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-by John L. Moore

Militia Myths

Special section: America, America

I sat in a California living room while a man from Idaho displayed his homemade driver's license, quoting from the Constitution to explain why the government had no right to regulate his freedom of movement. Where is the Other America? In your neighbor's head. America is a memory, the meaning of which is always being contested.

See, for example, a collection of essays entitled History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past, edited by Edward T. Linenthal and Tom Engelhardt (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 295 pp.; $30). You'll recall the controversy that resulted when the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum set out to mount an exhibit featuring the Enola Gay (the B-29 that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima) to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II. The editors comment: "The opening of a history front in the decade-old culture wars, even if only a new twist on an old act for Republicans and right-wingers, has been a genuinely shocking experience for historians committed to examining cherished national narratives."

My heart goes out to the students of those genuinely shocked historians. Are their professors really so utterly clueless? The history wars are never-ending, and no wing, right or left, has a monopoly on outrage. In this special section, we visit a few contested sites of memory. American origins: individualistic or communitarian? Is the Constitution just whatever the judges say it is? Should we continue to read America's intellectual history as written by the pragmatists and their heirs--Rorty, et al.--in which, as it happens, they are the bringers of enlightenment? Was there any justification for the internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II? How does the history of religion in America look when women are added to the story? Join us, if you're not too easily shocked.


American Militias: Rebellion, Racism, and Religion

By Richard Abanes


296 pp.; $14.99, paper

Gathering Storm: America's Militia Threat

By Morris Dees, with James Corcoran


254 pp.; $24

Militia. What an ugly subject. You cannot say the word without seeing images of Oklahoma City and the torn bodies of men, women, and children.

Militia. A carelessly used word. In its primary meaning, it refers to citizens enrolled and trained for the internal defense of a state. That was meant to be the role of a state's National Guard, but they are more supplements to the federal military now than guardians of individual entities. The National Guard was very active--with above average mortality--in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Militia. The popular definition? A private army of pot-bellied, middle-aged men acting out Rambo fantasies with ak-47s, fueled by insane conspiracy theories involving Jews, blacks, and the New World Order. A term encompassing everything from law-abiding citizens who believe in self-defense and the right to bear arms to radical groups such as the Freemen, the Aryan Nations, even the Ku Klux Klan.

Militia. The last bastion of power for angry white guys.

I am an angry white male living in a state famous for angry white males, including the Freemen, the Militia of Montana (MOM), and--on the opposite end of the radical spectrum--Ted Kaczynski, the alleged Unabomber.

I am very unhappy with the government. I work myself to the bone, but taxes keep me broke and tired. I vote regularly but have lost faith in the ability of the political process to bring about meaningful change. The government interferes with almost everything I try to do. It is too big, too corrupt, too impersonal, and too unaccountable.

In some ways I am like many militia members. Perhaps you are, too.

"We must remember that most of those involved in the Patriot movement are good Americans," writes Morris Dees, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center, in Gathering Storm: America's Militia Threat. "They simply have gripes against the government. Most of us probably share a number of their views."

Yapping dogs. So many yapping dogs we are tempted to turn over in our sleep, cover our heads with pillows. The warnings of a real watchdog could be drowned out by this cacophony of idiocy.

Richard Abanes, the author of American Militias: Rebellion, Racism, and Religion, is worried about this milieu. In their separate styles, both he and Dees are suggesting we leave a night-light on and sleep less soundly. Abanes even predicts a wave of homegrown terror between now and the year 2001, as if the approaching millennial date were a full moon driving the barking dogs crazy. "I expect growing violence and physical danger," he has told me. "Just about everyone will be touched somehow by the terrorism. Besides that, there is the threat of psychological seduction. Some conservative Christians now embrace virtually anyone who shares contempt for the liberal establishment."

The picture is further clouded by groups that selectively appropriate Christian teachings and symbols--groups such as Christian Identity, defined by Abanes as a "social, political, and spiritual movement composed of religiously inclined racists from the ranks of the neo-Nazi community, the KKK, and other white supremacist organizations," with roots in British-Israelism.

Abanes and Dees single out Pat Robertson, Beverly LaHaye, and Pat Buchanan as national leaders whose predictions, beliefs, or campaigns have been influenced by people with connections to the extreme fringe on the right wing.

