All Commentary
Sunday, October 1, 1995

Why They’re Mad

Federal Regulatory Agencies Are Attacking Rural America

Ms. McCarthy has been published in Barron’s, Forbes, and The New Quotable Woman.

The most incredible question to arise from the horror in Oklahoma City is not that a lunatic or two could engage in an atrocity, but why 1,000 people in February 1995 felt the need to attend a meeting with speakers from the Michigan Militia in the sleepy Norman Rockwell town of Meadville, Pennsylvania.

The first time I’d heard of the rural rage that is sweeping the mountains and prairies of the American West like a wildfire was from Kathleen Marquardt, Montana resident and author of AnimalScam. “Militias are sprouting up all over,” she said. “We’re truly on the verge of a revolution.”

“They’re ready to start shooting out West,” said Ms. Marquardt. “People in Idaho are strapping on their guns and talking about secession. It’s not to be pooh-poohed. I know that people have threatened federal prosecutors.” Ms. Marquardt followed this with an urgent plea for concerned lawyers to help with a problem that has arisen in “Heaven-on-Earth, Montana.”

If one dismisses this rural rage as just some rabid reaction to radio talk shows or a childish national tantrum, rather than trying to understand it, one would be making the same mistake as those who ignored the widespread unrest about the Vietnam War and blamed it on Jane Fonda. When a goodly number of Americans coast-to-coast are angry, as we saw in the anti-Vietnam War and the civil rights movements, they usually have some very good reasons.

Living in Last Chance Gulch near Helena, Montana, Kathleen Marquardt described her transformation from an apolitical mother to an angry “grassroots rabble-rouser” the day that her daughter came home in tears, vowing never to return to school. An animal rights group, she said, was visiting her daughter’s school for a week to convince the children of ranchers, farmers, and hunters that their parents were murderers. Ms. Marquardt’s daughter began crying when she was told in front of the entire class that because her mother was a hunter, she was also a murderer.

“The children weren’t told,” says Ms. Marquardt “that ranchers and farmers put the food on America’s tables, that ranchers and miners and loggers provide their clothes and products that build their homes and schools, cars, and video games.” Ms. Marquardt became an activist, founding a group she calls “Putting People First.”

Protecting Owls, Endangering People

The Endangered Species Act, which enables the federal government to take control of private property without compensation, is among the most controversial of environmental regulations angering farmers and ranchers. A law innocently devised to protect owls and wolves is playing a major part in fermenting a rural revolution.

Tales abound of people like Margaret Rector, a 74-year-old woman, who in 1973 purchased 15 acres of land near Austin, Texas, that was bought with her life savings and intended for her retirement income. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, however, had other plans for her small farm. In 1991 they decided that her land was a suitable habitat for the Golden Cheeked Warbler. As a result, Mrs. Rector’s land, previously assessed at $800,000 is now unusable for development, and is worth a mere $30,000. The only thing Mrs. Rector can do with her land is pay taxes.

Radical green politics and animal rights extremism is the New Age socialism, says Ms. Marquardt, citing examples of environmentalists who are unyielding in their disdain for property rights. Even environmentalists considered moderate, such as Peter Berle, President of the Audubon Society, has said, “We reject the idea of private property.”

Grizzly bears and wolves and spotted owls now take precedence over human beings in the mountains and prairies of the West, say farmers and ranchers. Bears and wolves have been reinstated into their former habitats amongst farms and ranches, and it’s estimated that spotted owl regulations will result in the loss of 72,000 logging jobs in Washington, Oregon, and California.

“If a wolf or grizzly threatens your sheep,” says Ms. Marquardt, “you have ten days to ameliorate the situation. If it is not resolved by then, then YOU get out. People of Idaho are strapping on their guns and saying, `We’re not leaving.’ The next time representatives from New York’s silk stocking district release wolves onto our lands, we’re gonna release them in Central Park!”

To people who have lost control of their basic values, property, schools, and incomes to Ivy League values and Big Government social-engineering projects, paranoia about One-World-Government is just a baby step, or perhaps a couple of umbrella steps, away. “We’re just sick of our values being under attack,” says the editor of Farm Times, a newspaper in Rupert, Idaho. Paranoia in the Heartland of America has been generated more by the warrior mentality of federal regulatory agencies than by radio talk shows.

Former Senator George McGovern, appearing on C-Span a few days after the tragedy in Oklahoma City, derided the attitudes of people he called “gun nuts,” saying that anyone who is against the Brady Bill is, by definition, a “gun nut.” Guns, however, seem to look very different to the folks who inhabit the vast wilderness of the West than they do to urban subway riders. Miles from butcher shops and police departments, their guns are instruments of survival, food, and protection.

In a society that watched an almost total collapse of law and order in Los Angeles, and a criminal justice system that has trouble keeping violent offenders in jail, the habitually self-reliant people of the West believe that they have no one to rely on but themselves.

Guns are seen to be one of their few remaining vestiges of power, security, and safety in a political atmosphere that stereotypes them as Forrest Gumps from flyover country. Rural people say they are losing their farms, homes, retirement nests, and basic values to a federal government that is micromanaging their lives at every turn. As you listen to them, they sound like people with their backs to the wall. “If we want to preserve Western culture,” said Ms. Marquardt, “we’re gonna have to fight for it.”

The executive branch and its regulatory agencies have been operating in a search-and-destroy mode against American citizens who are on the wrong side of the liberal political agenda. Doctors, pharmaceutical companies, construction firms, tire companies, restaurants, ranchers, farmers, miners, radio shows, and small businesses have felt the heavy hand of Big Government and its big fines and verbal assaults. “We must identify our enemies and drive them into oblivion,” said Bruce Babbitt, before he was appointed Secretary of Interior. “Freeloaders” and “profiteers” and “whores for the insurance industry” are a few of the epithets Washington heavies have hurled at their political opposition in mainstream America.

As representatives from the current administration tour the country pointing fingers at radio talk show hosts, and militias, their own incendiary rhetoric and heavy-handed policies have been inflaming people like a matchstick set to dry prairie grass. Let’s hope they will not wait as long as previous Establishment officials, such as Robert McNamara, to recognize the error of their ways.