Brits hate Americans. Sorry, but there it is. They think we’re boorish, uneducated, lazy, insular, violent and stupid. The British press go out of their way to promulgate this less-than-flattering view of their “American cousins.” They never miss an opportunity to “expose” a group of Americans who fit their remit. The Truth behind America’s ‘civilian militias’ in today’s Telegraph is a classic of the genre: a journalistically reprehensible character assassination that smears an entire country by linking a skewed “interview” with misleading generalizations and irrelevant anecdotes. Allow me to tear Alex Hannaford a new orifice on our nation’s behalf . . .
In heavy camouflage gear, Johnny Cochran squats down and shuffles noiselessly along the ground. His target is a large man who, like Cochran, is in military fatigues. Seconds later, Cochran leaps up and stabs the man once, hard, in the neck. The movement is swift, and would almost certainly be lethal, were it not for the fact that the ‘weapon’ Cochran is wielding is a pen.
The scenario I have just witnessed may be simulated, but its protagonists are deadly serious. This is a ‘close combat training’ session given by ‘Fireteam Diamondback’ – an armed militia group, or civilian ‘army’, based in west Texas, in the United States. Cochran, a chain-smoking 39 year-old with a handlebar moustache and goatee whose T-shirt reads: ‘Disgruntled Combat Vet – Right Wing Extremist’, is their leader. Biro-wielding or not, he’s not someone you would wish to encounter in combat.
Hannaford is on a mission: “report” on America’s paranoid, deranged and violent militia. First, he must find them. Well, one. OK, if not a big group, then one actual paranoid, deranged and violent militia man. Johnny Cochran come on down!
Hannaford’s lede sets the pace for the piece: allowing readers to think that Cochran actually stabs a man with a pen. Just kidding! But really folks, this is one bad ass nutcase. See? They’re dangerous! They training to kill . . . soldiers!
. . . as he freely admits, the hypothetical enemy – the target he’s teaching the people gathered here today to kill – is a US soldier.
Why? Cochran says he is simply exercising his constitutional right to assemble an armed civilian force that is prepared to fight any enemy, be they domestic or foreign. There are 27 men in Cochran’s squad including, apparently, both former and serving soldiers, policemen and members of the sheriff’s department.
Notice that “apparently.” It’s a red flag that signals Hannaford’s lack of journalistic ethics. How do we know that there are 27 men in Cochran’s posse? How many Fireteam Diamondback member are vets or cops? Serving soldiers learning how to kill serving soldiers? That’s quite the incendiary allegation, mate.
Hannaford’s suggestion that there’s a shadow military group made up of law enforcement and soldiers is strong beer. A proper reporter wouldn’t attempt to gloss over this “fact” with a bland, offhand qualifier.
Hannaford could have written “Cochran claims his group has 27 members including former and serving soldiers, policemen and members of the sheriff’s department.” But that would have cast doubts on his research, or lack thereof. To wit: we eventually learn that the highlighted training session involved three—count em three—militia men. Two of which hailed from another group: the Southwest Texas Desert Militia.
Facts are, apparently, besides the point. Not when you can connect direct contact with three men into a mosaic of madness, fudging data as you go.
The militias, which are dotted throughout the US and, according to recent figures, are growing rapidly in numbers, claim they are bulwarks against tyranny. The US Department of Homeland Security takes a dimmer view, warning of a ‘rise in Right-wing anti-government extremist activity’ as far back as April 2009 and a ‘phenomenon of violent radicalisation’.
“According to recent figures” eh? And what figures might those be? As for the controversial Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warning, click here to read the actual report (I’m always disgusted when e-journalists fail to link to bills and relevant documents).
This was a controversial document when it was released. Suffice it to say, it was produced by the DHS’s Extremism and Radicalization Branch—a group that’s hardly likely to say the problem they’re paid to combat is small and relatively unimportant. The same federally-funded organization that also identified the possibility of left wing extremism, BTW.
Indeed, according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), which tracks extremist groups, the US has seen a dramatic spike in attempted domestic terrorism ever since Barack Obama started his campaign for office, including: two skinhead plots to assassinate him; a plan to set off a dirty bomb packed with radioactive materials during the inauguration; and a lone assassin, Keith Luke, who began murdering black people in Massachusetts.
Here we go. No report on American militia men is complete without guilt-by-association and a quote from the profoundly biased and non-scientific Southern Poverty Law Center. [Click here for its entirely undocumented “hate map” of the U.S.] Were ANY of the above domestic terrorists members of a militia group? No. So why are they included here? It gets worse . . .
