Shining a light on the blind spots that aid hate groups

“Mainstream Malice” at Jay Taber’s blog, “Skookum”, begins:

My significant other was listening to Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman interview a former undercover FBI agent on our community radio two days ago, who made the assertion that field agents (like he was before resigning over disagreements with mid-level management) are generally conscientious folks, but that bureaucratic turf battles and political interference from higher ups often prevent the lawful and orderly application of justice. Not a particularly shocking piece of information these days, unless one considers that his expertise and experience was the infiltration of violent white supremacist groups.

What caught my partner’s ear, though, was when he mentioned working in among other places our old neck of the woods in northwest Washington state, where my colleagues and I in the mid-1990s were the target of eight individuals later–with the testimony of then Agent German–convicted of manufacturing explosives to use against human rights activists and judges opposed to their racist agenda. Again, old news to me, but nice to finally hear it on the radio.

The rest of the blog is powerful and worth reading. But it has a catch there in the middle of it, in the second paragraph, that is written with such casualness one could flow on to the following paragraphs without much notice, except one doesn’t. A passing reference to nightmare knowledge brands the page unexpectedly.

The piece keeps drawing me back because it has the feel of history. Like the diaries of missionaries to American Indians that survive from the early 1800s. Or rather, I’m thinking in particular of portions of a diary I’ve been privileged to read that was kept by a missionary to the Ioway. I’m not making a comparison in content, just “history”.

One thing to read textbook and opinion, another to read a super-view voice that moves back and forth between the plain and the objective bluff looking over it, relating history as it transpires, for the record, a person with a rare scope on the situation.

Jay Taber writes a lot on effective models of community education on tear-em-up issues, the kind that shred a place and people in a way mainstream America tends to be protected from perhaps more by ignorance than any other buffer.

One rereads the casual nightmare glimpse again:

“What caught my partner’s ear, though, was when he mentioned working in among other places our old neck of the woods in northwest Washington state, where my colleagues and I in the mid-1990s were the target of eight individuals later–with the testimony of then Agent German–convicted of manufacturing explosives to use against human rights activists and judges opposed to their racist agenda.

So one goes and clicks on the title “Reign of Terror” in the sidebar. If one wants to learn more. And I encourage everyone to do so. “Reign of Terror” is Jay’s May 24 posting of excerpts from his “Blind Spots: A Citizen’s Memoir”.

The title is fascinating enough.

Reign of Terror opens with a comment on freedom and utopia taken from Herbert Marcuse’s “An Essay on Liberation”, which should be read again when one is finished with the lengthy post, then moves on to “Part One” and 60 minutes airing a segment on the industry-backed Wise Use Movement in 1992.

The Wise Use Movement. There’s something that puts a chill in the bones. Part of the Anti-sovereignty Movement, which those not familiar with Indian concerns may not have heard about, but are a white racist hate group.

The excerpts give a glimpse of the rise of white supremecist militia in the area where Jay was situated in Washington state, and his experience with as director of the Whatcom Environmental Council and member of the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force Speaker’s Bureau.

Meetings of various groups were attended to see what was going on.

Paul’s sister Claire had received a call early that Saturday morning from a friend who’d passed the Rome Grange on the way to town, and seen a large sign out front announcing “Washington State Militia.” Paul called me before breakfast to arrange a rendezvous at the Grange. He and Claire would sit on one side of the room, visibly taking notes and tape-recording if it seemed safe, and I would sit on the other side of the room blending in. Paul had become known by his presence at several recruiting events in Snohomish and Whatcom Counties, and had been fingered as a hostile reporter at one near Everett. I was still perhaps unknown by, as we referred to them, the dangerous fringe of the Far Right.

Jay describes the meeting in detail. Recounts organization of human rights activists to protest.

July 1996 brought several surprises to Whatcom County, not the least of which was a press conference by the U.S. Department of Justice, announcing the bust of eight local individuals for involvement in bomb-making and illegal modification of firearms into fully-automatic weapons—machine guns. News of this development, given the growth in militia organizing activities of the past year and a half, made Paul de Armond and I very concerned. Paul installed motion detectors and lights around his home. I started closing the blinds at night–drawing the heavy brocaded curtains over the windows in the living room where I often sat up late reading. I never said anything about why I was doing this, hoping to spare Marianne some worry. I guess I was only sparing myself, though. I realized this when she asked me if I thought someone might try to poison our dogs. I wondered if I’d be shot in my recliner some evening.

