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Extremism in the defense of stupidity is a vice

There was shootout last week between police officers in Louisiana and what appear to be seven individuals associated with [1] the sovereign citizens movement [2]. It’s the most recent tragedy in a string of anti-government attacks [3] by followers of the ideology including Jared Loughner’s shooting spree last year [4]. As Barry Goldwater once famously quipped [5], “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”. Posse comitatus and the sovereign citizens movement should probably be viewed as an exception to Barry’s rule.

This latest attack resulted in two dead and two wounded officers in a pair of sequential shootouts starting in the parking lot of an oil refinery. Two members of the group were also wounded. One of them was a member of the notorious white supremacist-infested “posse comitatus” [6]:

Louisiana Ambush Suspect Tied To ‘Anti-Government Group’

Nick R. Martin August 17, 2012, 5:50 PM

A year ago, he was wanted by Nebraska authorities for allegedly making “terroristic threats” to law enforcement.

By Friday, investigators said Kyle Joekel, 28, was one of seven people involved in what was being described as a pair of ambushes on sheriff’s deputies outside of New Orleans. Two deputies were killed and two others wounded before it all came to an end early Thursday morning.

According to a report by the Shreveport Times, investigators in Louisiana had Joekel on their radar for months before the shooting and believed he was part of some sort of “anti-government group.”

The details of the incident were not immediately clear on Friday afternoon, but the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported [7] that the sheriff of Gage County believed Joekel was part of a group known as Posse Comitatus. The group, which was largely active in the 1970s and 80s, was seen as the precursor to the sovereign citizens movement.

“It just didn’t look right,” Sheriff Millard “Gus” Gustafson told the newspaper. “These guys would be driving around at night, and they’d have weapons on the front seat. If you’re doing that, something’s wrong — you’re either hunting illegally or doing something else.”

Posse comitatus, a far-right anti-tax/anti-government movement that doesn’t recognize legal authority above the level of county sheriff, is an especially important radical movement to understand within the context of the current economic crisis and the financial sector looting that led up to it. It emerged in the 1970’s and 80’s in rural America as a farming crisis displaced and dislocated rural communities. Not only was it a predecesor to the sovereign citizens movement and the larger collection of survivalist-oriented, anti-tax/IRS, Christian Identity far-right white spremacist underground that exists today. It was also a trailblazer in “paper terrorism” and some very strange legal theories [8]:

The Washington Monthly
Too Weird
for The Wire
May/June/July 2008

How black Baltimore drug dealers are
using white supremacist legal
theories to confound the Feds

By Kevin Carey

In November 16, 2005, Willie “Bo” Mitchell and three co-defendants—Shelton “Little Rock” Harris, Shelly “Wayne” Martin, and Shawn Earl Gardner— appeared for a hearing in the modern federal courthouse in downtown Baltimore, Maryland. The four African American men were facing federal charges of racketeering, weapons possession, drug dealing, and five counts of first-degree murder. For nearly two years the prosecutors had been methodically building their case, with the aim of putting the defendants to death. In Baltimore, which has a murder rate eight times higher than that of New York City, such cases are depressingly commonplace.

A few minutes after 10 a.m., United States District Court Judge Andre M. Davis took his seat and began his introductory remarks. Suddenly, the leader of the defendants, Willie Mitchell, a short, unremarkable looking twenty-eight-yearold with close-cropped hair, leapt from his chair, grabbed a microphone, and launched into a bizarre soliloquy.

“I am not a defendant,” Mitchell declared. “I do not have attorneys.” The court “lacks territorial jurisdiction over me,” he argued, to the amazement of his lawyers. To support these contentions, he cited decades-old acts of Congress involving the abandonment of the gold standard and the creation of the Federal Reserve. Judge Davis, a Baltimore-born African American in his late fifties, tried to interrupt. “I object,” Mitchell repeated robotically. Shelly Martin and Shelton Harris followed Mitchell to the microphone, giving the same speech verbatim. Their attorneys tried to intervene, but when Harris’s lawyer leaned over to speak to him, Harris shoved him away.

Judge Davis ordered the three defendants to be removed from the court, and turned to Gardner, who had, until then, remained quiet. But Gardner, too, intoned the same strange speech. “I am Shawn Earl Gardner, live man, flesh and blood,” he proclaimed. Every time the judge referred to him as “the defendant” or “Mr. Gardner,” Gardner automatically interrupted: “My name is Shawn Earl Gardner, sir.” Davis tried to explain to Gardner that his behavior was putting his chances of acquittal or leniency at risk. “Don’t throw your life away,” Davis pleaded. But Gardner wouldn’t stop. Judge Davis concluded the hearing, determined to find out what was going on.

As it turned out, he wasn’t alone. In the previous year, nearly twenty defendants in other Baltimore cases had begun adopting what lawyers in the federal courthouse came to call “the flesh-and-blood defense.” The defense, such as it is, boils down to this: As officers of the court, all defense lawyers are really on the government’s side, having sworn an oath to uphold a vast, century-old conspiracy to conceal the fact that most aspects of the federal government are illegitimate, including the courts, which have no constitutional authority to bring people to trial. The defendants also believed that a legal distinction could be drawn between their name as written on their indictment and their true identity as a “flesh and blood man.”

Judge Davis and his law clerk pored over the case files, which led them to a series of strange Web sites. The fleshand- blood defense, they discovered, came from a place far from Baltimore, from people as different from Willie Mitchell as people could possibly be. Its antecedents stretched back decades, involving religious zealots, gun nuts, tax protestors, and violent separatists driven by theories that had fueled delusions of Aryan supremacy and race war in gun-loaded compounds in the wilds of Montana and Idaho. Although Mitchell and his peers didn’t know it, they were inheriting the intellectual legacy of white supremacists who believe that America was irrevocably broken when the 14th Amendment provided equal rights to former slaves. It was the ideology that inspired the Oklahoma City bombing, the biggest act of domestic terrorism in the nation’s history, and now, a decade later, it had somehow sprouted in the crime-ridden ghettos of Baltimore.

Note that these ideas that the US constitution negates virtually all federal laws (and most other laws) are found in the youtube videos made by Jared Loughner…along with a strange grammer obsession. Loughner sort of puts a new spin on the term “grammer nazi” [4].

Skipping down in the article…

A month after the hearing, Judge Davis took the unusual step of issuing a written opinion denying all of the defendant’s “unusual—if not bizarre” arguments. “Perhaps they would even be humorous,” Davis wrote, “were the stakes not so high … It is truly ironic that four African- American defendants here apparently rely on an ideology derived from a famously discredited notion: the illegitimacy of the Fourteenth Amendment.” One can understand his incredulity that four Baltimore drug dealers might invoke a racist argument that dates back to the nineteenth century. But as it turns out, that’s when the seeds of the flesh-and-blood defense were sown.

In 1878, southern Democrats pushed legislation through Congress limiting the ability of the federal government to marshal troops on U.S. soil. Known as Posse Comitatus, (Latin for “power of the county”) the law’s authors hoped to constrain the government’s ability to protect black southerners from violence and discrimination. The act symbolically marked the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of Jim Crow.

For the next eight decades, black Americans lived under the yoke of institutional racism. But by the late 1950s, the civil rights movement was growing in strength. In 1957, President Eisenhower sent 1,200 troops from the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Arkansas, so that nine black students could safely enter a previously all-white high school. The landmark Civil Rights Act followed in 1964.

These developments horrified one William Gale, a World War II veteran, insurance salesman, self-styled minister of racist Christian Identity theology, and raving anti-Semite. In 1971, he launched a movement whose impact would reverberate through the radical fringes of American society for decades to come. He called it Posse Comitatus, named for the 1878 law he believed Eisenhower had violated by sending the troops to Little Rock. In a series of tapes and self-published pamphlets, Gale explained that county sheriffs were the supreme legal law enforcement officers in the land, and that county residents had the right to form a posse to enforce the Constitution—however they, as “sovereign citizens,” chose to interpret it. Public officials who interfered, instructed Gale, should be “hung by the neck” at high noon.

