The militia's threat: seed of whirlwinds

January 14, 1996|By Lloyd George Parry | Lloyd George Parry,Special to the sun

"A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate," by Kenneth S. Stern. Simon & Schuster.303 pages. $24 Richard Nixon once characterized the federal bureaucratic mentality as "nozzle adjusting," i.e. the belief that government has the right and duty to regulate every facet of Americans' lives up to and including reaching into our showers to control the water's flow and temperature.

For the past 25 years, the federal nozzle adjusters have spun a cocoon of oppressive, job-killing environmental rules around millions of hapless rednecks who, due to lack of proper breeding, had the bad taste to inhabit the vast inconsequential stretches of open real estate between the East and West coasts.

To the stirring cadence of the environmental lobby's marching Birkenstocks, our federal government has driven whole rural communities into idle poverty rather than disturb a single whisker on the chin of a single kangaroo rat. At the same time, the government has sanctioned abortion and attempted gun-control - neither concept a big seller in rural America.

So, having been relegated to a spot on the political food chain about 10 notches below that of the snail darter, many rural Americans seem to believe that maybe their government isn't listening. Combine this with the Waco and Ruby Ridge massacres and you begin to understand the angry genesis of the state militia movement in which thousands of otherwise law-abiding Americans are arming themselves and threatening to shoot Smokey the Bear and other minions of the federal government.

In "A Force Upon the Plain," Kenneth Stern portrays the militia movement as an olive drab Ku Klux Klan that has recycled its racist philosophy in patriotic, anti-government rhetoric. To Mr. Stern, the militias are essentially defined by their lowest common, nutjob denominators whose paranoia would be amusing if they weren't heavily armed. Mr. Stern provides numerous tales of extreme militia elements viciously harassing public servants for supposed violations of the Constitution (as bizarrely interpreted by the harassers) while making xenophobic predictions of an imminent U.N. invasion of the United States.

The author believes that anti-paramilitary legislation is needed to compel law enforcement to confront the militias. He hints darkly that the police - in particular the FBI - are reluctant to stand up to the militias since they are composed primarily of white, conservative males.

This tiresome, Klan-like racial stereotyping unfairly ignores the highly effective work done by the FBI, ATF and numerous state police agencies against white hate groups. Indeed, if the FBI's war against the Klan is any precedent, in the wake of the Oklahoma City atrocity, the militias are no doubt enjoying an excellent level of police protection afforded by a biblically-proportioned infestation of law enforcement agents and informants festooned with the latest in electronic surveillance gear. So, if the militias rise up, the biggest danger will be that of the feds accidentally shooting each other and destroying a small fortune in government-owned bugging equipment.

Mr. Stern dwells on the antics of the wackiest right-wing suspects but leaves virtually unexamined the cause-and-effect relationship between a pratfalling government's domestic policies and the disgust motivating many non-racist, sane Americans to support the militias. Which raises the troublesome issue - also not seriously addressed by this book - of whether the lunatic fringe will find common cause with a broader disaffected rural population that day by day in growing numbers is withdrawing its consent to be governed by the nozzle adjusters. If that happens, there won't be enough police or laws to contain the damage.

Lloyd George Parry, as a former federal and state prosecutor, conducted many undercover investigations of clandestine criminal and terrorist organizations. He practices law in Philadelphia.

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