In the 1995, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two Americans, orchestrated an attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. A 7,000-pound truck, a bomb on wheels, packed with explosives, detonated and ripped through the building. The resulting explosion killed 168 people, including 19 children in a daycare center. The attack was the single largest act of domestic terrorism in our nation’s history. What compelled these men to commit such a heinous act was an irrational hatred of the government, a fervent belief in conspiracy theories espoused by the radical right, and extreme prejudice against non-white Americans. Both men subscribed to the racially inflammatory beliefs of the militia movement, a white supremacist network committed to the use of violence to preserve their self-proclaimed entitlement to the nation.
A new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center indicates that the militia movement that spawned the likes of McVeigh and Nichols now exists in the form of a thriving “patriot” movement. This next generation of hate incorporates elements of the militias, gun advocates, “nativists” opposed to immigration, tax protesters, and “birthers,” who have questioned the place of birth and citizenship of President Obama. The alignment of these groups is a dangerous mix that is susceptible to violence given the right combination of encouragement and firearms. The election of the nation’s first Black president appears to have motivated the extreme right, as gun sales have increased and there has been an increase in militia activity since Mr. Obama’s election. Much of what is driving these groups to frenzy is a Black man’s occupation of the nation’s highest office.
The report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center, titled “The Second Wave: Return of the Militias,” details extent to which these groups, all loosely connected, are actively engaged in paramilitary type training exercises and various incidents revealing the threat they pose. One of the most sobering aspects of the present day militia movement, the report notes, is the degree to which so-called “mainstream” voices in media echo the movement’s rhetoric. The report cites the Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck and CNN’s Lou Dobbs as two television personalities who have fanned the flames of suspicion and hate on-air. While media personalities are not solely responsible for the rise of hate groups, the climate their rhetoric fosters gives license to those individuals who, with no provocation, might be more inclined to vent than to act upon their insanity.
The toxic environment the Southern Poverty Law Center describes in its report has been brewing for some time, evident to anyone who has scanned the Internet and come across the hundreds of websites espousing racist, neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic rhetoric. The world wide web has allowed many of these groups, that traditionally acted independently though in concert ideologically, to network and appeal to a larger audience of mostly working-class whites who are financially vulnerable in today’s global economy and angry over their fate. Many of these citizens are not loyal to the ideology of the radical right but do subscribe to conspiracy theories about the government, the banking industry and foreign encroachment of “American” values. The groups provide a convenient platform for whites frustrated by their current predicament. In many instances, historically and in present day, Blacks are a frequent foil for the extreme right; made to blame for the benefits some whites think should naturally accrue to them as a point of privilege.
While it would be easy to dismiss the rants of the extreme right as pure paranoia, the effect of this divisive atmosphere is real and dangerous. The Southern Poverty Law Center report describes how adherents of the patriot movement are arming themselves, with specific examples given of individuals charged with keeping illegal stockpiles of weapons, some military gauge. Gun shows are attracting hordes of militia types, with firearm manufacturers and the National Rifle Association (NRA) feeding the demand for guns among right-wing zealots. Meanwhile, the voices on the right are growing angrier and more pointed by the day, as has been seen in the town hall meetings Members of Congress have hosted to discuss health care reform. The presence of gun-toting protesters at an event in Arizona where President Obama appeared is a likely outcome of the increasingly hostile tone of the radical right.
Beyond the obvious concern among many Blacks for the security of President Obama in this climate, the Black community is unprepared for the violent measures some of these groups are training to execute. Unlike the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan in the 20th century, modern day extremists are operating virtually out of sight but within striking distance of the public. There has been very little engagement by Blacks on rise of the patriot movement and little monitoring of its activities. Recent developments may call for Blacks to become more vigilant and vocal advocates for stringent hates crimes laws, gun control and aggressive law enforcement disruption of these groups. Much like Timothy McVeigh, many of these groups and their followers exhibit very little outward display of racial animus, choosing instead to operate in remote outposts but always posing a threat due to the availability of guns and other weapons. What is clear is that Blacks are a primary target of these hate mongers and need to begin exercising a different level of awareness about groups that focused on their annihilation.