PERHAPS NOT SURPRISINGLY, the feelings of disenfranchisement that seed some militia groups find more traction in those pockets of Oregon where unemployment and poverty rates are high. Klamath County, home of Freedom Bound, is suffering a galling 13.9 percent unemployment rate, while 17.4 percent of its population lives below the poverty line—the second-highest number in the state. Crook County, which voted for McCain in 2008 and has a Tea Party headquarters in Prineville, has the state’s highest unemployment rate at 17.4 percent. Harney County—home of the High Desert 9-12 Patriots, another Tea Party offshoot—is number two at 16.8 percent.
These groups aren’t just about banding together and railing against Washington, DC, though. For Krause, joining up with a militia is less about situational frustration and more about going to the nth degree of preparedness in case the worst-of-the-worst conspiracy theories he and his fellow members believe in actually come to pass (for instance, a United Nations takeover of the United States). For Carl F. Worden, a liaison officer for the Southern Oregon Militia, taking a stance with a bit more teeth is about maintaining a last line of defense for “we the people”—even if that means defying the local government.
Some call these gatherings a healthy outlet for expression. Others call them a recruiting ground for militias.
“Alabama Governor George Wallace found this out the hard way when he wanted to enforce segregation in schools,” Worden posted in September on the website for the Federal Observer, whose stated goal is to “keep watch over the continual indiscretions of our ‘beloved’ Federal Government.” Worden’s post continues: “The National Guard soldiers who reported for duty stood against [Wallace’s] wishes and in support of federal policy. We do not support racism in any form, mind you, but that lesson in loyalty did not escape us. Only the volunteer citizen militia is a true state citizen militia, and the State of Oregon refuses to acknowledge us. So be it.”
David Neiwert, the Seattle-based author of the 1999 book In God’s Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest, pinpoints the flowering of Oregon militias to the Klamath River controversy of 2002. That year, during a severe drought, the water that fed a quarter-million acres of farmland in the basin had been shut off by the Bureau of Reclamation in favor of maintaining the health of the region’s suckerfish and the coho salmon runs. According to a 2007 Washington Post article, “Farmers and their families, furious and fearing for their livelihoods, formed a symbolic 10,000-person bucket brigade. Then they took saws and blowtorches to dam gates, clashing with US marshals as water streamed into the canals that fed their withering fields, before the government stopped the flow again.” Eventually, then Interior Secretary Gale Norton—with ample prodding from Vice President Dick Cheney—used a report from the National Academy of Sciences that said the fish wouldn’t be affected by lake levels to justify resuming water service to the farmers. Neiwert says these rallies and protests, filled with members of a disenfranchised populace, became a recruiting ground for the patriot movement, a fevered call-and-response that’s now being repeated on a national level in the burgeoning Tea Party movement.
“There’s no doubt that militia members are part of the Tea Party crowds,” says Charles Johnson, editor of the influential Right-leaning blog Little Green Footballs. Johnson made national headlines when, in November, he publicly disassociated himself from the Right with a 10-point manifesto. One of his reasons? The Right’s support of “antigovernment lunacy,” including militias and Tea Parties. “I’ve published photos of people holding militia signs at the 9/12 Tea Party in Washington, DC, for example.” Johnson points out that some meetings are even being infiltrated by neo-Nazi groups. One such group, Stormfront, has even posted advice on its website about how not to look like a white supremacist in order to lure more people into accepting their handouts. Tips include: “Cover up your tattoos” and “Leave the Dixie flag at home.”