The formation of armed vigilante groups called "unorganized militias" was first viewed in the media as the ranting of a bunch of gun-nuts and crack pots. A year after the Oklahoma City bombing, the nation is still uninformed about what Christian Patriotism is and where it is leading people.
The long-standing failure of the FBI to arrest the Justus Township Freemen in Jordan, Montana on charges of fraud, forgery, and intimidation of public officials has focussed national attention on the individuals involved. However, the near-total absence of informed public discussion has left most Americans in the dark as to what was really going on with the Freemen, the militias and the Christian Patriot faction of white supremacy. Showing the Freemen as cardboard "extremists," the media has not explored the cohesive ideology and -- more importantly -- the theology that guides Christian Patriotism.
One such religion is Christian Identity. Incorporated in Los Angeles in 1948, Wesley Swift's Church of Jesus Christ Christian was initially an racist sect which became Christian Identity. The central belief in Identity doctrine is the existence of two races on earth: a godly white race descended from Adam and a satanic race fathered by Satan.
Swift, a Klan leader and preacher at Amy Semple McPherson's Foursquare Church in Los Angles, was never able to make much of a success out of his doctrine, but it attracted several people who became central to what was later named "Christian Identity": San Jacinto Capt, William Potter Gale and Richard Girnt Butler.
Capt was a California Klan leader and a believer in British Israelism, a doctrine which holds that the Israelites of the Bible are not the Jews, but rather Aryan/Anglo-Saxons. Gale was a stock-broker and former Army officer who briefly served on Gen. MacArthur's staff in the Philippines. Gale in turn recruited Butler to Swift's church during the 1950's. In 1970, Swift died, triggering a dispute between Gale and Butler. Ultimately, Butler assumed control and moved the church to Idaho, where he renamed it Aryan Nations - Church of Jesus Christ Christian.
The function of religion in the lives of these four men was to provide a theological justification for their racism and anti-Semitism. Stated another way, racism and anti-Semitism were their religion. William Gale claimed to have chosen the term "Christian Identity" in 1965, when it was adopted as the name of a newsletter. In Gale's mind, the Identity movement was the glue to hold together racist ideology in the United States. Though he died almost unnoticed in 1987, Gale is the central figure and inspiration for America's present white supremacist movement and Identity doctrine is his legacy to that movement.
Relying mostly on preaching, teaching, radio broadcasts and taped sermons, Gale never left much of a written record behind him. This has led to a consistent undervaluation of the central role William Potter Gale played in the formation of Identity, the Posse Comitatus, Aryan Nations, The Committee of the States, the Unorganized Militia and all the rest of the panoply of militant white supremacy in the United States today.
These means include bombings, sabotage, undermining discipline in the armed forces, counterfeiting, tax evasion, bank robbery, subversion of local governments and law enforcement, fraud, and attempts at nuclear, chemical, biological and psychological warfare. Instances of all of these acts have occurred and -- with the exception of an incident involving nuclear or chemical material -- each of these tactics have been employed in the last twelve months.
Two stories filed with the Associated press on April 6, 1996, "From Bombers To Fed-Fearing Freemen, Outlaws Seek Haven In Wild Northwest" and "Beyond Militias: Extremism's Many Faces Vex Anti-Terrorism Efforts" by AP writer David Foster list the following dozen incidents:
-A pipe bomb exploded outside an office of The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, Wash. Ten minutes later, gunmen robbed a nearby bank and set off a bomb as they left. No one was injured. The methods and a letter left behind bore similarities to past crimes blamed on white supremacists.
-A shed packed with explosives, ammunition and guns exploded 60 miles east of Portland, Ore., breaking windows in nearby homes. Shredded bomb-making literature rained down like confetti. A federal firearms charge was filed against the shed's owner, a self-described survivalist.
-Willie Ray Lampley called himself a "prophet of the most high' and vowed holy war against Jews, gays, abortion doctors and the government. Now Lampley, 65, is standing trial in Oklahoma, accused of plotting with three others to blow up abortion clinics, gay bars and the offices of civil-rights groups.
-Saboteurs derailed an Amtrak train near Phoenix in October, killing one person and injuring 78. No arrests have been made, but a note at the scene, signed by "Sons of the Gestapo," railed against federal heavy-handedness at Waco and Ruby Ridge.
-In December, a fertilizer bomb fizzled outside an Internal Revenue Service office in Reno, Nev. Two tax protesters were charged in the bombing attempt. One pleaded guilty, and the other faces trial in June.
-Two men accused in January of netting more than $250,000 from a string of Midwestern bank robberies may have used the loot to finance a white supremacist militia, officials said. In court papers, one defendant listed his occupation as "revolutionary" and called himself Commander Pedro of the Aryan Republican Army.
