For several days after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Office building in Oklahoma City, America indulged itself in an ugly display of racial scapegoating. The "pursuit" of supposed "Islamic bombers" continued for nearly three days after the echoes of the blast which killed 168 innocent people. During the first two days after the bombing, the foreign press accurately assigned responsibility to a domestic "militia movement." The exposure of a radical, widespread and steadily growing anti-democratic movement with a strong paramilitary posture was a terrible shock to the American people.
The mainstream media is still struggling to tell the story of who the terrorists are and why they would see mass murder as a reasonable act.1 There has been a curious effort to paint the movement as some sort of aberration or mass psychosis on the part of a few extremists.2 The apparent lack of a formal organization behind the bombing has been accepted as further proof that there is nothing to worry about.
There is considerable cause for concern. A movement with over 5 million participants is not marginal, particularly when it is overwhelmingly middle-class in both economic and social terms.
The anti-democratic movement in America spans most of the Right, from the shrill demagogues on the fringe of the Republican Party through the violence-prone factions of the homophobic and anti-abortion Christian Right, into the anti-environmentalist Wise Use Movement and over to the furthest reaches of the Racist Right of the Liberty Lobby and the white supremacist resurgence. These extremists drag with them a plethora of issues that appeal to the worst expression of the American political character -- lynch mobs and vigilante groups, the WASP Killer Elite -- angry white "Patriots" with guns.
There has been far too much emphasis on the colorful "militia movement." There is no militia movement.3 Intimidation by publicly promoting armed violence is not a movement -- it is a tactic.
There is an anti-democratic movement. It resulted from the convergence of the Christian Right and white supremacists. The Christian Right, a powerful political movement now suffering the moderation and institutionalization of success, is committed to replacing secular politics with theocracy. The white supremacists donated their long-standing commitment to indiscriminate mass murder.4
These two extremist factions have found a way to "mainstream" their message by forming an alliance with the radical right wing of the political spectrum. Extremist movements gain power by two simultaneous tactics: the suppression of opposition and recruitment. The rise of the anti-democratic movement was accompanied by the suppression of responsible conservative factions, strident attacks on liberals and selective terrorism directed at abortion providers, environmentalists, immigrants and government employees. Disenfranchised and alienated white voters who feel cast aside from the national economy are the most fertile recruiting ground. These tactics have made bigotry, prejudice and fear the predominant issues on the national political scene.
Post-millenial theology, an obscure interpretation of the apocalypse and a subset of Dominionism.6 One post-millenial faction in Dominon theology, the Reconstructionists, believe the Christ will return only after Christians have maintained theocratic hegemony for 1,000 years. Post-millenial believers think that we are in the "end-time tribulations" and only the assumption of power by true believers will end the tribulations. There is a growing rapproachment between various post-millenial sects and the racist and anti-Semitic Christian Identity movement. The Turner Diaries, a novel by neo-nazi William Pierce, is framed in a neo-nazi post-millenial viewpoint. Post-millenial theology is heroic altruism and a death cult all wrapped up into one tidy package.
The resurgence of the "States Rights" movement, which has been dormant since the White Citizens Councils failed in their opposition to the Civil Rights movement. The national resurrection of the Racist Right leads the attack on federal environmental, health, safety, education, immigration and welfare policies. These issues span factions of both major parties, with the Republicans leading the way. The attempt to undo the social, political and economic gains of minorities is the common ground for targeting those who can least defend themselves against political attack, harassment and violations of their rights.
The newly radicalized "gun rights" movement that sprang into being after the passage of the Brady bill.7 Mostly white, the "gun rights" movement claims a Constitutional "right to keep and bear arms" supersedes any government regulatory power.8 The tragedies at Ruby Ridge and Waco are rallying cries for the "gun rights" movement.
The Wise Use "property rights" movement that seeks to make property owners a higher class of citizen.9 The "takings" issue that Wise Use pushes is a distorted reading of the Fifth Amendment -- a legal interpretation last used by slaveholders to demand compensation as a precondition for emancipation.10 In many Western States, Wise Use is second only to the Christian Right as a cohesive right-wing voting block. From its inception, Wise Use has had an ugly history of terrorism, violence, harassment and smear attacks on environmentalists.11 In many areas throughout America, Wise Use groups were the prime point of contact for militia organizing.12
The violent anti-abortion underground has repeatedly committed indiscriminate mass murder, bombings, arson, harassment, intimidation and physical assault in an attempt to deny the civil rights of medical patients.13 In 1992-1993 alone, 27 abortion clinics were fire-bombed, 229 clinics were vandalized and 50 clinics were victims of anti-abortion blockades. In the past 21 months, assassination attempts against abortion clinic personnel have left five dead, and five seriously injured.14 Homophobia is a prime candidate for the next cross-over by the extreme Christian Right to murderous violence. The potential spur to murder is the failure of political action to radically restrict the civil rights of homosexuals. With the impending collapse of the gay-bashing initiative campaigns, the most radical members of the Christian homophobic movement may turn to apocalyptic terrorism.
The Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA), an organization that promotes a supposed "right" of jurors to "nullify" laws by moving for acquittal even though the facts of the case would justify conviction.15 In fact, juries have always had the ability apply the law as they see fit. In effect, consensual jury nullification is one of the main reasons that few white men have been convicted of racial murder. "No jury would ever convict..." expresses jury nullification in a nutshell. Jury nullification and the inability of local prosecuting attorneys to press charges for racially motivated crimes was the major impetus for federal intervention in civil rights law enforcement. FIJA's proposal is a "get out of jail free card" for local majorities to attack minorities or anyone to ignore the law. FIJA has successfully mainstreamed its appeal to a wide audience -- even Alexander Cockburn, a left-wing columnist, has sung their praises.16
The "County Supremacy" movement which is expressed in the Catron County strategy of "custom and culture" ordinances and the more extreme posturing of Dick Carver, a county commissioner from Nye County, Nevada.17 County supremacy ordinances seek usurp control of the public's lands under federal and state trusteeship. The National Federal Lands Conference, a Wise Use organization that promotes the Catron version of county supremacy has endorsed militias in their literature. Dick Carver has sought alliances with white supremacists and the racist Christian Identity movement.18
The "right-wing tax resistance" movement that serves as a cover for white supremacy, anti-semitism, and a horrifying array of paranoid conspiracy theories that center on taxes, banking and the Federal Reserve. Also known as "constitutionalists," the roots of right-wing tax resistance trace back to the Posse Comitatus, the Minutemen and the Christian Patriot movement.19
These components of anti-democratic militancy exist do not as separate movements. There is a substantial -- and in many cases total -- overlap between them.
It is not unusual to find literature promoting all of the above issues at a single "Patriot" meeting. The overlap between Wise Use and white supremacy has been noted in anti-Indian activities in particular. Purchasers of tribal trust land who obtained title to Indian land under the General Allotment Act of 1887 are often recruited under the banner of "property rights" to both Wise Use and white supremacy.20
The typical anti-democratic "model citizen" is a white property owner in a suburban or rural fringe area. As one woman at a county secession meeting put it, "Those [non-white, non-property owning] people in the city think they have the same rights as we do and they don't even own a stick of property!"21
The anti-democratic movement has one clear point of unity: a distorted legal doctrine that once plunged this nation into a fratricidal Civil War. A war that some of the most irresponsible militias are preparing to fight again.
The doctrine of nullification has a two hundred fifty year history that reaches from John Peter Zenger's celebrated 1735 trial for seditious libel,22 to the Anti-federalist arguments against the passage of the Constitution,23 through Shays' Rebellion in 1787, into Jefferson and Madison's battle against the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798,24 and finally to South Carolina's attempted nullification of the Tariff Acts of 1828 and 1832.25 With Daniel Webster and Andrew Jackson's destruction of the fallacious doctrine in the 1830's, the supporters of nullification turned to secession and civil war in their fury.
The final form of nullification doctrine came from John C. Calhoun, perhaps the last significant political philosopher in American history. Born in the frontier area of South Carolina in 1782, Calhoun married a rich cousin, acquired a plantation and became the leading defender of the Southern aristocracy. He led South Carolina's opposition to federal tariff laws which favored Northern industry over the agricultural South. This struggle against "the Tariff of Abominations" produced the final form of the doctrine of nullification. After the 1833 nullification battle Calhoun became a leading apologist for slavery. His ideas are not widely discussed these days, since the nullification extremists went on to secession and civil war.
Instead, the person most frequently quoted by today's "Patriots" is Thomas Jefferson. The militias frequently justify their seditious fantasies with the last two sentences (underlined here for emphasis) from a letter by Jefferson complaining about the British propaganda surrounding Shays' Rebellion:
"...Wonderful is the effect of impudent and persevering lying. The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, and what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusets? [Shays' Rebellion] And can history produce an instance of a rebellion so honorably conducted? I say nothing of its motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20. years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is a lethargy, a forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and half for each state. What country before, ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."
- Thomas Jefferson, Nov. 13, 178726
Jefferson wrote this about the time that Shays' Rebellion was over and done with. At the conclusion of the rebellion, President Washington pardoned most of the convicted rebels. While clearly empathetic to the rebels' distress, Jefferson did not support them. The "Patriot" reading would use Jefferson's words as a defense of their seditious efforts to "uphold the Constitution" -- their coded way of saying "treason."
The fourth to last sentence deserves attention, where Jefferson succinctly states the proper way for a democracy to handle such occurances:
"The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them."
It is still good advice.
Just as Jefferson saw the need for a federal system to remedy the failings of Confederation, so did he see the need to protect against the abuses of centralized authority. He steered a middle course, neither Federalist nor anti-Federalist. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were seen by him as an abuse of federal authority with his party as the target.
