Rural America: Big government's rage-filled victims Violence: Militias, other country-based movements grow from a real experience of being oppressed and dispossessed.

The Argument

October 05, 1997|By Lloyd George Parry | Lloyd George Parry,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Recently, the black residents of rural, impoverished Convent, Louisiana were slated to get more than 160 new jobs, once a proposed $700 million plastics plant was built in their community. These were to be high-paying manufacturing jobs. They would have afforded a better life for scores of families now subsisting on welfare or the pittance earned by backbreaking seasonal labor harvesting sugar cane.

Prodded by Greenpeace and Tulane University's Environmental Law Clinic, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency halted development. Even though the planned facility surpassed Louisiana's stringent pollution control standards, the EPA cited it as an example of "environmental racism," industry's alleged practice of disproportionately exposing minorities to ecological hazards.

Greenpeace and the EPA were no doubt mystified when the near victims of environmental racism protested and demanded that the plant's construction proceed because they needed jobs. Tulane's Environmental Law Clinic responded with an alternative plan. Instead of manufacturing plastics, Convent could build a "cultural tourism industry" based on the antebellum plantations in the area.

Apparently, to the environmental types, this is a non-polluting career with a future: Dress up in costume to shout "quittin" time at Tara.

This appalling result is but one example of government decision making guided by the Beltway's Golden Rule: he who has the gold makes the rules. Rural Americans as a group simply lack the funds to compete for influence against the environmentalists, the huge agri-businesses, the banks, the multinational corporations or any of the other money-wielding lobbying combines who are recycling the land to the exclusion of its inhabitants.

Make no mistake: Many rural dwellers are bitterly angry at what they view as kleptocracy in action.

At the behest of powerful interests, the government has adopted policies that have dispossessed vast numbers of rural dwellers, turning their remote communities into ghost towns, dispersing their families and friends and ending their way of life. This diaspora has led inevitably and predictably to anger and rage directed at the government, the perceived instrument of oppression.

Among the dispossessed, there is a deep and abiding sense of betrayal. Having worked hard, paid their taxes, fought their country's wars and played by the rules, they now - not unreasonably - believe that they lost the game of life because their government sold the rule book to the highest bidder.

They are understandably reinforced in this view by the ongoing and depressing spectacle of the ruling political class sitting up, rolling over and barking at the moon for campaign dollars. And this perception has fueled and intensified a rising tide of anger directed at a federal establishment that, in the eyes of the dispossessed, hypocically poses as a government of, by and for the people.

Where will these dangerous sentiments lead? That is the disquieting question addressed by "Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City Is Only the Beginning." (Westview. 283 pages. $24.) In producing this admirable work, Joel Dyer has courageously forged against the mainstream of revealed truths handed down from on high by the media, academia and the government. These interdependent cartels contend that rural America's swelling fury has no rational basis but, rather, is the peculiar product of bizarre social and religious doctrines rooted in bigotry and ignorance.

Supposed threat

To these elites, the world beyond suburbia is a dark terrain illuminated only by the occasional cross burning and inhabited by slack jawed yokels who have armed themselves and threaten violence against their betters. Consequently, to counter this supposed threat, the elites hysterically demand that federal law enforcement be given expanded powers to infiltrate and subjugate the countryside before the natives get even further out of hand.

In sharp contrast, "Harvest of Rage" carefully describes the destructive impact of decades of government policies and economic practices that now threaten to eradicate rural America. It is this destruction, the author explains, that has driven so many to despair and anger. When the eradication began, in many instances the anger was inner directed resulting in a largely ignored epidemic of suicides among farmers, ranchers, shop owners and others who had lost their homes, businesses and way of life.

Kernals of truth

Now, decades into the destructive process, more and more of the dispossessed have redirected their anger by turning to the armed militia movement and an array of conspiracy theories that, in better times, might never have taken hold. While the media commentators and academics point to these conspiracy theories proof that the militia members are nothing more than delusional, irrational and dangerous racists, the author demonstrates that there can be found kernels of truth underlying even the most extreme and repugnant of these theories.

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