-The standoff that began March 25 between the FBI and Montana Freemen, anti-government activists who set up their own government, wrote millions of dollars in bogus checks and threatened to kill anyone who interfered.
-Right-wing extremists were suspected of stealing explosives in five states.
-A tax protester was charged with plotting to blow up an IRS center in Austin, Texas.
-A white supremacist in Ohio tricked a medical lab into mailing him vials of bubonic plague bacteria.
-And, of course, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City.
Most racist politics has its legal and philosophical roots in the "property rights" and "states rights" clauses in the Constitution. These sections of the Constitution were a compromise necessary to enlist the cooperation of the slave-holding states in replacing the unworkable Articles of Confederation with the federal Constitution. The exaltation of the rights of property over the rights of people is a common denominator of the entire right wing of American politics.
Right-wing political movements and establishments have been the norm, rather than the exception, in America since the founding of the Republic. The Anti-Masonic movement of the early 1800's spawned the modern school of history as conspiracy. Anti-Masonic theories -- particularly those which created the myth of the Bavarian Illuminatti's responsibility for nearly everything that has gone wrong for aristocrats, landowners, reactionary Christian hierarchies, and other inhabitants of the far right since the French Revolution -- mutated in the late 1800's from traditional Christian religious anti-Semitism into the virulent racist anti-Semitism which formed the core of international fascism's support for the Nazis rise to power.
The book which started the Illuminatti myth, John Robison's 1797 Proofs of a Conspiracy Against All the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the Secret Meetings of Freemasons, Illuminatti and Reading Societies, is still popular fare among the politically paranoid. I have in my collection of right-wing literature several flyers promoting Robison's Proofs prepared and distributed in 1996 by Ben Hinkle, the leader of a Northwest Washington Populist Party splinter group called Citizens for Liberty.
Robison's fictional view of history as a Satanic conspiracy has become a paranoid pinball, banging around in history for over two hundred years and picking up momentum from the bumpers and flippers of each succeeding wave of reaction against social progress.
Towards the end of the 19th century, traditional religious anti-Semitism suddenly mutated to an explicitly racist form: the "two seed" theory. This theory is the central tenet of Identity doctrine and the basic justification for Christian Patriots' racism and anti-Semitism. The essence of the "two seed" theory is that there are two races on earth: one godly and one satanic.
In an anonymous document titled, "Our de jure county government," and attributed to the Justus Township Freemen, there is an example of "two seed" theory:
...one must understand that "Baal", is the false chief god of the Canaanities,[sic] the descendants of 'Cain', a.k.a., the "jews", none other than "Satan", the father of Cain.
By the "two seed" theory, Jesus was not a Jew, but an Aryan. The Adamic (Aryan) people were the lost tribes of Israel, fled to northern Europe and later became the Christian nations. There are many corollaries to the "two seed" theory which provide justification for racists to claim God's favor:
- Jesus was a Christian (Aryan), not a Jew.
- White superiority is ordained by God and slavery is not repugnant to His sight.
- The Jews are the literal "spawn of Satan" and intent on the extermination of all Christian (i.e. Aryan or Anglo-Saxon) peoples.
The merging of the Illuminatti and "two seed" theories combined race and religion into a doctrine of hate and intolerance at a time that Western society was beginning to accept notions of cultural assimilation and cross-fertilization as normal and healthy. The conspiratorial viewpoint -- with the Satanic Jewish Illuminatti as the focus of fear and dread -- has spawned a substantial occult body of literature. These books are rarely seen or read outside of extreme right wing circles, but they continue to be circulated, quoted and adapted to the present day.
Nesta Webster, a British fascist and anti-Semite, revived Robison at the turn of the century and recast his book in explicitly anti-Semitic terms. At about the same time, the wholly fictitious The Protocals of the Elders of Zion also appeared. The Protocals are an anti-Semitic forgery which claims to provide details of a Jewish conspiracy for world domination. This short book continues to be a staple of anti-Semitic literature and is frequently included in neo-nazi and Christian Patriot books, such as Phillip Marsh's The Complete Patriot.
After the defeat of Nazism, the Jewish Satanic conspiracy was recast as anti-communism in a book by American Col. John Beatty, Iron Curtain Over America. Canadian writer William Guy Carr contributed Red Fog Over America and other conspiracy books which emphasized the role of the Illuminatti. In the 1960's the John Birch Society retold the tale in a sanitized version -- the Illuminatti are replaced with "Insiders" -- in Gary Allen's None Dare Call It Conspiracy. The third printing of Allen's book states that over 5,000,000 copies were printed.
