Last November, the FBI arrested four men in Georgia, members of a militia group who were accused of a wide-ranging plot to attack cities and blow up federal buildings.
Last November, the FBI arrested four men in Georgia, members of a militia group who were accused of a wide-ranging plot to attack cities with the deadly ricin toxin, blow up federal buildings, and kill federal law enforcement officials and IRS agents. “When it comes time to saving the Constitution,” said one of the members of the self-described “covert group,” “that means some people gotta die.”
The men were elderly, in their late 60s and early 70s, and cupped their ears at their first court appearance, straining to hear the judge’s words. Several of their wives described them as infirm patriots, men who liked to talk big and nothing more. A defense lawyer conceded that there was “ridiculous” talk about manufacturing ricin on the tapes secretly recorded by informants going back to March 2011, but insisted that the conversations were “like an old man in the stages of senility.”
But if the allegations are to be believed, this case was no joke. Officials say the men took concrete steps toward carrying out their conspiracy, casing two federal buildings for bombing, obtaining an illegal silencer for assassinations, attempting to buy a briefcase-sized explosive, and trying to manufacture ricin.
After all, who would have believed that Timothy McVeigh — an awkward loner who once visited Area 51 to check out rumors of alien life there — would manage to murder 168 people in Oklahoma City? Or that a strange Norwegian given to Internet pontifications would last July murder 77 of his countrymen, most of them teenagers, because he thought they were enabling Muslim immigration?
The men in Georgia are innocent until proven otherwise. But their alleged plot is only the latest evidence, accumulating with gathering speed in recent years, that we are living through a dangerous period of antigovernment backlash.
In this issue, we report on the third year of explosive growth on the American radical right. The number of hate groups rose slightly in 2011, we found, continuing a significant expansion that goes back more than a decade. But the stunning growth came in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement, where the count rose from 824 in 2010 to 1,274 last year, more than 400 groups higher than the previous all-time high of 1996, when the first wave of the militia movement peaked.
This remarkable expansion, which has been dramatic in the last three years, is in large part an angry backlash against the changing racial demographics of the country, as represented in our first black president. It is also a response to serious economic dislocations and the spread of demonizing propaganda.
The growth of these groups is one explanation for the rash of domestic terrorism, most of it non-Islamic, that most experts agree has plagued the country since the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Last December, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, an academic center associated with the Department of Homeland Security, issued a study based on a sampling of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s lists of hate groups between 1990 and 2008. It found that 21% of the hate groups had members who committed at least one violent act, while 9% had members who had committed six or more violent crimes.
The consortium also found that “far rightists” between 1990 and 2010 had been involved in more than 345 “homicide incidents,” and that far rightists killed almost 50 law enforcement officials during the same two decades.
The violence is, in large part, a response to a changing world. Economic globalization has opened up Western economies, resulting in major immigration flows that have altered the demographics of formerly more homogenous nations. At the same time, many people, nostalgic for a more stable past, are embracing anti-modern causes like opposition to same-sex marriage, non-Christian immigration, the social advances of non-white people, and even the freedom of women.
In this issue, we offer counts and lists of hate, Patriot and “nativist extremist” groups from last year, along with analyses of the radical right and its continuing response to societal change and modernity.
We also look at a particularly exotic manifestation of this anti-modernism — the hard fringe of the “men’s rights” movement, woman-haters who have produced frightening rhetoric and some astounding mass murders. Oddly enough, Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik was a part of that world, attacking divorce law in his final manifesto. His last girlfriend told a Norwegian newspaper that Breivik was a “male chauvinist” who mistakenly saw her as a “gold digger.”
There is an enormous amount of political vitriol coursing through both the United States and Europe, where many nations are suffering with a similar radical-right expansion. In America, the hatred has centered on the president and, partly as a result, the government at large. As one of the Georgia plotters allegedly said: “The first ones that need to die are the ones in the government buildings."