Gale’s racist beliefs were hardly unique. His singular innovation was to devise a “legal” philosophy that was enormously appealing to disaffected, alienated citizens. It was a promise of power, a means of asserting that they were the true inheritors of the founding fathers’ ideal, a dream they believed had been corrupted by a vast conspiracy that only they could see. Gale’s ideas gave people on the paranoid edge of society a collective identity. It told them what they desperately wanted to hear: that the federal government was illegitimate, and that the legal weapons the state used to oppress them could be turned against the state.

Soon, Posses were sprouting across the country, attracting veterans of the 1960s-era tax protest movement, Second Amendment absolutists, Christian Identity adherents, and ardent anti-communists who had abandoned the John Birch Society because they felt the organization wasn’t extreme enough. Local groups would meet to share literature, listen to tapes of Gale’s sermons, and discuss preparations for the approaching End Times. This extremist stew produced exotic amalgamations of paranoia, such as when Posse members would explain the need for local militias to stockpile weapons in order to defend white Christians from blacks in the coming race war sparked by the inevitable economic collapse caused by the income tax and a cabal of international Jewish bankers bent on global dominance through one world government, for Satan.

While local Posses would periodically confront law enforcement officials in the 1970s, (usually in property disputes), they were often incompetent, and few people were hurt. But things took a serious turn in 1978, when thousands of farmers rallied in Washington D.C. seeking relief from low commodity prices, high interest rates, and farm debt. When Congressional relief attempts failed, some farmers became susceptible to peddlers of the Posse ideology, which preached that the farm crisis had been brought on by the international Jewish banking conspiracy, abandonment of the gold standard and a malevolent Federal Reserve.

It’s an important lesson we can learn from the rise of posse comitatus in the 70’s and 80’s: When governments fail to address the economic troubles facing their citizens, those citizens tend to become much more amenable to extreme nationalism and conspiracy theories, especially the existing legacy conspiracy theories of a cabal of international jewish bankers. One lesson we can take away from this is that any movement that wants to promote such theories/worldviews has an incentive to destroy the economy in order to radicalize the populace. It’s a lesson the public really needs to learn in the context of a global recession brought on by an international financial crisis because the banks haven’t been the only sectors of society bailed out in the wake of the financial crisis. A number of bankrupt political ideologies have also [9] been bailed out [10] by the government’s kid glove treatment of the financial sector [11] after the obscene behavior by the banksters [12].


By 1982, Bill Gale had flown to Kansas to conduct paramilitary training and indoctrination for splinter groups of disaffected farmers. At night, a country music station in Dodge City broadcast tapes of Gale’s sermons. “You’re either going to get back to the Constitution of the United States in your government,” he intoned, “or officials are gonna hang by the neck until they’re dead … Arise and fight! If a Jew comes near you, run a sword through him.” As Posse ideology rippled across the distressed farm belt, violence followed. Several deadly confrontations between Posse adherents and law enforcement made national headlines; Geraldo Rivera descended on Nebraska to document the “Seeds of Hate” in America’s heartland. By 1987, Gale’s rhetoric had escalated further. He told his followers that “You’ve got an enemy government running around … its source and its location is Washington, D.C., and the federal buildings they’ve built with your tax money all over the cities in this land.”

Hucksters and charlatans prowled the Midwest as the farm crisis deepened, selling desperate farmers expensive seminars and prepackaged legal defenses “guaranteed” to cancel debts and forestall foreclosure. Since the gold standard had been abandoned in 1933, they argued, money had no inherent value, and so neither did their debts. All they had to do, farmers were told, was opt out of the system by sending a letter to the appropriate authorities renouncing their driver’s license, birth certificate, and social security number. That number was allegedly tied to a secret government account held in a secure subterranean facility in lower Manhattan, where citizens are used as collateral against international debts issued by the Fed and everyone’s name is on a master list, spelled in capital letters—the very same capital letters used in the official court documents detailing foreclosure and other actions against them. The capital letter name was nothing but an artificial construct, they were told, a legal “straw man.” It wasn’t them—natural, live, flesh and blood men.

Bill Gale died on April 28, 1988, three months after being sentenced in federal court for conspiracy, tax crimes, and mailing death threats to the Internal Revenue Service. By that time, the farm crisis had begun to recede. Posse ideology simmered for the next few years, morphing into the “Christian Patriot” movement, which sanded down some of the roughest racist and anti-Semitic edges while retaining the core beliefs of Constitutional fundamentalism. The patriots saw themselves as “sovereign citizens,” unlike the “federal citizens” who had been created by the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

The deadly confrontations between federal agents and extremists at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and Waco, Texas in 1993 brought latent anger with the federal government back to a boil. The militia movement of the 1990s built on Posse tenets of county- based, self-organized paramilitary groups led by citizens expressing their basic Constitutional rights. Most groups stuck with conducting survivalist training camps and filing bogus liens against houses owned by local judges. But a few did much more.

In 1993, a Michigan farmer and survivalist named James Nichols was pulled over for speeding. Instead of simply paying the fine, he argued in court that his “sovereign citizen” status made him immune to prosecution. That same year, James’ brother Terry tried to pay off a $17,000 debt with a fake check issued by a radical “family farm preservation” group run by Posse adherents. Two years later, Terry Nichols helped to bring the Posse’s anti-government hatred to its ultimate fruition. On April 18, 1995, he and a friend named Timothy McVeigh loaded 108 fifty-pound bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer into a Ryder truck. The next day, McVeigh bombed the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people on the second anniversary of Waco.

As the above article indicates, posse comitatus is rooted in the desire to establish a white-supremacist god-ordained utopia of constitutionally mandated really really really small government. And no Jewish bankers. It’s sort of early version for the broader spectrum of militant far-right movements we’ve seen exploding across the US over the last couple of decades, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and his direct co-conspirators. Think of the posse comitatus worldview as sort of the John Birch Society viewed through the lens of a militant hyper-Libertarian Christian Identity [13] neo-nazi. They’re pretty extreme but also somewhat prototypical for the hardcore ‘Patriot’ scene [14]:

Rush, Newspeak
and Fascism:
An exegesis

by David Neiwert

POSTED AUGUST 30, 2003 —

V. Proto-Fascism in America

by David Neiwert

It’s clear by now, I hope, that fascism isn’t something peculiar to Europe, but in fact grew out of an impulse that appears throughout history in many different cultures. This impulse is, as Roger Griffin puts it, “ultra-nationalism that aspires to bring about the renewal of a nation’s entire political culture.”

We needn’t look far to find this impulse at play in the American landscape — social, religious and political renewal all appear as constant (though perhaps not yet dominant) themes of Republican propaganda now. But it is especially prevalent on the extremist right; indeed, it’s probably a definitive trait.

Griffin argues that current-day fascism is “groupuscular” in nature — that is, it forms out of smallish but virulent, potentially lethal and certainly problematic “organisms”:

After the war the dank conditions for revolutionary nationalism “dried out” to a point where it could no longer form into a single-minded slime mould. Since party-political space was largely closed to it, even in its diminutive versions, it moved increasingly into disparate niches within civic and uncivic space, often assuming a “metapolitical” mode in which it focussed on changing the “cultural hegemony” of the dominant liberal capitalist system. … Where revolutionary nationalism pursued violent tactics they were no longer institutionalised and movement-based, but of a sporadic, anarchic, and terroristic nature. To the uninitiated observer it seemed that where once planets great and small of ultra-nationalist energies had dominated the skies, there now circled an asteroid belt of fragments, mostly invisible to the naked eye.19

When we consider some of the other historical traits of fascism, including those it shares with other forms of totalitarianism, then it becomes much easier to identify the political factions that are most clearly proto-fascist — that is, potentially fascist, if not explicitly so. (As Paxton argues, its latent expression will not necessarily represent its mature form.) Surveying the American scene, it is clear that just such a movement already exists. And in fact, it had already inspired, before 9/11, the most horrendous terrorist attack ever on American soil. It calls itself the “Patriot” movement.

