American Terror, 1995 – present

The white supremacy movement is not an obvious subject for levity, but it was Carl Hiaasen, a writer known for bizarre humour, who wrote the defining fictional treatment of the mid 1990s American militias. Inspired by the Oklahoma City bombing (Hiaasen ‘is a vocal supporter of the death penalty for those, such as McVeigh, who ‘richly deserve it’: ‘Bye bye, Tim! That’s what I say and I’m a liberal’) Hiaasen’s Lucky You begins with JoLayne Lucks, a reclusive black veterinarian who wins the lottery – half of a $28 million jackpot. Unfortunately, the other $14m is won by Bode and Chub, a couple of racist criminals who plan to use the money to set up a patriot force and save America from the Jews.

The ideologue, Bode, decides that $14 million is not enough and that the rest has been kept from them by the Communist/Tri-Lateral/Zionist conspiracy. (Chub is more pragmatic: ‘He didn’t understand how the lottery could be rigged. If it was, how had he and Bode managed to win even half?’) They jump in Bode’s pickup, track down JoLayne, beat her senseless and steal her winning ticket. With the help of dissolute reporter Tom Krome, JoLayne chases the rednecks all over Florida.

The novel has always seemed like something of a period piece. Hiaasen is a man of his time and Lucky You is full of references to Waco, Weaver, Kahl, and of course Oklahoma (‘and that was the government did it,’ Bode tells his partner, ‘to frame those two white boys.’) Now it seems like the militia movement is taking on an ugly renaissance. The Guardian links to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Centre on domestic far right terrorism in the USA. From the article:

The centre’s latest report, released last week, records an astonishing mushrooming in extremist anti-government Patriot groups who see the Obama administration as a plot to impose ‘one-world government’ on liberty-loving Americans. The numbers leapt from 149 groups in 2008 to 512 groups in 2009, of which 127 were classed as paramilitary groups.

‘We know there has been a spike in activity across a broad range of things, particularly with regard to the notion that this  government is illegitimate,’ says Brian Levin, a criminologist who heads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University. Levin says the phenomenon is evident in rural areas around the Appalachian mountains and Great Lakes and into the west and Pacific north-west, where new armed militia groups are spontaneously emerging; and he has no doubt about why this is happening right now: ‘We’ve always had people who hate the president, we’ve always had conspiracies, but the fact that we have a black president at a time of economic tumult makes these conspiracies much more volatile among a far wider group of people.’

Chip Berlet, an analyst of rightwing extremism at the Massachusetts-based group Political Research Associates, estimates that there have been nine murders by individuals who have white supremacist, xenophobic or antisemitic leanings since the inauguration of Obama. Berlet sees similarities in the current foment to the militia agitation of the 1990s. ‘Anger is spilling over from people who believe Obama is coming to remove their liberties, seize their guns, enslave the white American nation. What’s new is that they can now recruit and communicate online, and that makes it very much more dangerous for the president.’

The report itself is a grim itemisation of far right terror plots since 1995. I’ll name just one.

On the day after Barack Obama is inaugurated as the nation’s first black president, Keith Luke of Brockton, Mass., is arrested after allegedly shooting three black immigrants from Cape Verde, killing two of them, as part of a racially motivated killing spree. The two murders are apparently only part of Luke’s plan to kill black, Latino and Jewish people. After being captured by police, he reportedly says he planned to go to an Orthodox synagogue near his home that night and ‘kill as many Jews as possible.’ Police say Luke, a white man who apparently had no contact with white supremacists but spent the previous six months reading racist websites, told them he was ‘fighting for a dying race’… When he later appears in court for a hearing, Luke, charged with murder, kidnapping and aggravated rape, has etched a swastika into his own forehead, apparently using a jail razor.

There is a photograph of Luke in court. It is incredibly disturbing.

Mark Potok, the author of the report, advised that: ‘These groups aren’t al-Qaida. Most of them look vastly more bumbling than effective.’ The villains of Lucky You are cowardly and incompetent, but they are also extremely dangerous, and very much human. (Hiaasen goes out of his way in their backstories to emphasise the middle-class backgrounds of Bode and Chub, removing the cliched defence of alienated white trash.) At one point, JoLayne, a former nurse, is forced to treat Chub for a gunshot wound. Instead of the disgust she expected to feel, there is instead an ‘anthropological curiosity’:

Studying Chub’s slack unconscious face, she searched for clues to the toxic wellspring. Was the hatred discernible in his deep-set eyes? The angry-looking creases in his sunburned brow? The dull unhappy set of his stubbled jaw? If there was a telltale mark, a unique congenital feature identifying the man as a cruel sociopath, JoLayne Lucks couldn’t find it. His face was no different from that of a thousand other white guys she’d seen, playing out hard fumbling lives. Not all of them were impossible racists.

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