Diary

The 1990s are Back, Glenn Greenwald is Worried About Angry White Racist Militias

Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com seems to think that Bill Clinton’s nonexistent boogie men, “the militias,” are back. Why are they back? Because all white people are angry, racists that are mad that Obama got elected, of course. What else could have dredged up this fantasy from the depths of the liberal’s worst nightmares of the 1990s? Somehow, though, it’s a bit hard to imagine Greenwald’s main premise considering the fact that millions of those same white Americans Greenwald so fears actually voted for Obama.

But, in an effort to scold Fox News for airing Glenn Beck’s recent “War Room” segments, Greenwald indulged in precisely the same sort of behavior he claims Beck does, namely that of making wild, unsubstantiated claims about the “other” side.

Greenwald imagines that militias are again on the rise because Barack Obama is “an exotic other occupying the White House” and because the U.S. is a “declining imperial power,” these things upsetting to gun-owning, white folks, apparently. Greenwald also scoffs at the “militia movement” that Clinton talked about in the 1990s because they “completely vanished” once George Bush became president in 2000, that this shows they really had no principles he says.

But, here is what he ignores: that this so-called militia movement didn’t really exist in the way that the conspiracy minded Clinton White House tried to pretend that it did. The reality is that the Clintons, they of the “great right wing conspiracy” theory, saw enemies under their beds at night. And it’s no wonder because the Clinton’s bed had enemies IN it, much less under it.

This presumed “movement” was made of disparate groups that were never very well organized, were unconnected in any meaningful way with each other, all of which saw a collapse of greater ambitions. They remain to this day small groups of enthusiasts that pose little threat to anyone.

Regardless of reality, Greenwald’s first few paragraphs are amazing for the complete lack of supporting evidence about this phoenix-like rise of the “angry white” militias he assumes.

Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 gave rise to the American “militia movement”: hordes of overwhelmingly white, middle-aged men from suburban and rural areas who convinced themselves they were defending the American way of life from the “liberals” and “leftists” running the country by dressing up in military costumes on weekends, wobbling around together with guns, and play-acting the role of patriot-warriors. Those theater groups — the cultural precursor to George Bush’s prancing 2003 performance dressed in a fighter pilot outfit on Mission Accomplished Day — spawned the decade of the so-called “Angry White Male,” the movement behind the 1994 takeover of the U.S. Congress by Newt Gingrich and his band of federal-government-cursing, pseudo-revolutionary, play-acting tough guys.

There simply was no “rise” of the American “militia movement” in the 1990s. Lurid tales of the “angry white militias” invented by the Clinton’s FBI to distract America from the Clinton agenda in Congress was hardly much on reality. Unfortunately, while Bill Clinton wasted FBI resources on this silly quest to find an internal enemy, real terrorists were planning 9/11.

Now, it is true that there were a few small, unfunded, little connected groups that formed themselves into a pseudo militia movement. Also the fears that there was some small connection between domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh and the so-called “militia movement” was proven wildly overblown. But this movement was never wide spread enough to cause the sort of nation wide panic that the Clinton administration tried to whip up.

The way we can tell that this movement was more in the minds of Bill Clinton and his administration than in real life is by looking at what really happened in those days of the 1990s. No national leader of such a movement emerged, no interconnected network of groups solidified, no mass attacks were orchestrated, and no real influence by these supposed groups was felt outside the one incident perpetrated by McVeigh. (One incident by a handful of ambitions nuts and a few guys in the woods does not a movement make) Most of these groups just wanted to be left alone and the ones with nefarious intentions were thoroughly incompetent and easily gathered up by the FBI.

We can use the real terrorists as a model — you know, the ones Greenwald, Clinton and likely Obama wish to ignore? Terror networks that follow jihad have perpetrated thousands of incidents from India to Indonesia, Africa to Europe and Asia to the Americas. There are internationally known heads of these organizations, their goals are well known as are the names of their organizations and they have a vast financial network powering their efforts. There is no parallel in the supposed “American militia movement” and never was.

Greenwald’s next paragraph starts with an unconsciously funny premise.

What was most remarkable about this allegedly “anti-government” movement was that — with some isolated and principled exceptions — it completely vanished upon the election of Republican George Bush…

And why did it “vanish” so quickly once Bush took office in 2000? Because we no longer had a president that pretended it existed, bothered the press with wild tales and wasted resources in chasing ghosts. It’s because it did not exist in the first place. Something that never existed finds it easy to “vanish.”

And then there is this from Greenwald:

They’re the same people who embraced and justified full-scale, impenetrable federal government secrecy and comprehensive domestic spying databases conducted in the dark and against the law when perpetrated by a Republican President — but have spent the last week flamboyantly pretending to be scandalized and outraged by the snooping which Bill Moyers did 45 years ago (literally) as part of a Democratic administration. They’re the people who relentlessly opposed and impugned Clinton’s military deployments and then turned around and insisted that only those who are anti-American would question or oppose Bush’s decision to start wars.

They’re the same people who believed that Bill Clinton’s use of the FISA court to obtain warrants to eavesdrop on Americans was a grave threat to liberty, but believed that George Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping on Americans in violation of the law was a profound defense of freedom. In sum, they dressed up in warrior clothing to fight against Bill Clinton’s supposed tyranny, and then underwent a major costume change on January 20, 2001, thereafter dressing up in cheerleader costumes to glorify George Bush’s far more extreme acquisitions of federal power.

