(This article first appeared in The Sunday Rutland Herald and The Sunday Times Argus, Rutland, Vermont. October 13, 1995).
Having recently returned from Las Vegas, I can tell you that the age-old battle against tyranny raged on at the 1995 Soldier of Fortune Convention and Exposition held at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas two weeks ago. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Soldier of Fortune Magazine, The Journal of Professional Adventurers " (SOF) brings together an odd assortment of characters, including mercenaries, survivalists, militiamen and women, and all manner of paramilitary patriot, anti-government zealot and would be Rambo.
For five days and four nights more than 500 conventioneers, many in fatigues or other military dress, attended seminars on survivalism in the morning, fired machine guns in the afternoon, and discussed the politics of the New World Order over drinks and blackjack in the evenings. Gun enthusiasts competed in "the world's premier three gun shooting match," while other conventioneers competed in pugil-stick fighting, a pool-side paintball gun shoot-out, or explored "The Warrior's Way."
At the SOF Exposition Center more than one hundred exhibitors hawked all manner of paramilitary and survivalist weaponry, equipment, literature, services, even isolated rural properties. Paladin Press, publishers of "the Action Library" displayed dozens of their best selling books including Fallout Survival, Better Read than Dead, The Survivalist Medicine Chest, and Beat the Odds.
With over one million subscribers worldwide, Soldier of Fortune is the most popular periodical in the industry and subculture of survivalism. Published out of Boulder, SOF was a venture begun by Robert K. Brown. A former Army special forces team leader during the Vietnam War and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve, Brown is an active member of the National Rifle Association and an ardent American nationalist and anti-communist. His magazine reflects these interests.
Like the survivalist subculture it represents, SOF expresses a unique American apocalyptic view: where soldiers of fortune fight the never ending battle against "tyranny," and where citizen soldiers practice survivalism in defense of the "American way" and in preparation for social collapse or "Nuclear Armaggedon" For the past twenty years it was tyrants like Moammar Gadaffi, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein and the former Soviet Union that infected the world according to SOF. But today world class tyrants are in short supply, apparently, so SOF has turned it sites increasingly inward--at the U.S. government, federal law enforcement agencies, (especially the FBI and the ATF) and the strongly feared "New World Order."
Distrust, anger and fear of government was evident throughout the convention. It was in every conventioneers packet in a warning from publisher Brown that "the ATF and the Clinton Administration are bitterly and dangerously hostile to the law-abiding gun owners of this country. At Waco and elsewhere they have demonstrated an entire lack of concern for legality and the Constitutional rights of the ordinary citizen." Brown fears that the SOF Convention may be seen by government as an ideal setting for a sting or entrapment. He admonished conventioneers to "Always, always, always keep in mind that the person with whom you are talking may be an employee of...a Federal or other law-enforcement agency. You don't have to explain what you didn't say. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they aren't plotting against you."
A seminar called "The Militarization of Law Enforcement" focused on a possible military takeover of law enforcement agencies. SOF reporter Jim Pates pointed to the collapse of the Soviet Union and America's large, expensive and outdated military as the root of the problem. Branch Davidian defense lawyer Rick Shearer showed photographs taken at Waco ("never seen by the public") which purported to show military vehicles methodically tearing down the Branch Davidian compound in a "seek and destroy" military mission. Panelists concluded that at Ruby Ridge, Waco and elsewhere, paramilitary police groups have routinely used military tactics to handle domestic crime and order situations with disastrous results. Said one member of the audience, "Our law enforcement agencies have turned on the American people...along with gun control this is the next step in the emergence of an American police state.
At a seminar entitled "Regaining the Pioneer Spirit," survivalist and radio talk show host Bob Speer said that "the U.S. government had become the new Evil Empire, and it looks to me like the entire social order is going to unravel." This is why he had taken on the "ministry" of talk-radio to teach survival skills and values. Called "The Preparedness Hour," Speer's radio show is carried on the USA Patriot Network.
At the exposition center The Militia of Montana had an exhibit featuring an extensive book, pamphlet and video library. Books included The New World Order: Takeover America, Blueprint for Survival, and Citizen Soldier. For videos one could buy "The Countdown has Begun," "The True Story of Waco," and "Millennium 2,000." There were Militia of Montana baseball caps with the signature "MOM--the Mother of all Militias." And there were MOM t-shirts--one which stated simply, "Angry White Guy." Bumper stickers proclaimed, "Don't let Clinton Gore your Gun Rights," "I Love my Country, but I Hate my Government," and "The U.N.-- Peace through Terror."
The SOF Convention reflects more than just the military fantasies and paranoid fears of America's gun nuts. It's a response to widespread social changes that are breaking down old institutions, alliances and cultures, pushing us further into the brave new world of the next millennium. SOF allows its supporters to read into these confusing and rapidly changing events their own often marginal social status and position. In these ways, the SOF world view can be understood as a set of organizing principles for making sense of a world which for some is out of control. There are those who suggest that classical myths are self-fulfilling. This happened with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, who helped engineer their own apocalypse, and it appears to have happened with the bombers in Oklahoma City. Now we have the Amtrak train wreck in Arizona and the "Sons of Gestapo," an individual or group who also may have been acting on their interpretation of the apocalyptic myth, thereby justifying their beliefs and practices.
Oddly enough, the most moderate voice I heard at the SOF convention was that of former Watergate burglar, part-time actor and host of his own radio talk-show, G. Gordon Liddy, who was the key note speaker at the Convention's final banquet and awards ceremony. After a run-of-the-mill speech extolling the virtues of traditional American values, including plenty of anecdotes from his own virtuous life, Liddy was asked if, in light of Waco and Ruby Ridge, American citizens and gun owners should begin to actively resist the government and repressive law enforcement agencies by taking up arms if necessary? Without hesitation Liddy replied: "No. Armed resistance is not the answer, except as the last resort. That sort of thing will only get you killed. If things need to be changed or set right in this nation, we already posses the best mechanism for doing that--it's called the vote." Unless he's running for office and perhaps pandering to the "moderates" in the SOF audience, I have to agree with Liddy on this one.
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