Back in 2002 Michael Moore made a documentary, Bowling for Columbine, which vaulted him to the forefront of American filmmakers and reignited the argument about guns that followed the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, which was what the film was all about. At one point Moore is talking to members of the Michigan Militia, several of whom respond to his tongue-in-cheek questions by explaining that the Militia had been formed to provide the first line of defense against terrorism, crime, tyranny and other threats. As one of the members put it, “there’s no greater responsibility for every citizen than to protect his family and his home.”
I was thinking about Moore’s movie as I read a recent report issued in July by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) about the April stand-off between Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management and how this event has sparked a ”boiling” of far-Right, anti-government sentiment that has been growing over the course of the Obama Administration and came to a head in the dispute at the Bundy Ranch. As far as I can tell, there’s still a bunch of flag-waving, AR-toting dudes “protecting” Bundy from the Feds, even though his ill-timed racist remarks resulted in a quick evaporation of support on the part of various conservative politicians and, in particular, Sean Hannity and Fox news.
But according to the SPLC, even without mainstream media and political support, the Bundy incident has given militia groups a new cause around which they can build a greater anti-government movement and enlist new members in their long-term battle against the New World Order, gun-grabbing liberals, Socialists and Presidents who weren’t born in the United States. The movement had its roots in the late 60’s and early 70’s with something called the Posse Comitatus, whose racist and anti-Semitic message bore a likeness to the rhetoric and program of the Ku Klux Klan.
Many of these militia groups operate in covert fashion, if only because when the Feds do get serious and bring in the heavy artillery, the militants, like Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, end up on the short end of the stick. But after Michael Moore put his camera on the Michigan Militia, these hardy men and women decided they might as well use their new-found Hollywood status to promote their cause. So I checked out their website which was set up in 2004 after “much discussion and field experimentation” because to join you have to prove that you meet the “readiness requirements.” And what are these requirements? You have to show up with a rifle, at least 100 rounds of ammunition, a water bottle, suitable clothing (preferably camo depending on the “tactical situation”), then walk two miles in no longer than 48 minutes with all this gear in tow.
If strolling two miles in slightly more than three-quarters of an hour constitutes a test of physical fitness to defend America against its enemies, we better not count on this bunch to do much more than talk about protecting us from dangers real or anything else. But in reading the Militia’s Readiness Manual it struck me that as a kid I belonged to something akin to this Militia group; namely the Boy Scouts, whose original Federal Charter, drawn up and signed by President Wilson in 1916, defined the Scouts as an organization that practiced, “patriotism, courage and self-reliance,” words literally echoed by the militiamen interviewed by Michael Moore.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course there are people who are seriously deranged, prone to believe in all kinds of crazy conspiracies, and in this country they don’t have much trouble getting their hands on a gun. But with all due respect to the SPLC and other groups who see an insurrectionist under every bed, boys will be boys, toys will be toys and yes, my Boy Scout troop practiced shooting our government-surplus 22s and shooting those guns was just a lot of fun.