February 1, 2013
At approximately 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, January 29, a lone gunman boarded a school bus in Midland City, AL, and demanded two hostages. When the bus driver, 65-year-old Charles Albert Poland protested, the gunman shot him four times with a handgun and took one five-year-old boy hostage, bringing him to an underground bunker he'd apparently been constructing for years on his property. Police have been communicating with him through PVC pipe.
The gunman has been identified as 65-year-old Jimmy-Lee Dykes, a retired truck driver and Navy veteran. Dykes was due in court for menacing his neighbors. He has been described by neighbor, Barbara Wilbur, as “bizarre” and “a loner” who put up a barbed wire fence around his property, isolating himself. She said he brutally beat her dog with a lead pipe when it went onto his property. Another neighbor said Dykes threatened to shoot her daughters when they went onto his property to retrieve their dog.
It has been revealed that Dykes is a member of a growing movement of anti-government survivalists who have seen their numbers flourish since the reelection of President Obama. These “preppers” have long been associated with right wing and libertarian causes. Communities discussing the price of gold, the fate of the stock market, the dangers of the stimulus, a government confiscation of guns, and high taxes are popping up all over the internet. National Geographic has even capitalized on this trend with its reality show “Doomsday Preppers,” which features various people who feel the end of the world is approaching for whatever reason and spend huge amounts of their money in preparation building bunkers and buying weapons.
Right wing pundits and pro guns groups like the NRA appeal to this kind of paranoia suggesting that a tyrannical government is going to take away Americans' Second Amendment rights. Conspiracy theorist and Infowars founder, Alex Jones made news with his infamous remarks on Piers Morgan Tonight, “1776 will commence again if you try to take away our guns.” The NRA recently released an “enemy list.” The impact is undeniable. Talk of tyranny and armed resistance are common among many conservatives. Now there is even a group of people who believe that the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a ploy by the government to make firearm confiscation easier. Gun sales in the last month hit record highs. Wal Mart has had to ration ammunition to meet demand.
America's right has a history of exploiting fears to promote its agenda. It is hard to imagine that there is no connection between the election of America's first black president, the increasingly vitriolic political rhetoric, and rising numbers of preppers, considering that the GOP built its base with the Southern Strategy. Republican politicians appealed to white fears and hate toward blacks in order to gain votes in the then solidly Democratic south. Never before have pundits or candidates made suggestions that the president elect has ties to terrorists, or that he wasn't born in America, or that he and his party are bent on totalitarianism. This kind of talk came under scrutiny when two years ago after the shooting in Tucson, AZ in which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot, when it was suggested that speech from pundits and candidates on the right may have inspired the shooter, 27-yea-old Jared Lee Loughner to commit his actions. Sarah Palin in particular, came under fire for her election map which put a target over Giffords' district. Many people dismissed such claims.
This recent hostage situation involving a prepper, however, begs the question if Dykes is an inevitable consequence of those on the right promoting fear and paranoia in order to promote a pro gun agenda. Only time will tell if his actions are politically motivated. No matter what his reasoning, there can be little doubt that nothing good can come of painting political opponents as enemies of freedom.