Did you know the Michigan Militia still exists? The headline on Charlie LeDuff’s column tells us “anger boils” among them, which is a little like observing that the laws of gravity were still in force this morning.
Anger is the point of the Michigan Militia. During their moment in the sun, in the early- to mid-90s, they were the O.G.s of the nutso paranoiacs. They harbored Tim McVeigh for a time, but he left out of frustration that all they wanted to do was talk and bitch and maybe shoot beer cans in the woods. (I always think of Terry Nichols, McVeigh’s feckless, dim-bulb accomplice, as their poster boy.) The closest they came to action was when they hatched a plot to forcibly take Camp Grayling, the sprawling northern Michigan National Guard training camp. It’s an article of faith among certain lunatics that it’s a “FEMA concentration camp” just waiting to be activated by order of our Muslim president. Like pretty much everything the Michigan Militia put its collective mind to, the plot came to naught.
Now they’re more like O.D.s — original disgruntled. As LeDuff explains:
The coordinator of the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia is a postman. The corpsman of the Lenawee Volunteer Militia works in the paint and hardware department at Wal-Mart. He earns $11.25 an hour. His son, the major, works in a group home for the developmentally disabled. He earns $9.50 an hour. Their comrade, the commander, was laid-off from his job at a vitamin store. He earns nothing.
This sets the scene for a report from the MM’s field day, which was a combination picnic/shootenanny/tax protest. The mood was, well, you know:
“I’ve seen a 35 percent reduction in pay,” said …Cyn Soldenski. “I bought a house 18 months ago. The interest rate is going to reset and I’m so far underwater I’m going to drown. We’ve got to take the stupid government and throw it out.”
If you listen to this group you begin to realize that they cannot take over the world; they probably couldn’t take over their brother’s trailer payments. They are a restless and frustrated group: a hodgepodge of ex-farmers, ex-military, ex-truck drivers, ex-factory workers, wipers of other people’s bottoms. Many are firmly among the state’s 20 percent unemployed or underemployed.
I’m sure if you told Cyn Soldenski we just did take the stupid government and throw it out — last November, you might recall — she’d laugh in your face and say something about the lack of difference between a Republican and a Democrat, and from her point of view, she’s right. The government has nothing to do with her free-floating anger, except in the sense of certain economic policies which were probably inevitable under all the major political parties. She and others like her are economic cannon fodder, like Tiffany Clay of yesterday’s dispatch from Newark, minus 50 IQ points and plus (take your pick or add your own) a teen pregnancy, a mother who drank, teachers who didn’t give a shit, town fathers who got old and tired and sold their light-industry plants to international concerns and retired to Arizona.
Every so often people tell me they don’t understand how I can drive through certain parts of Detroit, how terrifying it is. I’ll tell you what terrifies me: When we go to our cottage in Branch County and maybe attend the county fair, where we see the future haunting the midway — teens and young adults with dead eyes, neck tattoos, 50 extra pounds of fat, infants in strollers, the boys aping the fashion choices of hip-hop artists and the girls smoking generic cigarettes. The smart ones have already left town, many via military enlistments. What will become of these little towns with their empty downtown storefronts and big-box sprawl on the fringe? Will everyone end up working at Meijer or Wal-Mart? Given that choice, I might buy a gun, too.
Yesterday I followed a link from another site and ended up here. Matt Taibbi:
The reason the winger crowd can’t find a way to be coherently angry right now is because this country has no healthy avenues for genuine populist outrage. It never has. The setup always goes the other way: when the excesses of business interests and their political proteges in Washington leave the regular guy broke and screwed, the response is always for the lower and middle classes to split down the middle and find reasons to get pissed off not at their greedy bosses but at each other. That’s why even people like Beck’s audience, who I’d wager are mostly lower-income people, can’t imagine themselves protesting against the Wall Street barons who in actuality are the ones who fucked them over. Beck pointedly compared the AIG protesters to Bolsheviks: “[The Communists] basically said ‘Eat the rich, they did this to you, get ‘em, kill ‘em!’” He then said the AIG and G20 protesters were identical: “It’s a different style, but the sentiments are exactly the same: Find ‘em, get ‘em, kill ‘em!’” Beck has an audience that’s been trained that the rich are not appropriate targets for anger, unless of course they’re Hollywood liberals, or George Soros, or in some other way linked to some acceptable class of villain, to liberals, immigrants, atheists, etc. — Ted Turner, say, married to Jane Fonda.
But actual rich people can’t ever be the target. It’s a classic peasant mentality: going into fits of groveling and bowing whenever the master’s carriage rides by, then fuming against the Turks in Crimea or the Jews in the Pale or whoever after spending fifteen hard hours in the fields. You know you’re a peasant when you worship the very people who are right now, this minute, conning you and taking your shit. Whatever the master does, you’re on board. When you get frisky, he sticks a big cross in the middle of your village, and you spend the rest of your life praying to it with big googly eyes. Or he puts out newspapers full of innuendo about this or that faraway group and you immediately salute and rush off to join the hate squad. A good peasant is loyal, simpleminded, and full of misdirected anger. And that’s what we’ve got now, a lot of misdirected anger searching around for a non-target to mis-punish… can’t be mad at AIG, can’t be mad at Citi or Goldman Sachs. The real villains have to be the anti-AIG protesters! After all, those people earned those bonuses! If ever there was a textbook case of peasant thinking, it’s struggling middle-class Americans burned up in defense of taxpayer-funded bonuses to millionaires. It’s really weird stuff. And bound to get weirder, I imagine, as this crisis gets worse and more complicated.
We’ve had populist uprisings in this country before, most notably in the late 19th century, when a whole generation of similarly idled and angry farmers raised their voices against a class of tycoons and easy-credit ripoffs. They had their moment and withered quickly, swept away, or swept along, by the tide of modernism. Something will clear these folks out of the northern Michigan woods the same way. But they’re having babies, too, and last I checked, a lot more than I did.
Or maybe they’ll run into that class of yuppies who’s simmering in traffic in some awful Midwestern city, with a good job but without a sense of purpose, dreaming of cashing out, buying a few acres in some beautiful, pure place far off the grid, and setting up a subsistence farm of a few goats, chickens, a big garden and of course a little patch of marijuana…
I’m seeing a movie in my head, right now. Comedy gold!
So that was my tax day, and today is my housecleaning day. I’m starting to feel the urge, a thousand screaming caffeine molecules telling me it’s time to vacuum. Have fun in the comments, and I’ll pop back in from time to time.