Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. (Photo: Time)
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul."
- Timothy McVeigh quoting from "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley
April 9 was a Sunday in 1865, and in the town of Appomattox, Virginia, the sun was shining down on the end of a war. Confederate forces, led by Gen. Robert E. Lee, had finally been brought to bay by Gen. Ulysses Grant after four grueling, blood-sodden years. Lee's surrender at Appomattox was the conclusion of the largest and deadliest armed insurrection in American history.
April 9 was a Thursday in 2009, and there are some lo these 144 years later who would very much like to see another armed insurrection erupt within these United States. The casus belli for today's would-be revolutionaries is not states' rights, slavery or economic independence, but is instead a toxic mix of fundamentalist Christianity, ultra-conservative orthodoxy and, more than anything else, guns.
The existence of armed and angry insurrectionists in America is nothing new. As Robert Kennedy once observed, "One-fifth of the people are against everything all the time." The militia movement, in one form or another, has been a part of our history literally since the founding of the nation itself, and memories of Waco, Ruby Ridge and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City remain acutely fresh in mind even years later.
Lately, the news has been flooded with reports of citizens arming themselves to the teeth, egged on by right-wing media personalities prophesying doom, the rise of socialism, and that a Marxist dictator now sits in the Oval Office. This frenzy has been spilling from talk radio and television out into the streets for weeks now, and has recently metastasized into acts of outrageous violence. It smells like a new beginning of something this nation has not been forced to endure for nearly a decade.
Last Monday, a man named Richard Poplawski ambushed and murdered three Pittsburgh police officers and tried to kill nine others. Poplawski's motivations, according to friends and family, centered around his belief in the existence of a vast government conspiracy to destroy American freedoms while establishing a left-wing dictatorship under President Obama. Poplawski came to believe all this after listening to and reading the paranoid rantings of right-wing luminaries like Alex Jones, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.
Last July, a man named Jim Adkisson walked into a Universalist church in Knoxville and began blazing away with a 12-gauge shotgun, killing two people and wounding several others. He had 70 shotgun shells with him, and fully intended to massacre as many people in the church as possible before police killed him, but he was tackled and disarmed by members of the congregation before he could complete his task.
Eric Boehlert, writing for Media Matters on April 7, said, "When investigators went to Adkisson's home in search of a motive, as well as evidence for the pending trial, they found copies of Savage's 'Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder,' 'Let Freedom Ring' by Sean Hannity, and 'The O'Reilly Factor,' by Fox News's Bill O'Reilly. They also came across what was supposed to have been Adkisson's suicide note: a handwritten, four-page manifesto explaining his murderous actions. The one-word answer for his deed? Hate. The three-word answer? He hated liberals."
"The only way we can rid ourselves of this evil," wrote Adkisson, "is kill them in the streets. Kill them where they gather. I'd like to encourage other like minded people to do what I've done. If life aint worth living anymore don't just Kill yourself. Do something for your Country before you go. Go Kill Liberals!"
Describing the Pittsburgh incident, Boehlert wrote, "In the wake of the bloodbath, we learned that Poplawski was something of a conspiracy nut who embraced dark, radical rhetoric about America. He was convinced the government wanted to take away his guns, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Specifically, Poplawski, as one friend described it, feared 'the Obama gun ban that's on the way' and 'didn't like our rights being infringed upon.' (FYI, there is no Obama gun ban in the works.) The same friend said the shooter feared America was 'going to see the end of our times.'"
"Hysterical warnings of government gun grabs and a socialist takeover of the US are no longer the sole proprietary interest of fringe players like Jones," wrote Max Blumenthal on Wednesday. "In the Obama era, Jones's conspiracy theories have graduated to primetime on Fox News. And radicals like Poplawski are tuning in. Indeed, according to the Anti-Defamation League, the alleged killer posted a YouTube clip to (neo-Nazi web site) Stormfront of top-rated Fox News host Glenn Beck contemplating the existence of FEMA-managed concentration camps. ('He backed out,' Poplawski wrote cryptically beside the video.) Three weeks later, Poplawski posted another YouTube clip to Stormfront, this time of a video blogger advocating 'Tea Parties,' or grassroots conservative protests organized by Beck and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich against President Barack Obama's bailout plan."
There have been more stories like this in recent months, and if history is any guide, there will be more to come. The timing of all this is deeply troubling, and the media players involved are all too familiar. There is something sinister at work here, something malevolent, something sly.
Consider the curious historical synchronicity of all this: after the inauguration of a new Democratic president, there has been a sudden upsurge of right-wing polemicists agitating right-wing citizens into right-wing-motivated acts of violence. The last time things came together like this was back in 1993, after the Waco and Ruby Ridge debacles, combined with the passage of NAFTA and the Brady Bill, detonated into a militia movement that was wildly active, and exceedingly violent, throughout the entirety of President Bill Clinton's two terms.
Dozens of militia-related incidents, including the Oklahoma City bombing, took place during those years. In 2001, however, these incidents stopped almost completely, and for the entirety of George W. Bush's two terms as president, hardly a peep was heard from the militia movement that had been so robustly vigorous during the administration of Bush's predecessor.
A Democratic president takes office in 1993 and the militia movement explodes, egged on by a whole host of right-wing media voices.
A Republican president takes office in 2001 and the militia movement, along with those media voices who sponsored it, all but disappear from the American political landscape.
A Democratic president takes office in 2009, and once again, right-wing media voices begin their clarion call for armed revolution, and once again, a portion of their listeners erupt into violence.
"In Politics," President Franklin Roosevelt once said, "nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way."