Harvest of rage

Farm crisis fuels growing revolution in the heartland | by Joel Dyer, June 27, 1996

Boulder Weekly Staff | Boulder Weekly

First Boulder Weekly scooped the nation by sounding the alarm about the militia movement the day after the Oklahoma City bombing. Then the paper delved into the world of the foreclosed farms and struggling communities of the heartland that had led to the smoking crater of the Oklahoma City federal building.


Where did this deadly anti-government hatred come from? The answer, wrote Joel Dyer, was simple economics. After two decades of fighting hopelessly to save their farms from foreclosures, U.S. family farmers began to suffer from what psychologists refer to as psychosis, or more specifically, post-traumatic stress syndrome. Individual farmers suffering from psychosis was bad enough; soon entire heartland communities, shell-shocked by the farm crisis, began to exhibit symptoms of the illness.

One outlet of this communal psychosis was suicide, leading to farmers killing themselves five times as often as they died from any other disease. Another outlet was counseling.

The third outlet was violence. This last option was the reason many farmers joined radical Christian Identity/ Freemen militia groups, readily accepting these organizations’ anti-government messages.

Unless the nation took drastic action to relieve the economic stress ravaging rural America, wrote Dyer, the country could well be facing the type of homeland violence not seen here since the Civil War.

“After months of living with militia members across the country, from Texas to Montana in places like the Freemen and Republic of Texas compounds, I came to my thesis: The farm crisis of the ’80s was fueling the growing militia movement,” Dyer says. “I must have hit on something because this article led to my first book of the same title [Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City is Only the Beginning, Westview Press, 1997] and won the AAN’s national first place prize for social reporting. It is still one the most important stories I have ever uncovered,” says Dyer.

As with BW stories before and since, “Harvest of rage” led to significant national media exposure for the small-market alternative Weekly. Once again the national news organizations from all three networks came calling, along with 48 Hours, The Today Show, Good Morning America and numerous other programs and publications.

Wisconsin Rep. Dave Obey read the entire article into the Congressional Record on April 24, 1997, during a debate on the agriculture bill after chastising his urban-centric colleagues for their lack of understanding on how their actions were affecting the growth of the anti-government movement in rural areas of the nation. Utne Reader reprinted the piece, and Dyer was invited to be a guest lecturer on the subject of domestic terrorism at the 1997 national conference of Investigative Reporters & Editors.

“Good journalism sometimes takes months or even years of research to produce,” says Dyer. “I’ve been doing this kind of work for three decades for some of the best-known news organizations in the country, and Boulder Weekly is the only place I have ever worked as an employee that has been willing to give me the time and freedom I need to produce my best work. It’s why I’m back after a 15-year hiatus. You just can’t do this kind of in-depth, long-form journalism at most news organizations anymore, and I know that our readers appreciate that about Boulder Weekly as much as I do.”