Montana's Not Intersted in SyndicalismColumn by Anders Hove
Last week I was rummaging through a stack of old psychology texts in the Strand bookstore when I noticed a glimmer of light emanating from a lower shelf. Bending down, I reached my arm behind a row of books and fumbled around blindly. My fingers brushed the surface of a smooth, metallic rod, wrapped in some sort of dusty fabric. I clenched my hand around the object, and gingerly pulled it out from its former resting place. I recognized it instantly: Here in my hands were the tattered remains of the very poison-tipped umbrella used by a lone KGB agent to kill the unfortunate Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov.
I couldn't wait to bring this extraordinary find to my old friend back in Cambridge. At long last I found myself north of the Charles again, sheepishly opening the massive cast-iron door to my old stomping ground, the Balkan Subversive and Revolutionary Bookstore. I peered inside; the dim interior was lit only by a smoke-choked gaslight somewhere behind several tall heaps of rotting newspapers.
"Is anyone here?" I inquired.
"I'll say," cackled a voice from the rear.
A small, wizened head emerged from behind a bronze bust of Milovan Djilas. The man's shock of stiff white hair couldn't begin to conceal his craggy, sallow skin, not to mention his piercing black eyes and quivering, wrinkled lower lip. Though I have met him here a thousand times, I never fail to be slightly discomfitted by the appearance of my old friend from the underworld, Radovan Icic.
"I had wondered when you would turn up, Hove," said Radovan with a glint in his eye.
"Indeed," I rejoined, "have I found a treasure -"
"Stop!" he interrupted. "We must waste no time. You are from Montana. You will not delay in laying bare your vast knowledge of America's nascent anarchist movement. What shall we call it? Montana Volya?"
"But Rado, I didn't come here to hear your silly conspiratorial drivel," I said.
"What you want will hardly matter in the new order," he said, "what with all the Montanans lurking about. Furthermore, I know for a fact that you are a prime mover in this conspiracy. A few months ago you wrote a column endorsing the publication of the Unabomber's manifesto, boasting in print that he would never be caught. And now he turns up a short drive from your home? Wipe that blank expression off your face, you miscreant syndicalist!"
I was aghast. Here was Radovan Icic, knower of all things underground, wrongly accusing me of fomenting violent revolution.
"Rado," I said, "you've got to lay off the British beef. You want to trade accusations? Fine. I read in the paper this morning that the bomber is an old Gold Coast neighbor of yours. A true-blue Cantabridgian, crimson to the button of his cap. And you claim to know nothing - I'm afraid you won't find a fellow traveler in me, my friend."
Radovan's wrinkled cheek sagged, and he darted a glance at the bust of Djilas.
"You are right," he murmured , after a pause. "I had such high hopes for my old friend. John Kaczynski - there was a keeper of the faith. If only he, the militia, and the Freemen could have joined forces with all of your petty bourgeois neighbors."
"Your days fighting with the Partisans have soured your judgment," I said. "Montana is only two years behind Cambridge technologically. And if it weren't for the kooks Cambridge keeps exporting, its politics would be only a few decades out of date.
"Indeed," I continued, "Montana has occasionally initiated real progressive political movements. It was among the first states to give women the vote. Its most eminent senator, Mike Mansfield, worked hand-in-hand with Hubert H. Humphrey to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 above and beyond a months-old Southern filibuster. Nearly 100 years ago, Montana's citizens fought hard for tough conservation legislation that would protect Western forest and mineral resources against the rapacious incursions of Eastern monopolies. Western states in general have lobbied for strong anti-monopoly legislation, more Œinternal improvements,' and increases in medical spending for rural areas.
"You Easterners all have the same problem. You think you can just bottle up the vast spaces of the American West into a snicker about Freemen and mysterious Œcompounds.' It's quite true that, in some rural counties, local officials and game wardens travel in pairs to avoid trouble with the so-called Œmilitia.' The forest service even occasionally files flight plans with the leaders of these groups when fighting forest fires. This says more about the nature of today's political landscape than about life in the West.
"The West's political landscape used to be progressive. But today the West suffers from a strange schizophrenia. America's political parties - such as they are - are organized around suburban economic and social issues. Since most Westerners live in urban or suburban areas, issues raised in state capitals and in Washington, D.C., have at least some relevance to them.
"For that large minority that lives beyond the oases of Western suburbia, however, national life is becoming more alien. America's future does not lie in the agricultural industry, nor in extractive industries like forestry or hard-rock mining, although productivity in these sectors is still relatively high. Middle-aged residents of rural Sanders County, Montana, however, can read about the Internet every day in the Missoulian, or watch nightly reports about the riches of Bill Gates. At the same time, their way of life is disappearing, and those who still live it don't know where to go.
"The militia blame the Trilateral Commission and bar codes. The Freemen blame all government, right down to local officials. The people of Nevada's Nye County blame Œkelly humps' - mounds of dirt erected by the Forest Service to close old logging roads. You don't have to be a genius to figure out that this has nothing to do with politics. The bizarre nature of the arguments used by these groups demonstrates how far removed they are from normal political life. Bob Dole has as much to do with the militia as Bill Clinton has to do with the Freemen."
Finishing my impromptu speech, I took a breath of air. Radovan stared at me languidly.
"So you think they are ready for the dust-heap of history?" he asked.
"I don't know," I said. "I can't claim full insider knowledge. But I do hope the Rocky Mountain front will eventually take the lead again."
"Then why are you carrying a shoddy, worn-out umbrella and that stack of books on British imperialism?" he queried.
Anders Hove will return to the Balkan Subversive and Revolutionary Bookstore next week.