anti-government movement that spawned Timothy McVeigh isn't going away,
argues Joel Dyer in his book, Harvest of Rage. Until there's political
reform, it's only going to get worse.
When Richard Keyes fled from authorities after the Republic of Texas' standoff with federal authorities in early May, it was assumed he died in the wasteland of West Texas. For nearly two months, it seemed to be true. But six weeks ago, the militia member called Joel Dyer, editor of the Boulder Weekly, giving him a series of exclusive interviews, the kind of interviews journalists literally die for.
Why Dyer? Simple. Because he has spent the good part of the last three years driving around rural America, interviewing militia and anti-government members, earning their acceptance and chronicling what he calls "the story of the decade."
This story is now published in Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City Is Only the Beginning. The book not only identifies the anti-government movement, it goes much deeper, looking at the root causes of how this movement started and why it grows like wildfire.
Dyer has created
a fascinating work of sociology, linking the farm crisis of
the '80s -- during which the fabric of rural America was torn to shreds -- as
the genesis of the anti-government movement. He profiles a nation of farmers
and rural folk and their justifiable anger at how the US government
foreclosed on their way of life.
No punches are pulled. Dyer calls the situation class war that threatens our democracy. He's as critical of big-money politics, which stomps on rural America, as he is of the hyper-violent, anti-government factions he writes so clearly about.
What's frightening about Harvest of Rage is its believable prediction that the type of domestic terrorism of Timothy McVeigh was not an anomaly. More will come, he says, until the root causes for this rebellion are addressed. Until they are, groups like the Republic of Texas, the Freemen of Montana and countless other clans will prey on the disaffected of rural America.
Dyer himself hails from rural Oklahoma roots. He found that his unprecedented access to heavily armed militia groups came from this rearing and "that I didn't go to the Connie Chung school of journalism and that I wasn't from New York." But that doesn't mean he was met with universal acceptance -- death threats continue to come.
Pre-publication hype has been heavy for Harvest of Rage. He has appeared on Today and Good Morning America and has been profiled by major national media, as well as radio and television talk show hosts around the country. Colorado Springs Independent editor Tom Vasich trekked up to Boulder to get Dyer's story.
How important was Waco in solidifying this movement?
Dyer: Huge. You can't overestimate it. It would have been bad even if it hadn't come on the heels of Ruby Ridge. Most of the media, including myself, really didn't understand the impact of Ruby Ridge. For the folks who had been preaching that the government would one day come down and start shooting its own population in order to take their guns, it was like, "See, it happened, it's begun. The war is started." They went into this heightened mode of believing that this war has started because of Ruby Ridge. At that point, the movement is going everywhere saying the government's going to kick in your door and shoot you in the head. They're going to attack you. They're going to do everything to take your guns. And then we have Waco. [The ATF] could have gone up, knocked on the door, and written them a $400 ticket. But because of needing to raise the profile of the ATF in order to get funding, they decide to turn it into a major assault on this compound for this measly little ticket offense. So you end up with a huge showdown.
Vasich: So you have justifiable concerns about government intervention?
Dyer: Oh yeah. I mean, the government's always been out of control. The day that we aren't concerned about the government overstepping its bounds is the day that we are no longer free. But the question is how do we deal with that? And how you deal with it is to put the ATF on trial. I mean, you do your inspections, you use democracy, you elect congressmen who'll make sure that we remain in a democratic state. So was Waco really a trigger that the government had decided to crack down? Of course not. It was politics as usual, a situation that got a little out of control. And unfortunately a lot of people died.
Vasich: You mentioned that after Waco, death warrants were issued against Janet Reno and Bill Clinton but weren't carried out. Is Washington still under threat?
Dyer: It's under threat for terrorism, for sure. That's the evolution that's taking place in this movement right now. Because there's never going to be a frontal, all-out military standoff between the militias and the federal government. First of all, it would take about two seconds, and the vast majority of those [militia] people don't want to go to prison for a long time. They are now taking the next inevitable step, which is fighting back with drive-by explosives. Retaliation only against targets no one suspects will be hit. Assassination of federal agents when they have the opportunity. And that's where the movement is going. That's realistic. They can do that.
