American Berserk, 4/10 edition

As Ed talked about earlier in the week, I think we are going to see a resurgence of crazy survivalist-style conservatism during the Obama years. I remember from the mid-90s, in southwest Chicago, how’d we get third-hand information from the Militia types, from Michigan or Wisconsin; the shirts, the newsletters, the ideas. From the military gamer conventions I’d go to with my dad, those militia types would have booths here and there, but there was always a bit of sequestering; after the Oklahoma City bombing they practically disappeared. Now with the global market collapse the fevers are coming back, and with the internet that paranoia can be reproduced perfectly across any amount of space.

So I’m going to write notes about what I see swirling out there. I hope the conservative party reforms quickly, if only to keep our liberal impulses sharpened, but mostly to mop up the fevered dreams of those furthest to the right with something productive to do….

1) Glenn Beck doubles down on crazy and dangerous. He compares Obama’s policies to dousing someone in gasoline and lighting them on fire, by pouring gasoline and mocking an execution, Reservoir Dogs style, while listing off parts of the Obama agenda.

What do Glenn Beck’s producers think about themselves when they look in the mirror, late at night and early in the morning? At least Beck didn’t do a dance to Stuck In The Middle.

2) Dave Weigel goes to a gun show:

As fun as this is — and for the people who arrived before 7 a.m. to set up shop, it is very fun — there’s a sense of foreboding this year. At the October 2008 gun show, said one of the organizers of the Jungle Walk ($35 for an Uzi and a stroll through a path of pop-up targets), “it was like a McCain-Palin rally in here. It felt like we were going to win. Then you know what happened.”
Ever since the election of President Barack Obama, gun store owners have reported massive increases in sales of firearms and ammunition. Attendees and sellers at Knob Creek can confirm that. Ron Hansen, a retiree from Michigan, grumbles that the ammunition supply at the show has “declined dramatically” since the displays of only a year ago. Myron Moore, a seller making a brisk trade in pistols and clips, explains that sales spiked right after the election and have slipped only a little because people worry this will be their last chance to stock up. “I’m selling everything Obama’s trying to ban,” he laughs.
Other attendees were uncomfortable revealing their first or last names. As massive as the event is — the Knob Creek Gun Range estimated that around 15,000 people passed through the gates–it does not keep tabs on who comes in. This is a safe haven, where guns can change hands without a lot of paperwork, and where ammunition is relatively cheap, though the prices have skyrocketed in the last few years. A purchase of an old Mauser rifle that would take some red tape-cutting in a gun shop is hassle-free at the gun range.
This is a place where vendors can sell T-shirts that read “The Fourth Reich: Obama-Biden 2012,” and “Hitler Gave Great Speeches Too..” and, most succinctly, “Fuck Obama.” It’s somewhere for people with hard-to-explain interests in World War II memorabilia can pick up items from Wehrmacht uniforms (”I’m putting the stuff together to make me a German officer,” says a man buying a Wehrmacht officer’s cap), Adolf Hitler mousepads (”Next time… no more Mr. Nice Guy”), and coffee mugs with Nazi commanders’ faces etched on them.

In something perfectly formatted for the internet, click through for his photo essay; everything in the photos is described in the article, but it is far more jarring to actually see what he references. Also he takes pages from How To Start and Train a Militia Unit and scans them.

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9 Responses to American Berserk, 4/10 edition

  1. Larisa says:

    I have been expecting this as well. I got in an argument with a friend of mine who basically scoffed mildly at the idea of white supremacist violence as an active force in the US (especially as an active force in black people’s experience) –this has plenty to do with where we grew up and what scenes we ran in that shaped our view of what forces are powerful in america. But as much as I hate to give these clowns publicity, I think we have to talk about them because lots of folks simply don;t believe these people exist. ans as much as they are clowns, they are dangerous ones. The connections between the survivalist militias and white supremacy/neonazism run very deep. And it all links up too with the most recent long-term terrorist campaign on US soil – the abortion clinic bombings of the 80s

    I was close enough (in boston) to the pro-choice movement and teh clinics themselves to remember the way people felt. And even as a teenager I heard enough and researched enough to know that many of the same people bombing clinics were linked to these militias in the midwest. They were all crazy as loons, but that didn’t stop them from killing and inspiring fear in a lot of people. Obama’s election may have driven them further from mainstream views, but it’s also consolidating them and if he doesn’t address the class-based problems in his current financial plans I think it’s going to get worse.

    I don’t know what can break this down except a better and more integrated social system. Public transportation that is safe & good and extensive (so people get used to sharing space with people different from them), public education ditto. Maybe WPA style employment could help. both in relieving economic pressure but also in building integrated workforces?

  2. Brad Surly says:

    I’m quite mainstream in my vocation and about as far as you can get from a white supremacist, whatever that is. (Seriously, that media driven term needs a whole hell of a lot of explication — does it mean they are literally supremacists, or are they segregationists, or are they eugenicists?) But I’m quite pissed about the state of the economy and the FACT that fascists like Bush AND Obama have taken over this country in the last 30 years. I won’t sit idly by while it happens either. What “breaks this down,” Larisa, is the government getting less intrusive in citizens’ lives and getting much smaller! And on that point the “supremacists” have a good point as the fascists TELL them how they must live and believe. Let me tell you, the ordinary folks are seething at what’s going on as the corporatists like Goldman Sachs (see and its ilk LITERALLY RUN THE FUCKIN’ COUNTRY! And you expect the citizenry to bend over and take it Rortybomb? Well, do you?