These are only a few of the books, but these titles trace the literary descent from Robison to the present day. Most of these books, with the exception of Nesta Webster's which are quite rare, can be found in almost any town in America. They frequently show up at rummage sales and used book stores. Many of the titles in the anti-Semitic canon have never gone out of print.
The most recent resurgence of the Robison Illuminatti mythos is Rev. Pat Robertson's The New World Order, which draws on both Robison and the more explicitly racist anti-Semites Nesta Webster and Eustace Mullins. One of the more irresponsible statements contained in Robertson's tome is the claim that both Karl Marx and Frederick Engels learned of communism from a "communist rabbi" who was "linked" to the Illuminatti. This passage can be found on pages 69 and 70 in The New World Order. The only "link" mentioned in Robertson's book is that the "communist rabbi" was Jewish.
This historical fact is little known outside of the South. The response to the forcible alteration of the Constitution was a conspiracy theory which asserts all amendments beginning with the 13th and 14th Amendments were never properly ratified and thus are not part of "the supreme Law of the Land" as described in Article VI. This conspiracy theory has become the central myth of Christian Patriot "common law" -- the "organic Constitution."
James Aho, a professor of sociology at the University of Idaho, points out the role of the organic Constitution in justifying disobeying the law:
Christian patriots distinguish between Law and legality, Morality and legalese. The former of these pairs is determined, respectively, by their readings of the so-called organic Constitution (the original Articles of Constitution plus the Bill of Rights) and selected edicts from the Pentateuch the first five books of the Bible). They believe they have little, if any, moral obligation to obey legal statutes inconsistent with Law or Morality. (The Politics of Righteousness: Idaho Christian Patriotism, University of Washington Press, 1990, p. 14)
Took effect is used as there is a great deal of suspicion as to the nature of these amendments (common law vs equity), also whether these last 16 amendments are legal, how many were ratified correctly, do they create a federal constitution in opposition the original, etc. For further studies a good place to begin is with the article by the Utah Supreme Court on the 14th amendment, 439 Pacific Reporter 2d Series, pp 266-276, and Senate Doc. 240.
In its most concise form, the myth of the organic Constitution can be summarized as follows:
The Constitution is a divinely inspired document in which human agency is secondary to God's will. Only the original Constitution and Bill of Rights as signed by the Founders is the supreme Law of the Land and this law should be interpreted in the light of Biblical understanding. All later amendments, laws and regulations are "unconstitutional" in the sense that they "create a federal constitution in opposition to the original."
-The organic Constitution is God's law and the only law of the land.
-"Natural rights" come from God, not the state. The rights enumerated in the divinely inspired organic Constitution are expressions of God's laws and can not be altered by the laws of men.
-The federal government is an "unconstitutional" tyranny and the Constitution must be "upheld" by resisting that tyranny.
-Because the 13th and 14th Amendments are unconstitutional, there are two or more classes of citizen, with only white Christian property-owning males possessing the natural rights of first class citizenship -- "sovereign citizenship." All others are "14th Amendment citizens" and possess inferior rights.
-These "sovereigns" are the only people empowered to interpret the organic Constitution as the law of the land.
The hierarchy with the Christian Patriot sovereigns below God and above all others can be seen in this excerpt from the Justus Freemen's "Our de jure county government":
"Our" Lawful Chain of Command
1. Almighty God, pursuant to His Holy Scriptures, creator of all good and evil;
['So be it']
2. Adam, i.e., White race of Man/Israel, God's chosen People;
3. We the People [Adam] of the Posterity, obedient to the Laws of Almighty God, a.k.a., our 'Common Law';
4. Constitution(s), 1 States' then, 2 National, with limited powers....
5. which created public offices filled by our 'public officers/officials/agents/servants'....
6. 14th Amendment, creating a 'second class of citizens', and at the bottom of the chain, i.e., corporations, persons, subjects, and citizens of the United States, subject to its jurisdiction, Article 1, Section VIII, clause 17, and via the Fourteenth Amendment.
This can -- and frequently does -- lead to considerable confusion and shouting matches in courtrooms, as occurred when the Justus Township Freemen were arraigned.
The Christian Patriot claim that real courts do not have jurisdiction over them is the usual starting point for common law legal shenanigans. The peers of the Christian Patriot Republic refuse to be judged by anyone who is not a Christian Patriot sovereign. Only Christian Patriot common law courts with juries composed of sovereigns can sit in judgement of a sovereign. Should anyone disagree with the sovereign challenging jurisdiction, that disagreement -- even coming from the bench in a real courtroom -- is an "unconstitutional" act and thus proof of treason. Since the penalty for treason is death, the next step is usually a death threat against the judge, sheriff, prosecutor, county clerk or who ever dares to disagree with the sovereign.
