Robert A. Levine February 10, 2016
The occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon by an armed anti-government group starting last month has opened the eyes of many Americans to a threat that exists in our midst. It may be that unknowingly, this group performed a public service.
Outside the political system in the United States and generally disdainful of the workings of government and the political parties are extreme partisan organizations consisting of conspiracy theorists, militia members, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, secessionists, and other similar groups, angry at the way America has evolved. Those who are still willing to test the political process generally support Donald Trump for president, believing he is the strong man America needs.
The river of anger runs deep in these groups who feel that white men have lost their preferred position in society. And decent jobs are not plentiful for those without advanced educations. The elites have outsourced their work to China and other nations with the federal government doing nothing to stop them. Mortality rates have also gone up for middle-aged white men in the last several decades, with increased incidences of suicide, alcoholism, and drug use.
Virtually all of these outsider groups favor permissive gun rights and less taxes, and are firmly anti-government in their views. Many of these organizations trace their paternity to the John Birch Society, founded in 1958, which was strongly anti-communist, and to Senator Joseph McCarthy.
The John Birch Society, which was beyond the political fringe, perceived most liberals and even moderates as communists. The John Birchers suggested that Eisenhower had been an agent of the international communist conspiracy and demanded that Chief Justice Earl Warren be impeached. Though he worked within the system, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin also spawned conspiracy theories in the 1950s, claiming without proof that 205 communists had infiltrated the State Department and holding anti-communist witch hunts through his Senate committee.
Currently, anti-government activists and militias are trying to take over land in the West that belongs to the federal government, whose ownership they do not recognize. Some Congressional Republicans have considered setting up a land transfer fund to buy the land from the federal government and sell it to the states, counties, or private buyers. Environmentalists are vehemently opposed as neither the states nor the counties have the funds to manage the federal lands properly. There is also fear that it will be sold cheaply to developers.
Last month, Ammon Bundy, a rancher from Nevada, and a group of his armed cohorts began occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, saying they had come to support a fellow rancher who had gone to prison for refusing to pay grazing rights for his cattle on public lands. The local population repeatedly asked them to leave, but they remained in place, defying local and federal officials, while accusing the government of tyranny for controlling the West’s land.
The authorities, probably remembering Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992, and Waco, Texas in 1993 as well as other confrontations, tried to avoid a shootout with the Oregon group to get them off the land. The police did arrest some of the insurgents at a highway traffic stop a few weeks ago when they left the refuge, killing one of the resisting members. But the refuge still remained occupied by others in the group. Receiving a request from Bundy, some did abandon the refuge, leaving a small group behind. However, these people are cut off from supplies and it is likely they will surrender or leave soon.
Another standoff has been going on in East Texas for fifteen years after a militia member assaulted a state trooper and was released on bond. Subsequently, he has refused to appear in court and has not left his property. He and his relatives have armed themselves and told the police to bring body bags if they want to come and get him.
The number of armed anti-government militias has ballooned since the beginning of the Obama administration, with 276 groups noted in 2015 by an organization that tracks extremists, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). A former analyst with the Department of Homeland Security believes the government is not doing enough to gather intelligence and combat potential threats from the right-wing anti-government extremists around the country. Domestic terrorism presents as much of a threat or more so than radical Islamic groups like ISIS. Between 2002 and 2011, right-wing extremists were responsible for an average of 330 attacks a year, killing a total of 250 people.
The SPLC is concerned that domestic terrorists have been emboldened by the lack of government action against their groups, which is interpreted by them as weakness. Given the growth of these groups and the powerful weapons in the hands of these domestic terrorists it may be merely a matter of time before a fuse is lit and a major explosion occurs. Hopefully, the government will move against them before that happens. But don’t bet on it!!
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