for yourself. No one can say they know what these people believe unless you engage directly with them. I also feel it would be beneficial to hold some sort of public forum to discuss diverging opinions on the present state of affairs, with the hope of challenging each other’s fundamental beliefs. I do not know if there can be any common ground between the militia and progressive movements in this community, but to fail to promote the possibility could be disastrous. If we are to overcome our own prejudices and others’, to say nothing of the structural ones, then we cannot remain isolationist. Isolationism is the breeding ground of all kinds of phobia.

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Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org