Between the Lines Q&A

A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
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under-reported in mainstream media
for release April 4, 2010

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Growth of U.S. Militia Groups Explodes,
as GOP Stokes Hate and Fear


 RealAudio  MP3

Interview with journalist and author Frederick Clarkson,
conducted by Scott Harris


militia

Not long after the angry congressional debate over health care reform ended, the federal government arrested nine members of the Hutaree militia, a self-described Christian group preparing for war against the anti-Christ.

Federal prosecutors allege that members of the Michigan-based militia had planned to kill a local policeman, and then attack other officers at the victim's funeral, with the intent of igniting an armed uprising.

Since the election of Barack Obama, America's first black president in November 2008, the nation has witnessed the rapid growth of the right-wing "Patriot" movement and associated militia groups. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center the number of Patriot groups grew from 149 in 2008 to 512, including 127 militias, in 2009 -- a 244 percent increase.

With the U.S. economy in crisis, record unemployment and uncertainty about the future, members of conservative groups like the Tea Party movement, have been increasingly bellicose in their rhetoric - with some engaging in threats of violence against Democratic members of Congress. Two anti-government pro-gun groups have plans to stage rallies in the Washington D.C. area on April 19, the anniversary of both the Oklahoma City bombing and the government siege at Waco Texas. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with journalist and author Frederick Clarkson who has written about religion and politics for more than two decades. Clarkson looks at the connection between the recent arrest of members of the Hutaree "Christian" militia group and the rising climate of fear and hate on the extreme right.


FREDERICK CLARKSON: Well, their (the Hutaree) plan was as silly as it was serious. They really thought that they were going to incite a popular revolution by shooting a police officer and then bombing the funeral procession or processions that would follow. But what gives them this fevered idea is that they believe they're living in a biblically prophesized end times, in which they are going to have to do physical battle with the forces of the anti-Christ.

Now, most listeners have probably heard the phrase "a new world order." And this has been a source of paranoid concern for the far right for a long time regarding such institutions as the United Nations. It really got started under the first President George Bush who said that his foreign policy was about establishing a new world order. Well, this set off the paranoia alarms all over the far right. Concern really hit its height during the Clinton administration when the militia movement really got started.

A variety of factions, some of them Neo-Nazi in orientation, some more mainstream religious-right, if you will, people who were involved in gun-rights organizations, had a secret summit in which they really formed the militia movement, because for a variety of different reasons they'd come to the same conclusion--that is that the government of the United States was becoming tyrannical and fronting for this new world order. For some, they saw it as a satanic conspiracy. Others it was a conspiracy of Jews and bankers and the usual far-right kind of conspiracy ideas. But the idea was the same: People had to arm themselves and get organized. The Hutaree militia are one of the few groups who have gone so far as to actually organize a plan that they intended to carry out.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What is the Hutaree connection with some of these other militia groups in the Midwest and other places around the country? Is this group kind of an outlier in terms of their belief system and the threat of violence they posed?

FREDERICK CLARKSON: Well, other militia groups are trying to treat them as an outlier, but in fact other militia groups in the area including the Michigan Militia had done joint training sessions with them. There are Hutaree elements in Indiana, and Ohio, and Texas. So they themselves have their own organization that was multi-state, but I think that the entire militia movement understands itself -- even though they may have their differences -- as part of a common cause and network. Of course, Hutaree militia got caught planning to build, in fact building IEDs, and pipe bombs, stockpiling arms to carry out a crime. Well, naturally everyone wanted to distance themselves. But, of course, not everybody shares their particular apocalyptic religious views either. But that said, many do.

And going back in history a bit again, Pat Robertson the televangelist had a New York Times best-selling book in the late 80s called "The New World Order." And in that book, he said that he believed in his lifetime, and remember he was in his 70s at the time, that there would be a world war involving one of these end times scenarios in which 2 billion people would die. So this is the kind of psychology of imminence in which many on the farther elements of the religious right live to greater or lesser degrees all the time. And some people begin to take their views seriously enough to do this kind of paramilitary organizing such as the Hutaree militia.

BETWEEN THE LINES: The Republicans seem to be exploiting this anger out there in the country that comes from uncertainty about the economic future -- with this economic crisis effecting so many people in the country, the election of the first black president, fear and hate floating around both those topics. Is the Republican Party playing with fire here where there could be a potentially very nasty backlash against them if this movement breaks into some horrendous acts of violence in the near term?

FREDERICK CLARKSON: Well they may be. But I think that they would probably be perfectly happy if that happened, frankly, and I think that they know that they're playing with fire. And there are calculated risks there. It's no accident that so many Republican leaders are using violent imagery and violent language to stir people up, appeal to the tea party movement, but they're also not just appealing to the tea party movement, they're creating an atmosphere of crisis and fear in the country that they think is going to work to their advantage as they, in hopes that they can create animosity and fear about the Democrats and the president. And if that results in some collateral damage, I think they're perfectly comfortable with that. I think they're that cynical.

Frederick Clarkson is author of "Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy." Read his articles online at www.talk2action.org.

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Scott Harris is an executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 45 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending April 16, 2010. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melanie Muller and Anna Manzo.

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