Right wing. I hate even using the term. Yes, I'm a conservative white male living in a rural state, but it gets even worse: I attend church regularly, listen to Rush Limbaugh, and own a number of rifles and handguns, including a semi-automatic Ruger Mini-14. In the eyes of many, that would be more than enough to damn me as a right-wing zealot. If Newsweek could identify white supremacist Randy Weaver as a "Christian fundamentalist" (Weaver and his family were members of Christian Identity), as they did in an August 1995 piece, then the door can swing both ways. "Evangelical," "fundamentalist," or "charismatic" Christians are automatically dangerous right-wingers.

Are the yapping dogs fulfilling their own paranoid prophecies by bringing down persecution on any person or group identified as "conservative" and "Christian"? Abanes believes that potential exists, and his book, being Christian in perspective, takes a serious look at the religious roots and branches of this noxious shrub of paramilitarism. For example, he contends that Weaver's favorite book is Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth. This could prove upsetting to church librarians who have assumed that the camo-clad limit their reading to The Turner Diaries or the equally ficticious Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Simplistic solutions for salving endtime fears are perennially popular among scapegoaters and the spiritually irresponsible.

Most of us in Montana, Christian and otherwise, shudder as our beautiful state is identified with patriot groups, militias, and white supremacists. While many of their neighbors sympathized with the Freemen's frustrations with the government, hardly any supported their actions, and most considered them hypocrites or self-righteous nut cases. Like Kaczynski, most of Montana's radicals are transplants attracted by the state's isolation and its libertarian independence. Montanans have long had a philosophy that anyone can do anything he or she wants as long as they are not hurting others. Words and ideas don't hurt. Say what you want. Think what you want. It's a free country; just stay out of my pasture if I put up a No Trespassing sign.

It is time for Christians to tell the paramilitary conspiracy fanatics that our green pastures are off limits. Call it tough love. Call it the limits of grace. But an ignorant and agendized media are easily misled and will rush to believe goats proclaiming themselves to be sheep. If goats are thought of as sheep, all sheep will soon be considered goats. It is for the Christian--hence the value of Abanes's book--to pursue discernment and draw the proverbial line in the sand.

While their individual soldiers are often well-intended--some militias perform valuable social and civil services--the private armies and patriot groups are neither good prophets nor reliable watchdogs. Their prophecies are often conceived in the echo chambers of the Internet, void of accountability and attribution. Their barks of warning are mostly static. No direction, no music, no poetry: just a blaring of base and baseless fears. While feigning secrecy and service, they thrive in the spotlight. Especially the leadership. Has Bo Gritz seen a microphone he didn't love?

Last year at a gun show in Billings, I rushed past tables of survivalists' trinkets and warfare manuals on my way to the men's room. As I reached for the handle, the door suddenly swung open and out stepped John Trochmann, the balding, bearded, patriarchal leader of the Militia of Montana. His deep-set eyes sparkled, his silver beard glistened, and his chrome dome reflected the bathroom's fluorescent lights. Trochmann pivoted gracefully and bowed--almost genuflecting--holding the door open as if beckoning me toward a sovereign's throne.

Thanks, I thought to myself. But the gesture is ostentatious. You are merely pointing the way toward the toilet.

An All-White Heaven

>Many Christian patriots believe the end is near and view Washington politicians as evil conspirators laying the foundation for the soon-to-be revealed Antichrist, whose reign of terror will end only when Jesus Christ returns to earth in glory. Many white supremacists also feel the end is approaching. They, however, see the government as a Jewish pawn that must be destroyed in preparation for an Armageddon-like race war. In this last days scenario, whites emerge victorious from the battle to establish an Aryan republic in America.

A preoccupation with the end-times is shared by Christians and white supremacists because many white supremacists emerged from mainstream Christian denominations. Unfortunately, these non-Christian defectors from the faith have borrowed heavily from their Christian roots, picking those doctrines that are most appealing--especially beliefs associated with the end-times--and blending them with racial prejudice.

The reason many Christians are re-establishing links with non-Christian racists is twofold: (1) rhetoric denouncing the government has recently become widespread within the evangelical community; and (2) some Christian leaders are accepting without hesitation anyone who appears to be a like-minded government-basher. As a result, evangelicals--who profess a faith free of prejudice--are often endorsing and sharing public platforms with neo-Nazis, former Ku Klux Klan leaders and other racists.

-From American Militias

John Moore is a writer. His novel The Limits of Mercy, just published by Thomas Nelson, completes the trilogy begun with The Breaking of Ezra Riley and continued in Leaving the Land.

Copyright(c) 1996 by Christianity Today, Inc/BOOKS & CULTURE, journal

November/December 1996, Vol. 2, No. 6, Page 18


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