This may sound like some crackpot fantasy, but it’s one that’s undeniably gaining currency. According to the SPLC report, there were 147 ‘patriot groups’ in 2006; by 2009 there were 512. ‘There has been a stunning expansion in these groups,’ Mark Potok, a spokesman for the SPLC, tells me. ‘In addition, there was an 80 per cent rise in hardline anti-immigration groups and hate groups like the Klan and neo-Nazis.’
Undeniably? That’s journalistic-speak for “Pay no attention to that citation behind the curtain!” Again, the SPLC has an axe to grind, a dog in the hunt, a skin in the game. As does Mr. Hannaford.
It’s an act [the Militia Act of 1792] that has been embraced by a fair number of American citizens ever since, whether loners or disparate groups of armed, disgruntled civilians. In 1992, Randy Weaver, a former US Army Green Beret, moved himself and his family to an isolated cabin in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, to escape what they saw as a corrupt world. Rather than a peaceful nature-lover, officials claimed Weaver was a member of a race-hate group and he was charged with weapons violations. When he failed to appear in court, they stormed the cabin, resulting in the fatal shooting of Weaver’s wife, Vicki, and 14-year-old son, Sammy.
Weaver was not a member of a militia group. Nor was Waco’s David Koresh, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh or Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski. All of whom Hannaford trots out in support of his “growing anti-government domestic terrorist threat linked to militias” meme.
With this sort of history, it’s perhaps unsurprising that so many militias were loath to let me in. My quest began in February this year, after a report by the SPLC claimed that the number of Right-wing extremist groups had risen by 250 per cent since Obama’s election. I had approached groups from all over the country in the hope that one of them would let me watch them train.
Six months to find three militia members? I hope Hannaford’s got health care. At least we now know that American militias aren’t that stupid. Quick break for gun stuff.
We pull up by the edge of a large quarry. Grey clouds loom overhead and although it was 91F (33C) here the day before, today it’s a chilly 52F (11C). Cochran grabs his AR15 and starts walking in a straight line through the quarry, intermittently raising the gun to his eye and firing.
The ground is littered with hundreds of corroded steel and brass bullet cartridges. ‘Any damn fool can stand still to shoot a gun,’ he says. ‘You gotta be moving – and always keep your gun loaded; an empty rifle is a baseball bat.’ Shepherd walks forwards. ‘Safety off, mine is hot,’ he says, before taking eight shots at an old piece of wooden board 500 yards away on a bank. He walks another five paces and shoots again, this time blasting a large rock apart. ‘Rock o’clock,’ Cochran cackles.
Now THAT’S what I’m talking about! Ricochets uber alles baby! OK, back to Hannaford’s BFFs: the SPLC.
The following day I call Mark Potok at the SPLC in Washington DC. He says the growth of these radical Right groups is related to three factors: the changing racial demographic of the country (by 2050 it’s estimated the US will lose its white majority); the election of Obama – who many of these groups feel does not represent the country their white Christian forefathers built; and a depressed economy.
Potok admits that not every group is racially motivated but says there is a ‘great deal of profound unease out there’. ‘It’s based on completely baseless fears of a new round of gun control, yet Obama has made it clear he’s not going to do that. He even signed a bill to allow guns to be carried in national parks,’ he says.
And there it is! The race card. Damn! I forgot to say that Brits see Americans—white Americans—as racists. Sorry. Dangerous racists. (Aren’t they all?) Speaking of danger, Hannaford ends with the suggestion that his entire thesis is full of shit.
So is Johnny Cochran’s outfit actually dangerous? ‘Some small percentage of members of these groups will act on their fears,’ Potok says. ‘I think when you get to the point of teaching people how to sever other human beings’ necks and carotid arteries, the law does get interested.’
He also says it’s entirely possible the US could see another ‘Oklahoma’, but when, and how, is impossible to predict. For the moment, that same ‘spark’ hasn’t happened. But it could – any day. And America needs to be ready.
So, Mr. Hannaford, how is America supposed to prepare itself for these maybe-they’re-not-so-dangerous-after-all militia men/domestic terrorists? I know, we should fuel their paranoia by confiscating their weapons and/or planing to shoot them on sight!
Seriously, I’m amazed that educated members of a country whose Magna Carta spawned modern democracy could be so completely oblivious to the warmth, intelligence, morality and democratic spirit of the American people.
The American militia movement has its bad eggs. What movement doesn’t? And yes, this statistically insignificant portion of American society are prone to paranoia. But their dedication to freedom and belief in democracy does not make them radicals.
Currently, the greatest terrorist threat to Americans’ safety and security comes from radical Islam. And that’s a fact.
In any case, in this country, people are innocent until proven guilty. The only case Hannaford makes here: the one against his own journalistic integrity.