Searching for a Demon: The Media Construction of the Militia Movement

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UPNE, 2002 - Social Science - 272 pages
This provocative volume thoroughly examines the ways in which the media demonized militia groups following the devastating bombing of the Alfred F. Murrah building in Oklahoma City. Using quantitative and qualitative research methods, Steven M. Chermak offers a fresh perspective on how news coverage and popular entertainment transformed a largely overlooked movement into a symbol for this new threat of domestic terrorism and ignited a national panic over the "militia menace."

Searching for a Demon describes the representation of the militia movement in the news media, editorial cartoons, films, and television. Chermak delves into such topics as the type and amount of coverage after the blast, how social problems are constructed in the news, the motivations and biases of authoritative or "celebrity" figures used as news sources, and why images of militias were framed in specific ways. Chermak balances his account with an in-depth look at the philosophies, activities, and strategies of militia groups. Drawing on extensive interviews he conducted at gun shows and preparedness exhibitions, the author compares and contrasts media depictions of militia life and ideology with the firsthand accounts of members and leaders themselves, and he assesses how media coverage affected changes in the movement. In conclusion, Chermak discusses the parallels between media treatment of militias in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing and the coverage of the al-Qaeda terrorist network after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Solidly grounded in social constructionist theory, Searching for a Demon fills a significant gap in the literature on terrorism as well as on the roles of the news media and popular culture in reshaping the public consciousness after dramatic crimes.

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In this book, Chermak examines how media create public understanding of militia movements and how different types of media create worldwide panic over such movements. The primary strength of the book lay in its ability to give due attention to a topic not typically addressed within criminology and applying the concept of moral panic to it. Overall, I would recommend this book to those interested in militia movements as well as moral panic theory and the sociology of deviance.
Reviewed by: BRIAN KIELMAN


Constructing Community Boundaries
Ruby Ridge and Waco Revisited
The Rise and Fall of Militias
Voices of Good and Evil
Terrorists and Outsiders
Confirming the Threat
Popular Culture and Militias
Constructing Good Demons

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About the author (2002)

Steven M. Chermak is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Director of Graduate Affairs at Indiana University. He is the author of Victims in the News: Crime and the American News Media and numerous articles on media coverage of crime.

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