The Populist Rainbow

It is June 1994, and Anthony Hilder is attending a Southern California gathering called "The New World Order." Two overhead projectors beam book-covers alleging Masonic conspiracies onto the walls. Hilder, white and middle-aged, is the host of two syndicated talk-radio shows, Radio Free America and Radio Free World. He has brought tapes to sell to other attendees, and is doing a brisk business; quite a few people have wandered through the smoke-filled room to peruse and purchase his wares.

Many might assume Hilder and his customers to be racists. They will be surprised to discover that the event was a multiracial rap/rock concert in downtown Los Angeles, featuring Ice T, Body Count, Fishbone, and Ice Cube, among others; that the gathering was organized not by a white man donned in camouflage, but by a black record producer who calls himself Afrika Islam; that the smoke thickening the air was not burning tobacco, but burning marijuana.

The popular stereotype of the militia movement does not leave much room for cultural diversity. The media have had to acknowledge one prominent African-American militiaman—James Johnson of inner-city Columbus, Ohio—if only because of his high profile in the movement. But he is treated as an aberration—or, worse vet, a token. More common are hysterical quotations from representatives of the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center,...

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