The Benevolent Tolerance of Fanatics

By Keith Kloor | June 28, 2011 7:54 am

Mainstream libertarians really don’t know how to deal with crazy-ass, anti-government fanatics. The libertarian fall back position is a combination of reflexive sympathy for anyone who distrusts government and a minimization of the threat posed by the curdling of the more zealous, violence-prone militia types.

This is evident over at Reason, where one of the writers sarcastically describes recent media coverage of a manhunt in Montana for a former militia leader (who got into a gunfight with law authorities) as “fearful ’90s-style nostalgia over ‘extremists.'”

The Reason writer, Lucy Steigerwald, takes issue with this AP story about a Montana town as “a cradle for sometimes-violent anti-government activity,” and this Gawker post titled, “Montana Town Becomes Haven for Angry White People.” She has a kindler, gentler view:

These people are a diverse mix of sometimes crazy, sometimes racist, mainly harmless and powerless folks who want to be left alone.

Funny that Steigerwald never mentions what happens when these “folks” are not so harmless.

  • Tilo Reber

    Oh lord, another mind reading, name calling, stereotyping, hate fest by Keith.  I can see that there is no chance of an actual reasoned discussion about the science around AGW at this site.  I’m out of here.

  • Keith Kloor

    “I’m out of here.”

    The chances for reasoned discussion just improved ever so slightly more…

  • Howard


    OKC was more about the externalities of the federal government using advanced psychological techniques to turn boys into killers, then having these boys commit mass murder in Iraq.

    I know that you city folks have a great fear of the wide open west, because the nutballs are unfamiliar to your experience.  The pro-government paranoia of free people creates a symbiosis with the militia nutbags.  Still, they are about as insignificant as archeologists in Utah and as unorganized as the TSA.
    You are correct, the reason libertoids are about as stupid and gimmicky as any other psuedo-intellectual city dwelling reporters who prefer popularity over reality.

  • Keith Kloor

    “I know that you city folks have a great fear of the wide open west…”

    On the contrary, I love those wide open spaces and have spent lots and lots of time exploring them during camping/backpacking trips with Mrs. Scape (before onset of kids) and during many reporting trips. I’ve crisscrossed Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Arizona numerous times.

    If it was up to me, I’d move out West in a heartbeat–and I’d write about archaeology, water issues, culture clashes, etc, the rest of my life. I just wouldn’t move to a small town where my next door neighbor could be the local militia leader.

  • Dean

    One of the worst cases of right-wing soft-pedaling of violence was that nut who flew a plane into an IRS office a couple of years ago. If lefties waxed similarly about Black Block anarchist violence – which usually just takes the form of throwing bricks through windows – in the same way, they would be run out of town politically.

  • harrywr2

    Keith Kloor Says:
    June 28th, 2011 at 11:24 amI just wouldn’t move to a small town where my next door neighbor could be the local militia leader.

    I live in a nice upper middle class neighborhood next to a bucolic state park just outside of Seattle. 99% of our crime falls into the ‘BBQ theft, jay walking, riding a bicycle without a helmet’ category.

    Ted Bundy collected up two nice young ladies from  the crowded park in ’74 and killed them. Ted was a personable guy, not the ‘type’ that would commit serious crimes
    Last year, some ‘good boys’, I know they were good, their mothers were on TV proclaiming how they were good boys, from downtown Seattle got into a bit of disagreement at the park which was packed with young families picnicking and opened fire on each other killing two and wounding 4.
    In the world of TV, ‘bad people’ look and act like ‘bad people’. In the real world bad people look and act most of the time like everyone else.
    You and I don’t know whether or not our next door neighbor’s are serial killers.
    If our next door neighbor was a militia leader not only would we both probably know, but so would Law Enforcement.
    Personally I prefer whacko’s that aren’t particularly skilled at hiding the fact they are whacko’s.


  • NewYorkJ

    KK: Mainstream libertarians really don’t know how to deal with crazy-ass, anti-government fanatics. The libertarian fall back position is a combination of reflexive sympathy for anyone who distrusts government and a minimization of the threat posed by the curdling of the more zealous, violence-prone militia types.
    One does not necessarily need to be a violence-prone militia type to be a crazy anti-government fanatic, which is what most mainstream libertarians are.  Libertarianism is much like a religion.  It starts with the ideology or faith that anything involving government is bad/evil and every issue is pseudo-analyzed under that presumption, with a bare minimum of government perhaps constituting a “necessary evil”.