Notice all the nameless “theys” in all of this? Notice that Greenwald has no names to go with all this blather? Notice how he has no names of groups, no locations, no leaders to tell us about that fits his theyisms? How can these shadowy groups be so dangerous if no one knows where they are, who they are, how many there are, or what they’ve done?

It’s a simple fact of human nature that dangerous national movements have known leaders, actions easily attributed to them, goals everyone knows, and networks that span a nation. That’s how they grow to become dangerous in the first place, after all. It simply defies human nature to see a dangerous movement exist with no leaders that have made the news, no deeds to their names, no manifestos, or records to follow.

Was it a conspiracy by the news, then, to ignore this vast movement that have the Clintons and Greenwald cowering under their beds? Did the media fail to report on all of this? No, they have not. It hasn’t been reported because there is not much to report.

Sure there are a few groups with some small number of members. Maybe a few have some guns. Maybe a few really do hate the U.S. government. But you can find just as many in the so-called militia that fits this description as you can find in communist organizations or the KKK in the U.S. In other words, few exist, those few offer little danger, and they form no national movement.

Ah, but Greenwald sees militia under his bed. THEY are back he claims.

But now, only four weeks into the presidency of Barack Obama, they are back — angrier and more chest-beating than ever. Actually, the mere threat of an Obama presidency was enough to revitalize them from their eight-year slumber, awaken them from their camouflaged, well-armed suburban caves. The disturbingly ugly atmosphere that marked virtually every Sarah Palin rally had its roots in this cultural resentment, which is why her fear-mongering cultural warnings about Obama’s exotic, threatening otherness — he’s a Muslim-loving, Terrorist-embracing, Rev.-Wright-following Marxist: who is the real Barack Obama? — resonated so stingingly with the rabid lynch mobs that cheered her on.

Someone has slipped some LSD in his Obama kool-aid!

The amusing thing about this Greewald piece is the extreme rhetoric of it all. As he scolds these “militia” for being so unhinged, he indulges in precisely the same sort of language to describe them that he claims they use to describe their own fears, enemies and worries. They are “angry” and “chest-beaters” in their “well-armed suburban caves,” Greenwald says. They are “fear-mongers” and racists filled with “resentment.” They have “fire breathing outbursts” that generate “intense anxiety,” etc., etc.

Greenwald builds for himself a straw man that he batters down with all his might.

As to the principle object of his scorn, Glenn Beck’s “War Room” segments, I tend to agree with Greenwald to a certain degree. Beck’s wind up on the “coming civil war” is quite over-the-top and currently lacks any proof whatsoever. In fact, his claims of the massive failures that might give rise to armed conflict inside the USA against government extremism is more like that of hoary paperback thrillers as opposed to reality. The threats of a “civil war” between true American patriots and an out-of-control government have been roiling in the USA since about 15 minutes after we won the Revolutionary war!

In fact, we have had many modest rebellions since we signed the Constitution. The Whiskey Rebellion, Fry’s rebellion, the Hartford Convention, the Nullification Crisis, not to mention that little thing we all call the Civil War, even the riots of the vaunted 60s counter culture erupted in unrest. All have come and gone without the USA ceasing to exist. But widespread revolutions do not spring from nothing and are generally the result of the planning of some centralized organization or confluence of the work of known and vocal individual leaders.

I guess the most illogical aspect of Greenwald’s piece is that while he scolds Beck for being “unprincipled” and born of “extreme right-wing paranoia,” he also indulges himself in extreme left-wing paranoia by nearly agreeing with the wild fantasy of the new “angry white” militia movement. As Greenwald wags his finger at Beck for the fearmongering over the next civil war, Greenwald tells us all that the very shadowy groups that Beck fears could rise up in armed conflict do, indeed, exist. Greenwald himself says that the new racist, white, angry, American militia has risen again.

So, one wonders what Greenwald’s ultimate qualm with Beck is? After all, Greenwald himself thinks the evil white man is about to engage in the next civil war because a black man is president. Greenwald seems to agree with Beck’s most basic premise. So, why is Greenwald so upset at Beck?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Now, I am not saying a new civil war is not coming and can’t come. It would be ridiculous of me to claim I know the future. But, as things stand right now, both the Glenns, Beck and Greenwald, are wrong to say the time is ripe. There are no “angry white militias.” Sure things are not optimal in this country today, sure there are a lot of people yelling mad and imagining that a next civil war is just around the corner… but, then again, there has always been this sentiment in the country, this fear that civil unrest is about to erupt at any minute.

But the truth is, while there is turmoil and unrest, currently there are no wide spread movements that could lead to civil war. No national militia movement exists. No leaders of such are known. No influence of any great intensity from such organizations is seen anywhere in the country. If such organizations do begin to rise, well then we can be worried. But as things stand right now, all we have here is the wild theorizing of Glenns to fuel the talk.

If we should scold Glenn Beck for his crazy bed time story about civil wars, we can equally scold Glenn Greenwald for claiming that angry white men are forming militias all across the country to lynch the new black president. Neither exists, both are wild-eyed in nature. It’s pretty hard to tell any difference between either Glenns at this point, at least on this issue. Of course, it’s always hard to take Greenwald seriously at any time, granted.

(Photo credit: the yearly kos)