Tuesday, January 21, 2020

After Richmond, Read Bring the War Home

The extreme right-wingers who showed up to Richmond with their murder toys after the Virginia legislature proposed some mild gun control laws has been in the news. What has struck me is how the media has protrayed these folks merely as supporters of the 2nd Amendment, and not as members of armed militias. If their memebership in militias is mentioned, there is little context provided as to what that actually means. In doing so the media not only downplays the nature of this rally, it erases some crucial and bloody American history.

I recenly read Kathleen Belew's excellent Bring the War Home, a history of what she calls the "paramilitary Right" and "white power movement" of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. That particular movement had its apotheosis in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. As Belew shows, Timothy McVeigh was no "lone wolf," but embedded in a much bigger network of racist violent extremism.

This book ought to be required reading for anyone currently trying to understand the current outburst of right-wing extremism. The white power movement of the 70s was dominated by Vietnam veterans ready to "bring the war home." Their war experience fed into a paramilitary style, and also allowed them to feed off of a popular culture satured with paramilitarism. (They made a Rambo cartoon and sold the toys to boys my age, for crying out loud.) America's 21st century wars have led to a similar militarization of society, a sea that makes it easier for gun toting extremists to swim around.

Part of the reason this movement was able to operate with such impunity was that the FBI treated its actions as isolated cases, rather than part of a mass movement. Even after the Oklahoma City tragedy the media continued in this mindset. Richard Jewell's name is well-known and there was a movie made about him. The man who actually committed the bombing, Eric Rudolph, is less known. When he was captured he was treated as a lone crackpot, not as a member of extremist circles who was raised in white supremacy and got support from locals when he went into hiding.

Today we see the militia members march in Richmond, and they claim that they did so without committing violence. Meanwhile, people affiliated with them commit atrocities like shootings in Charleston and Pittsburgh and they pretend they have nothing to do with the behavior of these "lone wolves." It's an old trick but it keeps working because our government and media are too lazy to press the issue. What we saw in Richmond is part of a much longer story that will lead to more bloodshed. The difference is this time the man these extremists support is in the White House. If he is voted out, don't expect them to go quietly. Get prepared to confront them.

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