You may have heard that this movement is dead. It isn’t, quite yet. And its potential danger to the American way of life is still very much with us.

Those who have read In God’s Country know that I conclude, in the Afterword, that the Patriot movement represents a genuine proto-fascist element: “a uniquely American kind of fascism.” Let’s explore this point in a little more detail.

As Griffin suggests, the “groupuscular” form that postwar fascism has taken seems to pose little threat, but it remains latent in the woodwork:

But the danger of the groupuscular right is not only at the level of the challenge to “cultural hegemony”. Its existence as a permanent, practically unsuppressible ingredient of civil and uncivil society also ensures the continued “production” of racists and fanatics. On occasion these are able to subvert democratic, pacifist opposition to globalisation, as has been seen when they have infiltrated the “No Logo” movement with a revolutionary, violent dynamic all too easily exploited by governments to tar all protesters with the same brush. Others choose instead to pursue the path of entryism by joining mainstream reformist parties, thus ensuring that both mainstream conservative parties and neo-populist parties contain a fringe of ideologically “prepared” hard-core extremists. Moreover, while the semi-clandestine groupuscular form now adopted by hard-core activist and metapolitical fascism cannot spawn the uniformed paramilitary cadres of the 1930s, it is ideally suited to breeding lone wolf terrorists and self-styled “political soldiers” in trainers and bomber-jackets dedicated to a tactic of subversion known in Italian as “spontaneism”. [Emphasis mine] By reading the rationalised hate that they find on their screens as a revelation they transform their brooding malaise into a sense of mission and turn the servers of their book-marked web groupuscules into their masters.

Griffin identifies this manifestation of fascism not only in Europe but in the United States:

One of the earliest such acts of terrorism on record harks back to halcyon pre-PC days. When Kohler Gundolf committed the Oktoberfest bombing in 1980 it was initially attributed to a “nutter” working independently of the organised right. Yet it later transpired that he had been a member of the West German groupuscule, Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann. It also emerged at the trial of the “Oklahoma bomber”, Timothy McVeigh, that he had been deeply influenced by the USA’s thriving groupuscular right subculture. His disaffection with the contemporary state of the nation had been politicised by his exposure to the shadowy revolutionary subculture created by the patriotic militias, rifle clubs and survivalists. In particular, his belief that he had been personally called to do something to break ZOG’s (the so-called Zionist Occupation Government) stranglehold on America had crystallised into a plan on reading The Turner Diaries by William Pierce, head of the National Alliance.20

Conservatives have successfully re-airbrushed the Oklahoma City bombing as the act of a single maniac (or two) rather than the piece of right-wing terrorism it was, derived wholly from an ideological stew of venomous hate that has simultaneously been seeping into mainstream conservatism throughout the 1990s and since.


Note that the 1980 Oktoberfest bombing in Munich was reviewed in 2011 and the bomber was indeed part of a larger neo-nazi network but the investigators intentionally ignored these links and pushed the ‘lone wolf’ story in order to avoid the political fall out for the German right-wing [15]. It’s a phenomena frequently found (often upon later investigations) `into the many ‘lone wolf’ US domestic terrorists [16]:

Washington Post
Behind the Lone Terrorist, a Pack Mentality

By Mike German
Sunday, June 5, 2005

The FBI has long maintained that Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in 2001 for the Oklahoma City bombing that claimed 168 lives, was the prototypical “lone wolf” terrorist and that anyone implicated in the bombing conspiracy is behind bars. But old loose ends and troubling new revelations about McVeigh’s association with white supremacist groups have led many people to wonder whether a wider conspiracy was behind the bombing that took place just over 10 years ago. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, is considering holding hearings to try to answer these lingering questions. What he is likely to discover is not a disagreement over the facts, but a fundamental misperception of how most extremist groups operate.

Most people have never been to a Ku Klux Klan rally or a militia meeting; you don’t stumble into one by walking through the wrong door at the dentist’s office. Chances are, you wouldn’t know how to find where a white supremacist group meets in your community. In fact, you’d probably be shocked to learn that there was one in your community.

I learned how extremist groups operate firsthand as an FBI undercover agent assigned to fight domestic terrorism. They don’t always call themselves the KKK or the militia; they sometimes use benign names that mask their true nature. They might wear Nazi symbols right on their sleeves, but they might not. They could be just a couple of grumpy old geezers who meet for coffee at a local cafe, or a few young punks looking for trouble, or even one guy sitting in his basement chatting on neo-Nazi Web sites. But they are all part of an underground extremist community.

Even if you could find them, they wouldn’t just welcome you into a meeting. They tend to be suspicious of strangers. They use coded language and symbols that help them distinguish insiders from the uninitiated, and they are careful to avoid infiltrators.

But every once in a while, a follower of these movements bursts violently into our world, with deadly consequences — McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, Buford Furrow Jr., Paul Hill, to name just a few. And all these convicted murderers were identified as “lone extremists,” the most difficult terrorists to stop because they act independently from any organization.

Or do they?

Tim McVeigh seemed able to find a militia meeting wherever he went. He was linked to militia groups in Arizona and Michigan, white supremacist groups in Oklahoma and Missouri, and at gun shows he sold copies of “The Turner Diaries,” a racist novel written by the founder of a neo-Nazi organization. No one finds such groups by accident. Eric Rudolph, who planted bombs at the Atlanta Olympics, two abortion clinics and a gay nightclub, grew up in the Christian Identity movement, which identifies whites as God’s chosen people and encourages the faithful to follow the biblical example of Phineas by becoming instruments of God’s vengeance. Aryan Nations, formerly of Hayden Lake, Idaho, was a center of Christian Identity thought; not incidentally, Buford Furrow worked there as a security guard before going on a shooting rampage at a Jewish day-care center in Southern California. Paul Hill wrote of the need to take “Phineas actions” to prevent abortions and was so well known that the news media used him to speak in support of Michael Griffin’s killing of abortion doctor David Gunn. That Hill later shot an abortion provider himself should have surprised no one.

The fact that these individuals, after being exposed to extremist ideology, each committed violent acts might lead a reasonable person to suspect the existence of a wider conspiracy. Imagine a very smart leader of an extremist movement, one who understands the First Amendment and criminal conspiracy laws, telling his followers not to depend on specific instructions.

He might tell them to divorce themselves from the group before they commit a violent act; to act individually or in small groups so that others in the movement could avoid criminal liability. This methodology creates a win-win situation for the extremist leader — the violent goals of the group are met without the legal consequences.

Actually, there’s no need to imagine this. Extremist group leaders produce a tremendous amount of literature, including training manuals on “leaderless resistance” and lone wolf terrorism techniques. These manuals have been around for years and now they’re even available online.

