Militia might

June 05, 1995|By Loretta J. Ross

WORKERS HAVE now recovered the final missing bodies from the scene of the Oklahoma bombing. But amid the rubble a basic fact has been neglected: Racism and anti-Semitism are inherent in the militia movement.

The militia movement is the fast-growing wing of the white supremacist movement, and to ignore the bigotry of the militia movement is to miss the beat. As reported in the media, Timothy McVeigh, who is accused of masterminding the Oklahoma City bombing, is a blatant racist and was reprimanded for his bigotry by the Army.

Most militia members are not as explicit as Mr. McVeigh, though.

The militia movement prefers the language of extreme patriotism to that of extreme racism and anti-Semitism. In this way, it can draw recruits along a conveyor belt of anti-government fear and hatred without alienating those who prefer sheets and swastikas.

This mainstreaming strategy can be traced back to October 1992, when approximately 150 leaders of the white supremacist movement met in Colorado to strategize on how to popularize their views. They sought to use the siege of Randy Weaver as a vehicle for attracting followers. But Mr. Weaver's white supremacist connections needed to be downplayed.

The host of the meeting was Rev. Pete Peters, a minister of the Christian Identity religion, which believes all non-whites are subhuman and that only people who exclusively are of white northern European ancestry have souls. Mr. Peters serves as spiritual adviser to militias and participates in their paramilitary exercises.

The first test of their mainstreaming strategy was the formation of United Citizens for Justice, an Idaho-based group of "regular people" who organized large community meetings to protest the Weaver siege. Mr. Peters was involved, as was James "Bo" Gritz, a former Green Beret officer who was David Duke's running mate in 1988. Mr. Gritz now travels the country offering militia training.

The first two or three meetings were totally devoid of any open bigotry, many recruits reported. The initial meeting drew as many as 200 people. That number dropped off with successive meetings. By the fourth and fifth meetings, only 25 to 30 remain; they are the hard-core.

The racism and bigotry are cloaked in euphemisms. While not all militia members adhere to these views, the leading proponents of militias are restless vigilantes who believe, among other things, that the U.S. government and the United Nations are a threat to their personal safety.

Some fanatically believe that racial minorities or Jews are behind gun control, the Internal Revenue Service and/or the Federal Reserve System. Some use code words like "foreign bankers" for Jews. They speak of "natural" citizens to refer to white people; all others are "14th Amendment" citizens, meaning African-Americans, who were not considered citizens until the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1865.

The most successful of the mainstreaming strategies used by the militia movement is the claim of "states' rights." This phrase was first used to protect slavery in the South, and resurfaced again in the 1950s as a foil against desegregation. Now the term is used to decry government intervention in a variety of matters -- civil rights, the environment, gun control, criminal arrests and taxes. In all, 14 states are considering some form of states' rights legislation.

Some militia leaders, extremely sensitive to public relations problems, are trying to purge their Klan and neo-Nazi members from their ranks. Others are busily promoting their African-American, Latino or Jewish members to provide a cover. But the most dangerous are simply burrowing themselves more deeply into survivalist camps, not granting interviews with the media and awaiting the final race war they feel is inevitable.

If America is to learn the full lesson of the Oklahoma City tragedy, we must not allow bigots to use well-meaning people to do their dirty work.

Dialogue, not guns, is the answer and letting racists off the hook for their disguised bigotry won't help.

Loretta J. Ross is research director of the Center for Democratic Renewal in Atlanta. She wrote this for the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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