AN INTERVIEW WITH CAROLYN CHUTE
This is an interview with Carolyn Chute, secretary of the 2nd Maine Militia and Border Mountain Militia. In the Southern Poverty Law Center's Spring 1997 Intelligence Report, the 2nd Maine Militia was listed, along with the Center's exclamation that "Patriot groups pose continued threat" and the statement that the Patriot Movement is "the fastest growing segment of the anti-government movement—radical, violence-prone religious separatists."
Carolyn is real. The two militias she works with are real. But the interviewer here is not. This piece is written by Carolyn, who insists "the interview style is much more interesting than essays or articles, but real living, breathing interviewers fudge everything—therefore what they write is fake." The fictional interviewer is a representative "institutionally educated" urban-valued, nondescript so-called liberal person who will be known as IUNLP. Carolyn, an uneducated redneck novelist, will be known as CC.
(Carolyn is the author of The Beans of Egypt, Maine. Her latest novel is Snow Man.)
IUNLP: Well, well! (Breathlessly) That was quite a ride coming up here into the foothills of the White Mountains.
CC: Have a seat. Throw your coat anywhere.
IUNLP: My, my! So many rocking chairs! Ten rocking chairs! No couch, no television. Why do all these rockers face each other?
CC: When you don't have television, you have to look real people in the eye.
IUNLP: Well, I don't like television either, but I like to stay abreast of the news ... keep up with it.
IUNLP: Yes, thank you.
All settled with tea and a slisky-sounding tape recorder running, the interview begins in earnest.
IUNLP: I've been poring over articles about you and I see where you always call yourself a redneck. Why?
CC: I'm a redneck.
IUNLP: And you admit it.
CC: (Looks at interviewer and squints)
IUNLP: Rednecks are bad people. Everyone knows that.
CC: Us rednecks don't know that. We like each other.
IUNLP: But you personally don't seem to have much against gays, people of color or women.
CC: My son-in-law is three-quarters African descent, one fourth American Indian. When I met him he hated gays and Mexicans. Lately he's softened on gays. Everybody hates somebody, I guess. I never liked schoolteachers but if they are real special, I'll warm up a little. Liberals hate working-class white men, especially those who don't do dishes and who whistle at women. We can all go around and around with this about who has more hate. And you know the faceless financiers who are fleecing us all love to see us pointing with our blame-fingers horizontally. They just don't wanna see any of us pointing up. They have no hate whatsoever for any of us down here. They feel nothing about any of us. We are like blades of grass under their feet.
IUNLP: But "redneck." Ack! Can't you call yourself something else? Like "rural person"?
CC: The word "redneck" comes from the red neckerchiefs worn by the coal miners of the South when they, of both black and white races, marched by the thousands in defiance of the atrocities and oppression caused to them by the merging of organized money and government. It's one of those many secrets of our history. Labor history is called "the untold story" because the controllers of our history, educators and the media, have a kind of funny amnesia about labor struggles, like they do horrors done to all kinds of people who are a thorn in the side of the elite. These stories are kept quiet or altered. I especially like the stories of heroic deeds by ordinary people when they have faced down the cruelties and injustices of the elite.
IUNLP: The White Male Elite.
CC: I don't know. I've never seen them. They might be chartreuse hermaphrodites. You ever seen them?
IUNLP: Actually, no.
CC: Anyway, the controllers of our history and culture have revised a lot of things. Even the meanings of words. Kind of Orwellian, eh? I have countless flaws. But being redneck, working class— or, more accurately, the "tribal class"—I am proud of that.
IUNLP: Some people would suggest you try to better yourself, get a good education.
CC: I am proud to have escaped my institutional education. I am proud not to have been trained to jump through the honor hoops and all that grading crap. The institutional education was created by industrialists for a reason.
IUNLP: (Dreadful silence)
CC: What's wrong?
IUNLP: Why do you have so many guns around here? I didn't notice them when I first came in.... Why do you have them around like this?! There’s at least a dozen....Oh gawd, there's a couple more over there!
CC: Why not?
IUNLP: Well, I myself don't approve of guns. They kill. We need more gun control.
