Beck's 'Civilest War' Is A Revival Of 1990s Militia-movement 'Constitutionalism'

[media id=8280] You may have seen the Fox promos for Glenn Beck's program later today, all about how you, too, can help free the country from the tyr

You may have seen the Fox promos for Glenn Beck's program later today, all about how you, too, can help free the country from the tyranny of "the Fed". Beck calls it "the Civilest War," and he compares it to The Matrix:

In the movie the hero is offered two pills: red to learn the truth about the Matrix; blue to go on living blissfully ignorant to what is really going on.

The way to take our country back will short-circuit the Matrix we are living in. And it has to do with gun rights, state's rights and what I call the civilest war.

No doubt it will be another exercise in right-wing populism. But what most of the attendees -- and probably not even Beck himself -- will be aware of is that the ideas Beck is promoting at this event originated with the far-right Patriot/militia in the 1990s, all about asserting "state sovereignty" in a radical way first devised by radical-right "constitutionalists".

Beck's adoption of these idea originated, apparently, at the April 20 "tea parties," when a Montana legislator appeared on Fox to talk about his legislation -- actually signed into law by Montana's governor -- that asserted that any guns made in Montana could not be regulated by the federal government. Since then, other states have adopted the measure -- and are, moreover, following in the footsteps of those same Montana legislators, who subsequently have been proposing legislation taking this particularly ball even farther down the field:

Along with the gun bill, Montana legislators are considering a resolution that affirms the 10th Amendment principle that the federal government only has those powers that are specifically given to it by the U.S. Constitution.

“The whole goal is to awaken the people so that we can return to a properly grounded republic,” Rep. Michael More, R-Gallatin Gateway and the Montana resolution’s sponsor, said at a House committee hearing Wednesday.

As many as fifteen other Legislatures have also been mulling resolutions that buck federal control in states such as New Hampshire, South Carolina, Missouri and Oklahoma.

This fired up Beck's imagination, who hosted the following segment on his Fox News show earlier this month, on May 8:

Beck, you see, believes that this legislation will be the spark that sets a grassfire that will burn up the federal government. Lotsa luck with that -- especially considering its origins.

This legislation is neither new nor innovative. It was first proposed in the 1990s by Charles Duke, then a Republican state senator from Colorado. Duke's blueprint has been picked up by all of these would-be legislative insurgents. If you look, for example, at the Minnesota effort, you'll find that Duke's thinking is guiding them on this.

Who is Charles Duke?

A Colorado electrician turned politician, Charles Duke was truly the militiaman's representative. Serving six years in the state House and almost four in the state Senate, the Republican from Monument was also honorary chairman of the National State Sovereignty Coalition, a Patriot outfit. He wrote a weekly column for a key Patriot publication, The Free American.

CharlesDuke_a3e94.JPG Duke once outraged constituents by asking a crowd how many thought the federal government was behind the Oklahoma City bombing. He told The Wall Street Journal that "an executive order is being prepared by President Clinton to suspend the Bill of Rights." He suggested that GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich was involved in bugging his home. And he tried to broker an end to the Montana Freeman standoff.

Then came an epiphany. After a summer in a cabin hidden deep in the woods, Duke emerged to say "the Lord God almighty" had suggested that he drop out of politics and instead learn "how to survive in a country devoid of freedom."

For a time, he did. But last year, he was spotted at "America's Tea Party 2000," a kind of conspiracy theorists' convention.

As you can see, the "Tea Party" idea isn't exactly new, either. But even more disturbing was how Duke went about promoting his proposals. The Anti-Defamation League has a rundown:

Duke, a Republican State Senator in Colorado, has spoken at rallies of far-right anti-government activists and has made supportive statements about the activities of militia groups. Duke has been described as a leader of the Tenth Amendment Movement, which refers to a provision of the Constitution that addresses the relationship between the Federal Government and the states. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Tenth Amendment Movement is "an amalgam of small-town populists, gun enthusiasts, old Ross Perot supporters and private militias who share a deep distrust, almost a hatred of the Federal government."

Duke has stated: "The few militia people I know practice a policy of nonviolence... not altogether different from a Boy Scout kind of idea."

He has described himself as a "zealot" and a "revolutionary."

At a meeting of far-right activists in July 1994, Duke said: "We need some ability to get some firepower to protect the citizens. I would like to see a militia... [the type] that functions as a sheriff's posse and has sufficient training."

... In March 1995, he was a featured speaker at the Voice of Liberty Patriots conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The event was planned by Rick Tyler, a leader in the anti-tax Constitutionalist movement, who has told listeners of his shortwave radio show that government agencies are "ruthless, they are cunning, they are cutthroat, and furthermore, we are their target."

In June 1994, Duke spoke at a conference sponsored by the Kansas-based "Constitutionists," whose leader, Evan Meacham, is the impeached former governor of Arizona. Duke promoted the formation of militias as an effective way for citizens to protect themselves from the government.

In June 1995, he attended a Nevada Sovereignty Committee conference in Las Vegas, where he harshly criticized the federal government: "The tyranny of King George is alive and well and living in America today."

Most notably, Duke found an ardent following with the white-supremacist Christian Identity movement, appearing on the movement's main shortwave radio program and submitting to interviews with its newspaper, The Jubilee:

Duke was a featured guest on The Jubilee's shortwave program, "NewsLight," when he promoted the Tenth Amendment Resolution. The Jubilee is a bi-monthly newspaper filled with anti-Semitic, racist and anti-government rhetoric. The newspaper is also affiliated with the Identity movement, which identifies whites of European ancestry as the "true chosen people," blacks as "mud people" and Jews as "Satan's spawn."

