February 13, 2010

It's not news to regular C&L readers that militias are forming again in rural areas, a reality confirmed this summer by the SPLC.

It's deja vu all over again. And just as they did in the '90s, they're all insisting they really are just sincere patriots concerned about the looming tyranny of the federal government. And just as in the '90s, journalists are lapping it up.

The chief beneficiaries of this parachute-style journalism have been the reformed Michigan Militia, which was previously profiled by CNN in similarly heartwarming fashion.

Two reports this week on the Michigan Militia continued in this vein, though they at least contained some notes indicating that something darker is at work with militia organizing than the image the militiamen themselves want to cultivate -- that of ordinary citizens who are being civic-minded and patriotic.

Which is true. What's also true is that they're jacked up on large doses of paranoia about a "tyranny" that simply doesn't exist (particularly a fear that President Obama plans to take their guns away).

What's striking to me is how they sound just like the militiamen I met in the 1990s when they knew reporters were around (and, as we learned eventually, it was quite different from the way they talked among themselves in private). But even then, they sounded fairly extreme and marginal in their beliefs.

Now, they sound just like your average Tea Partier. Indeed, it's remarkable how much their rhetoric is echoes Glenn Beck.

One report, from Michigan NPR Radio, was reasonably careful in dealing with the subject:

It's a Wednesday night in February, and 22 men and one woman are gathered at Mayberry's Restaurant in Farmington Hills. They're all Caucasian. Some are middle-aged, out of shape; others are in their twenties, and fit.

This is the militia's monthly business meeting. It's also recruitment night.

You also get the feeling that the militiamen are overhyping the success of their recruitment efforts:

Only one potential new member shows up at the meeting. Jeff is in his early thirties, he has a wife and a new baby. He's deeply distrustful of the government and he believes something is to about happen, probably the collapse of the American economy.

"Well, I feel like I can't rely on our elected officials, I can't rely on our military who works for our government, so bottom line is we have to have somebody to rely on," he says.

This is fairly typical of the paranoia that was common to the '90s militias as well. Of course, if you watch Glenn Beck regularly and believe the garbage he peddles, then you're probably going to be in a similar state of mind.

They're also fearful about their guns, still:

Protecting the Second Amendment is the primary reason for the militia's existence.

Jeff is 42. He's a rifle team leader. He believes the current administration is sneaking around the back door to take his guns away, and he wants the right to protect his family during an emergency

"Okay, I've got this food, I've got this water," he says. "I need to be able to defend that from people that don't. In a time of need, a couple of weeks without food and water and gasoline, people are going to be hungry. And they're going to do desperate things to do whatever they can to feed their families."

Right. Sounds a lot like that scenario

Beck's guest offered just the other day.

The second piece on the Michiganders was from WWMT-TV, and it contained largely more of the same.

In it, militia leader Lee Miracle does offer a novel reason why it's unfair to connect the militias to Tim McVeigh:

“Let's say after the Oklahoma City bombing they said Timothy McVeigh, a known bread eater, blew up a building. Now when you go the store and buy some bread they're going to say, 'Oh he's eating bread just like Timothy McVeigh,'” said Miracle.

Well, if there were something in bread that made a person a person believe in conspiracy theories and various "facts" about incipient government tyranny that eventually will enslave all Americans, then this might be an accurate analogy. Because all that is true of the militias, and has a powerful causal connections to the motives of people like McVeigh when they set off bombs and commit terrorist acts. It is not, however, true of bread.

Which is why one can't help be darkly amused when the WWMT reporter asks Miracle if there's any chance he could suddenly become a violent terrorist with a gun. His answer:

“No, I'm a postal worker."

Somehow, that's less than assuring.

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