CC: I always find it interesting that liberals or leftists, or whatever it is the Professional Class calls itself, fear guns in the hands of Americans, but have no problem with guns in the hands of Zapatistas or the Peruvian M.R.T.A.
IUNLP: Those people are facing injustices.
CC: Urban blacks aren't? Mid-western farmers aren't? American Indians aren't? The prohibition on drugs has only increased street drugs and street crime. Not to mention big bureaucracy and a big organized underworld. It's even increased the misuse of guns. A prohibition on guns will only increase street crime and big bureaucracy and a big underworld and misuse of guns. But aside from that, even if you could disappear all the guns and pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails from America, what about the hand that shoots the gun? What about the hand that triggers the bomb? Shall we cut off all Americans' hands to keep them from inventing something else?
IUNLP: Don't be silly.
CC: Behind all those urban killings are people created by the Great Progressive Society. These people are not revolting against the Great Progressive Society. They are raw imitations of the Great Progressive Society. We are led to believe that the professional middle class are the winners, the working class are the losers. You'd probably say this in fancier words, but you'd express this belief. You yourself suggested I should "better myself " a few moments ago. As I see it, class is about values, dependence and ways of communicating. The working-class person values place, interdependence, cooperation, the tribe. Rural working class especially values land. Many of us would kill to keep our land, our home, which for thousands of years was not considered a crazy thing to do. Middle-class professionals are into "success" and they are a dependent people, happily dependent on the consumer system for everything. You call it independence. But if you lost your electricity, your service people, your access to stores, you'd see how independent you are! Working-class people have become dependent on these things, too, but working-class values resent this dependency.
IUNLP: (Gulps tea)
CC: Also, the classes communicate differently and our social skills aren't the same. Working-class people aren't big on formal introductions and small talk. We use much more body language and humility. Among us, we share a lot of local history and experience, so there's much we don't have to say to each other. We tend to mumble and say "you know" a lot. We aren't usually talking heads. Self-deprecation is often our way of exercising a work-group, working toward cooperation and trust. It's a very tribal thing. And home. Home is not a street number, not a building. Home is another word for community, for the tribe ... faces, hands, voices, mumbles and shared work.
IUNLP: So tell me about the 2nd Maine Militia and Border Mountain Militia and the No-Wing Militia Movement.
CC: The No-Wing Militia Movement is not really separate from the Right-Wing Militia Movement. We attend each other's meetings, hang out together, do business with each other. We are neighbors and family. We have the same values, same fears, same dreams. But two basic differences. One, the No-Wing militia movement doesn't warm to the idea of a theocracy. We don't stress religion other than the Constitutional right to have freedom of it. We aren't into the idea of a Big Punishing Dad in heaven or in government. But you know, if you study the biblical scholars, most of them agree that Jesus' prime message was unconditional love, unconditional welcome. In that sense, you might say our militias are the true Christian militias. One of our homemade bumper stickers says "Have you hugged your favorite militia person today?" But I like to hug 'em all. (Chuckle) The other basic difference is that the Right-Wing Militia people have gotten their political education straight from the McKinley anti-Populist, anti-democracy "Progressive Society" era and McCarthy era. And, of course, they’ve learned a lot of junk in school, just as we all have.
IUNLP: And where does the No-Wing Militia Movement get its education?
CC: Articles from all sources and books circulated and a lot of hanging out together. The greatest part of a person's education is who you become, not just the info you absorb. Schools create arrogant system-loving "leaders," an obedient system-loving middle mediocre group, and losers. Most of us were school losers, feeling outside the system, feeling ineffective. And we were the rebels, asking smartass questions, not behaving. Often kicked out of school. Some of us got "good" grades and "behaved" but were shy and reclusive. Our militias empower us, both right wing and no wing... we are empowered by the militia. But much of the No-Wing Militia's info comes from Noam Chomsky and Richard Grossman and...
CC: Naw. Noam Chomsky... he never talks about how to fix the problem. He gives no leftist solutions. He just tells truth. We need to start with truth. Jesus or somebody said, "The Truth will set you free." But really the truth will make you pissed. You have to be pissed before you get free.
IUNLP: The word "militia" scares a lot of people. The Oklahoma City bombing...
