I’m still thinking about Ruby Ridge. It’s not unusual for me to be a bit late catching up on yesteryear’s news, but being alive during Trumpocalypse has made me think of the 1990s as the good old days. Jess Walter’s book on the topic, on which I posted a few days ago (just scroll down), ends with a kind of optimism that seemed possible even when George W. Bush was president—the number of white supremacist groups was shrinking radically. Americans didn’t put up with that kind of backward thinking any more. The future was ahead. Now, just about a decade-and-a-half after the book was reissued, we’ve got not only a racist commandant-in-chief, but a Republican congress who goes along with everything he says. Strangely enough, I just read a newspaper article with a Jewish Republican saying “diversity is crap” (his words). No question we’re going backwards.
It’s easy enough to dismiss extremists unless you know some. I attended a conservative Christian college in the early 1980s. There were survivalists on the faculty. These are evangelical Christians who hoard guns and supplies, generally because they believe the end of the world is coming. Ironically, their belief in the rapture doesn’t seem to assure them that they’ll be “taken up” before the trouble starts. Or maybe they just want to hang around for a piece of the action—shooting infidels must earn points with the big white guy upstairs. Most of my classmates were as appalled as I was. We agreed that if these were the kind of people who were going to be around after the smoke cleared, we didn’t want to be.
The most disturbing development since November 2016 is the move of the GOP to follow a blind leader. History will bear me out on this. It doesn’t take a prophet to see it. 45 had no plan for winning the race. Once he did, however, he knew that sheep will follow any shepherd, no matter how incompetent. All you need to do is spout racist rhetoric and the fringe will become the center. But the GOP? They are among the most sheepish of all ungulates. A “leader of the free world” who has nothing but praise for dictators and autocrats around the world? The Republican has proven to be the perfect unquestioning follower. The wool is in their heads rather than on their backs. Less than two decades ago Timothy McVeigh was executed. Today there’s no doubt he’d be under consideration for a cabinet post. I think my watch just stopped.
Idaho can be a peaceful place. I’ve spent parts of many summers there. I grew aware, over time, that the northern panhandle had an association with white supremacists, but if you stick to the touristed areas you don’t run into them. During the Ruby Ridge standoff I was busy trying to establish my teaching career in Wisconsin while living in Illinois—I guess my commuting life began all the way back then. I didn’t have much time for the news, and I don’t recall hearing much about the tragedy. It was shortly eclipsed by Waco. Jess Walter’s Ruby Ridge: The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family presents perhaps more than you need to know about this story with no winners and much strange theology. In case you missed it too, here are the basics:
Randy and Vicki Weaver were an Iowa couple who were drawn into the Christian Identity movement. This was a white separatist, apocalyptic survivalist faith. Convinced the world was going to end, they moved to a remote part of northern Idaho and built a cabin on a rocky ridge and stockpiled guns. Being a white supremacist was actually considered bad in the 1990s (now it’s mainstream Republican ideology) and federal marshals and the FBI got involved. The Weavers had four children and that complicated things. Predictably, the government attempt to shoot an extremist family out of their religion ended tragically. The Weavers’ only son Samuel was the first killed, and then Vicki. The locals, including many skinheads, gathered at the base of the mountain in support of the Weavers as the feds led a military operation into a nearly two-week standoff.
Apart from being too long, Walter’s book is an important reminder of many things at this time. Even though America had a Republican president in 1992, white supremacy was considered dangerous and was characterized as domestic terrorism. The standoff at Ruby Ridge quickly became a cause célèbre for religious freedom, no matter how strange beliefs might be. Ironically, even as the trial was going on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco was being stormed. Now we have a “president” who makes it plausible that a “k” has somehow dropped out of Waco, or at least has been tripled. The national narrative is America is for whites only. It’s as if Martin Luther King Jr., Woody Guthrie, and Abraham Lincoln never existed. I would say “How the mighty are fallen,” but that might sound a little too religious for some. Even the Religious Right has, since that time, left the Bible out of the equation.