Desperation: The face of the next American Revolution?
It is no coincidence that the United States has produced some of the world’s most revolutionary technologies, as well as some of the most freedom-loving individuals.
The rugged individualism that motivated self-made American entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Sam Walton, for example, is the same sort of feverish individualism that fueled the philosophies of Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. The thread that links these diverse Americans together is their fierce belief in individual autonomy and enterprise without the overarching interference of a bumbling government.
Henry David Thoreau, who exemplified the simple life while living in a log cabin on Walden Pond (Concorde, Massachusetts) for two years (1845-47), summed up the opinions of many so-called rugged individuals when he wrote, “I heartily accept the motto that government is best which governs least.”
It was specifically the pioneers’ fear of tyrannical government, reinforced by their bad experiences in the Old World, which prompted the Founding Fathers to include the now famous Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which reads: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
In the mid-1990s, the US militia movement became rejuvenated following several bloody encounters between individuals and the government, including the Ruby Ridge incident, the Waco Siege and the threat of stricter gun laws.
Historian Mark Pitcavage summarized the motivation behind militias in the American Behavioral Scientist journal (Vol. 44, 2001):
“The militia movement is a right-wing movement that arose following controversial standoffs in the 1990s. It inherited paramilitary traditions of earlier groups, especially the conspiratorial, antigovernment Posse Comitatus. The militia movement claims that militia groups are sanctioned by law but uncontrolled by government; in fact, they are designed to oppose a tyrannical government. Adherents believe that behind the "tyranny" is a left-wing, globalist conspiracy known as the New World Order. The movement's ideology has led some adherents to commit criminal acts, including stockpiling illegal weapons and explosives and plotting to destroy buildings or assassinate public officials, as well as lesser confrontations.”
Many well-intended individuals struggled to build a “well-regulated militia,” but homegrown terrorist Timothy McVeigh singlehandedly destroyed those efforts when he blew up the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City on April 15, 1995. Today, it is an understatement to say that the militia movement has acquired a tainted reputation.
The real blow to the militia movement arrived post-9/11, when bumper-sticker patriotism was running at an all-time high and the “if you aren’t with us, you are against us” mentality gripped the nation. Suddenly, Osama bin Laden replaced the US government as Enemy Number One.
But with 9/11 quickly disappearing in America’s rearview mirror, and other more topical events – like a grinding economic crisis – getting their due share of magnification, a disturbing “sleeper” breed of “American revolutionary” has appeared on the scene. And these self-styled “revolutionaries,” as they portray themselves, work without any specific affiliation, membership or creed. Indeed, the one thing that seems to set these individuals apart from rebel rousers of the past is their “lone wolf” status.
“Take my pound of flesh”
On February 16, 2010, Andrew Joseph Stack III, a software consultant, sat down at his computer and composed a rambling, 3,204-word suicide note that detailed his painful efforts to start up a private business, only to have his plans thwarted at every turn.
In 1985, Stack, along with his first wife, incorporated Prowess Engineering. In 1994, he failed to file a state tax return, which seems to have triggered an avalanche of entrepreneurial misfortune, as well as his unbridled hatred for the government.
“Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal
government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours,” Stack wrote, “yet, the political ‘representatives’ … have endless time to sit around for year after year and debate the state of the ‘terrible health care problem’? It’s clear they see no crisis as long as the dead people don’t get in the way of their corporate profits rolling in.” [Note: it would be fair to add here that the Democrats just successfully passed a healthcare reform package]
On the morning of February 18, Stack set fire to his $230,000 home located in Austin, Texas, then drove to the Georgetown Municipal Airport. At 9:45am, Stack took off in his single-engine Piper Dakota and 10 minutes later his plane collided full speed into the Echelon office complex in Austin, killing himself and Internal Revenue Service manager Vernon Hunter, and injuring 13 other people inside of the building, two seriously.
Despite the fact that a much larger-scale method of attack was used on 9/11 to help bring down the World Trade Center buildings, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) stated that it was investigating the Stack incident "as a criminal matter of an assault on a federal officer" and that it was not being considered terrorism at this time.
On the evening of March 4, 2010, two weeks after Stack’s suicidal crash into the IRS building, a man named John Patrick Bedell calmly approached the entrance of the Pentagon station of the Washington DC Metro. When asked for identification at the security checkpoint, Bedell drew a weapon from his pocket and began shooting. The officers on duty, who received only superficial wounds, returned fire, killing the shooter.