CC: You watch too much TV. The OK City bombing, as I've been hearing it, was one or two guys who may have attended a militia meeting... but you betcha they attended good ol' American schools. I heard they were thrown out of the militia meeting. Maybe you've read The Spirit of Crazy Horse, by Peter Matthiessen? Or The Populist Moment, by Lawrence Goodwyn? Or various works of Wobblies and the civil rights movement? Then you know it is critical for this corporate-owned government to crush any significant movement that threatens the existing political, social and economic order.
IUNLP: So you believe the government had a hand in blowing up that building?
CC: We'll never know. But I know the government is capable.
IUNLP: That's quite cynical.
CC: If we can believe the US government can financially back the murder and torture of people in other lands, but not believe they could do it to Americans, isn't that a kind of value you are putting on American life, that you believe a power that can perform or support atrocities on a Baghdad child, a Cuban child or a Mayan person would hesitate to hurt a child in Oklahoma City? But remember the wonderful elite. It differentiates none of us. We are just blades of grass under their feet. Also, let's look at another possibility. That a militia sentiment was what killed those people in Oklahoma. Are you aware of the millions of small American farmers thrown from their homes by the coziness of government and business? These millions have turned to be a very angry people, which nothing can fix, except getting their homes and agriculture back. They are now called bad people because they have gotten pretty deep into heavy-duty Puritan Christian right-wing militias and are building up arsenals. Geronimo was called a bad man, too. Now we say he was OK because the US government and big mining and railroad businesses took his home and conducted slaughter as well. The bombing of innocent people is not justified. But the rage is justified. I just wish I could induct those enraged millions into our No-Wing Militia Movement.
IUNLP: Well, what does the No-Wing Militia Movement plan to do about all this? Gun your way into Dow Jones? (Glances at guns)
CC: Well, I'm glad you asked. We have a very specific plan. First of all, as you know, we aren't dealing with a dramatic and sudden invasion by a foreign enemy. Maybe guns would be more useful, if we were. What we are dealing with is over a hundred years of mind control.
IUNLP: That sounds paranoid.
CC: In the late 1800s—McKinley era—when the Farmers’ Alliance became powerful and the Populist Movement was sending out feelers into the world of established politics, the bankers and big companies who were threatened by this prospect of a possible democracy poured, shoveled and crammed the Republican Party full of bucks, and the party hired a guy named Mark Hanna as the first real campaign PR man and the "Great Society" was created or "Progressive Society" or...you know..." The American Dream." This got most of America to associate the flag, the Bible and clean hands with the Republican Party. Populists were "Granby" and "barefoot" and "socialist" and "un-American." I have often thought how the Cleaver family and the Brady Bunch were actually conceived in the McKinley era. Work, shop, cut your hair, wash your hands, don't complain, love your System and your Country no matter what. Succeed! It was important for people to get the flag, God and Big Biz a bit confused. It was important to be cheerfully subservient and well-behaved and to see rebels as likened to foreign-influenced criminals, to see democratic action as confrontational and naughty. Like, go to the principal's office! This plan, seeping into all our culture, was very effective.
IUNLP: Damn Republicans.
CC: The Democrats were no saints. They didn't like the Populists any more than the Republicans did. In the South, "The Party of the Fathers" was horribly threatened by this new populist party. The Democrats murdered people, did ballot-box stuffing and all manner of awful deeds. But, you see, the big money went into the Republican Party. It is the immeasurable power of big money that is the lesson here.
IUNLP: OK, so now we have mind control.
CC: The American Dream has served the capitalist elite very well. It has become not just a campaign slogan but our culture. At times it almost feels like it's part of our soul. Through every medium it has seeped. It has filled every cradle. They send a yellow bus to our doors and we gladly shove our children aboard. For many years, day in and day out, the Great Society whispers into each sweet perfect little childly ear. Children are graded like slabs of meat. Pitted against each other for honors. Millions of children are culled out heart and soul because their talents are not academic or marketable, not valued, too tribal. The Great Society begins at 5 years old. And notice how schools in no way resemble home. There are no grammies or dads, babies or dogs hanging around to lend or need a hand. But schools do indeed resemble insurance companies! And politicians have the gall to say we-the-people have forsaken family values!
