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Post-Hutaree: How Glenn Beck and Fox News spread the militia message

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Reading last week's disturbing news accounts about the Midwestern arrest of nine alleged members of a Christian militia known as the Hutaree, a group whose members were reportedly planning to kill cops in order to spark a wider, armed revolt against the U.S. government, I noticed this nugget [emphasis added]:

FBI agents moved quickly against Hutaree because its members were planning an attack sometime in April, prosecutors said.

My hunch is the self-described "warriors" of the Hutaree probably circled April 19 on their calendars for any cop-killing fantasy they might have planned to pull off. Why April 19? That was the day, 17 years ago, when the FBI staged its final failed assault on cult leader David Koresh's heavily armed compound in Waco, Texas. It was on April 19, 1993, following a 51-day siege, that Koresh's fanatical followers, rather than surrendering to authorities, staged mass suicides (and, in some cases, executions) as the compound burned to the ground.

Precisely two years later, on April 19, 1995, right-wing zealot Timothy McVeigh commemorated the Waco inferno by declaring war on the federal government and blowing up his rented Ryder truck outside of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. McVeigh's act of far-right radical terrorism sheared the north side off the Murrah Building, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds more. ("I reached the decision to go on the offensive -- to put a check on government abuse of power," McVeigh later wrote.)

April 19 remains an almost mythical date among dedicated government haters. It's a date that lives in infamy as proof of the dark consequences of when a tyrannical government (run by Democrats) turns on its own.

So yeah, as the Hutaree gun nuts allegedly plotted in the woods of Michigan on the best way to kill cops, pieced together their seditious plans to wage war on the U.S. government, and planned their upcoming confrontation with the Antichrist, I'm guessing the landmark militia day of April 19 loomed large.

For anyone who thought the dark, Waco-fueled chapter of domestic extremism in this country was behind us, the Hutaree arrests were a jarring reminder that, with the election of another Democratic president, the violent militia message is back.

And it's stronger than ever.

Not only have the number of radical-right extremist groups exploded in the wake of President Obama's election (more than 500 today, as compared to just 200 during the 1990s), but these militia members now have a proud sponsor in the person of Fox News' Glenn Beck, who has done more than any other person to amplify and mainstream the movement's hateful and foreboding anti-government message. Beck continues to give a voice, and national platform, to the same deranged, hard-core militia haters and self-style "patriots" who hounded the new, young Democratic president in the early 1990s in the wake of Waco.

On TV and the radio, Beck rarely bothers to mention the militia movement by name. Instead, he's simply co-opted their rhetoric as his own. He's acted as a crucial transmitter, warning about Obama fronting his own private "army," and urging followers to "start food storage."

Not to mention these previous militia moments:

The truth is that the daylight separating the radical, anti-government militia movement from self-styled mainstream conservatives is growing dimmer by the day. Like the fact-free Obama birthers, the militia remains a radical subset that today's right wing refuses to part ways with. That sad fact was highlighted when scores of far-right media voices initially downplayed the Hutaree arrests last week, or even defended the militia members and -- disturbingly reminiscent of Waco -- cast the FBI and the federal government as the over-reaching bad guys.

And at Fox News, it's not just Beck. The cable "news" channel's militia-flavored message (beware gun-toting IRS agents!) has been as simple as it's been

relentless: Obama is destroying this country and he's doing it intentionally. It's not that people disagree with Obama and don't like what they call his "liberal" policies as applied to the economy and health care reform, etc. Instead, the conflict is much more dire. Obama is not just misguided in this political and legislative agenda. Instead, Obama is the incarnation of evil (the Antichrist?), and his driving hatred for America, as well as for democracy, runs so deep that he ran for president in order to destroy the United States from within.

Right on cue last week, Rush Limbaugh, who serves as sort of a militia godfather theses days, issued this back-against-the-wall warning: "Our country is being overthrown from within."

That's exactly what militias were saying about Clinton back in the 1990s, as historian David Bennett recently noted:

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Eric Boehlert is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press, 2006). He worked for five years as a senior writer for Salon.com, where he wrote extensively about media and politics. Prior to that, he worked as a contributing (more...)
 
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