They're conservative--they hate taxes, love guns, are obsessed with war, and are fed up with too much government intervention. So what's new? Isn't that a description of the typical American today? Just who are these people who make up the membership of militia groups? What exactly is it that takes them from NRA-right wing Christian conservatism to the outer limits of surreal paranoia? And is this kind of fanatic activity likely to happen here in Canada?
Right wing groups in the U.S. have become increasingly frustrated. While the Conservatives won a landslide victory in November, effectively taking over Congress, many Republicans of the Rush Limbaugh/Christian Coalition stripe are still not content. They do not have the presidency and their moral stand-point is not shared by the mainstream media. They long for the good ol' days when abortion, quotas, and welfare are outlawed and school prayer, prison chain-gangs, censorship--educational and cultural, make a grand comeback.
Rush Limbaugh is the slick, annoying tip of the iceberg. He regularly calls Clinton "a traitor" and Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and other Fundamentalists call his wife, the first lady, "a demonic castrator" and "spiritual leader of a coven of witches."
It is this sort of language, along with a fanatic obsession with gun ownership, which tends to link the moderate to extreme right-wing with the paramilitary groups known as militias. Senators Bob Dole, Phil Gramm (both running for president) and other powerful Republicans, like Orin Hatch, want to both repeal the Brady Bill, and the ban on assault-style weapons. The powerful insiders in Washington and the borderline psychotics in smalltown USA are connected by the satelLite known as the National Rifle Association. Though it was blasted by former president George Bush for the incendiary language of its newsletters and is now being audited by the IRS, this is an organization all too familiar with controversy and no one expects it to go crawling under a rock any time soon.
The rhetoric from these right-wing groups has become increasingly heated, strident, and violent. This is most apparent on the AM radio talk show circuit where listeners are told, for example, how to shoot at agents of the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms when they come knocking at your door (at the head or groin-they'll be wearing bullet proof vests). This sort of disgusting verbal pollution is vigorously defended asfree speech, entirely harmless, a snappy new style of infotainment. As if words and ideas had absolutly no effect or impact on people's lives.
Aside from the radio, these groups disseminate their extreme viewpoints through music, books, and pamphlets. Bulletins on the Internet, and fax transmissions are also popular and next to impossible to monitor as forms of communication. In fact bomb-making techniques and a wide variety of other terrorist tactics are regularly posted on the Internet. All of this might somehow be defensible as a quirk of living in an apparently censorship-free society and if there existed only a few fringe groups with small memberships, but alas, this is no longer the case. There is mounting evidence that radical groups are merging. White Supremacists, according to The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama now regularly include articles in their "newsletters" that touch on more mainstream issues such as taxes, the loss of Constitutional rights (to bear arms), and a favorite militia topic--one world government--run by the U.N.
Groups like David Duke's Ku Klux Klan, by altering their tactics, have the most to gain. By dressing up their racism in today's latest hot-button issues they are able to expand their sphere of influence and attract a younger, more violent membership.
The Heritage Front--a group of disenfranchised white people who admire fascism and all things Nazi--is probably as close an organization to the militias that we have in this country. Recently they too have repackaged themselves with the neo-conservative language of ending "affirmative action" and "quotas." The Globe and Mail recently reported that at least one officer of the Metropolitan Toronto Police was a member of the organization.
Canadian hate groups do differ however from their American counterparts in three crucial ways. First, we don't have a constitution that protects the right to bear arms. Canadian gun control laws prohibit U.S.-style private militias. As a result it is illegal for groups to stockpile weapons, which forces militia groups (and there are a few in Alberta and B.C.) to go underground. Second, free speech is more limited in this country. The Heritage Front has been targeted by the police for some time. Front leader Wolfgang Droege is in jail for three months for contempt of a Human-Rights Tribunal order to shut down the group's hate-message telephone line. And third, Canadianhate groups are not, for the most part, against the government so much as against other citizens, notably minorities.