IUNLP: That's the Republicans.
CC: All of them. By example alone, the Clintons are a big pink disgusting glossy ad for The Great Society.
IUNLP: OK, so, again, what are you militia people going to do about this mess? How many members in your two militias?
CC: The 2nd Maine Militia is the statewide one and has been open to the public. At meetings and our State House siege in 1996 we have had Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Marxists, John Birchers, right-wing conspiracy theorists and all in between. And we all got along cheerfully! It was beautiful. The 2nd Maine Militia rotary has about 450 members. There would have been another hundred if I could have kept up with the mail, and maybe a thousand more if we could have kept up with the meetings. But due to lack of money and time, we're keeping the 2nd Maine on the back burner. Easier for us to work with is the Border Mountain Militia, a neighborhood chapter of the 2nd Maine. About forty people. We all meet here at our house. We're basically No-Wingers. We're discussing some community stuff some of us want to get involved in like Meals on Wheels and food drives. But also we are available to festivals, etc., with our theatrical presentations, sing-alongs, somber reading of empowering documents: comedy skits, flag-waving. Every time we go public, we recruit more. But we don't have the money and resources and time the corporate elite has.
IUNLP: Four hundred and fifty or even a thousand. That's not really a movement, Carolyn.
CC: (Leans forward, dramatically whispers, hisses actually) You and I know there are millions of people out there ready for this. They say America is anxious. That's an insulting understatement by the sweet elite and their media. America is not anxious! It is steaming!
IUNLP: I'm afraid I don't see it.
CC: Not in your circle. I don't mean that insultingly. Just truthfully. America is steaming. Confused, yes. But hot.
IUNLP: What do you plan to do about the Southern Poverty Law Center's defamation of your (ahem) movement?
CC: Well, I certainly won't be sending them any more of my hard-earned pennies. What about you? The best way to kill a water moccasin is to dry up his pond.
IUNLP: What happened at the State House during your...(ahem) siege?
CC: Well, actually it was a people's lobby. We didn't expect to change the legislature from a corporate-minded alien body to a government for the people in one day. What we achieved was actually what happened inside each and every one of us. Empowerment! There were 150 people with us and more calling and writing to us in the following weeks and most were pushing to do another action soon. They were chomping at the bit. But we didn't have a full-time organizer and I couldn't organize any more No raids on the government all by myself. It takes more than just one little redneck gal.
CC: Yuh, right. I know what you're thinking. I'm 165 pounds. Not so little.
IUNLP: I wasn't thinking that. But again, let me get this straight. What does the No-Wing Militia Movement plan to do about corporate invasion of our capitals and a hundred years of mind control?
CC: (Chuckle) Well, as you see, we can't kill it with a gun. And we can't do it fast. It'll take many generations. We need to build individual self-respect in all Americans, not just the honor types. Our goal is for citizens to feel like a sovereign power first before they take the big step of cutting the corporate jugular, of dismantling corporate power. A corporation is not a person. It is a thing. It should have no human rights whatsoever, let alone sovereignty. We need to deflate all the myths of capitalism.
IUNLP: You sound like a leftist!
CC: Spare me! That’s insulting! Leftists, rightists are all such reactionaries. You want this tea on top of your head?
IUNLP: Is that what you call a redneck’s use of body language?
CC: The basic structure of our government is not half-bad. It might work if "the people" made its highly visible presence. A unified presence of all sexes and races and classes would be one that the elected representatives would fear, hence they would, represent us, not the tiny elite of organized capital.
IUNLP: Ernesto Cortes Jr. said, "power! Power comes in two forms: organized people and organized money."
CC: The no-wing militias don't spend a lotta time talking gay issues, women's issues, race issues, Indian issues, Hispanic issues, Christian versus something else. We just welcome everyone and work together to fight the enemy we all have in common. Democracy is like a Caddy—it won't go anywhere unless you get behind the wheel.
IUNLP: So you aren't talking about changing the economic structure. You are talking sovereignty.