  3. Mike says:

    Larissa, I don’t know what will help. I like your suggestions, from stronger and more developed public spheres and opportunities for work in civic infrastructure that pays a livable wage in urban cores. But when I look out 10 years from now, I see more globalization, more service-focusing of the employment sector, more transnational labor, etc. I think having national health care can take some of the anxiety of the ‘flexibility’ of the work force away. And I also could see an economy that develops 10 urban cores and an additional 20 university research areas, and leaves the rest to rot. And that all worries me.

    Brad, my family is one of police officers, prosecutors and judge clerks. They are either out there serving warrants and policing or they are at a federal building clerking away. And this may sound like I’m being dramatic or a shrill liberal on the internets about it but I am not, this is genuine, I worry about their safety in addition to the normal safety worries I have for them. They worked at federal and state buildings in IL when the OK City bomb went off, and they work at federal buildings now. I worry that my dad is going to have to do a routine house call where a crazy thinks he’s part of Obama’s fascist guard coming to take his guns and gold and melt them both down, and open fire. I’m honestly not sure what to do about it – how to assuage my worry. What do you think?

    I understand your retort that people who criticize the economy and the government shouldn’t be labeled as mentally ill and put off to the side of ‘rational debate’ (I’m very sensitive to that critique, actually), but I do worry how violence is becoming a normalized part of the debate. I think talking about social policy and referencing it as torturing a person is really unproductive. Especially when the ideas we are discussing are well within the boundaries of politics 1980-2008. Reagan did amnesty, about Obama is talking about Clinton era tax rates. These aren’t Shock Doctrine materials we are talking about – and for others speak of them with violence as the currency we discuss in worries me greatly.

  4. Mike says:

    Also, as a general point, this violence can be re-inforcing. A person thinks cops are coming to take his guns so he kills three police officers. Now on the next house call across the country, cops are a little quicker to pull their gun, and a little bit more nervous when deciding if the other person has a gun or a sandwhich, and shoots an innocent person. Which makes people more worried that cops are coming to take their guns…..

    I really don’t want to see another wave of Wacos and Ruby Ridges over the next 8 years.

  5. Brad Surly says:

    I agree with your points, Mike, about the self-reinforcing component of this. It’s a problem. I have been in that federal system too as a law clerk for a federal judge — I for one certainly don’t think that all federal government employees are fascists. It’s pretty well confined to the higher up executive branch employees and members of Congress who are as a collective are controlled by the corporatists. Simon Johnson and William Black are both pretty convincing in their arguments that the corporations have literally taken over and now hold the government by the ying yang, not just through contributions and job pay-offs but through the threat of political change. I’m scared both FOR police officers and OF them. You’re spot on that they become much more insular when faced with the wildings with whom they must deal on a regular basis. I’m in my 40’s and couldn’t imagine 25 years ago that police units would have become militarized to the extent they have. The real reason I get so pissed is for my three sons who will have to navigate in this world of much more limited freedom and opportunity. It makes me want to cry.

  6. Brad Surly says:

    I meant to say “wildlings” rather than “wildings.”

  7. Mike says:

    Yes on the militarized policeforce. Especially with rare SWAT team style tactics that have become a normalized part of the day-to-day police force. That is easily trace-able to the (now corrupted, if it ever wasn’t) War on Drugs, a War I hope Obama reduces the outright sinkhole of lives, energy and money it has become.

    Simon Johnson has nothing to say about corporations like GE or GM, nor does he think there is a take-over – he thinks that financial institutions have captured their regulation, through lobbying for lax oversight as well as benefitting from a “cultural capital” that reifies the idea that financial technocrats know what’s best, way better than the government, hence their pause in disrupting the system too much.

    Whether or not you think that is a good narrative, it is clearly in the downturn. The wave of deregulation that started in the late 1970s has crested, and now people are looking at what has worked and what hasn’t and are trying to pick up the pieces. The idea that corporations and financial institutions will have a stronger grasp on our political processes in 6 years than they did 6 years ago I don’t think is likely. (I don’t know William Black’s argument, feel free to link through to it.)

    It’s an ugly time, and it is going to be bad for a few years. I would not worry about your children’s future though. Nobody has ever made any money betting against the United States in the long run; and honestly, though I disagree with some calls here and there, I think Obama is laying the groundwork for a new prosperity in the future….

  8. Brad Surly says:

    Here’s a Barron’s interview of William Black:

    I’m betting against the US — I don’t buy the Oracle of Omaha’s schtick. We are a failed empire — it’s only a matter of time. I know I’m kvetching, but I just don’t see the dawn, and I’m generally a positive person.

  9. Brad Surly says:

    Oops, subscription required at Barron’s. Here’s the article reprinted at the Financial Armageddon blog:

    Note that Black believes the fraudulent schemes will lead to a failed Obama presidency. The lunatics are in charge of the asylum just as they were with the Bushies.

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