Vasich: When will this rural dilemma, the anti-government movement, move into the urban world?
Dyer: It already has. This is pure and simple a class war. And most class conflicts in this country have started in rural America and worked their way in through the rust belt and into the inner city. We have a huge segment of our population that has not shared in this economic boom, that is not going to share in this economic boom. Their lives are becoming worse and worse and worse. Even though all the statistics seem to say we're doing fine. Well, when Oklahoma City blows up, we are not doing fine. You will watch the decay of this society as the violence increases.
Vasich: How bad off is rural America?
Dyer: Segments of rural America are in worse shape than our inner cities. The parts of rural America that are breeding the anti-government movement are in very bad shape. Recent studies have shown that 27 percent of the kids in rural America are going to bed hungry. Over 60 percent of sub-standard housing in the US is in rural America. Pretty much the myth that rural America is this tranquil and stable place is false.
Vasich: And how did the farm crisis of the '80s destroy rural culture?
Dyer: Rural culture is very based on the American dream. People in rural America have been the people who fought our wars, the people that the Pledge of Allegiance meant something to. They are very patriotic and believe in this country. And what they found during the '80s was that you could do everything right and your society was still going to crumble around you. No matter how hard they worked, they were going backwards. They lost everything. And they became very disillusioned with their own personal status. It can't be America's fault, so who's fault is it? It must be the government.
Vasich: How was the small farm crisis different than the factory workers in the '80s being laid off by the hundreds of thousands, or the collapse of the whole domestic oil industry?
Dyer: The difference in why this has spawned an anti-government movement when those didn't gets into a very overlooked and interesting aspect of rural American. [In rural America] you have unique personality types. It is as unique a subculture as African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. They will react differently to the same stimulus,. And what you found was that oil workers, when they got laid off, went and looked for other jobs.
Vasich: With the massive lay-offs of auto workers in the '80s, there was a subsequent program to retrain these workers and put them in other industries. Was there such an effort for farmers?
Dyer: Yes, there were retraining programs. But, again, if you look at the studies, and you look at the rural personality type, the connection a person has to their factory is one of being an employee. And they may be loyal, wanting to retire there. But the connection that a farmer has to his land [is much greater]. The retraining was not met with any enthusiasm. [A farmer's] land is his connection to God, to family, to his history. The chances are that it was his grandfather's farm; it was supposed to be his children's farm. So the loss of that went way, way, way beyond the loss of employment. It literally became the loss of their entire life, which, again, led to the suicides.
The first part of your book looks at the lack of rural mental health
care. It seems that the government in deciding to, in a sense, foreclose on
rural America, left these people hanging out to dry.
Dyer: Yeah, they did. And it's really pretty easy to see why that happened. There aren't a lot of votes in rural America. And with government in a cut-back mode, it makes sense that they are going to cut back in an area that isn't going to effect them in the polling place. When it comes to politicians, they're not going to walk into the city and get rid of something that may get them kicked out of office the next election. You can pretty much stomp on rural America.
Vasich: The movement is decidedly anti-government, but a real enemy to rural America is big agribusiness. Are Cargill and ConAgra facing any danger from anti-government groups?
Dyer: They may someday. A lot of farmers understand that these companies are controlling their lives. But because the federal government does nothing about it, they look beyond the companies to the federal government. They believe that these companies are actually part of the conspiracy that's controlling the government. So the government is to blame. If these people start to become more aware that this is a democracy problem, a money-politics problem, then you might eventually have is a democratic grassroots movement in rural America where people band together and refuse to deal with these companies. And make every attempt to circumvent them and get to the public with their products and various things like that. Then you've got a true revolution, that's very helpful for the country.
Vasich: A democratic revolution, and not a military one.
Dyer: Absolutely. That's what I'm hopeful will happen, that people will start to seek a grassroots democratic answer.
