Emory Report

March 23, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 25

Carter examines U.S. extremist groups in Faculty Lecture

As federal authorities continued to scour southern Appalachia last week for the prime suspect in yet another domestic terrorist bombing, Dan Carter was preparing to speak to Emory's faculty about the kind of discontent that's producing Americans willing to resort to violence against their own people for political convictions.

Carter, the William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor of History, will deliver this year's Distinguished Faculty Lecture March 31 at 4 p.m. in Winship Ballroom. His subject will be "The Road to Oklahoma City: Why Americans Declared War on Their National Government," and in the address Carter will expand on unifying characteristics behind the disparate groups that have looked at modern America and decided to take up arms against it.

"No one can say precisely [how many] because it's not like an illness that you can define," Carter said, "but clearly [up to] 60,000 people in this country are totally alienated from American society and see it as a kind of monster, and they are prepared to engage in what they see as defensive violence."

Carter's interest in the subject traces back to his research on former Alabama governor George Wallace, which culminated in the publication of the Wallace biography, The Politics of Rage. Carter discovered that a speechwriter for the Alabama segregationist had extensive national ties to like-minded organizations at a time when many people considered overt racism and violence to be primarily a Southern phenomenon.

"That's when I began to realize this was not a 'Southern story'-that was just one facet of a much broader emergence of these extremist groups from as early as the 1930s and '40s but particularly accelerating in the '60s and '70s," Carter said. "These people spring out of a very deep-rooted tradition of vigilantism in American society, in which people have felt quite willing to take the law into their own hands, and that is nothing new at all. It goes back to the 18th century."

With the recent proliferation of popular books on the subject, Carter said he hasn't decided whether he will assemble his 10 years of work and 5,000 pages of notes into another book, but he will use the Distinguished Faculty Lecture as a chance to divine some central themes from the research. Most of the groups, which range from long-established organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nation to the more recent rise of local militias, share the characteristics of racism and often anti-semitism, an obsession with guns and a conspiratorial view of the federal government.

"Depending on which paranoic you're dealing with," Carter said, "the government could be controlled by what they call the ZOG-the Zionist Organized Government-or it can be blacks, or for a long time it was the communists. Then there's the 'New World Order' and the United Nations. It's chameleon-like, in terms of who they blame for this control of the federal government."

Carter said he's honored, flattered and "a little intimidated" to be selected to deliver the lecture, but he's glad to have an opportunity to alert his colleagues to this growing problem in American society. "Very few people are anxious to go out and blow up buildings like Timothy McVeigh," Carter said, "but there are an awful lot of other people who are very armed and existing in a kind of hair-trigger situation in which they're willing to use violence against the government. And I think that's something to be concerned about."

-Michael Terrazas

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