Right-wing outrage is expected but missing

January 07, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

WHERE IS good old-fashioned conservative outrage when and where you would most expect to find it? It was abundant in the cases of David Koresh and his followers in Waco, Texas, four years ago and in the 1992 shootout in Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

In early December, a story hit the news wires that the U.S. Army, after 30 years, has finally admitted spying on civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. during his last days in Memphis, Tenn. Either conservatives didn't get outraged or they didn't see the story. Or maybe King was simply too left-wing for the story to arouse their ire.

Randy Weaver was a white separatist who engaged federal marshals in the shootout at Ruby Ridge that left several people dead. Conservatives sympathized with Weaver, excoriating federal police agencies for the use of excessive force and suggesting that, at any rate, Weaver had the right to his beliefs and to be left alone.

Similar outrage followed the shootout in Waco between Koresh's Branch Davidian followers and federal agents. The outrage became near hysteria when the Branch Davidian compound burned down - in a fire started either by Koresh's followers or the FBI, depending on whose propaganda you choose to believe - and killed virtually everyone inside.

It was a startling repeat of history. Only nine years before, nearly the same scenario played out in Philadelphia, when city officials set fire to the house occupied by members of a radical activist organization called MOVE. Nearly all MOVE members in the house were killed and dozens of houses destroyed. This came after a standoff between MOVE and Philadelphia police. There wasn't a conservative voice in the country that offered even a whimper of protest about what happened to MOVE, whose members killed no one in this confrontation. We can't quite say the same about the Weaver and Koresh incidents, when federal agents were killed in both.

Therein may lie the difference. To arouse the conscience of conservatives, maybe you have to actually kill federal agents. Either that, or your politics must be so far to the right Barry Goldwater would look like a pinko by comparison. Weaver was on the far right. Koresh's politics weren't clear, but he was a man who had his followers stockpile arms and who believed he was God. That must be good enough to pass as a right-winger for some conservatives.

King, on the other hand, killed no one. But he believed in such distinctly unconservative things as a redistribution of wealth and large amounts of federal government aid for the poor. He opposed the Vietnam War, and was in Memphis during the last few weeks of his life because he felt that the city's sanitation workers were being treated unjustly.

In short, King was a perfect target for surveillance by Army intelligence. Or so Army intelligence officials believed, if you've read the news stories that revealed the lame excuses they gave for spying on King.

Army agents didn't keep King under surveillance, they claimed. They "monitored his public appearances." They played no part in King's assassination, as some conspiracy theorists have claimed. "They watched for outbreaks of violence during the city's volatile garbage workers' strike I and the information collected was used to decide whether to send armed troops to Memphis," according to one wire story.

So they were just protecting the good old U.S. of A. from the Great Garbage Workers' Uprising of 1968, were they? How noble zTC of them. It strikes me that deciding to send armed troops into Memphis in that situation would be within the jurisdiction of either the mayor of Memphis or the governor of Tennessee. This admission by retired Army intelligence officials left me aghast. It left me pining for, albeit fleetingly, a Confederate victory during the Civil War.

What these retired Army intelligence agents were admitting was this: that the Army carried out domestic spying on this country's citizens to determine where, when and whether to engage in war on those citizens. Their orders came from President Lyndon B. Johnson, who - having lied unconscionably to get this country to escalate the Vietnam War - ordered Army agents to monitor anti-war and civil rights groups.

It's becoming clearer now why the anti-Federalists of old viewed with suspicion a standing army that supported a large, centralized federal government.

"[Standing armies] have always proved the destruction of liberty," the anti-Federalists wrote in the Brutus essays, "and are abhorrent to the spirit of a free republic." Today's conservatives would do well, in light of the most recent Army domestic spying revelation, to brush up on their anti-Federalist reading.

Pub Date: 1/07/98

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