Vasich: You state in your book that the plague of rural America, is caused by the lack of campaign reform. Is that oversimplifying?
Dyer: Obviously, it is oversimplifying in the same sense that it's like drawing a straight line between the two topics so that people start to understand it. If you look at radical campaign finance reform as the starting place, what is that really saying? It says that the issue is who controls what legislation gets passed. It always comes back to the fact that we have a system where you have to raise millions of dollars in order to get into office. In order to raise those millions, you have to go to the money population and the corporations to get elected. And once you're there, your door is now open to those people, because you took their money. And so consequently, regardless of how good a heart somebody has when they're in office, the reality is that their hands are tied for doing anything for the common people in their district. So it does come back to radical campaign finance reform. If we can't elect people who look like and are like the people they represent, then democracy really doesn't have a chance. And it's always been that way.
Vasich: One riveting part of the book is when you describe the paranoia within the movement and how you got caught up in it.
Dyer: When you start to realize the power of paranoia, especially if you spend a few weeks in an environment that is completely paranoid, in an environment where night sounds -- car doors slamming, anything like that - sparks people to grab weapons and run to windows. They don't sleep; they don't eat. They literally believe it's only a matter of hours or days until the government kicks in their door.
Even though you're there to write about that, just being in that environment starts to take its toll on you. You don't realize it, but you start to when you drive down the road and look in your rear-view mirror to see who's following you. You start to develop your own paranoia of the other side, because you know that there's a lot of FBI people out there who are infiltrating. You're in this bizarre state where you're afraid the Feds aren't going to believe that you're a journalist, and you know that the people you're talking to half the time don't believe you're a journalist. And when you're out there by yourself, and you literally lose touch with the real world. But it's the world that these people live in everyday. They're in a world of guns and death and depression and poverty, and their reaction to that is intense physical paranoia.
Vasich: And it seems anytime you have gun-control pop up, you have a militia reaction.
Dyer: Absolutely. Gun-control is one of those very hot issues because guns are very much a part of rural American culture. They always have been. When you're 13, and you're from Oklahoma or Texas or New Mexico, you got a BB gun, a .22 or a shotgun. It's very much a part of the culture. To say that rural America should heed to the same gun-control issues that are taking place in the city is naive. They don't. There's not a problem with murders, you don't have drive-by shootings in Okeme, Oklahoma. The only reason you have arms being stored up in rural America now is because the city dwellers -- who basically control Washington-- are trying to eliminate those guns in rural America. So they are fulfilling each other's prophecies.
Vasich: How did it feel to be confidants with these revolutionaries?
Dyer: I find it fascinating. This is, in my opinion, the story of the decade, the single most important thing going on in the US at this time. It's an incredible opportunity to try to say, here's why these people are who they are, and here's maybe where you should be looking.
Vasich: I'm sure the criticism you're hearing about your book is that you're sympathetic for the anti-government movement.
Dyer: I was asked that on the Today show. And the answer is no. Am I sympathetic to what they are saying? Absolutely not. Am I sympathetic to the people that are involved? Yes I am, and I hope that every single person in this country is. Because if we're not, then we don't understand the root cause. And if we don't deal with it, then we are in for a blood bath.
Vasich: In addressing Timothy McVeigh, you profile him as an extremely paranoid, mentally unstable man. Given that, should he have been convicted of being guilty by reason of insanity and not given the death penalty?
Dyer: I do not believe that despite his mental condition he should not have been found guilty based on insanity. But I am opposed to the death penalty under any circumstances. I find it to be barbaric and completely wrong. But should he get life in prison with no chance of parole. Absolutely. Should his paranoid state absolve him somehow for what he did? No. Should everyone in this society have to face up to the fact that he may well have been delusional, or manic or nuts. Yes, they should. And again, the reason that's important is we have to understand how a hard-working, normal person gets to be someone who's staring up at the sky waiting to be attacked by a black helicopter. We can't laugh about it anymore. There are a lot of Tim McVeighs out there.
Albion Monitor August 31, 1997 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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