Bedell, who was permitted to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, was an advocate for the legalization of marijuana (in 2006, he was arrested for growing cannabis), but he was certainly no dummy. Bedell suffered from bipolar disorder, yet graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1994 with a degree in Physics. On the Internet, he authored a blog under the name “Rothbardix,” where he articulated his opinions, many of them railing against “runaway government.”
“When the government can control how private property is used,” Bedell said in one of his many audio Web postings, “and especially when the government controls the monetary system that is used to exchange private property, the government has the mechanisms and the motivation to control individuals to the smallest detail.”
Bedell, who was a follower of the 9/11 “truth movement,” harbored suspicions that the United States government is controlled by an elite group of individuals, and in the final paragraph of his last posting he wrote, "The blatant violations of the Constitution's limitations on the economic role of the government, accomplished through many subtle usurpations over many decades, are perhaps even more pernicious than, and are certainly a key motivation for, the violent seizure of the United States government."
Bedell drove his car cross-country to Washington, DC, from California weeks before his attack, Pentagon Police Chief Richard S. Keevill said, to conduct what was essentially a suicide mission.
The FBI declined to label Bedell’s attack an act of terrorism.
From war hero to deathbed fugitive
On June 10, 2009, 88-year-old James von Brunn walked into the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC and shot security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns, who later died from his injuries. Von Brunn, a self-professed white supremacist and Holocaust denier, had a long history of run-ins with the law over his beliefs before his final act.
In 1981, he was charged with entering the Federal Reserve building and threatening people with a handgun. His complaint is one heard regularly today by high-ranking politicians, including Congressman Ron Paul, who made two unsuccessful runs for the presidency: “the Federal Reserve is an illegal entity that artificially plays havoc with the US money system.” Von Brunn received a life sentence for the crime, but was released early for medical reasons.
Von Brunn, who was reportedly a member of Mensa, the international organization for individuals with high IQs, began his life with high expectations. He graduated in 1943 from Washington University with a degree in journalism. During his time at university, he was nominated president of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter and played on the varsity football team. Upon graduation, he served in the US Navy, where he pursued a career as an officer for 14 years. During World War II, he was commanding officer of PT boat 159, and was awarded three battle stars.
But despite these accomplishments, Von Brunn began to subscribe to various conspiracy theories, which included the belief that the United States was controlled by “the Jews,” as well his fears over the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s birth certificate, which “birthers” claim is fake.As his personal life collapsed, his paranoia seemed to intensify.
He was also the author of a hate-filled tract called, “Kill the Best Gentiles”, which his website describes as “a new, hard-hitting expose of the Jewish conspiracy to destroy the white gene-pool.” Von Brunn also wrote a screed on the question of President Obama’s citizenship that was re-posted to popular right-wing message board Free Republic.
In a statement following the shooting, Von Brunn's son, Erik, expressed sorrow and horror about the shooting, and said his father's beliefs “…have been a constant source of verbal and mental abuse my family has had to suffer with for many years. His views consumed him, and in doing so, not only destroyed his life, but destroyed our family and ruined our lives as well…For the extremists who believe my father is a hero: it is imperative you understand what he did was an act of cowardice. To physically force your beliefs onto others with violence is not brave, but bullying. Doing so only serves to prove how weak those beliefs are…”
On January 6, 2010, Von Brunn died in a hospital while awaiting sentencing.
Carnage in Pittsburgh
On the morning of April 4, 2009, Pittsburgh police officers Paul Sciullo and Stephen Mayhle responded to a 911 call concerning a domestic disturbance. When the officers arrived at the scene, a woman answered the door, telling the officers she wanted her son, Richard Poplawski, removed from her house. She failed to tell the officers that her son was armed to the teeth.
As the two officers entered the house, Poplawski, 22, was wearing a bulletproof vest and "lying in wait". Officer Sciullo was immediately shot in the head, and almost immediately thereafter, Officer Mayhle was also shot in the head. Another police officer, 14-year veteran Eric Kelly, was retuning home from working the night shift when he heard about the gunfight on his radio. He decided to assist his colleagues, and was also killed in the four-hour gunfight that ensued.
