The Nevada Progressive leads off this morning with a column on “Everytown,” and the efforts of those who seek reasonable restrictions on gun ownership, a post following “Clear and Present Danger” on the Bundy Anarchists in southern Nevada. It’s both timely and appropriate to put these thoughts in close proximity.
“There’s really no way to candy-coat it. The extreme fringe of the far right who have once again gained national prominence thanks to Cliven Bundy’s nationally televised temper tantrum are not interested in mere protest. And it’s time for all the rest of us to recognize the clear & present danger of legitimizing this kind of behavior. ” [TNP]
There’s “right wing,” and “far right wing,” and then there’s that “extreme fringe of the far right.” As the Rachel Maddow Show illustrated, they are both armed and dangerous. We have an unfortunate roster of hits and near misses to prove the point.
The Bloody and Near Bloody Decade
On April 19, 1995 Timothy McVeigh bombed the Federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The 7000 pound truck bomb caused massive loss of life and damage. McVeigh was among those on that Extreme Fringe of the Far Right, who could refer to the children killed that day as “collateral damage.” There was a near miss in July 1995 when antigovernment extremist Charles Ray Polk tried to purchase an machine gun and plastic explosives in order to carry out his proposed attack on the Austin, TX Internal Revenue Office. Polk was sentenced to 21 years in a Federal Prison.
On October 9, 1995 the Extreme Fringe scored a hit on an Amtrak Passenger Train in Arizona, leaving antigovernment messages, some signed “Sons of the Gestapo.” There was another near miss in November 1995 when members of the Oklahoma Constitutional Militia were arrested while in the process of planning bombings and attacks on abortion providers and gay bars.
The antigovernment message almost hit close to home when in December 1995 a drum filled with ammonium nitrate and fuel oil failed to detonate at a Reno, NV IRS office. The tax-protester was arrested, tried, and convicted. It would seem that the designation “tax-protester” might be a bit mild for someone who had demolition on his agenda.
January 1996 literally started out with a bang, when the Militia under Commander Pedro, Peter Kevin Langan, tried to shoot it out with the FBI in Ohio. The year continued with a terrorist in Hood River, Oregon stockpiling 460 pounds of Tovex explosive, 746 pounds of ANFO blasting agent, and a collection of homemade hand grenades. April 12, 1996 Larry Shoemake takes his Neo-Nazi extreme fringe behavior into the open and goes on a shooting spree in Jackson MS. He killed one African American man and wounded seven others during his racist shooting rampage. A few days later members of the Militia At Large of the Republic of Georgia are arrested for distributing shrapnel packed pipe bombs to their membership for their ongoing “war” with the government. In July 1996 the Viper Team in Arizona is arrested after they were found videotaping federal facilities as potential targets for their antigovernment attacks. But, there was no “near miss” on July 27, 1996 when Eric Rudolph detonated his bomb in Olympic Park in Atlanta, GA during the Summer Olympics.
Near misses were prevented from becoming real hits when members of the Washington State Militia, the Phineas Priests, and the West Virginia Mountaineer Militia were arrested in 1996 before they could carry out their plans.
Eric Rudolph was back in action in 1997 when he bombed an abortion providing health care center in Sandy Springs, GA, an Atlanta gay bar, and an abortion provider in Birmingham, AL. The year also included a thwarted attempt by the Black Dawn group to stockpile 35,000 rounds of ‘heavy’ ammunition and artillery shells, and another attempt to bomb an IRS office in Kalamazoo, MI. Perhaps the most hazardous near miss came on April 27, 1997 when a Militia planned to cover an armed robbery by blowing up a natural gas refinery in Fort Worth, TX — a facility close to a local elementary school.
This wasn’t the end of antigovernment action in 1997, which included an explosion in Yuba City, CA, a fire in the Colorado Springs, CO IRS office, and a planned attack on Fort Hood wherein the Fringe group thought foreign troops were being trained.
Eric Rudolph wasn’t finished, in 1998 he set off a nail packed remote controlled bomb at a Birmingham abortion provider’s building, and during the same year the Ku Klux Klan planned to assassinate a federal judge in East St. Louis, IL. More attacks were planned in Michigan by the members of the North American Militia of Southwestern Michigan, thankfully foiled. The Republic of Texas should perhaps get the prize for the most bizarre attack plan to assault President Clinton and other federal officials, “Officials say the men planned to use a cactus thorn coated with a toxin like anthrax and fired by a modified butane lighter to carry out the murders.” [SPLC] There were eight more incidents, of varying efficacy and harm from 1998 to 2000.
So, what should we have learned in that half decade?
If nothing more, we should have learned the definition of Domestic Terrorism as set forth in 18 U.S. Code 2331:
(5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—
(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended—
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
And, yes, the acts and intended acts during that decade would certainly seem to fit the definition of Domestic Terrorism as established in the law. Bombings, assassinations, and fires, would qualify as dangerous activities designed to intimidate and coerce, and even kill. We should also have learned that antigovernment fringe extremists are quite likely to attack federal offices, to assassinate people associated with activities with which they disagree, and to otherwise seek to intimidate and coerce when they fail to convince.
