The land where paranoia strikes deep
It was later on, after the Tahoe City fireworks, that I heard the unmistakable thwock of a chopper. Already I’d observed police on horseback, on motorcycles, on mountain bikes, in patrol cars, on foot. I’d observed Alcoholic Beverage Control agents enter local establishments and intimidate and bully like Nazi storm troopers, to paraphrase a recent NRA attack on federal agents.
I’m not the only one who’s paranoid about law enforcement, especially when they resemble Haiti’s Touton Macoutes. According to a current poll, 11 million American adults view the government as their enemy. Fortunately, only 10,000 of them are members of armed militia groups, of which there are at least 224 now in operation.
Emboldened by the saddening Republican takeover of Congress, panicked by the rising costs of living, confused by a misreading of the Constitution, disgusted by the Iraqi War, and angered by the restrictions placed on their activities by the Patriot Act, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the EPA, the IRS, and the Equal Employment Commission, many of these so called “patriots” are ready to start what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich once called “the second violent American Revolution.”
Of course this isn’t the first time Americans have armed themselves against a sea of government troubles. The Whiskey Rebellion, Shay’s Rebellion, John Brown, the KKK, the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers all carried forth armed struggle against what they saw as an oppressive government.
None of these people, however, had armor.
Presently, the Illinois Minutemen, Arizona’s Sons and Daughters of Liberty, the Freedom of Montana and others are armed to the teeth, often with heavy weapons sold as scrap by the Army after the demise of the Cold War.
“If you think these people are crazy,” psychologist Clark McCauley told Time Magazine, “then you have to ask if there is anything the government could do that would make you willing to take up arms against it. If you say yes, then you better hazard a thought that they are human beings just like you.”
Just like me? Now that’s a thought. People like myself who have located ourselves in the counterculture that arose during the 1960s have spent much of our lives resisting the government in some form. We’ve lived under the impression that our natural impulses were somehow against the law, and that the government, if not out to get us, at least had us in their viewfinder.
I’ve sided more than once with outlaws, from beatniks, hippies, war protesters, artists, feminists (egad), and even ski bums. Many of my friends have had babies out of wedlock, had abortions, voted Democratic, badmouthed Nixon and both Bushes, went to jail for growing weed, wrote filthy poetry, got divorced and debunked the myth of the happy nuclear family.
Hanging with the fringe has meant watching one’s back. The country has been
screwed over enough times by the police, the Army, politicians, and the Christian Coalition that it’s easy to get the conspiracy theories down.
When I hear the litany coming from the mouths of militia members it makes me recall the same paranoia I used to hear from draft dodgers, dealers in illegal contraband, environmental activists and political filmmakers.
All these years it seemed the enemy was the “Right”. That’s why it’s scary when a gun-toting right winger complains not only about the assault weapons ban, but also about things the “Left” complains about.
While we oppose each other in many ways, we are jointly suspicious of our government, and as weird as it seems we are allies.
While we may share fears, we remain different species. The Left may be just as wary of the government as the extreme Right, but us lefties don’t hoard heavy artillery. The thousands of militiamen drilling in the swamps of Alabama, the rock crags of Idaho and the Gold Country of Grass Valley were reared in a gun culture with a long history of violence, a culture spawned by the Klan, John Birch, George Wallace and his attack dogs.
Compared to these tortured souls, even the most anxious of the Left are simple debaters. We don’t have AK-47s under our pillows switched to full metal jacket.
It used to be amusing when one listened to Michigan militia maniacs rail about Bush ready to bring in 10,000 Chinese police to take away their guns, or that there are Soviet fighter jets on standby in Biloxi and foreign soldiers in salt mines under Detroit marshaled to enslave the entire population.
My laughter stops when I drive through Tahoe City and observe an overkill of law enforcement. The chuckling stops when I observe menacing, not welcoming, authority, and multiple tales of police aggression on the Fourth.
Happy Birthday, Tahoe, in the land of the free, home of the brave and where paranoia strikes deeper than ever.
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