According to the police criminal complaint obtained by WTAE News, Poplawski's mother said her son has been "stockpiling guns and ammunition, buying and selling the weapons online because he believed that as a result of economic collapse, the police were no longer able to protect society."
But friends described the man accused of fatally shooting three Pittsburgh police officers and injuring two others "an easygoing, fun-loving guy" and a known gun enthusiast.
Between volleys of gunfire at his Pittsburgh home, Poplawski was calling friends and family.
"He just told my nephew, Billy, that he was shot twice – one in the arm, once in the leg," Marianne Klimczyk told WTAE News. "He just told him to tell everybody that 'I love them' because he didn't think that he was going to get out of there alive."
Childhood friend Edward Perkovic said he spoke to Poplawski via telephone at about 8:30am.
"What he said to me today was, 'Eddie, I'm going to die today. Tell your family I love them and I love you.' And I heard gunshots and he hung up the phone," Perkovic said. "This was a complete surprise to me and my family and everyone's families that were friends with him. Nobody ever expected something like this from him."
Perkovic said Poplawski feared "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" and "didn't like our rights being infringed upon."
Court documents obtained by WTAE indicate “no major criminal violations in Poplawski's history.”
"He was just an easygoing, fun-loving guy, telling jokes," Jeff Loffler said. "Everybody knew him. He was just the kind of guy who you could have a conversation with even if you didn't know him."
Poplawski, who surrendered to police after a four-hour gunfight, is charged with three counts of criminal homicide – relating to the shootings of officers Eric Kelly, Paul Sciullo II and Stephen Mayhle – and one count of aggravated assault against Officer Timothy McManaway, who suffered a hand wound.
Theodore John Kaczynski, yet another American with above-average prospects getting tragically sidetracked by his fervent beliefs, was the subject of the most expensive manhunt in the history of US police operations.
Born on May 22, 1942 in Chicago, Illinois, Kaczynski has been described as a child prodigy who excelled academically at an early age. He received an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a PhD in mathematics from the University of Michigan. In 1967, the 25-year-old won the University of Michigan's $100 Sumner B. Myers Prize in honor of writing the school's best dissertation in mathematics that year. After a brief teaching stint at the University of California, Kaczynski decided that the world of academia, not to mention the world at large, was not for him.
In 1971, he built himself a cabin near Lincoln, Montana, and over the next decade concentrated on acquiring the “primitive skills” that would allow him to live autonomously in the wild.
In an interview taken by the Green Anarchist after his arrest, Kaczynski explained that he had developed a negative attitude toward the techno-industrial system very early in his life. It was in 1962, during his last year at Harvard, he explained, when he began feeling a sense of disillusionment with the system, and that he felt quite alone in his beliefs.
"Back in the Sixties there had been some critiques of technology, but as far as 1 knew there weren't people who were against the technological system as-such… It wasn't until 1971 or 72, shortly after I moved to Montana, that I read Jaques Ellul's book, The Technological Societv."
Why did he personally come to be against technology? His response was, "Why do you think? It reduces people to gears in a machine; it takes away our autonomy and our freedom." But there was more to it than that. Along with the rage he felt against the machine, his words revealed a special feeling for the wild, untamed outdoors.
"The honest truth is that I am not really politically-oriented. I would have really rather just been living out in the woods. If nobody had started cutting roads through there and cutting the trees down and come buzzing around in helicopters and snowmobiles I would still just be living there and the rest of the world could just take care of itself. I got involved in political issues because I was driven to it, so to speak. I'm not really inclined in that direction."
It was the “invasion” of the real estate developers on Kaczynski’s slice of solitude that triggered a letter-bomb campaign that terrorized America off and on for 17 years. From 1978 to 1995, Kaczynski sent 16 bombs to targets including universities and airlines, killing three people and injuring 23.
Here he describes the moment that he decided to get his “revenge” against society:
“The best place, to me, was the largest remnant of this plateau that dates from the tertiary age. It's kind of rolling country, not flat, and when you get to the edge of it you find these ravines that cut very steeply in to cliff-like drop-offs and there was even a waterfall there. It was about a two days hike from my cabin. That was the best spot until the summer of 1983. That summer there were too many people around my cabin, so I decided I needed some peace. I went back to the plateau and when I got there I found they had put a road right through the middle of it" His voice trails off; he pauses, then continues: "You just can't imagine how upset I was. It was from that point on I decided that, rather than trying to acquire further wilderness skills, I would work on getting back at the system. Revenge.”
