August 20, 2009
On August 19, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann took the airwaves warning us of the danger posed to the nation by the Arizona man who brought an AR-15 to an Obamacare event. Olbermann attempted to link the man to the so-called militia movement by way of Ernest Hancock, the editor of the Freedom’s Phoenix website, a constitutional news portal established to provide information as an alternative “to the filters of a slavering collective mainstream media awaiting the approval of their government masters.”
Olbermann attempted to connect Hancock to the Arizona Viper Militia.
On July 1, 1996, the BATF arrested a dozen members of the so-called Viper Militia and accused the group of a nefarious plot. President Clinton congratulated the BATF and saluted “the enforcement officers who made the arrests in Arizona yesterday to avert a terrible terrorist attack. Their dedication and hard work over the last six months may have saved many lives.” AG Janet Reno chimed in with effusive praise and declared the agency had saved the nation from “a potentially dangerous situation.” Raymond Kelly of the Treasury Department said the government had put an end to an “armed and dangerous” militia group determined to stir up “civil unrest.”
The government said the Viper Militia had plotted to blow up federal buildings, including the Phoenix Police Department and the Arizona National Guard headquarters. In addition, they supposedly planned to attack a local television station. The BATF claimed to have confiscated 77 machine guns, hundreds of other firearms, tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, booby traps, tons of ammonium nitrate — the fertilizer absurdly said to have been used in the Oklahoma City bombing — and explosives such as nitromethane and lead azide.
In December of 1996, Alan W. Bock, writing for Reason Magazine, did a reality check on the government story and subsequent corporate media propaganda. Since the arrests earlier in the year, “some details have come to light that suggest the Vipers were not quite as dangerous as the BATF would have us believe,” Bock wrote. In fact, there wasn’t a plot to blow up government buildings or attack television stations.
Furthermore, the “vast arsenal” kept shrinking. Seventy-seven machine guns dwindled to four, and the unstable lead azide was transformed into lead styphnate, then lead picrate, a less dangerous compound. The amount of ammonium nitrate was reduced to 500 pounds, plus 14 or 15 gallons of nitromethane, all of which is legal to possess. But we’ll have to take the BATF’s word for all of this, because agents rushed the seized explosives (alleged explosives?) to the desert and blew them up. Most of the guns turned out to be legal World War I and World War II surplus rifles–not surprising, since a couple of the men arrested were collectors and one had a federal firearms license.
In fact, the group in question didn’t consider itself a militia. It referred to itself as the Viper Team or Team Viper, not the Viper Militia. “This particular militia threat seems to have been conjured up mainly by the BATF,” notes Bock. It was a fabrication cooked up by a couple infiltrators inserted in the militia that was not a militia after a group of Boy Scouts encountered armed people in camouflage who were setting off explosions in the Tonto National Forest, about 60 miles northeast of Phoenix.
During court hearings in the trumped up case, BATF supervisor Steven Ott admitted under oath that one of these infiltrators had urged the other members to rob banks. According to Louis Sahagun of the Los Angeles Times, they all refused, Vin Suprynowicz wrote for the September, 1996, issue of Liberty Magazine.
The government is infamous for this particular sort of entrapment, as numerous news stories over the last couple years reveal. As Infowars reported earlier this week, radio talk show host and blogger Hal Turner was trained by the FBI to set-up and bust people in the patriot movement. COINTELPRO is alive and well in America.
Olbermann’s outlandish claim rests on the fact that five members of the Vipers eventually entered into a plea agreement on weapons charges. The supposed leader of the group, Gary Bauer, also pleaded guilty on weapons charges. “He just thought it would be in his best interests,” Bauer’s attorney told The Washington Post on December 20, 1996.
Six of the accused were released from jail “after promising to stay away from explosives and firearms and to not break any laws,” the Los Angeles Times reported on July 12, 1996. “Family members and friends promised they would act as responsible third parties to ensure that the released defendants remained at home wearing electronic monitoring devices and reported to the court daily.”
Olbermann didn’t bother to tell his audience the outcome of the Viper case. On March 20, 1997, the Los Angeles Times reported that members who were not members of the Viper Militia received “the most lenient prison terms possible under plea agreements with the government…. The sentences ranged from a year and a day in prison with a $1,500 fine to three concurrent 37-month terms and a $2,500 fine.”
The Times also reported that the convicted accused the government of exaggerating their “paramilitary activities” to look tough on domestic terrorism. Moreover, an agent with the BATF testified during the trial that no plot was imminent.
Olbermann and his guest Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center — a perennial “expert” on the corporate media propaganda circuit — only repeated the government’s absurd accusations and did not mention the fact that nobody in the case was convicted of terrorism or was there in fact a terrorist plot. It was a government fabrication.
But then the point is not accurate news reporting but rather the dissemination of lies and propaganda aimed at law-abiding Americans and at the very heart of the Constitution and the Second Amendment. Olbermann’s propaganda moment was intended to link “Chris” from Phoenix to Ernest Hancock and the mirage that is the Viper Militia.
It was also an effort to expand on the government narrative put forth in the Department of Homeland Security’s “rightwing extremism” report designed to demonize the growing patriot movement as homegrown terrorists and violent racists.