Beyond the grizzly reality that Louisiana police officers were just ambushed and gunned down by a bunch of political extremists, part of the reason that the string of attacks by the sovereign citizens (and now posse comitatus) is so topical is because both posse comitatus and the sovereign citizens are example of “leaderless resistance [17]” and encourage the creation of both independent cells and the kinds of “independent” cells described in the above excerpt. It’s a type of “leaderless resistance” that’s become easier than ever before with the creation of the internet p(The Michigan Militia was already using the internet to communicate its message prior to the Oklahoma City bombing [18]). And since folks can’t help but notice [19] that there have quite a few right wing lone wolves in recent [20] years [21], an obvious question for society is just how large the sympathetic community could be for these movements. As the previous article excerpt from “Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis [14]” discussed, posse comitatus is a kind of extreme prototype for the much larger Patriot/militia movement that has ebbed and waned in the US over the past couple of decades and the sovereign citizens appear to be a sort of “posse comitatus 2.0”: a posse comitatus-like worldview stripped of much of the underlying racism with an exclusive focus on the strange legal theories. So when we see a group of sovereign citizens team up with a posse comitatus member to ambush the police it’s sort of like seeing the past and future of US far-right political extremism inhabit the same senseless act and same senseless political space. And parts of that same senseless political space is not only shared by a number of ‘Patriot’ and far-right groups with a history of violence but, increasingly the Republican Party [14]:

Rush, Newspeak
and Fascism:
An exegesis

by David Neiwert

POSTED AUGUST 30, 2003 —

V. Proto-Fascism in America

by David Neiwert

The Patriot movement that inspired Tim McVeigh and his cohorts — as well as a string of other would-be right-wing terrorists who were involved in some 40-odd other cases in the five years following April 15, 1995 — indeed is descended almost directly from overtly fascist elements in American politics. Much of its political and “legal” philosophy is derived from the “Posse Comitatus” movement of the 1970s and ‘80s, which itself originated (in the 1960s) from the teachings of renowned anti-Semite William Potter Gale, and further propagated by Mike Beach, a former “Silver Shirt” follower of neo-Nazi ideologue William Dudley Pelley.21

Though the Patriot movement is fairly multifaceted, most Americans have a view of it mostly through the media images related to a single facet — the often pathetic collection of bunglers and fantasists known as the militia movement. Moreover, they’ve been told that the militia movement is dead.

It is, more or less. (And the whys of that, as we will see, are crucial here.) But the Patriot movement — oh, it’s alive and reasonably well. Let’s put it this way: It isn’t going away anytime soon.

Note that this article excerpt was published in 2003, and the observation that the Patriot movement is “dead” has, itself, expired [22].


The militia “movement” was only one strategy in the broad coalition of right-wing extremists who call themselves the “Patriot” movement. What this movement really represents is the attempt of old nationalist, white-supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies to mainstream themselves by stripping away the arguments about race and ethnicity, and focusing almost single-mindedly on their underlying political and legal philosophies — which all come wrapped up, of course, in the neat little Manichean package of conspiracy theories. In the process, most of their spokesmen carefully eschew race talk or Jew-baiting, but refer instead to “welfare queens” and “international bankers” and the “New World Order”.

Forming militias was a strategy mainly aimed at recruiting from the mainstream, particularly among gun owners. It eventually fell prey to disrepute and entropy, for reasons we’ll explore in a bit. However, there are other Patriot strategies that have proved to have greater endurance, particularly “common law courts” and their various permutations, all of which revolve around the idea of “sovereign citizenship,” which makes every white Christian male American, essentially, a king unto himself. The movement is, as always, mutable. It includes a number of “constitutionalist” tax-protest movements, as well as certain “home schooling” factions and anti-abortion extremists.

As I explained it in the Afterword of In God’s Country:

…[T]he Patriots are not Nazis, nor even neo-Nazis. Rather, they are at least the seedbed, if not the realization, of a uniquely American kind of fascism. This is an overused term, its potency diluted by overuse and overstatement. However, there can be little mistaking the nature of the Patriot movement as essentially fascist in the purest sense of the word. The beliefs it embodies fit, with startling clarity, the definition of fascism as it has come to be understood by historians and sociologists: a political movement based in populist ultranationalism and focused on an a core mythic ideal of phoenix-like societal rebirth, attained through a return to “traditional values.”

As with previous forms of fascism, its affective power is based on irrational drives and mythical assumptions; its followers find in it an outlet for idealism and self-sacrifice; yet on close inspection, much of its support actually derives from an array of personal material and psychological motivations. It is not merely an accident, either, that the movement and its belief systems are directly descended from earlier manifestations of overt fascism in the Northwest — notably the Ku Klux Klan, Silver Shirts, the Posse Comitatus and the Aryan Nations. Like all these uniquely American fascist groups, the Patriots share a commingling of fundamentalist Christianity with their ethnic and political agenda, driven by a desire to shape America into a “Christian nation.”22

Griffin, in The Nature of Fascism, appears almost to be describing the Patriot movement two years before it arose, particularly in his description (pp. 36-37) of populist ultra-nationalism, which he says “repudiates both ‘traditional’ and ‘legal/rational’ forms of politics in favour of prevalently ‘charismatic’ ones in which the cohesion and dynamics of movements depends almost exclusively on the capacity of their leaders to inspire loyalty and action … It tends to be associated with a concept of the nation as a ‘higher’ racial, historical, spiritual or organic reality which embraces all the members of its ethical community who belong to it.”

The Patriot movement certainly is in a down cycle, and has been since the end of the 1990s. Its recruitment numbers are way down. Its visibility and level of activity are in stasis, if not decline. But right-wing extremism has always gone in cycles. It never goes away — it only becomes latent, and resurrects itself when the conditions are right.

And during these down periods, the remaining True Believers tend to become even more radicalized. There is already a spiral of violent behavior associated with Patriot beliefs, particularly among the younger and more paranoid adherents. As Griffin suggests, we can probably expect to see an increase in these “lone wolf” kind of attacks in coming years.

But there is a more significant aspect to the apparent decline of the Patriot movement: Its believers, its thousands of footsoldiers, and its agenda, never went away. These folks didn’t stop believing that Clinton was the anti-Christ or that he intended to enslave us all under the New World Order. They didn’t stop believing it was appropriate to pre-emptively murder “baby killers” or that Jews secretly conspire to control the world.

No, they’re still with us, but they’re not active much in militias anymore. They’ve been absorbed by the Republican Party.

They haven’t changed. But they are changing the party.

Once again, note that the above article was published in 2003. It’s been nine long years since the above observation that the GOP had already absorbed the ‘Patriot’/militia movements of the 90’s and what a nine years it’s been. Now, it’s important to reiterate that you average GOP member would probably find the sovereign citizens to be absolute lunatics and posse comitatus to repugnant at best. At the same time, it’s important to reiterate that posse comitatus, the sovereign citizens, the general ‘Patriot’ movement all share a common underlying John Birch Society-style conspiratorial worldview [23]. And it’s a conspiratorial worldview increasingly shared with the Tea Party base. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a good conspiracy theory, but this is bad mojo [24]:

Tea time with the posse: Inside an Idaho Tea Party Patriots conference
Written by Devin Burghart
Monday, 18 April 2011 10:02

A year ago, Pam Stout, a soft-spoken 67 year-old retiree from Bonners Ferry, Idaho was featured in the New York Times and asked to appear on the David Letterman show. She performed swimmingly, and portrayed the Tea Party as a wholesome movement of Middle Americans concerned about issues like TARP and health care reform.

An inside look at a recent Tea Party event organized by Stout shows a very different side of the Tea Parties, and highlights a disturbing direction taken by many local groups.

Little talk of repealing “Obamacare” or of modifying objectionable provisions of healthcare legislation took place at Stout’s “Patriots Unite” event, held March 26. The impending possibility of a government shutdown due to an impasse over the budget was hardly mentioned. Nary a word was spoken about bailouts or taxes. Instead, speakers at this Tea Party event gave the crowd a heavy dose of racist “birther” attacks on President Obama, discussions of the conspiracy behind the problem facing America (complete with anti-Semitic illustration), Christian nationalism, anti-environmentalism, and serious calls for legislation promoting states’ rights and “nullification.”

Stout, the Idaho state coordinator for Tea Party Patriots attracted around seventy Tea Party activists from Idaho, Montana, and Washington to the Coeur D’Alene Inn for the conference. The goal: to bring isolated Tea Party groups together. Originally scheduled as a two-day conference, Stout noted that the event was shortened because, “our workshop presenters are still in Wisconsin” presumably engaged in Tea Party anti-union organizing efforts.