We don’t have much trouble labeling such individuals as Eric Rudolph, the Phineas Priests, the New Dawn, the North American Militia, and other groups as domestic terrorists — but there is an inclination to be entirely too parsimonious with the term when an individual or group is characterized as a “protestor,” or an “activist,” when what they really advocate is armed opposition to legitimate authority.
There are more incidents during the past 19 years which illustrate the extent to which extreme right wing fringe elements are willing to go in promoting their delusional beliefs. No one should argue that ultra- beliefs have no Constitutional standing. However, remembering the definition of domestic terrorism in 18 U.S. Code 2331 should provide us with a guide line for what could be considered domestic terrorism –
Is it an activity involving, “acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State?” Does the activity have the intent to (1) intimidate? Or (2) influence policy, or (3) affect conduct by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping?
On July 27, 2008 J.D Adkisson opened fire at the Knoxville, TN two were killed, seven were injured. Mr. Adkisson drafted a four page letter in which he described how he hated liberals and gays, and blacks, “and anyone who was different than him.” [HuffPo] On June 10, 2009 Neo-Nazi James von Brunn shot a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Adkisson surely intended to do as much ‘destruction’ as possible in the Unitarian Church in Knoxville, and von Brunn had an extensive history of right wing activities seeking to intimidate and coerce in the name of White Nationalism. And to these two examples of domestic terrorists we should add Frazier Glenn Cross to the roster.
Granted that this post has listed individuals who have stepped over the edge of reason and committed, or sought to commit, heinous acts which deserve all the opprobrium they receive. However, these individuals aren’t necessarily steaming in their own personal stew. They are justified each time someone “protests” in the name of “freedom.” They find rationalization each time someone is an “activist” for antigovernment causes. They are easily swayed by the antigovernment rhetoric of right wing news and opinion outlets, and they are taking their cues from those who would fan their fires.
They are the Neo-Nazis, the Neo-Confederates, the Southern ‘Heritage’ types, the disaffiliated gun enthusiasts, the antigovernment crusaders, the social and cultural warriors… and they can be armed and dangerous. [Salon] [Alternet] [Salon]
Enter Cliven Bundy, disgruntled freeloader on federal (public) land, and those who would feed his fire:
“The involvement of armed militiamen—and Bundy’s promise to “do whatever it takes” to reclaim his cattle—doesn’t appear to phase conservative activists who have turned Bundy into a cause célèbre. Before this weekend’s confrontation, National Review Online, Fox & Friends, and American Thinker all blamed the government for mounting tensions. Two groups affiliated with Americans for Prosperity, a political organization funded primarily by the Koch brothers, spent the weekend tweeting their support for Bundy, Media Matters reported. Sean Hannity, who on Friday hailed Bundy as a capitalist hero—”When your cattle graze there, that keeps the price of meat down for every American consumer”—invited Bundy back on the air Monday for a second, easygoing interview in which he made only glancing reference to the armed confrontation.” [MJ]
“Blame the government” + “glancing reference to the armed confrontation” = a problem. April 2009 Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Naplitano drew verbal fire from conservatives for daring to suggest that right wing extremists constituted a terrorist threat in the United States. Her department’s report, which rightly noted that some of the ‘militia types’ and ‘radical right wing’ groups were potentially dangerous (witness the list above), was vilified in the conservative press as an attack on Conservatism, Conservatives, veterans…. but it was as prescient as it was accurate. Look at Picture Number 3 from NBC, captioned: “Protesters gather at the Bureau of Land Management’s base camp near Bunkerville, Nevada on April 12. Hundreds of states’ rights protesters, including militia members, showed up at corrals outside Mesquite to demand the animals’ return to rancher Cliven Bundy. Some protesters were armed with handguns and rifles at the corrals and at an earlier nearby rally.”
When is a “protester” a “domestic terrorist?” Do people armed with rifles and handguns facing off against government officials and agents create a situation “dangerous to human life, in violation of criminal laws?” What usually happens when someone brandishes a firearm before an officer of the law?
Did members of that crowd “of hundreds” seek to intimidate, coerce? Of course they did — that’s why they were there, to coerce the federal officials from implementing federal land use policy.
The problem with hyper-sensitive thin skinned (albeit mostly white skinned) conservative ‘protesters’ is that when criticized for radical behavior, behavior which stimulates the warrior fantasies of delusional individuals, they whine loudly that they are being “attacked.” They are defending Freedom (read their own self interest), and the American Way of Life (read white and disgruntled). Here’s a hint: If you are aiming a firearm at a BLM encampment, you are not ‘defending America.’ If you are standing in your phony camo-costume armed and disrupting law enforcement officials, you are not ‘protesting.’ You are — a domestic terrorist.
Recommended reading: SPLC, “Terror from the Right,” Ken Sofer, “17 years after Oklahoma City,” Think Progress. Matthew Harwood, “Law Enforcement/Right Wing Terrorists,” Salon. “Terrorist Attacks and Related Incidents,” Johnston Archive. Molly Redden, “Everyone on the Far Right Loves...” Mother Jones. Reuters, “Bundy Ranch Standoff Emboldens Militia Groups.” Brian Jencunas, “Why There’s Nothing Conservative About Cliven Bundy,” HuffPo. “Almost 100 Hate Crimes Linked to One Website,” HuffPo. NBC News, “Standoff at Bunkerville.” Sarah Posner “Neo-Confederates and the Revival of Theological War“, USC Annenberg.