September 2, 2009

Militias Revisited

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With smoke dominating the sky, lifeless bodies scattered about, and terrified people fleeing a massive heap of rumble, America will never forget one of the most destructive attacks on our country. The Oklahoma City bombing of a fully occupied federal building took the lives of 168 Americans, making it the deadliest case of domestic terrorism. This was indicative of the ever-growing power of the militia movement – groups of militants set out to end what they saw as an unjust government. After several years of growth in the 1990s, the militias began losing power and for the past decade they have nearly disappeared. However, they are returning and with greater strength than ever. 

Right-wing, tax defiance, racism, sovereignty, and weapon advocacy are just a few characteristics of the newly reinvented militias. According to law enforcement agencies, nearly 50 new training camps have materialized and many of the members consist of former police officers and soldiers. What is it that makes some fear these nativist groups? Much of what the militias are based on stems from conspiracies. For example, theories about secret Mexican plans to “reconquer” the American Southwest are fairly common among “patriots”. While this may seem like a simple expression to exercise one’s right to free speech, militia beliefs extend beyond this. 
 
“A key difference this time is that the federal government — the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy — is headed by a black man. That, coupled with high levels of non-white immigration and a decline in the percentage of whites overall in America, has helped to racialize the Patriot movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by race hate,” reports the Southern Law Poverty Center. The fact that President Obama is a Democrat seeking to limit the right to “keep and bear arms” adds to the already extreme level of hatred toward those of an alternate race. This deep hate has led to a series of violent offenses. Most recently, men with anti-government, racist, anti-Semitic or pro-militia views have allegedly committed a series of high-profile murders — including the killings of six law enforcement officers since April. 
Even more radical is the belief that Caucasians are a superior class of individuals and African Americans should be viewed as “14th amendment citizens” indebted to obey the federal government as a master. In an online blog entitled the Oath Keepers, a man who said he was a former Army paratrooper in Afghanistan and Iraq described President Obama as “an enemy of the state,” adding, “I would rather die than be a slave to my government.” 

We’re all entitled to freedom of speech according to the Constitution. On the other hand, there are restrictions on this right such as prohibiting speech that places the public in danger. Are the militias simply expressing a radical form of patriotism? How far should our freedom of speech rights extend?

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