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Rural America: 'If government's the problem, shoot it.'

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Perhaps it would help to think of Chincoteague’s early Colonial tax dodgers as our bucolic pioneers in the disregard of the law – a tradition that still thrives. Fifteen percent of Americans admit they are likely to cheat on their taxes, according to a recent survey. Two-thirds of that group are men, mostly young and single. And nearly half say they are one paycheck away from financial disaster.

Increasingly, and not just in the tax arena, it seems Americans are looking at a distressed moral landscape, which often takes form as local poverty and blight.

Rural crime and lawlessness

Traditionally, it is cities that have been viewed as centers of crime and lawlessness, but that is somewhat misleading. “One of the least understood topics in the field of criminology and criminal justice is that of rural crime,” wrote Joseph Donnermeyer, a professor of rural sociology at Ohio State University and director of the national rural crime prevention center, in 1995.

Rural Americans – and the politicians who patronize them – have promoted the idea that they are the nation’s upholders of righteousness, morality, and virtue. But this agrarian myth conveniently ignores our rustic romance with rural crime, from Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger to moon-shiners, the Ku Klux Klan, and marijuana farming.

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