Anthrax okay for home use

Special to The Progressive Populist

So it turns out there won't be an actual war against Iraq (this time), and there weren't actual live Anthrax germs aboard that Mercedes in Las Vegas (this time). But before anyone relaxes, let's consider what we've learned about the quality of official information behind the headlines.

Professor Madeleine Albright simply didn't do her homework before bringing the administration's prototype Gulf War II rally to the heartland last month. Seeking what CNN called "a real cross-section of Americans," location scouts chose the most self-promoting "All-American City" -- Columbus, Ohio. They probably assumed it was just like Indianapolis, only closer.

Advance press reports confirmed the apparent wisdom of choosing this booming capital city for a test market, as retailers and pollsters have for decades. Columbus is a white-collar city by design, built on insurance, research, education, and state government. The local economy has been so healthy for so long, and the local political character so patriotic, that it should have been an ideal showcase.

But in the event, the national press was as stunned as Albright herself when rolling chants of "we don't want your racist war" repeatedly silenced her in front of an international audience, and questioners from the pre-selected pool of "rational and respectful" participants pressed hard on moral right, collateral damage, selective enforcement, and that pesky isssue of military efficacy against bio-war weapons.

All of a sudden it became clear: that dog won't wag.

But how could this be happening in plain-vanilla Columbus, the capital of consumerism, at the intersection of Nice and Polite?

The real question is, why was anybody surprised? Why didn't either press or administration know more about the realities of the 14th largest city in the U.S.? If this episode illustrates the best intelligence gathering capabilities of these institutions, why should anybody believe what they say about Iraq?

Just for the record: Ohio has always been like this -- a historic stronghold of abolitionism, feminism, trade unionism, socialism of every stripe, and anti-war activism. Today, Columbus is home to one of the largest gay communities in the country, a national center for anti-racist organizing, and a well-established alternative culture. While the state's motto is "Ohio -- the heart of it all," someone should have heeded the city's motto: "Columbus -- more than you expected!"

There's another factor the administration forgot about until one day too late, although it's a safe bet everybody in the audience at St. John Arena remembered: A mere 35 miles as the crow flies from Albright's armchair sits the home laboratory of Larry Wayne Harris, "the Plague Man." Since his first arrest in 1995 for possession of the plague virus, Harris has been aggressively peddling his martrydom throughout central Ohio. As a result, Columbusites know exactly what a working bio-war lab looks like. It's the overcrowded kitchen of a white-shingled bungalow three blocks from downtown Lancaster.

Is it any wonder that an audience of Larry Wayne Harris' unwilling neighbors would a be such a hard sell on surgical strikes to eliminate bio-war production sites in Iraq? We know what "collateral damage" means: there goes the neighborhood.

And certainly few in this area were surprised to hear, the day after Defense Secretary Cohen conjured the specter of a 5-pound bag of Anthrax killing off half the population of Columbus, that Larry Wayne Harris had been arrested again, this time for threatening to do just what Cohen had pictured the Iraqis doing.

But this cosmic coincidence is dangerously more than that. Harris describes himself as a "former" member of Aryan Nations, and has portrayed himself as a patriotic American heroically warning against inevitable germ warmfare attacks by Iraq on U.S. cities. Yet despite his increasingly polished appeals to alternative health audiences, Harris continues to hold the core beliefs of the Kingdom Identity churches, and so remains politically aligned with Aryan Nations even after resigning his membership.

Aryan Nations, in common with virtually all organizations and individuals along the spectrum from white supremacists to "constitutionalist" militias, was outraged by U.S. plans to attack Iraq. These forces, already primed for the apocalypse, have moved in the past year from preparedness for defensive action to preparedness for offensive action, believing that their choices have narrowed to sedition or secession. All they await is the signal.

Before Mme. Albright rattles her bombs again, we should heed the words of Larry Wayne Harris as he minded his literature table in a cavernous steel shed on the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus a few months ago, at the annual Survival Expo and Conspiracy Theory Convention.

"Everything I told you about biologicals last spring is still true," he told a reporter, "except for one thing. I said the militias didn't have their own biologicals. Now, they do."

Mimi Morris and Michael Weber are investigative journalists based in Columbus. They are associate producers for "The War Within the States," a documentary on the far right anti-government movement currently in development by James Neff Productions for Oregon Public Broadcasting. Reporting for this piece was underwritten in part by a grant from the Dick Goldensohn Fund.

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