States’ Rights and Nullification

What Shea proposed is called the doctrine of nullification, part of the secessionist states-rights position which argues that individual states can unilaterally refuse to follow or enforce federal law they don’t agree with, or even abandon their relationship with the federal government completely if they’d like. These beliefs underlay the Confederates states’ rationale for seceding during the Civil War era, and also undergirded the defense of “legalized” Jim Crow segregation in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, thanks to the Tea Party surge, this set of ideas has moved back into the mainstream.

The John Birch Society and Anti-Semitism

After a short break, Leah Southwell, the national development officer for the John Birch Society (JBS) took the stage. She made sure to point out one of the Birch organizers in the house, Dale Pearce, from Nampa. Southwell also introduced her colleague Robert Brown, the Birch Society organizer for the region.

The John Birch Society has been part of the far-right since its founding in 1958. It has promoted a number of anti-communist conspiracy theories over the years, but its members occasionally veer off to advance more directly racist or anti-Semitic ideas. As a result of the Tea Party upsurge, the Birchers have found a more ready audience willing to buy what they are selling. That was the case in Idaho during this conference.

Brown’s did a PowerPoint presentation with a collection of slides entitled “The Power of 500.” It attempted to convey a diagnosis of “the root of the problem” facing America. But in actuality, his speech was like a far-right version of the on-line game Mad Libs – a fill-in-the-blank conspiracy with culprits left to the audience members imaginations.

Some in the crowd took it upon themselves to start shouting out answers. “The Trilateral Commission,” yelled one man. “The Council on Foreign Relations,” blurted another. “The Bilderburgers,” declared a third. Brown didn’t dissuade any of their suggestions; instead he just kept hinting that the real root of the problem was bigger and more ominous.

Brown credited the John Birch Society strategy with “real change,” citing policies in Oklahoma such as a law prohibiting a NAFTA superhighway passing through the state, and a statute prohibiting use of Sharia law.

“The only thing that works is the John Birch Society approach,” Brown told the audience. While admitting the big Tea Party rallies of 2009 were a “big shot in the arm to the freedom movement,” Brown calculated that the money spent to get people to those rallies would be better spent hiring organizers (presumably Birch organizers) in every congressional district.

During the question session, a radio host from Sandpoint said, “The Birch Society used to be the whipping boys and laughing stocks of the movement. How do we get beyond getting blackballed?

Brown said that “repeat exposure” to John Birch Society ideas was the key. It took him a while to get comfortable with the Birch Society, too, he confessed. He then went on to try to again link the Birchers and the Tea Parties, claiming that the way they attack the JBS is similar to the way they try to smear the Tea Party. “When you’re getting flack, you know you’re over target,” he exclaimed, to the delight of the audience.

Over lunch, many of the attendees expressed their pleasant surprise at the at Brown’s presentation and his approach. “I thought… “ahh, those Birchers…,’” noted one attendee, “but now I have a different opinion.”

Robert Brown (the John Birch society representative quoted above) was quite right when he advocated repeat exposure as the best technique for the John Birch Society to move past getting blackballed by the larger conservative movement. Repeat exposure to their worldview has worked wonders for the Birchers with the larger conservative movement [25]. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the chief architects for the Tea Party and the contemporary GOP have a long history with the John Birch Society [26]:

Tea Party Blood Ties: The reemergence of the John Birch Society in 2012

2012 Politcs
August 19, 2012
By: Gregory Boyce

In the mind of most liberal thinking Americans who stand staunchly on the side of America’s struggling 99%, there isn’t an ounce of doubt that tens of millions of fellow hard working and well-meaning Americans who religiously cast their ballot as “Republicans” are in reality being brainwashed, hoodwinked and manipulated by the new {but not improved} John Birch Society and their rambunctious “grandchildren”,… The Tea Party.

This insidious manipulation to dupe moderate Republicans into believing “America and freedom” is under siege by Socialism and Communism is being orchestrated by well-spoken, well-groomed and well-paid ultra-conservative politicians. Their “game” is to create in the mind of White voters a strong belief that America’s White European heritage is under attack and if gone unchallenged, White American culture will go the way of the dinosaur.

Historians and older Americans have heard this rant before, it’s not new, indeed, creating boogeymen while simultaneously selling fear and hatred is an ancient tactic that is often used by power-hungry humans.

The John Birch Society is an American far-right political advocacy group that vehemently supports an anti-communist, limited government, and “personal freedom” political platform, even if accomplishing their objective comes at the expense of wrongfully smearing Americans who stand up for civil rights, labor unions, a diverse America and the limiting of big business’ influence in our government and in our lives. It was the John Birch Society that branded American General and President, Dwight D. Eisenhower “an agent of Communism.” Even JFK was accused by the John Birch Society as being a Communist sympathizer and an American traitor. Members simply believe that absolutely no one (that is targeted) is above their smear campaigns and their modern day “Salem Witch Hunts”.

The John Birch society warned in a recorded 1963 speech that still survives on tape in a University of Michigan archive, that “Americans must always be on high alert against a takeover of America in which Communists would infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until eventually the office of the presidency is occupied by a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.”

In essence this exact same speech can be heard at Tea Rallies across America in 2012.

The ultra-conservative mantra of “The Communists are out to get you” was sung by the Birch Society in 1958 and fifty years later it’s still being sung by the Tea Partiers in the 21st century. The John Birch Society and the Tea Party, “two peas in a pod” or again, is it all just a coincidence?

“Behind the velvet curtains”, Koch family foundations have contributed tens of millions of dollars to Dick Armey’s “Freedom Works” which in turn serves as a major sponsor to the Tea Party. Tax records indicate that from 1998 to 2008, Koch-controlled foundations have donated more than $196 million to its conservative foundations and institutions.

With the coupling of free 24/7 media exposure from Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News empire and the seemingly endless supply of money from David and Charles Koch, the Koch-Murdoch collaboration is an ultra-conservative force that has used talented “actors” to build / prime a political base that is inspired by a fear of an America that doesn’t resemble a Norman Rockwell painting.

When David Koch ran to the political right of Reagan as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket, he campaigned for the elimination of Social Security, welfare and federal regulatory agencies. He also campaigned on abolishing the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools. Sounds familiar?

Oh…and by the way….

Koch Industries, based out of Wichita, Kansas, began with oil exploration and drilling in the 1930s and now manufactures a vast variety of industrial products. From Dixie cups to Lycra, – a synthetic fiber known for its exceptional elasticity – Koch Industries have made the Koch brothers billionaires and like their father, Fred C. Koch, they view the world in ultra conservative “hues.”

Fred Koch, a MIT graduate was a founding father of the John Birch Society and was among a select group of ultra conservatives that was chosen to serve on the John Birch Society’s top governing body.

Another coincidence? We don’t think so.

The takeover of the GOP by the Tea Party is now a well established political reality in the US, as is the primary sponsorship of the Tea Party by the billionaire Koch brothers. But as the above article points out, a takeover of the GOP by the Tea Party is, in effect, a takeover of the GOP by the John Birch Society. Or at least by the general “there’s a commie hiding under you bed”-worldview held by the Birchers (note that the anti-communist views of the Kock brothers is somewhat ironic [27]). Unfortunately, because the John Birch Society shares so much ideological overlap with movements like posse comitatus and the sovereign citizens [23], the recent surge in the popularity of far-right conspiracy theories also means there’s going to be an inevitable increase in general exposure to violent radical anti-government movements like posse comitatus. It’s just a mouse-click away these days.

Now, to be sure, we should not equate the Tea Party members with posse comitatus or the sovereign citizens [2]. The vast majority Tea Party members may hold a really really really conservative political perspective. What makes the rise in the number of attacks by sovereign citizen cells so disturbing is that it’s a sign of the inevitable: The vast vast majority of individuals currently “drinking the Tea”, so to speak, are simply very conservative Glenn Beck fans. While they might dream of some pretty radical overhauls of society, they would still never share the kind of ultra-radical visions of society by the sovereign citizens, posse comitatus or any of the other radical fringe groups that share that Bircher worldview. And as Jared Loughner demonstrates, the appeal of the sovereign citizens is not limited to the right-wing [28], especially when mental illness is involved [29].

