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April 28, 1995 - Image 10

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-04-28

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

A Major Case
Of Tunnel Vision

JAMES D. BESSER WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

he tragic bombing in Okla-
homa, and the subsequent
arrest of suspects connect-
ed to a white supremacist
"militia" in Michigan, highlight
a perilous case of tunnel vision
among our political leaders —
and in some quarters of the Jew-
ish community.
The focus on one legitimate is-
sue — the spread of violence by
Islamic extremist groups and oth-
ers opposed to the Middle East
peace process — has obscured a
more frightening threat right un-
der our noses. Unless we deal di-
rectly with the forces that have
given rise to this new strain of vi-
olent extremism, we will find our-
selves helpless before its growth.
The rise of the "patriot move-
ment" and the creation of right-
wing militias around the country
have attracted the attention of
federal authorities but provoked
only a modest reaction.
The deadly shoot-out at the
Idaho cabin of white supremacist
Randy Weaver in 1992 and the
tragic death of the Branch Da-
vidians in a government raid in
Waco two years ago — both ral-
lying cries for the militia move-
ment — may have led to an
official timidity in addressing this
growing paramilitary threat
straight out of middle America.
It has been emotionally and po-
litically easier to focus on foreign
terrorist groups, with their alien
ways and appearance, than on
home-grown extremists who have
gone overboard on ideologies that
are common in mainstream soci-
ety.
The militias are related, albeit
in an extremist way, to the anti-
gun control movement — an oth-
erwise mainstream crusade that
labels illegitimate any govern-
ment attempt to limit the grow-
ing stockpiles of weapons.
Many of our leaders, including
most of the current Republican
presidential candidates, have
latched on to the gun control is-
sue with enthusiasm. By demo-
nizing gun control advocates and
exaggerating their aims, they
contribute significantly to the cli-
mate of paranoia that allows the
militias and their associated or-
ganizations to thrive.
An increasing number of po-
litical leaders are displaying a fer-
vent distrust of government that
goes beyond criticizing specific
programs and policies. They dis-
like the United Nations and re-
ject the very idea of taxes. In an
image that taps into the sim-
mering rage of the electorate, bu-
reaucrats are portrayed as evil

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and conniving, not just inefficient.
These ideas, carried to an ex-
treme, have become the ideolog-
ical backbone of the militia
movement.
This dangerous blurring of
lines adds to the government's in-
ability to deal with the rising
threat.
More generally, many "legiti-
mate" political leaders have con-
tributed mightily to a new
harshness in our political dia-
logue that helps legitimize the
unhinged conspiracy theories of
groups like the militias.
By disseminating the most bit-
ter, raging criticisms of the cur-
rent administration, and mixing
factual criticism with wild, un-
substantiated charges, the talk
show jockeys from the oft-dis-
cussed world of extremist talk ra-
dio have also added significantly
to the climate in which this new
breed of hate groups thrive.
Christian Right leaders who
distribute venomous "informa-
tion" about the current adminis-
tration, and the denizens of the
Internet's sprawling conspiracy
networks contribute as well.
The Jewish community is not
immune from the politics of sus-
picion and rage. Just consider the
gloating right-wingers who were
on the phone to reporters with-
in hours of the Oklahoma bomb-
ing, insisting that the blast
proved beyond a shadow of a
doubt that Arab violence is in-
evitable despite the peace process.
Jewish leaders have also been
slow to react to a movement that
is infinitely more threatening to
this community's interests than
Hezbollah bombers.
Last year, I mentioned the
militia movement to a major Jew-
ish leader, who quickly brushed
off my question.
"It's statistically insignificant,"
he said. "It's just not a threat, in
the same way that the World
Trade Center bombers and their
ilk are a threat."
Part of that reticence may
stem from the same political con-
siderations that have made the
government slow to react — a
fear of stirring up a backlash by
standing up to powerful pro-gun
groups that seem unable to draw
the line between passion and
reckless extremism, and an un-
willingness to challenge the fran-
tic anti-government rhetoric that
has become a staple of American
politics.
When the Anti-Defamation
league issued a detailed report on
the militias last October, it was

TUNNEL VISION page 12

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