There are some interesting parallels between the Henry David Thoreau, the 19th Century college lecturer who quit the comforts of modern living to live in a cabin on Walden Pond, and Kaczynski. Both men attended Harvard University, showed remarkable prospects, only to say their goodbyes to society to live in log cabins in the middle of nowhere. Both men recorded their experiences in literary form: Thoreau’s work, “Walden,” has gone on to become an American classic, translated into some 100 languages, with millions of copies sold.
Kaczynski’s work, “Industrial Society and Its Future” (also called the “Unabomber’s Manifesto”), made it into The New York Times and Washington Post by default on September 19, 1995 as an agreement between Kaczynski and the authorities that he would discontinue his bombing campaign if his tract was published. There was also the hope, which was fulfilled in the end, that somebody would recognize Kaczynski’s writing style and notify the authorities, which is exactly what happened: his brother recognized his sibling and made a call to the FBI.
So was Theodore John Kaczynski pushed over the edge by what he deemed to be an assault on his peace and privacy? Furthermore, would Henry David Thoreau, who lived in a more tranquil time before maddening traffic jams and mega malls, have reacted any differently than “the Unabomber” had he been forced to watch the destruction of his native countryside?
Now with the United States suffering its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, will such actions on the part of frustrated individuals increase? And if they do, to what extent will people sympathize with such actions.
The daughter of Joseph Stack, the man who carried out a suicide plane attack against the IRS in Texas, said she considered her father “a hero” for standing up to "the system," although she later back away from that statement.
Stack’s daughter says her father's act was "inappropriate" but understandable.
"His last actions, the suicide, the catastrophe that caused injuries and death, that was wrong," Samantha Bell, Stack's daughter from his first marriage, told "Good Morning America" in an interview. "But if nobody comes out and speaks up on behalf of injustice, then nothing will ever be accomplished. But I do not agree with his last action with what he did. But I do agree about the government."
When asked if she considered her father a "hero," Bell, 38, said, "Yes, because now maybe people will listen." Bell later called the television station to retract her statement and say unequivocally that her father was "not a hero."
So what else besides personal misfortune and economic crisis are driving these individuals, some of them highly intelligent people, to vent their frustration in such destructive ways? Are they being influenced by far-right media commentators, like Glenn Beck of Fox News, whose own comments would not seem too out of place alongside the missives of some of the abovementioned individuals? Perhaps, but that would not explain the likes of the Unabomber, for example, or hundreds of other anti-government incidences that happened long before Mr. Beck and Fox News came on the scene. Moreover, that is probably giving an individual like Glenn Beck far more credit than he deserves.
And then there is the so-called Tea Party movement – originally begun by US Congressman Ron Paul, and quickly being hijacked by the far-right Republicans – that is fighting against the scourge of big government, not to mention the US Federal Reserve System, which "has full control of the US money supply, yet is accountable to nobody but itself."
And certainly a good deal of the blame over all the hand-wringing could be placed at the doorstep of the Internet itself, which now caters to and conjures up every fear and conspiracy theory under the sun. For example, due to the high level of uncertainty that the global economic crisis has generated, there is now great interest in the so-called “survivalist movement,” which basically espouses the belief that the global economy will soon crash, corporations (that provide much of everything these days, including our food supplies) will go out of business, and national governments will no longer be able to protect their citizens. In other words, these individuals envision a world of Mad Max, where anarchy runs rampant, and every moment is dedicated to sheer survival.
So will the face of the next American Revolution consist of a prolonged string of agitated individuals lashing out in their own unique ways at a system that they feel to be overbearing, or will it be something entirely different? Maybe it's a question that we will never have to answer.
Thanks to the Internet, there is also much excitement over the year 2012, which is said to mark the end of the 5,125-year cycle of the Mayan Long Count Calendar, which is as sophisticated an astrological instrument as anything ever produced by NASA engineers. So on December 21 (or 23), 2012, the inhabitants of planet earth, some say, will enter a transformational period and a whole new way of thinking will begin.
That event of Big Bang proportions may even be big enough to postpone indefinitely the next American Revolution.
Now that's a conspiracy theory worth subscribing to.