The threat of violent radicalism of the posse comitatus variety is nothing new. Timothy McVeigh and Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolf [30] took the political grievances to the same violent “next level” of in the 90’s and both were steeped in the kind of “leaderless resistance” violence characterized by posse comitatus. And that “leaderless resistance” form of “political activism” is still very much in the fringe. But with estimates of up to 100,000 ‘hard core’ sovereign citizen adherents and as many as 200,000 “dabblers” in the ideology [31] we unfortunately should expect a growing percentage of unhinged and/or desperate individuals to become immersed in the sometimes violent underworld of far-right quasi-anarchist/quasi-fascist extremism in coming years. Many ideas that would have considered the sole domain of conspiratorial militia groups are now acceptable “red meat” suitable for public consumption so a lot of memes pushing the next Jared Loughner are simply part of the din of the daily discourse. For instance, in addition to the general “President Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Socialist” refrain, there’s the “Obama is secretly planning on implementing ‘Agenda 21’ in order to turn us into a globalist communist hell hole” meme. And that’s pretty much the John Birch Society/’Patriot’ movement rebooted [32]:

Think Progress
Republican Party Officially Embraces ‘Garbage’ Agenda 21 Conspiracy Theories As Its National Platform

By Stephen Lacey on Aug 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm

If you want to understand just how extreme and conspiratorial many in the “mainstream” Republican party have become, look no further than a resolution on Agenda 21 passed quietly in January.

Agenda 21 is a completely non-binding international framework for sustainability passed in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit. The framework, which sets out very loose aspirational goals for making communities more efficient and less carbon-intensive, was signed by then President George H.W. Bush and later upheld by Presidents Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush.

Since the framework was adopted, right-wing conspiracy theorists have pushed bizarre theories about Agenda 21 being a central tool for the United Nations to create a one-world government and take away the rights of local property owners. In recent years, elevated by the megaphone of extreme pundits like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, these conspiracies made their way into mainstream politics. Today, Agenda 21ers — many affiliated with the Tea Party and the John Birch Society — are peddling fears about Agenda 21 in order to stop basic efficiency and renewable energy programs on the state level.

Conspiracy theorists active in politics have called Agenda 21 “socialism on steroids” that would cause Americans to be “herded into centers like the UN wants.”

So what do these historically-challenged and completely inaccurate claims have to do with the Republican party? The Republican National Committee has officially adopted these conspiracy theories as its national platform. In January, the RNC adopted a resolution calling Agenda 21 “insidious” and “covert.”

The United Nations Agenda 21 is being covertly pushed into local communities throughout the United States of America through the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) through local “sustainable development” policies such as Smart Growth, Wildlands Project, Resilient Cities, Regional Visioning Projects, and other “Green” or “Alternative” projects

The Republican National Committee recognizes the destructive and insidious nature of United Nations Agenda 21 and hereby exposes to the public and public policy makers the dangerous intent of the plan.

Interestingly, Agenda 21 activist Victoria Baer is a big supporter of Florida Tea Partier Ted Yoho, a man who unseat Republican Representative Cliff Stearns in a major upset during a primary race yesterday. Along with supporting the Agenda 21 conspiracy, Yoho also believes we should abolish the Department of Energy — the agency tasked with protecting our nuclear waste and nuclear weapons arsenal.

This is where the mainstream Republican party is headed.

So what are the origins of this bizarre shift in policy? And why have Agenda 21 activists gained such prominence within mainstream politics?

To explore the issue, I spoke with Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Potok has been tracking the rise of the Agenda 21 movement, which is rooted in the John Birch Society — a radical right-wing group that opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because they said it infringed on states’ rights. But Potok says that the issue is much broader than one single conspiracy and one single group.

Stephen Lacey: Many folks within the Agenda 21 movement have come from or are loosely aligned with the John Birch Society. So give us some background, what is the John Birch Society, how did it get formed, and what does it represent today?

Mark Potok: Well, it’s no surprise that it’s the John Birch Society that seems to be the primary pusher of the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory. I say that because they are most infamous, really, for two things. One is accusing President Eisenhower of being a “Communist agent,” which was a surprise certainly to Eisenhower. And the other, which is perhaps more like Agenda 21, is for their promotion of the idea that putting fluoride in drinking water is a plot to convert our children and all the rest of us to Communism. In other words, this is an organization that from the very beginning has touted completely ludicrous and baseless conspiracy theories. And, in fact, the John Birch Society was essentially driven out of the Conservative movement because it was such an embarrassment.

SL: But they’ve made a resurgence in recent years. What do they represent today? How are they becoming aligned with supposedly more mainstream Conservatives? And how have they regained a foothold in politics?

MP: It is hard to understand exactly how the John Birch Society has made itself more palatable to “mainstream” conservatives. The John Birch society began to reappear in a fairly significant way back in the 1990s when virtually every gun show in America, or every large gun show, had a booth with the organization. Back then, they were very heavily promoting the militia movement, as well as various conspiracies they believed the federal government was involved in. Then they sort of went quiet with the rest of the militia movement, which more or less petered out at the end of the 1990s. And in the last few years they have suddenly reappeared with quite remarkable success.

So the real answer to your question is that I do not quite understand how the John Birch Society has gotten so many city councils and county commissions and even state legislatures to listen to their nonsense. But they have. I suspect that it is related less to them having a huge amount of money or enormous numbers of people, and more to do with the idea that we’ve become so polarized politically as a nation that this kind of tripe really sells today. You know, what is most astounding of all is that the Republican National Committee has adopted oppositions to Agenda 21 as a core part of its platform and has asked that Mitt Romney include it as a part of his convention platform when the GOP convention gathers later this month.

SL: Well, let’s get into Agenda 21 more. For people who are paranoid about the UN promoting a One World Government, this is a gold mine for conspiracy theories. How has this group evolved and become more vocal?

MP: This is very similar to what we see going on with regard to arms control, gun control. The fact is, Barack Obama has done literally nothing on gun control except to allow further loosening of gun regulations to go forward — for instance, to allow people to open carry weapons in National Parks. And yet, there are groups out there that say that as soon as he is reelected — if in fact that happens — he will grab all Americans’ weapons and throw anyone who resists into concentration camps that have been secretly built by the government.

I think what’s happening with Agenda 21 is something very similar. There is an enormous, enormous amount of misinformation and plain foolishness being touted in the political mainstream as fact. We live in an era in which a Congresswoman [Michele Bachmann] is perfectly happy to accuse someone in the Department of State, with absolutely no basis whatsoever, of being an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. My own Congressman, Spencer Baucus, from the middle of Alabama, has claimed that he personally knows that there are 17 Socialists secretly in the Congress. Alan West, another Congressman, said the other day he knew of 70 Communists in the government.

So, you know, this is the kind of garbage we are seeing every day now. And this has been going on for quite a little while. Let’s not forget that a candidate for President of the United States, Sarah Palin, just a few years ago, suggested that the President’s attempts to pass some kind of national healthcare plan, or extension of healthcare to more people in this country, was actually a plot to set up Death Panels to decide whether your and my grandmothers would live or die. So I just think that we live, sadly enough, at a time where conspiracy theories are pretty much destroying any kind of reasonable political dialogue in this country.

SL: You point to political partisanship as a main factor. But as you look throughout history at how conspiracy theorists and hate groups have grown, what other conditions need to be in place to make these theories so prevalent?

MP: I think that what is really going on is that the world is changing. And in our country, we’re seeing change in fairly dramatic ways. So, you see these kinds of crazy theories pop up at a time when major changes are a foot in our society — changes that really cause people to struggle, that make a significant number of people out there genuinely uncomfortable.

