Anarchists are learning to do it by the book

September 01, 1996|By Glenn McNatt

WITH thousands of anti- government activists -- militia groups, militant tax protesters, anti-gun-control zealots and right-wing extremists -- set to descend on Washington this weekend, I got out my ancient copy of William Powell's 1971 underground classic, "The Anarchist Cookbook," to bone up on the mind-set of the violent fringe.

Ever since the bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in April 1995, news reports have cited "The Anarchist Cookbook" as evidence of the ease with which homespun terrorists can get access to information about bomb-making and other acts of mayhem.

Not all of the people who come to Washington this weekend will be bomb-throwing anarchists, of course. But it's a good bet that a lot of them probably are sympathetic to many of the views purveyed by the cookbook, which, ironically, was once part of the radical underground samizdat of the hippies and yippies of the 1960s.

The book purports to offer recipes for everything from hallucinogenic drugs to homemade high explosives. There are, for example, instructions for mixing batches of nitroglycerin, mercury fulminate and TNT -- DO NOT, repeat, DO NOT attempt to make any of the compounds described in these sections -- along with advice on how to use gun, knife, crossbow and garrote:

"Every person, whether in wartime in not, should keep a pistol and a rifle in his house at all times," the cookbook solemnly intones. "If a person is not going to protect himself, and wishes the government to do it for him, how can he complain when the government decides to protect itself against him, and executes him?"

It even has a now sadly outdated section on electronic surveillance and sabotage aimed at people who are baffled by technology yet retain a paranoid turn of mind:

"Important, before attempting any telephone wire cutting, get hold of a copy of the telephone repairman's manual, and read it!"

I got my copy of the cookbook from a left-wing Yale undergraduate sometime during the '70s. But I never took seriously its kitchen-sink chemistry or its puerile revolutionary politics ("Have you noticed that the people who actually make the laws, the people in power, never make laws for themselves? They pass legislation for the other people, who don't want the laws to begin with.").

Nor could I imagine any sane person adopting its methods for political change. It was clear even then that anyone foolish enough to build bombs in the basement would either land in jail or blow himself or herself up.

For years I attributed the cookbook's amazing popularity -- it is said to have generated $25 million in sales in the quarter-century since its publication -- to the fad for leftish adolescent rebellion among the permanently over-privileged.

But now it seems the cookbook has found a new niche among the cadres of troubled loners and angry misfits who gravitate to right-wing extremist movements and their leaders.

The New York Times reported recently that across the nation there has been an upsurge of bombings and attempted bombings, which nearly tripled over the last decade, from 1,103 in 1985 to 3,163 in 1994.

The perpetrators of these acts are remarkably ordinary-seeming Americans, mostly white, lower-middle-class suburbanites with families and car payments, who have come to believe that the government really is the enemy.

Recently authorities in Washington state arrested nine people on charges of conspiracy to bomb federal buildings and the United Nations. The group included a house painter, a chimney sweep, two Boeing Co. workers, a mason, a religious teacher, a television repairman and assorted odd jobbers, the Times reported.

In Arizona, authorities arrested members of a paramilitary group on similar charges after an undercover agent videotaped them gleefully setting off homemade bombs in the desert near Phoenix.

These people don't fit the profile of the foreign terrorist or religiously inspired fanatic. They are a sort of garden-variety bomber who have taken root in their native soil because books like the "The Anarchist Cookbook" and its clones on the Internet that are only a keystroke away pander to their delusions of persecution while making it easier than ever to obtain bomb-making materials and step-by-step instructions for building powerful explosive devices.

Thus does the faddish adolescent rebellion of the over-privileged devolve into the disgruntled adult anarchy of newly superfluous wage earners whose ranks are swelled daily by the radical restructuring of the U.S economy through corporate downsizing, export of manufacturing jobs and the irresponsible shredding of the social safety net by the tax-cutting demagogy of both political parties.

The people who are gathering in Washington this weekend probably don't think of themselves as anarchists, but they share a common philosophy that says it is practicable and desirable to abolish all organized government, laws and machinery for law enforcement and to replace them with a stateless society in which harmony is maintained by voluntary agreements among individuals and groups.

That is a classic definition of anarchism. What is disturbing is that the idea of government as the oppressor has become an accepted part of the political discourse of both conservative and liberal establishments, who thereby pay sly lip service to the lunatic fringe.

But they are playing a dangerous game that, like the cookbook's half-baked recipes for dynamite and TNT, sooner or later is liable to blow up in their faces.

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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