Back in the halcyon days of the Northwest militia movement in the mid-'90s, a curious breed of man emerged from the moist backwoods and unemployment lines of the disenfranchised West: the wannabe Patriot.
In Whatcom County, Wash., the commander in chief of the Washington State Militia, John Pitner, was experiencing New World Order visions. The small militia group he formed lasted roughly three years, until 1996, when the FBI crashed the party and hauled Pitner off in handcuffs for "conspiracy to make and possess destructive devices." By the time the agents came a-knocking, Pitner's short-lived power had vanished among his own group, which had grown impatient with his promise of a big battle that never materialized.
Jane Kramer, a writer for The New Yorker and a National Magazine Award winner, writes in Lone Patriot that the unemployed Pitner desperately wanted to be a bigshot in the hate hierarchy. She deftly constructs a study of Pitner that reflects the motley, dangerous contingent of Freemen, militias, con men, county secessionists, skinheads, tax evaders and neo-Nazis (and the women who loved them) that still populates the West.
The conspiracy visions of Pitner's well-oiled imagination included a (now cliche) image of black helicopters circling his yard, the notion that an evil band of Jewish bankers took over the Federal Reserve, and the theory that western Washington's incessant rain was created by David Rockefeller to "demoralize them so that they'd lose the will to resist the New World Order."
Perhaps the most surprising indictment in Kramer's book, however, is the one leveled at mainstream folks in Whatcom County who ignored the militia because of a hybrid mix of old Western Cowboy fence-respecting culture, and an easy, nonconfrontational NPR-brand of "liberalness" that tolerates aberrant behavior. Whatcom County is the home of Bellingham and Western Washington State University, places that take pride in what Kramer calls "the long view, assuming that John's moment would eventually pass, the way troubling moments always passed in Whatcom County."
This clash of cultures should be read as a cautionary note for the entire West. For "those people" are still out there and they have no plans to leave. We'd better keep an eye on them.