The Right-Wing Fringe
Notes on the Preparedness Expo 1998
by Ari Arsmstrong, January 1999
It was an easy-going Saturday morning, and I just happened to take a break from tidying up some computer files to call Ken Riggs (of the Austrian Economics Discussion Group). He mentioned that he was going to the "Preparedness Expo '98" (which ran December 4-6), and asked if I'd like to come along. I don't normally take much interest in shopping for survival gear, but I thought the event might draw some interesting people, and, heck, we were only going for an hour or two.
It did. Draw some interesting people, that is. Plenty of conspiracy theorists, dooms-dayers, and patriots. Welcome to the right-wing fringe.
Not that these people have it all wrong. Members of each of these groups grasp important aspects of "The Truth," to be sure, even if many of their theories defy reasoned belief. My skeptic-alert hit overdrive when I picked up literature that read, "The average American citizen is being subjected to mind control techniques that have been developed and utilized by our very own US government." The average American? Perhaps I've been too controlled even to notice. I mean, sure, the government puts out more than its share of propaganda, but not even the movie theaters use the "subliminal popcorn" techniques any more.
And, DID YOU KNOW? "HIV and Ebola are most likely man-made?" Well, no, I didn't. At least the advertisement for the book, printed in the official literature, listed the author's associations with Harvard and Rutgers. It is possible that some government scientist played a role in the creation of these viruses, but I'd want to see some hard evidence before I began to take the possibility seriously.
I met some relative main-streamers at the Expo as well. The Rocky Mountain Gun Owners is a group active in state politics in trying to keep the right to bear arms intact, working against the propensity of politicians to sweep the torn scraps of the Constitution under the rug. RMGO's Dudley Brown even derided the National Rifle Association for supporting anti-gun politicians in the state.
Mostly, the Expo just had a lot of grain. Yes, grain -- all in five-gallon buckets sealed for long-term storage. Most of the booths that weren't selling grain were selling goods complimentary to grain, such as solar ovens, hand-cranked mills, other food that might go well with a high-grain diet, and night-vision goggles so you can see your grain in the dark.
Of course, all of this grain will be useful when the entire world goes to hell with the Y2k (year 2000) computer shut-downs. This computer glitch was a major theme of the Expo. I believe Y2k may indeed pose some problems and may even contribute to a recession, if the global economy continues to weaken. And, as Riggs pointed out, it is possible that the shut-down of Social(ized) (In)Security and the IRS might prompt the Federal government to further restrict civil liberties, which would indeed be troublesome.
However, I don't at all expect that the Y2k problem will, in itself, create the magnitude of social chaos predicted by the Apocalyptic types. Randy Weaver even made light of the issue at the Expo, as quoted in the December 5 Rocky Mountain News: "I hope Y2k shuts the government down totally and they have to go out and get real jobs."
The Y2k issue is tied to general Christian fears, spurred by the Biblical Revelation, about the antichrist and the end of the world. One prominent yellow sign at the Expo promised an explanation of the "666 implant," which is the Mark of the Beast, in case you're rusty on your prophecies. Here again the hysteria masks a very real problem of the government monitoring our personal lives ever more closely. While the Pat Robertson type of Christians just impute the content of modern problems to ancient texts, these Christians' fears are not entirely off-base. (And, just because they're paranoid, doesn't mean the Feds aren't out to get them.)
In addition, the practice of storing up supplies for hard times is prudent, so long as it is seen as insurance and not the focus of life. Many -- perhaps most -- Americans blithely consider themselves a-historical. They seem to believe that we've already reached Marx's "end of history" and that the next decade will necessarily look like the last. I suppose that was the attitude of the last of the Romans and of Americans in the Roaring Twenties.
To return to paranoia, I happened across literature that claims Bill Clinton is associated with a number of murders and that he has done cocaine while President. Perhaps if Clinton had taken more stimulants he would have remained alert enough to know better than to "free willy" or to "smoke" that cigar in the company of such a blabbermouth. However, these fears are once again based partially in reality: all but the most blindly infatuated can see that Clinton has long been involved in numerous shady dealings. Clinton's flagrant duplicity doesn't help to ward off conspiracy theories.
The final odd group at the Expo was the patriots (who came from outside Colorado). One table featured a collection of hatchets and knives that would make Conan himself quiver in his sandals. Such displays didn't sit well with Riggs, who said with slow deliberation, "I hate war." Libertarianism, after all, is fundamentally a call for peace and for universal voluntarism. The patriots, though, are also on to an important truth, even if some of them mix in a wide number of questionable practices. The right of self-defense, against legal and illegal criminals alike, is fundamental to a free society.
For me, the most entertaining part of the Expo was watching Riggs use his Federal Reserve Note tear-off pad, the Notes interspersed with CFR "Funny Money" certificates that highlight the history of US currency. The question, "do you take Federal Reserve Notes," drew more smiles and queries about the pad (which office supply stores can create) than the looks of bewilderment the question earns in general society. According to Riggs, many clerks in regular stores doubt the authenticity of the Notes. Of course, it probably helps but little when Riggs explains that Federal Reserve Notes aren't strictly "money," which is defined in terms of gold and silver, but rather only claims for money that doesn't actually exist. "Each time you rip off a Federal Note from the pad, it reminds you what a rip-off US currency is." Such subtleties are often lost on the general public, it seems.
My levity turned to somber reflection when Randy Weaver walked slowly past me. Weaver, whose wife and child were murdered by Federal agents at his home in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, spoke at the conference and sold his book detailing the crimes committed against his family. My eyes burned with sorrow and anger as I imagined the unfolding of those hateful events. I vehemently disagree with the racist ideas Weaver is reported to have once flirted with. However, to shoot a man's wife in the head and son in the back because he holds bad ideas and is perhaps guilty of a minor legal infraction is too reprehensible for words.
During our drive back, Riggs and I discussed the peculiar views held by some at the Expo. (Thankfully, I saw no sign of racism at the event, just some strange paranoias.) I mentioned that, despite my deep disagreement with some of the ideas expressed, at least the people who visited the Expo seem to consistently respect others' rights of person and property, which is more than one can say about the typical IRS or FBI agent. If I were getting mugged, I suspect that most of the people at the Expo would step in to help me. Government agents, on the other hand, confiscate upwards of half my income every year, as they wink and tell me it's for my own good. Whom would you prefer as a neighbor?