Duke was scheduled to be a featured speaker at The Jubilee's 1994 "Jubilation Celebration" conference. He backed out at the last minute.

Duke also was brought out to Jordan, Montana, in 1996 during the 81-day FBI standoff with the Montana Freemen to negotiate, since he was one of the few public officials the Freemen trusted. Duke failed, though of course the Freemen eventually surrendered peacefully anyway.

I described these negotiations in my book In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest (in Chapter 10):

Charles Duke is a balding, bespectacled 53-year-old with a mild middle-aged paunch who could pass for a your neighborhood Amway salesman (or Kenneth Starr’s brother). In Colorado, he had built his name as a constitutionalist who trumpeted the common-law courts’ cause in the state Legislature, as well as proposing a ``10th Amendment resolution’’ meant to underscore states’ rights. He held an impromptu press conference in Billings on Wednesday, briefly stopping over before flying on to Harrison to pick up Karl Ohs, and then returning to Jordan that afternoon.

His jacket slung over his shoulder, Duke seemed to relish the attention, especially since he was seeking the Republican nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat in Colorado. But he remained low-key: ``I may strike out too,’’ he said. ``I don’t want to kid you.’’

The next day, Duke walked into the compound with Karl Ohs and two FBI agents at his side. They met the Freemen at a little rise on the edge of the ranch, next to the driveway. The FBI brought three folding chairs, but the four Freemen -- Skurdal, Jacobi, Landers and Edwin Clark -- declined to sit. They talked for an hour and forty minutes, then went home. There were handshakes at the end.

The next day, Duke and the agents brought a card table and seven folding chairs. This time, everyone sat and talked. At one point, Edwin Clark stood up and turned away from the table, but did not leave. Afterward, Duke told the assembled reporters that ``we’re not close enough that I can see the end yet.’’ The talks, he said, were ``horribly complex,’’ involving ``probably thirty or forty major issues.’’

At one point, Edwin Clark explained to Duke his chief fear about surrendering: If the Freemen gave up, he feared, they would be killed by being injected with cancer-causing toxins. He told an anecdote apparently relayed to them by LeRoy Schweitzer from prison, referring to Schweitzer’s brief hunger strike when he spent a few days at a Missouri facility: ``When he went to Missouri, a man, a doctor from New York City come in and told LeRoy, he says, ‘You’ll never see the light of day.’ And he says, ‘I’ll guarantee you before you leave here I’m gonna inject you with a deadly, uh, dose of cancer.’’

And Clark alleged there were other jailhouse druggings of Patriots. ``I know two of them, one of them at least, he was as healthy as a fucking horse when he went in there, and he came back ... there was another, I can’t remember his name, they, they gave him a lethal dose of ‘no brains’ when he come back.’’

Russell Landers, Duke’s onetime acolyte, was even more belligerent. ``I can tell you right now I’m not the kind of damn fool that’s going to lay over,’’ he told Duke. ``We’re not here in this logistically defendable position as fools. We’re guerrilla warfare, and I’m sorry, Charlie, but I feel very strongly about this, but they can take their fucking warrants and shove ‘em right up their asses where that thirty-ought-six of mine is gonna drill ‘em.’’

After three days of negotiations, Duke announced a breakthrough on a ``major issue’’ that he thought could bring about a surrender. As he described it, the Freemen had finally put something on the table on their own, a break from the talks’ one-sidedness.

``It’s their proposal, that’s what makes it positive,’’ Duke said. ``In the past I’ve seen the FBI put something on the table, give a little, give a little, give a little. They’ve actually been very creative in the items they’ve placed on the table. Up until today we’ve had very little in the way of response. But that changed today.’’

The FBI was more circumspect, only emphasizing that no agreement had been reached. They already had seen how reliable the Freemen’s word was. In the meantime, they erected a canopy at the roadside meeting site. The sun was out, and the Montana spring already was getting warm.

The first break in the talks came on the fourth day of Duke’s negotiations, when Gloria and Elwin Ward brought Gloria’s two daughters to the canopy to talk about getting out. Risking the wrath of the hard-core faction, they asked if Utah officials’ earlier offer to drop the custody charges still stood. The FBI said they would ask. Russell Landers stood off to one side with the girls and Duke while Gloria Ward and the agents talked.

Apparently, the threat of losing the protection of the little girls made the Freemen pull in their horns. The next day, only Edwin

Clark and Landers came out to meet with the negotiators, and they arrived fifteen minutes late. The agents handed them a sheaf of papers and after only forty minutes, they returned inside.

The next day, May 21, it all blew up. Only Rodney Skurdal came out to meet the agents, and he only came out to announce that the deals were off. Duke exploded at him, as Skurdal crept back inside a waiting vehicle. ``You aren’t man enough to come face me! Get out of that car!’’ the beet-red Duke shouted.

At Media Hill, Duke was still crimson-faced. ``I told him, ‘I’m going to go out of here and I’m going to tell the American people what you’re doing here. You will not get support from the Patriot community, you will not get support from the militia community and if you die, nobody’s going to avenge you.’ ’’ Only a handful of the Freemen inside believed in the cause, he said, and ``the rest are nothing but criminals trying to escape prosecution.’’ Duke was especially indignant about their continuing grip on the fate of the three children inside: ``One can only conclude that the adults inside care only for their safety and care not one whit for the safety of their children, because they’re willing to sacrifice them and use them as a shield,’’ he said. Duke flew back to Colorado that afternoon.

Duke briefly resurfaced in Colorado in 2007, but quietly receded to the background again.

However, his legacy lives on -- thanks to a handful of right-wing legislators, and especially Glenn Beck and Fox News.

About David Neiwert

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