Paul shared information with local and federal law enforcement agents, but the communication was strictly one-way. As a member of the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force Speaker’s Bureau, I’d been lecturing at adult education forums in local churches about the danger posed by community silence. Most of my time consisted of undoing the years of misinformation published in the Herald. We were apparently a long way from the start of a sustained community response to domestic terrorism. We would perhaps never get there.

Jay describes the toll taken on one’s personal well-being. Something I’ve heard about all too often with such disparate interests as a friend working on grassroots Indian rights up on a reservation in South Dakota who was represented by the ACLU in actions against the state concerning voting rights, and a friend working years to save old growth forests and urban trees. As a web-support person for the aforementioned grassroots group, I know a little of the paranoia and fear that comes when strange phone calls start happening, when one is pulled over after by the police after making a cross-country trip from a physical meeting and questioned about what you were doing on your trip, being directed to leave your three-year-old child in the van and stand in such-and-such a place so you can keep your child in direct view while they search the van for an hour and a half for weapons. Pure intimidation. In the end, one is allowed to drive on. What it feels like to know one’s work is being monitored by the government because one’s graphics are pulled out during pre-trial hearings, and the right to free speech questioned for nothing but pure intimidation value. Different from what Jay is describing, nothing compared to what others experience, but there are spells where it gets weird and takes its toll.

Looking into neural disorders and what part if any they may play in disposition toward violence, Jay remarks on the importance of continuity and memory.

Richard McNally, a professor of psychology at Harvard says, “The ability to solve problems in the here and now depends on one’s ability to access specific autobiographical memories in which one has encountered similar problems in the past. It depends on knowing what worked and what didn’t. With that ability impaired, abuse survivors cannot find coherence in their lives. Their sense of identity breaks down.”

This is significant not only for the individual but on a societal level as well, which makes especially striking the concluding sentences of Jay’s article and the idea of the importance of the preservation of history.

My own family, because of the involvement of direct-line members in certain socialist-communist societies through the 1800s and the continued support of such ideals into the 1900s, fearing possible reprisal during the McCarthy era took all documents concerning their involvement–organizational records, letters, etc.–and burned them. About all that was left in the trunk were stacks of empty envelopes. Whether or not they really had anything to fear, I don’t know, but their worries were such that the sisters gathered and together torched over 100 years of family documents.

The loss of some histories seems more unsettling than others. That above noted loss, coupled with the loss of history on the Ioway side of the family, partly impressed upon me the value of continuity. Perhaps histories that are intentionally interrupted demand a kind of accounting that histories casually lost through disregard do not. Or perhaps we don’t acknowledge yet what injury occurs with even a seeming innocent lossof history–continuity, coherence and essential meaning, consequential casualties in not only individuals but families and societies. Perhaps it is part of the hunger that afflicts Euro-Americans who for generations abandoned past in their pursuit of the Frontier.

My heightened appreciation of the importance of preservation of history, makes especially appealing to me Jay’s closing remarks in his memoire excerpts.

For its record of experience, it ought to be read. For the experience with hate groups and how quickly their interests can consume an area in co-operation with other movements more oriented to the mainstream. For the experience in recognizing hate groups as they appear on the scene in more veiled guizes and attempting to educate and organize against them, the memorie ought to read in full. Regretfully, however, it is out of print because of threats made to the publisher after publication. In lieu, I encourage reading “Reign of Terror”. It imparts a kind of knowledge that no newspaper article, no 60 Minutes broadcast, is going to be able to communicate. Too many people, with no real acquaintance, treat the idea of hate groups in America as approaching arcane and even comical, when their threat is real, often subverted in seeming dissociated ideologies, and the venom long-sustaining.

4 Replies to “Shining a light on the blind spots that aid hate groups”

  1. Hello: I just had a customer in our bookstore looking for a copy of “Blind Spots: A Citizen’s Memoir by Jay Taber. The only reference I could find was this site. I know where the customer volunteers in Bellingham, so if you can tell me where he could purchase a copy of the book, I’ll be glad to contact him with the information.

    Linda Baker
    Michael’s Books

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