There are many things happening right now. Probably the most significant is that we, as a country, are losing our white majority. The census bureau has predicted that whites will fall under 50 percent of the population by the year 2050. Well, you know, that’s an enormous change. It’s already happened in California 12 years ago. And as a result, the politics of that state changed significantly. So it’s those kinds of changes, along with the very serious dislocations caused by economic globalization and by the kind of decline in the power of the nation state.

If the Agenda 21 “UN communist takeover of the US” stuff adopted by GOP seems a little too arcane for most people to latch onto, what we just saw coming from a judge in Texas should adequately clarify that meme for public consumption [33]:

Texas Judge Warns Of ‘Civil War, Maybe’ If Obama Wins
Nick R. Martin August 22, 2012, 3:26 PM

Updated: August 22, 2012, 4:08 PM

Texas Judge Tom Head is worried about what might happen if President Obama wins reelection in November. There could be riots, unrest or a “civil war, maybe,” he told a local television station this week.

Because of that, the Lubbock County judge has decided the only way to prepare is to increase taxes to help beef up local law enforcement.

“I’m thinking worst case scenario now,” Head said during an appearance on FOX 34 in Lubbock. “Civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war, maybe. And we’re not talking just a few riots here and demonstrations, we’re talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy.”

The judge spun the elaborate conspiracy theory while calling for a 1.7 cent hike per $100 on property taxes in Lubbock County, a measure being considered by the commission there. He said he feared Obama would hand over sovereignty of the United States to the United Nations and the unrest would naturally follow.

Head’s role as judge is an elected position akin to executive of the county commission, which is known as a court. He presides over commission meetings, prepares the budget and is in charge of the county’s emergency management.

Under Head’s theory, the United Nations would then send in peacekeeping troops to try to quell the violence and that’s where he would draw the line. He vowed to stand in front of the county’s armored vehicle and stare down the U.N. troops if that happens.

In keeping with “UN takeover meme”, we also find the chairman of the House Oversight Comittee pushing the classic “the government is plotting to take your guns away so it can forcibly implement a secret global communist agenda” meme [34]:

LA Times
Targeting Eric Holder, Darrell Issa buys into gun nut delusions

By David Horsey

June 22, 2012, 5:00 a.m.

The brouhaha over Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and the contempt of Congress charge brought by U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) are providing new evidence that the lunatics are running the Republican asylum.

Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, would have us believe President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege in the dispute — “an eleventh-hour stunt,” he called it on Fox News — is part of a White House cover up of something much more sinister.

At issue are Justice Department documents related to a botched Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operation run out of the bureau’s Phoenix office. As the ATF had done at least twice during the administration of George W. Bush, Operation Fast and Furious allowed illegal purchases of about 2,500 guns so that agents could follow the trail of the firearms to drug gangs in Mexico. In the event, the Phoenix team lost track of the guns, only to have a couple of them turn up after a firefight in which Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed.

When Congress began looking into the failed operation, the Phoenix office made things worse by providing false information to the DOJ that was then passed on to the investigating committee. Now, the committee wants every document related to the incident. Holder, backed by the president, is refusing to give Congress complete access.

In response, conservative bloggers have gone ballistic about Obama’s invocation of executive privilege, comparing it to Richard Nixon’s Watergate cover-up.

Just what is being covered up is not so apparent, at least to objective observers. But less-than-objective right-wing conspiracy theorists have a ready answer: Operation Fast and Furious was part of an elaborate plot to undermine the 2nd Amendment and take away citizens’ guns.

Michael Vanderboegh, a blogger with militia ties and a long history of talking up armed resistance to the government, asserts that the ATF purposely let the guns go to the bad guys in Mexico so that, after the ensuing bloodbath, the feds could justify a crackdown on assault weapons and gun shows.

Now, to rational human beings, that may sound totally ludicrous, but not to the folks at Fox News. They have made Vanderboegh a prime source for their coverage of this dispute, being elastic enough in their measure of qualifications to identify him as an “online journalist.” It’s not just Fox News, though. Vanderboegh’s curious theory has been picked up and repeated by Republican members of Congress, including Iowa’s previously sane Sen. Charles E. Grassley who, in a TV interview, echoed the idea that Obama and Holder could be using the Phoenix fiasco to build a case against gun rights.

This fits in with the broader conspiracy theory of Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Assn. The NRA boss has insisted that the reason Obama has done nothing to harm the 2nd Amendment in his first term is so he can win another four years in office, at which point his administration will start confiscating guns with no fear of retribution from voters. According to LaPierre, Obama is not taking your guns now so he can take them later.

And then there’s the mainstreaming of ironically militant “pro-life” politics [35]:

Sheriff Candidate OK With Deadly Force To Stop Abortions

Nick R. Martin August 22, 2012, 7:07 PM

Frank Szabo wants the people of Hillsborough County, N.H., to know that if they elect him as sheriff this year, he will do whatever it takes to stop doctors from performing abortions — even if that means using deadly force.

In an interview on Wednesday with local television station WMUR, Szabo said he believed sheriffs were granted special powers under the Constitution. That means, he said, he would be empowered to arrest or even use deadly force against doctors for providing legal abortions for women.

“I would hope that it wouldn’t come to that, as with any situation where someone was in danger,” Szabo said. “But again, specifically talking about elective abortions and late term abortions, that is an act that needs to be stopped.”

He clarified it did not apply to cases in which the mother’s life was in danger. “That’s a medical decision. That’s out of the area I’m talking about,” he said.

It’s not clear what kind of chance Szabo has at winning the race. He claims endorsements from Jack Kimball, the former chairman of the state Republican Party, as well as multiple tea party groups. But WMUR reported that the state’s House speaker was already calling for Szabo to drop out of the race after his comments surfaced.

Szabo said he believed sheriffs are given enormous authority under his interpretation of the Constitution. When pressed about what he would do if a prosecutor declined to charge a doctor he arrested, he said the answer was simple.

“If they choose not to do their duty and uphold the Constitution,” Szabo said, “they can be brought up on charges before what’s called a citizen’s grand jury, which is something that’s not that common in the United States. But again, it is something based in common law that’s within the purview of the county sheriff.

On top of the militant “pro-life” stance did you catch the posse comitatus lingo? “Special constitutional powers” for county sheriff’s and “citizens’ grand juries”? That certainly sounds familiar [36]. Now, given that Mr. Szabo apologized and retracted his statements [37], it might be easy to write off most of these fringe examples of extremism that don’t represent the political mainstream. But that would ignore the reality that contemporary mainstream politics appears to be focused on the definition of “legitimate rape” within the context of abortion restriction exemptions [38]. It would also ignore the reality that Mr. Szabo appeared to be willing to temper his abortion opposition when the health of the mother was a risk, which is less extreme than Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s long-standing stance on the topic [39]. In other words, once Szabo retracted his position on the use of lethal force against abortion providers, his stance on the topic appeared to actually be less extreme than the GOP’s Vice Presidential candidate. And that’s just on example of the crazy state of affairs [40] in US politics.

Returning to the topic of the growing number of attacks on government and law enforcement by by a cell of sovereign citizens led a posse comitatus member, what are we to make of such a situation when the national meta-discourse has started to resemble a John Birch Society gathering [41]? Well, for starters, it will do absolutely no good to simply refute all aspects of this Bircher-esque worldview. Asserting that government conspiracies can’t/don’t take place or that there isn’t a long history of egregious behavior by power international financial interests is both stupid and wrong [42]. Bogus conspiracy theories can and should be addressed and refuted (usually fairly easily). Sadly, the best messengers for refuting this ‘Patriot’/militia worldview would be the leaders from within the conservative movement itself and that’s not very likely to happen anytime soon [43].