One individual who is actually turning his hatred into profits is George Birdy, a 25-year old former football player, who now fronts the hate-rock band Rahowa (for Racial Holy War). Birdy, a suburban Toronto resident, also publishes Resistance magazine (circulation 13,000) which encourages their readers to arm themselves and prepare for the inevitable race wars to come. Calling himself "a proud white man," Birdy is a protege of both Wolfgang Droege and Ernst Zundel. This hate-filled entrepreneur was sentenced in May 1995 to one year in jail for aggravated assault after kicking a girl in the face at one of his concerts.
American militias started to become more popular approximately five years ago when white supremacist Randy Weaver's family was killed at a shoot-out at his compound. The movement grew considerably after the disastrous raid two years ago at Waco and surprisingly the groups have been Oklahoma as a "recruiting bonanza." Militia members are sworn enemies of the U.S. government. They believe the Constitution is a joke. They believe their rights and freedoms are being taken away and that America is run by Zionists, that eventually concentration camps will be set up in the various National Parks, and that when that happens all militia members will be rounded up by U.N.-trained Chinese police in black helicopters. At that point the "alphabet soups" (the ATF, FBI, CIA, and others) will go door-to-door confiscating their weapons and presumably forcing them into slavery.
The hard core militia member wears camouflage, carries no personal identification, drives without a license or even license plates. Many renounce their citizenship out-right. Militia members seem to prefer rural hillbilly-like habitation, to hide from modern-day life. Like many conservatives they despise the media and are disgusted with mainstream cultural values. Self styled survivalists, they enjoy outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing. They are also known to be unbelievably paranoid and exceedingly imaginative--able to create complex conspiracies to explain just about anything. After Oklahoma, many militia blamed the U.S. government for the blast contending that it was a tactic to clamp down on their freedom loving activities. Michigan militia spokespeople went one step further--blaming the Japanese for the attack on the Federal building--saying it was revenge for the Tokyo subway gas attacks for which the CIA was responsible. The Michigan militia promptly fired their leaders for proposing such an outlandish idea, apparently wilting under the media's spotlight and derision.
The question remains--could domestic terrorism happen here in Canada? It already has. A day after Oklahoma a pipe bomb exploded outside the Legislature Building in P.E.I., and recently the mysterious bombers who claimed responsibility sent a note to the police with a swastika on it warning that judges at the main court house there would be the next target. Police are taking the threat very seriously.
Recent raids on right-wing hangouts in various Canadian cities have in fact produced alarming evidence of arms stockpiling.
In 1993, police turned up a surprising weapons cache in the north Toronto house of Richard Manley, a security enforcer for both Heritage Front and George Birdy. In that same year CSIS spotted "a noticeable shift towards more violence-prone groups."
Many Canadian right-wing groups have ties to organizations like Aryan Nations in Idaho. Should our American neighbors want to make a violent statement here in Canada, they would certainly have the contacts to do so.
Speaking with James Goldsmith, a member of Anti Racist Action, one of the few groups, along with the League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith Canada, that take an active stand against racism here in Toronto, I asked if it was likely that something as terrifying and powerful as the blast in Oklahoma could happen here. "Definitely," he said. "I've met skinheads who look at Timothy McVeigh (suspected perpetrator of the Oklahoma bombing) as a hero. These type of people have only got to turn on their computers to learn how to create havoc! I think the police would rather infiltrate AIDS groups or even our group than the Heritage Front. Why? Because, I believe, the cops secretly condone racism. They're waiting for a big, ugly showdown, just waiting. When that day comes they'll likely insist on a raise." Perhaps the left wing has become paranoid as well. Perhaps not!
The documentary Hearts of Hate shows Nov. 23 at the St. Lawrence Centre Forum, 27 Front Street E., Toronto at 7:30. Free. A discussion on hate groups follows. For information call David at (416) 366-1656.
Drew Glick is managing editor of Peace Magazine.