In the minds of Christian Patriots, the banks are all controlled by Satan through the Jews. It's not as fashionable these days to say Jews control the banks as it used to be, so the most common catch-phrase is "international bankers." The bigger the bank, the closer to the Prince of Lies. In the minds of Christian Patriots, the center of the entire conspiracy is housed in the Federal Reserve and the creation of the Federal Reserve was part of the Illuminatti conspiracy which also altered the Constitution by passing all those "unconstitutional" amendments to the organic Constitution.
Most conspiracy theories have this sort of internal logic in which everything is connected to everything else -- conclusions become assumptions which lead to conclusions which are the original assumptions -- in a dizzy circle of logic without reason.
The historical circumstances which gave rise to the banking conspiracy theory are many: Disraeli's self-aggrandizing novels, the introduction of "greenback" currency during the Civil War, the role of political corruption in the many railroad and banking scandals of the era surrounding the Civil War, wild swings of inflation and deflation during the boom and bust cycle of the last two decades of the 19th century, the appearance of racial anti Semitism, anti-immigrant hysteria, the rise of the Populist Party and most of all, the Free Silver issue.
Without going into the history of political theories about the "money issue" of the last four decades of the 19th century, suffice it to say that by the end of the 19th century the "banking conspiracy" theory was:
The United States -- and particularly the those states whose economies depended upon wheat, cotton or silver -- had been victimized by an international conspiracy to deflate the value of American goods by the "disappearance" of silver coinage. This conspiracy was directed from Britain by Jews and the House of Rothchild.
In its current form the Christian Patriot "international banking conspiracy" myth now goes:
The Jews who control international banking have centralized financial institutions into a monolithic conspiracy which is able to direct the affairs of governments by currency manipulation and expanding the national debt. The Internal Revenue Service, Federal Reserve, World Bank and a few other institutions now seek to control every individual by issuing tax-payer identification numbers, credit cards and, in the most recent twist, implanted "microchip" transponders. All of this is related to the Scriptural prophesy in Revelations 13:15-18 about "the mark of the Beast ." As "money" becomes separated from the real value of gold and silver by the use of paper currency, checks, electronic funds transfers and other forms, the resulting monetary system has become a fraud. This fraud works through all aspects of the system of taxation, licensing, banking and lending with the goal of enslaving the world population to the "international bankers."
- The Satanic/Jewish conspiracy;
- The role of whites as the chosen people of the "real" Nation/Race of Israel;
-a The central place of financial institutions in the conspiracy;
Researchers and experts familiar with Christian Patriotism have adopted two complementary metaphors which capture the structural role of these beliefs:
- the "conveyor belt" or "funnel" by which the recruiting and indoctrination of Christian Patriots takes place; and
- the role of conspiracy theories and Identity doctrine as the "motor" which drives the Christian Patriot movement.
As Zeskind explained the metaphor of the conveyor belt, people come into contact with political or religious groups looking for answers to the problems of society. Political affiliation is not tightly compartmented and there is always overlap with other groups.
The members of political/religious minorities draw upon larger groups for their recruits. One often sees these recruiters hanging around the fringes of meetings, seeking to make contact with people who might be sympathetic to their cause The recruiters frequently ask to speak before other groups so that they can give their opinions wider exposure. In this way, there is a chain of association that connects most groups across a wide range of opinion and belief. As a potential convert becomes dissatisfied with one group, there is usually a recruiter for another -- and perhaps more extreme -- set of opinions somewhere nearby.
According to Zeskind, this chain of association acts like a conveyor belt to carry susceptible people towards extreme actions and beliefs.
Ken Toole is director of the Montana Human Rights Network, the first civil-liberties group to come into direct confrontation with militias. Toole takes a slightly different view from Zeskind's, but the image of people being actively selected by their sympathy for particular beliefs is also present. In Ken Stern's recent book on the militias, A Force Upon the Plain, Toole explained how this works:
"It's like a funnel moving through space," said Toole. "At the front end, it's picking up lots and lots of people by hitting on issues that have wide appeal, like gun control and environmental restrictions, which enrage many people here out West. Then you go a little bit further into the funnel, and it's about ideology, about the oppressiveness of the federal government. Then, further in, you get into the belief systems. The conspiracy. The Illuminatti. The Freemasons. Then, it's about the anti-Semitic conspiracy. Finally, at the narrow end of the funnel, you've drawn in the hard core, where you get someone like Tim McVey popping out.... [T]he bigger the front end of the funnel is, the bigger the number that get to the core."
Among experts, the overwhelming majority agree that Christian Identity provides the "motor" for recruitment, propaganda and militant action by Christian Patriot white supremacists.
A mandate from God is a powerful thing to true believers.