By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"I wouldn't," the Missouri leader told him. "...I have to take care of my own territory, I have to cover my own rear end, and I figure, if they jumped one unit, friends, then we've got all the proof in the world...that we weren't conspiracist freaks and kooks."
Proof, of course, is something one presents to courts, critics and the press--by means other than the barrel of a gun.
After the press was ushered out of the meeting early Saturday, an ostensibly secret strategy was proposed: that all of the assembled commanders would go home and order their troops not to buy night vision goggles or Teflon bullets--but to switch long-distance telephone carriers. The leadership explained it had found a company that, through a front group, promised a four percent kickback on receipts. The proceeds, it said, could help defray the expenses of a "rumor-squelching hotline" appropriately numbered 1-800-OUTLAST. Of course, somebody mentioned security concerns, that a joint long-distance carrier could make it that much easier for the government to compile telephone lists and monitor calls. It's hardly a paranoid concern, but nevertheless falls on deaf ears. "You know what, I try to get on three lists a week," one of the group's commanders jibed.
Later during the closed session, two members arose to pass, not the ammunition, but the fax and phone numbers for the White House and the U.S. Congress' switchboard. If an incident like the Ruby Ridge standoff develops, the commanders were advised, it's their duty to "get ahold of the press, get the faxes going, get the phone going."
"What we're going to do is bury Washington--in fax paper," a Midwestern commander declared.
A surprising part of the militias' new realism involves an ideological housecleaning. The commander of a Midwestern militia federation told the group that he'll no longer accept memberships from race-based units. "The first time I see a swastika, the first time I hear the word 'nigger,' the first time I hear the word 'Jew' in a bad way, that's it. They're out, they're done."
To back up an expulsion earlier this year, he boasted, he'd published his charges--on the Internet. The text of the expulsion order, issued by the Tri-State Militia, a largely Midwestern outfit affiliated with the commander groups, concludes with the declaration that "The cause that we all hold so dear requires not only patriotism but mature judgment and racial and religious tolerance."
Tellingly, one of the keynote speakers at the Mountain Springs meet was Alabaman Mike Vanderboegh, a recruiter for a minuscule organization called Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. It's unclear how many Jews are members of the organization, but the JPFO's message to Jews is that genocide can't be perpetrated upon a well-armed people.
But Vanderboegh, a Presbyterian, took a little different attack with the mostly Christian men at Mountain Springs. Speaking about Morris Dees, chief of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which operates Klanwatch, he established a rapport with the combat-clad group by declaring that "Morris did a good job of attacking the Klan and the neo-Nazis when they needed to be attacked. Unfortunately, he's in the position of the dragon-slayer who's killed all the dragons and now the villagers won't pay him because there isn't any threat. So, invent a dragon--hence the militia movement."
Then he called for a purge within the militias. "I'm talking about racists, I'm talking about anti-Semites, I'm talking about agents provocateurs, I'm talking about loose cannons....To the extent that we ignore these people, we prove Morris right," he argued. His remarks were the most heated--and most applauded--of the day.
Not all militias, of course, have bought the message of openness, but their brush with bad publicity and FBI scrutiny in the wake of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City has convinced many of the militia brass that they must organize on two levels. They must train their ranks, just in case a day ever comes when they're militarily required to defend the nation against the threat of occupation or usurpation. Until that's possible--if ever it is--they must also court the press and the public in the usual ways.
This switch in militia orientation revealed at Mountain Springs has also been adopted by the once-notorious Northern Michigan Regional Militia, a recent report in the Village Voice notes. It has been so sudden that some observers don't believe it's real. An editor for the liberal weekly, the Nation, after attending a recent supermeeting of the ultra-right in Seattle, found that he could only warn his readers that militias are apparently being led by "traditional racists," i.e., formerly outspoken bigots who have not repudiated their pasts.
Mark Briskman, Dallas regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, says that "my own impression is that militia groups in Texas have not had any affiliation with organized hate groups." But he notes that in other states--he mentions Montana, in particular--the hate-group nexus is still in place. If the Militia Commanders federation breaks with the hatemongers, he says, "we surely welcome that." But, he adds, "Their philosophy of the world is one of conspiracy and paranoia, and if that philosophy is still adhered to, they're still participating in an age-old canard that blames Jews for all of the world's problems." Briskman says by his analysis, schemes which, for example, hold "eight international banking families, seven of whom are Jewish" responsible for the world's economic woes are to be taken as anti-Semitic, not merely as anti-banker theories.