CC: Well, I don't see how the economic structure could be either capitalist or communist or socialist if all people were represented. None of those huge systems are sensitive to regional differences. For instance, the Lakotas resettling the Black Hills might want a different economic system than small Midwestern farmers or the city folk of Detroit.
IUNLP: You make the message of the No-Wing Militia Movement sound simple. But actually there’s a whole lot of ideology behind it.
CC: The people in Congress and state houses and our judges, lawyers, editors in charge of big publications, heads of networks may be good people. But I hear them say they don't understand why the rednecks are so angry. But please hear me...the shimmering economy is only for those big-shot investors and those who have found their niche high up in the system. The rest of us are working our asses off for long hours like robots. Some of us get paid well. Some of us get peanuts. Nevertheless, we work all the time, at work that becomes more and more meaningless and dangerous by the moment. That is, if we are those who can find work. Millions of Americans are living a kind of twisted enslavement, while others are in prisons or out on the street living like tigers and rabbits. So many of us wake in the night knowing we are losing our homes. And remember, home to many is not just about a street address or a building. It is everything! Our shared history, our customs, our community, our work, our land, our heritage, our pride, our tribe. The American corporate-owned government and its constructed consumer culture and mind control have created a mass cultural genocide, and soon through prisons, the death penalty and neglect, actual genocide. We have no representation in our government. (A desperate whisper) Are rednecks the only ones angry?! Do you really believe that!
IUNLP: I guess not.
CC: Where can we turn for trust? For comfort? For honor? For respect? We turn to each other!
IUNLP: So what do you do with guns at your meeting?
CC: We talk guns. Rednecks love guns, always have. It's our culture. Also at our meetings, we shoot targets. We're pretty good. See this one here. That's my favorite. It's an SKS...globe sight, thirty-shot magazine. Doesn't kick. It just moves like a powerful but friendly little animal against the shoulder as you fire it.
IUNLP: This really is upsetting, to hear you talk like that. There should be a law against guns—although ... I'm sure you're right about the mess it would cause. I just can't help thinking of the staggering statistics and...
CC: From an organizer's point of view, you will never see the day that the American people will be organized against The Thing, the Corporate Thing, if you harp on all these "issues." Like the Zapatistas, you have to start where the people are, not criticize them for rough edges. I trust my neighbors to have guns. Maine has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the nation, something like fourth. Yet we have more guns per capita than any other state. You do not say to the people of Maine, "I would like to take your guns away" and expect them to hear your next words. You've lost them. Forever. My God, NAFTA, GATT and now the MAI—the Multilateral Agreement on Investment! Those should be bells going off. Alarms! Fire! Yes, its like a fire! Never mind the "issues!" There's a fire and we need to put it out!
IUNLP: O.K. So I heard the 2nd Maine and Border Mountain militias have what you call the Recipe for Revolution. Can you share that?
CC: Well, here’s the Recipe for Revolution in a nutshell. We make it unlawful for corporations to lobby or donate to politicians. In any way. Not just corporations. Anybody. No money. Campaigns shouldn't cost money. We need to use our wonderful imaginations and think up how that can be done. It can be done. Also, we need to take Free Speech of flesh and blood people very seriously. We have a lot of ways to go with that--and money should no longer be counted as "speech." We need to bring back serious charter revocation of corporations that hurt people or the planet. Some state legislatures and attorneys general can't do this anymore, but many can. In Maine they can. No more human rights to corporations. We need to roll back the 1886 ruling where the Supreme Court gave corporations human rights. And no damn paper or oil company (for instance) should be able to own over half the State of Maine. Or trillions in capital. Unlimited property and wealth all in one hand is dangerous, whether it be Capitalists or Communists or Caesar or a Pharaoh. If you dig deep enough into history, you’ll find that "limiting property and wealth" was meant to be written into our Constitution by some of "the fathers," but got booed out by the more slave-minded fathers in the end.
And meanwhile we have a lot to rethink concerning modern education.
IUNLP: So you are not going to blow up any buildings.
CC: You watch too much TV.
IUNLP: Some people call your 2nd Maine Militia the "Wicked Good Militia."
CC: Yuh. Wicked and good.
Originally published in New Democracy Newsletter, March-April 2000.