Twenty Years Ago
Citizens For Liberty: Whatcom County’s Angry White Guys With Guns
by Margo Malone
Margo Malone is political activist living in Bellingham.
To celebrate over 20 years of publishing Whatcom Watch, we will be publishing excerpts from 20 years ago. David M. Laws has been generous enough to volunteer to review the Whatcom Watch for 20 years ago to find suitable material to reprint. The below excerpts are from the June 1995 issue of Whatcom Watch.
-e Editor’s Note: In the May 1995 issue, Whatcom Watch published the article, “Angry White Guys With Guns: The Rise of the Militas.”
Sitting in the Harbor Center at a Citizens for Liberty meeting, watching the sunset while listening to angry right-wing gunowners call for action, is a surreal and disconcerting experience. I realize that the paranoid fringe is right here, and that there is a powder keg in our own backyard.
Citizens for Liberty is not technically a militia group, even though some of its participants are associated with militias. It’s not even an organization in the sense we generally think of one--there is no membership list, no sign-in sheets, no dues, bylaws or minutes. Attendees go by their first names only, ostensibly to protect themselves in the event of future government crackdowns. (A Bellingham activist was recently threatened at a meeting, by two of the group’s leaders for attempting to video the proceeding.) What the group does have in abundance are paranoid right-wing conspiracy theories with plenty of vocal, angry and armed proponents.
The apparent nuttiness of all this would seem comical if it wasn’t also apparent how dangerous it is. There is a lot of visible anger and frustration among the Citizens for Liberty crowd (which varies in age and gender, although the majority are middle to upper age white males). People feed on each others’ fury, telling stories, describing extreme scenarios until the atmosphere feels something like a feeding frenzy. The right to have and use arms seems to be a part of almost every story told. It is a volatile combination, and it’s not hard to imagine how some psychologically borderline individual could gather fuel for his destructive acts at this type of gathering.
… Sheriff Dale Brandlund was … asked if he knew of any armed militia in Whatcom County. When he responded that he had heard rumors but no, he was not aware of any militias in Whatcom County, a few members of the audience turned to their neighbors and laughed knowingly behind their hands.
The concerns of Citizens for Liberty people are not without merit. The federal government’s handling of the Branch Davidians in Waco was brutal and disastrous, illegal wiretaps and FBI infiltration of political activist groups have made many of us wary of the Feds, and the national economy is a mess, leaving huge numbers of people un- or underemployed while large corporations continue to become wealthier and more powerful.
The differences here between those of us who characterize ourselves as progressives and those on the right like Citizens for Liberty lie in the analysis of the cause of these problems (Jewish bankers and the One World Government versus the rampages of global corporate capitalism, for example), and the ways we choose to deal with them. I do not fully understand the appeal of the conspiracy theory mentality, although I certainly see that it is much easier to have a big monolithic enemy or (scapegoat) than it is to struggle to organize political and social change in this generally apathetic country. But as we have seen, such short-sightedness poses serious dangers, ones that we must all take seriously.
I personally feel that it’s important to take a stand against the kind of rhetoric and action promoted by Citizens for Liberty. It is one thing for these people to operate in a vacuum, feeding off each other’s anger and paranoia, and quite another to have more reasonable and tolerant voices present to challenge their propaganda, correct their disinformation, and provide an alternative framework with which to view this, at times, disconcerting world. [...]