Peacenik Nazis

Radical right capitalizes on September 11 fears

Why? Hale and Schoep now have two moderate talking points -- First Amendment rights and U.S. involvement in the Middle East -- as shiny loss leaders to draw folks into their little shop of horrible ideas.

And their ideologies have an ignominious history of drawing flames from America's smoldering rural white underclass.

I grew up in a small Nebraska town in the mid-1980s in the middle of the farm recession. A man named James Wickstrom came to my county commiserating with farmers about their woes. Banks and federal farm policy bad, farmers and American single-family farms good.

Soon, though, this slippery slopehead had built a cell of the fiercely anti-Semitic, anti-government Posse Comitatus that was threatening to occupy the county courthouse. And nine miles down the road, a Wickstrom follower named Michael Ryan broke away from the Posse, started his own doomsday cult and ended up shovel-buggering and skinning a follower who tried to leave.

Basically, I know what it feels like to be from Kingman.

Wickstrom absolved himself of responsibility for setting Ryan down the ideological path to the electric chair and for turning my town into the white-trash psychopath joke of the Midwest. He was just exercising his First Amendment rights, after all.

I hate that I can't disagree with him on that point.

But many Wickstrom-like leaders follow the dangerous creed of America's most radical right -- Public Words, Private Acts. It's a trick that creates plausible deniability. The demagogues never accept responsibility for the lunatics who inevitably act on their most vitriolic words.

Hale and Schoep got me thinking about anthrax.

Both say they are sometimes concerned by what some lunatic might do in their name. Both say they haven't seen any sign that any follower is involved with or planning an act of domestic terrorism. Both say they in no way condone violence at the present time.

But, granted, the better madmen don't telegraph their terrorism.

"You're always going to have possibility of someone doing something crazy," Schoep said. "I haven't seen September 11 triggering anyone. But these are crazy times. You don't know what to expect.

"For us, it's what Joseph Goebbels said: 'You must try to stay legal until the end.'"

The trick, then, is to predict when someone's end is upon us.

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