  • EdG
  • Al Cohol

    ” Sovereign Citizens ”

  • Matt B

    @#7 NewYorkJ,

    The definition of ideology (oxford) is “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy”… by definition  Libertarians have to start with an ideology, and it is only fitting that they analyse (forgive me for leaving out the gratuitous “pseudo”) every issue under that presumption. That is what makes them Libertarians.

    Now, how is that “much like a religion”? And if you can successfully argue that case, how is Libertarianism different from any other political philosophy? Wouldn’t they all be religions?

  • StuartR

    Mainstream libertarians really don’t know how to deal with crazy-ass, anti-government fanatics.

    The whole “don’t know how to deal with” is strange here to me.

    It seems Mainstream libertarians deal with “crazy-ass, anti-government fanatics” differently than Mr Kloor does – obviously. But I am not knowing how?

    How should they?

    To me it is clearer that Keith Kloor doesn’t know how to deal with “mainstream libertarians” who don’t deal with things as he does.

    As a Brit I remember the Oklahoma bombings and know vaguely about the background, Gore Vidal speaking up for Timothy McVeigh mostly comes to mind, and I suspect the people at Reason know a lot more too, but this crude painting of these “folks” and attaching to them the implied inevitability of outrages has all the hallmarks of the presages of a lot of scares of “types” of behaviour that always seems rather uninformative.

    I know I am not a trained journalist but could I perhaps just vaguely  talk about my discomfort of my knowledge of the existence of the Irish community in New York or Boston and then link to this?

  • StuartR

    You know it is worth not being so coy.

    There was a time in the world where my country was a place upon which Americans supported random terrorist actions in my country

    I say now – Fuck ’em

  • Howard

    Your tourist perceptions of the west are cute. Militia dudes tend to be couch potato chickenhawks with persecution complexes.  Think Elmer Fudd in camo.  OOOOOH Vewy Scawry

  • Andy

    Well, the government doesn’t exactly help itself out much by stoking the fears of these people. After all Ruby Ridge and Waco loomed large in McVeigh’s thinking and one has to wonder about the counter-factual had those prior events not occurred.

    Also, statistically, you’re much more likely to get killed by a police officer than a militia member or even die from terrorism of any kind.

    Certainly the police/feds need to keep an eye on the militia movement and they do need to arrest those who break the law, but a balance must be struck regarding allocation of scarce law enforcement resources along the spectrum of threats as well as consideration over how much proactive action is justified considering the effects those actions have on people who are already paranoid about the government.  I think after Ruby Ridge and Waco that the feds, at least, learned some lessons and they haven’t been as gung-ho as they were in the 1990’s.  In short there are effective law enforcement methods to keep a lid on right-wing extremists that don’t end up needlessly fueling their paranoia.

    As for me, I don’t think about militia people (responding to this post is the first time I’ve thought about it in months), much less worry about whatever small threat they may potentially pose.  And I say this as someone who is an employee of the federal government.  Of course, I lean to the libertarian side on some issues (mainly social issues) and generally take a live-and-let-live attitude.

  • Doug S

    Howard Says:
    June 28th, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    Howard, you made me laugh and blush a bit. It’s true that the “macho” American is often full of bluster and short on smarts. But don’t discount what the Brits discovered 250 years ago and the Japanese discovered 60 years ago. The American creed is fiercely independent. Americans bristle at the thought of being told what to do, how much tax to pay or who to worship. We are free men and will remain as such.

  • Lucy Steigerwald

    Hmm, this is what comes of googling myself.
    I never mentioned McVeigh because McVeigh and occasional violence be people like the creeps in the Order is rare. And because the Gawker article was damn clunky in mixing all these “weirdos” together so thoughtlessly. This terror is so partisan and so predictable. It’s going to take a whole lot of McVeighs for me to start worrying about Montana woods-dwellers more than I worry about government.
    I researched McVeigh for part of my thesis. I suppose it doesn’t help the libertarian case a bit that I sympathize greatly with his anger and not a bit towards his actual actions. His “Essay on Hypocrisy” certainly should make any deep-thinkers pretty damn uncomfortable.
    Thanks for reading and reacting, though.


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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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