So, can anything be done about the ongoing and growth and mainstreaming of this sector of extremism? Well, one positive approach might be to celebrate the march of progress. After after, the US may be once again in the midst of some form of hysteria and neo-McCarthyism, but when the top neo-McCarthyites in congress are Alan West and Michelle Bachmann pushing these Bircher memes [44] at least we can celebrate the far-right’s steps towards a post-racial [45]/gender-neutral [46] form of far-right nuttiness. There was never any reason why far-right fringe politics in the US would have to retain its racist tenor and it appears that the next generation of “sovereign citizens” really will encompass a more post-racial attitude. It may not be much, but it’s something [47]:

The Daily Beast
The Patriot Movement’s New Bestseller Tests Their Anti-Racism
Jun 8, 2012 4:19 PM EDT
J.M. Berger

Years after the racism of The Turner Diaries inspired Timothy McVeigh, the Patriot Movement has embraced a new bestselling series. J.M. Berger reads closely to see what they say about race and government in America.

An American Nazi Party volunteer recently produced a three-minute online video promoting the group’s platform. It spotlighted issues like the national debt, gas prices, domestic oil drilling, and America’s wars.

Almost as an aside, it mentions affirmative action. And despite some provocative imagery, the video never mentions the words Jew or black, or any related ethnic slurs. A white nationalist blogger praised the video for not “spamming people with inane Holocaust statistics or endless dry arguments over whether or not gas chambers existed.” Many militia groups now explicitly tell would-be members that they can’t also belong to a hate group.

Racism just doesn’t sell like it used to.

The paint is peeling on the mythical age of white hegemony that once provided a strong backbone for the Patriot movement, a diverse collection of loosely connected anti-government groups and ideologies that motivated Timothy McVeigh and many others.

Groups under the Patriot umbrella have often, but not always, embraced racial politics. The movement’s origins were heavily influenced by racist activists such as white nationalist William Pierce, author of the infamous 1978 novel The Turner Diaries, a dystopian novel about a racist revolution, which inspired a slew of imitators and successors.

Since the 1990s, some within the movement have tried to sideline or redefine its racial politics—whether out of sincere conviction or to avoid an inconvenient stigma—and focus on other issues such as gun rights, survivalism, individual liberties, traditional morality, and Constitutional hyper purity.

This process has gone far enough to suggest the outlines of what a post-racial Patriot movement might look like. Consider Enemies Foreign and Domestic, a Patriot-themed novel self-published by former Navy SEAL Matthew Bracken in 2003. Known to fans as EFAD, it’s the first in a trilogy of political thrillers. The plot goes like this: A rogue ATF agent stages a terrorist attack and blames it on an alleged racist militia (which turns out to be neither racist nor a militia). The attack is used as a pretext for repressive gun seizures by misguided liberals, while the ATF villain foments more trouble, killing innocent gun owners, and framing them as racist terrorists. In response, a series of individuals and small groups rise up to carry out acts of resistance and/or terrorism, culminating in a direct confrontation with the villain.

While spotlighting several Patriot memes, the first book in the trilogy has an almost militant multicultural drumbeat. EFAD’s heroes come from almost every imaginable ethnic background—white, black, Arab and Jewish. Between its serviceable writing and self-inoculation against charges of racism, EFAD is probably as close to a mainstream recruitment tool as the Patriot movement could hope for.

During February and March of this year, Bracken made the book available for free as an Amazon Kindle e-book, and several Patriot blogs and Twitter feeds spent significant time promoting it, resulting in a brief stint as the No. 1 free Kindle book on Amazon. The idea was to break into the mainstream of conservative media (talk radio and the like). That effort fell short, but an online posting by organizers said more than 30,000 copies were downloaded.

EFAD represents a sharp break from its Patriot Lit forefathers, most infamously Pierce’s The Turner Diaries. That book has inspired at least dozens of admirers who tried to realize its concept of a revolution born from a campaign of terrorism, Timothy McVeigh among them. Told from the first-person perspective of a terrorist named Earl Turner, “Diaries” drips with racial animus from its opening pages, in which “negroes” armed with baseball bats forcibly disarm white Americans to enforce a repressive gun control bill. This inspires a general uprising targeting the government, Jews, and blacks and culminates in the use of nuclear weapons to ethnically cleanse New York, Washington, D.C., and Tel Aviv. White encampments are constructed in what remains of the United States; “race traitors” (such as those who intermarried with minorities) are summarily lynched.

In short, it is not a pleasant book, either for its values or its mind-numbing prose, reading more like a nasty after-action report than a story. Despite its limitations, The Turner Diaries spawned a legion of badly written dystopian future tales of race war, which are distributed online and in self-published tomes.

Unlike EFAD, The Turner Diaries and many of its imitators preach exclusively to the racist choir, aiming to inspire existing racists to action rather than trying to attract new blood for a broader anti-government movement. But EFAD’s depiction of a racially egalitarian, pro-gun, anti-government groundswell may be more evolution than revolution. The trilogy’s second and third books Domestic Enemies: The Reconquista released around 2006 and Foreign Enemies and Traitors in 2009—continue to separate racial hate and love for liberty, but they do so while drawing ever deeper from the well of white racial paranoia.

Book two describes the takeover of the American Southwest by illegal immigrants, specifically Hispanic racists out to reclaim their historic lands from the “gringos.”

This dramatic shift toward racial politics is offset by the fact that the book’s major protagonists are all brown people, from a Lebanese Arab heroine to a half-Cuban FBI agent to a crypto-Jewish-Hispanic-American former journalist. (The author’s olive branch to people of color does not, incidentally, extend to Muslims, gays, college professors, or people with piercings).

Book three, featuring a corrupt president who invites foreign mercenaries to run rampant on U.S. soil, sees Bracken’s continued stipulations against racism slowly but surely shouted down by the arrival of Earl Turner’s world. After an earthquake demolishes Memphis, black refugees turn into a seething mob of gang-rapists and cannibals—characterizations that feature memorably in The Turner Diaries—while urban blacks loot a path from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., where they demand and receive a new Socialist constitution engineered by a thinly veiled caricature of President Obama. The narrative disclaimers continue—one character condemns white racist killings in the chaos after the quake, and a battle-weary white racist girl near the end of the book accepts a hand of comfort offered by a black Army medic. But these and other moments of individual race grace are hard pressed to counterweight the vivid, lengthy depiction of African-Americans en masse as cannibal rapists directly responsible for destroying America’s Constitution.

EFAD perhaps illustrates both how far and how not-far the Patriot movement has come over the years. Inasmuch as the movement coheres, it has shifted from fairly open and aggressive racism to a more ambivalent, conflicted posture. It’s not uncommon for Patriot movement members to vehemently deny they are racists, even as they speak in hushed, reverential tones about Turner author William Pierce. Bracken doesn’t have that particular problem. In response to an email requesting an interview, he called The Turner Diaries a “racist screed” and insisted it brooks no comparison to his series, angrily declining to answer questions.

On the other hand, in a recent online posting, Bracken advised people who want to be safe from a possibly impending civil war to analyze where they live based on a spectrum of rich vs. poor, urban vs. rural—and lighter skin vs. darker skin.

Racism has been the Achilles’ heel of efforts to unify the Patriots for as long as the movement has existed, with different factions embracing wildly different views about whether to embrace it and to what degree. The Patriot subset that declines to accept racism continues to cope with the issue unevenly and defensively. As in mainstream politics, those who wish to participate or influence the direction of the movement face pressure to cater to the radical base.

The result is a muddled message in which racism may be vocally condemned, but race war is deemed inevitable. Traditional racist language is avoided as taboo, but racial stereotyping is seen as “facing facts.”

It is a rarified vision of a non-racist “realism” that can alienate white nationalist insiders while looking to outsiders like a distinction without a difference.

Awww, isn’t that precious: sure, a race war is inevitable, but racism is still bad. Now THAT’s progress! Anyone else feeling all warm [48] and [49] fuzzy [50]?