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Militias in Washington BY JAMES RIDGEWAY Washington, D.C. LAST MONTH, when the U.S. Forest Service sought to persuade a big New Mexico rancher, Kit Laney, to stop overgrazing public lands with his cows, Laney promised to meet the rangers on his property line the next morning backed up by 100 men with guns. “Will I have to shoot the next son of a bitch who tries to tell me where I can or can’t move my cows?” he asked. In the Old West, the sheriff would have taken on the lawless rancher. Not in modern New Mexico. Here, Pete Domenici, the state’s senior U.S. Senator and a Republican who has been at the forefront of opposition to President Clinton’s range reforms, intervened behind the scenes on behalf of the rancher. Critics charge that as a result, the U.S. government meekly backed down. In the southern part of the state, newspapers have been printing threats against environmentalistsone called on responsible citizens to tie them to boulders and drown them in the river. And in Catron County, legislators have been attempting to pass an ordinance requiring every environmentalist to register with county officials in order to fight off federal rangeland reform. The ordinance also recommends that every household in the county arm itself. Seldom has there been such open acceptance of vigilantism. Unfortunately, in New Mexico it’s not even news. Here gun law and the militia movement have become an accepted fixture of everyday life. Just nine days after the Oklahoma City bombing, Republican Governor Gary Johnson met with representatives of five state militias and praised them as “responsible, reasonable, lawful.” As Johnson put it, “They’re here to help in time of emergency.” On Capitol Hill, the New Right that controls Congress won’t actually come down against the racialist militia leadership, and even last week thwarted any serious investigation that would have singled out militia leaders for attacks on government works. Instead, they are pushing inquiries into the botched federal sieges at Randy Weaver’s Idaho cabin and at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. At the same time, Clinton has yet to come down on militias in any serious way. James Ridgeway is a writer for The Village Voice, where a version of this story first appeared. BEAUMONT ENTERPRISE/PETE CHURTON U.S. Representative Steve Stockman Overall, right-wing politics in America is shaping up along the lines played out in Germany during the early 1990s. Then, mainstream German leaders led by Chancellor Helmut Kohl distanced themselves from the increasing rash of Nazi skinhead attacks on Turkish immigrants and other foreigners. Those skinheads functioned as the brownshirts for fringe far-right political parties, which were never seriously condemned. Vigilante law in New Mexico is the most eye-catching example of how farright-wing influence can pay off at the highest levels of U.S. government. IN CONGRESS, militia members have worked on the election campaigns of Republican representatives Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, Linda Smith of Washington, and Steve Stockman, from Friendswood, Texas. Another House member, Washington’s Jack Metcalf, has long been a featured speaker on the far right with ties to the Populist Party and The National Educator, a publication with links to both the Aryan Nations and its paramilitary offshoot, the Order. Chenoweth is the so-called poster child of the militia movement, and a 1993 speech she gave entitled “America in Crisis” is sold by the Militia of Montana. “We are in a day and age now when we are facing an unlawful government from time to time,” she said, making a point to link environmentalists to the “Communist threat.” The decision to protect the spotted owl in the Northwest, she said, is leading to a “breakdown in state sovereignty and possibly leading to a one-world government.” In February, Chenoweth wrote to the assistant Agriculture Secretary Jim Lyons, voicing militia complaints that “black helicopters” were being used by federal rangers to enforce the Endangered Species Act. Chenoweth promised to be the secretary’s “worst nightmare” unless the government ceased its alleged harassment. Among those who worked on Chenoweth’s last election campaign was Sam Sherwood, director of the U.S. Militia Association, now notorious for his remarks at a March 2 meeting where he told attendees to “go up and look legislators in the face, because some day you may be forced to blow it off.” Most recently though, it is Steve Stockman, a former salesman, accountant, laborer and, briefly in 1980, a vagrant, who has drawn the most attention for his militia ties. On the same day as the Oklahoma blast, Stockman’s office received a fax from Michigan militia leader Mark Koernke, which seemed to discuss the bombing. Koernke, who has reportedly been associated with two suspects in the case, James and Terry Nichols, then disappeared, only to reemerge denying any involvement in the bombing. Stockman denied knowing Koernke. Stockman has long been considered a friend by the militias. In March, he sent Attorney General Janet Reno a letter warning her not to carry through with an impending federal raid on armed citizens militias he said he had learned about from “reliable sources.” At the time, militia groups were speculating on such a raid in Internet postings. And in an article written for the June issue of Guns & Ammo, Stockman drew more controversy by accusing the Clinton Administration of staging the raid at Waco two years ago to build support for its ban on assault weapons. Clinton, wrote Stockman, wasn’t bothered by the raid. Had he been, he would have indicted Janet Reno “for premeditated murder.” After the article was published, Stockman told the Dallas Morning News that he wasn’t suggesting the Clinton Administration wanted to see people killed, but was anxious to seize a cache of weapons to “sensationalize their issue.” Stockman’s views are consistent with militia thinking on Waco, which suggests that THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9