Thursday, August 30, 2007

Richard Jewel and random memories of the 90's. It's 11 o'clock, do you know where your kooks are?

In many ways, for me at least, much of the 90’s seem to be a slow blur. Moments pop out at me when I look back, many good and many bad. An entire inner-connected series of memories have come back to me over the last two days with the passing of Richard Jewel. Jewel, you may remember, was the security guard at the Atlanta Olympic games whom the FBI attempted to scapegoat after the Centennial Olympic Park bombing.

In the summer of ’96 I was living out in the country but still a short drive into Atlanta. I watched those Olympic games and how they affected Atlanta, from afar. On the night of the bombing I was watching TV and followed the news reports closely, switching between the four local news stations and ESPN’s coverage. In the days after the bombing, when Jewel was rightly identified as a hero, I was happy to see what appeared to be a regular Georgia “country boy” making good in the city. That feel good moment was dashed only days later when the feds leaked the information to the news organizations that Jewel was the prime suspect.

One thing you develop as you get older is a prime eye for telling what is real and what is not real when it comes to people. In the case of Jewel, it was obvious the feds were lying. Their MO sounded credible until you looked at the man and how he was holding up to the insane media pressure. I wasn’t the only one who felt he was being railroaded. My co-workers, all of them “country smart” could see that something wasn’t right and that he was innocent. Jewel was eventually cleared and the investigation appeared to have reached a brick wall.

When I first moved to Atlanta we seemed to be the center of a lunatic bomber’s attention. The Olympic Park bombing, the Otherside Lounge bombing, the Sandy Springs abortion clinic bombing were making all of us more than a little uncomfortable with what was happening and where they would strike next. I remember several long lunchtime and water cooler conversations we had about who the killer could be. My pet theory was that we had a crazy redneck that was driving into town to kill Atlantans, but I was certain it was a Georgian.

When the Birmingham bombing killed a police officer and horribly injured a nurse in early ’98 all of the people I knew raised their eyebrows with attention. It was pretty obvious that the nut that was setting off bombs here in town was at work in Birmingham. The only question most of us had was whether or not the bomber lived in west Georgia or east Alabama.

When Eric Rudolph was announced as the prime suspect, all seemed to fall in place. Rudolph could be a poster child of the things that were wrong about us as a people in the 90’s and he was one of the precursor warnings of the type of lunatic fringe American that we would all see post-9/11. In a decade that gave us the Oklahoma City bombing and Eric Rudolph, we had more than enough signs of what we have become. The lunatics who weren’t satisfied with simply firebombing abortion clinics so they moved on to bombing them and killing abortion Doctors are the type of person who maintains the systems of control and power in America today.

I live in a large American city, with an international airport and high visibility facilities such as the CDC and the Federal Reserve. I am not at all worried about Islamic terrorists blowing my ass up. It’s possible but I think I am far more likely to be struck by lightning or win the lottery than to be killed by a terrorist in the city I live. I am, however, still worried about right wing extremists in America. I am, in effect, afraid of my own people. I admit this one day after posting an angrily worded entry regarding fear in America, so I do understand how this can be considered a hypocritical statement.

These extremists have always been here in this country. The south has always been the stereotypical home ground for such lunatics but don’t let that assumption steer you in the wrong direction. At the height of the popularity of the Ku Klux Klan, the largest population of members was not found in the south; Indiana was the state that boasted the highest concentration of Klansmen. Those extremists are not only down here; they are in your town too.

In the 90’s we had the rare opportunity to see these people up close and personal. We saw the militia movements and were able to hear the ideas of extreme nationalism that permeate throughout their communities. We saw the radical Christian identity movement followers who rationalize death and murder by killing abortion providers, homosexuals and non-Christians. We saw the far right anti-government radicals such as Randy Weaver and Eric Rudolph. But we also saw a more open and less afraid government who was willing to go to equally extreme ends with citizens who frightened it.

In the 90’s we had the chance to see our government up close and personal as well. The massacre at Waco, the Ruby Ridge calamity and strangeness surrounding the Oklahoma City bombing all added to a certain mistrust of the government. We instantly forgot all about those events, those radicals and those capabilities when the 9/11 attacks occurred. The faux-patriotism and “pride” in America swept through this nation in a way that was not purely spontaneous. The only genuine responses that we had to the attacks were gone within days of the attacks. Was anyone really acting “changed” when October 11 came around?

The death of Richard Jewel should be our reminder to us of what the government will do to an innocent person and Eric Rudolph should be a reminder that we have lunatics among us that compare unequivocally with the most extreme Middle East elements and are the product of America itself. Greed, hate, mistrust, fear, the lust for power and a narrow worldview are the food of American terrorists.

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