Jefferson's arguments provided the foundation for Calhoun's compact republic theory and nullification doctrine. The compact republic is an attempt to turn back the clock to the period of the Articles of Confederation, prior to the Constitution and the establishment of federal supremacy as the basic law of the land. The compact republic is also the basis for the racist State's Rights doctrines which played such a strong role in opposition to Civil Rights.
The notion of the compact republic claims that the ultimate meaning of the Constitution is that the states have entered into a compact (or contract) voluntarily and without surrendering any sovereignty. Under the Articles of Confederation, each state retained absolute sovereignty.27 The key to the doctrine of the compact republic is the assertion of the voluntary nature of cooperation between the states and the federal government. It is a refusal to recognize federalism and an insistence that the principles embodied in the Articles of Confederation take precedence over the Constitution.
The federal government in a compact republic exists only on the sufferance of the individual states. Since the states retain their absolute sovereignty, and only voluntarily accede to federal law, no state need comply with a federal law with which it disagrees. A state's agreement to participate in the federal government is voluntary and may be withdrawn by secession.
The main conflict between the compact republic and modern federalism is the relationship between majorities and minorities. In the compact republic, a minority may exempt itself from the decisions of the majority -- just as the slave-holding minority attempted to justify human slavery as a "property right" protected by the Fifth Amendment against the majority opinion of the Federal Republic. Nullification in the broadest sense allows a subunit of government to unilaterally declare a law passed by a supreme authority null and void.
Jefferson's 1798 recourse to the nullification of federal law by state assemblies was a faltering step towards the separation of powers and an independent judiciary. The contest for the power to interpret the Constitution was settled by the Supreme Court in Marbury v. Madison (1803).28
The ruling in Marbury v. Madison firmly established judicial review -- the power of interpreting the Constitution -- in the hands of an independent judiciary, not the contentious and self-interested state legislatures. Nullification has been a dead letter since 1803. The legal argument over nullification was finished before Calhoun entered the scene. Currently, all attempts at applying nullification doctrine have run aground on the shoals of the Supremacy Clause in Article 6 of the Constitution. Politically, however, nullification is still alive.
The Constitution -- which succeeded the Articles of Confederation in 1789 -- does not set forth an absolute sovereign, but rather delineates and restrains the powers of government. Sovereignty under the Constitution is a shared sovereignty of citizens, states and federal government. The federal constitution is declared in the Supremacy Clause of Article 6 to be the basic and ultimate law of the land. The power and authority of the federal Constitution flow from it to the states and thence to the citizens. Likewise, there is a similar flow of consent and affirmation from the citizens to the local, state and federal government by the process of frequent and orderly elections.
Nullification underlies attempts by the anti-democratic Right to deny, challenge and subvert the authority of the federal government to defend the rights of the people as a whole against the transgressions of the propertied elite minority. Thus does the "sovereign citizen" unilaterally declare the 16th Amendment (federal income tax) null and void; the "sovereign" county claim control over the public's state and federally administered land; and the "sovereign" states exempt themselves from "unfunded mandates."
The "Patriots" claim that sovereignty is not shared and distributed, but absolute. Under the false notion of absolute sovereignty, compliance with any law is ultimately voluntary and refusal to obey the law is sufficient to nullify it. Once nullified, it becomes "unconstitutional" and may be resisted by violent force.
Nullification arguments have little legal force behind them.29 Attorneys and constitutional scholars dismiss them out of hand. The usual reaction of an attorney to a "custom and culture" ordinance is to say, "Pfui -- this is clearly nonsense." This dismissal ignores the tremendous force that these theories have on public opinion. It may be nonsense, but it is nonsense that is now incorporated in hundreds of county ordinances all over the country. The nullification arguments may be legal nonsense, but they have been around for a very long time -- long enough to have become part of the mythology of American politics.
The "Patriots" marshal plenty of supportive quotations, arguments, and reasons in support of nullification -- most of them distortions, lies, or outright fabrications.30 The fury of their emotion in attacking critics shows the tenuousness of their position. Ultimately, the threat of force and violence is the "Patriots" final argument.
It does little good to say "these constitutional theories are ridiculous and the people who hold them are crazy." The argument of dismissal is neither persuasive nor effective. The root issues must be faced squarely and dealt with directly. The threat of force must be met with courage and resolution, not equivocation and appeasement.
The basic rights and freedoms on which this county is founded are not negotiable. If the "Patriots" wish to take up arms, let them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two?
"Patriot" ideology consists of absolutist beliefs rather than considered opinions. Challenging an absolutist belief is felt by the believer to be a form of attack, which in turn justifies conflict as the basic mode of discourse. The substitution of belief for reasoned opinion has severely eroded civility in political discourse. The goal for many "Patriots" is not to persuade, but to silence opposition -- by force and terrorism if they can get away with it.
Consider the following list of extremist episodes in American politics:31
1828-30 Anti-Masonic Party
1854-60 Know Nothing Party
1890-94 American Protectionist Association
1920-25 Ku Klux Klan (II)
1932-38 Black Legion
1948-54 Anti-Communism (McCarthyism)
1958-Present John Birch Society
1954-72 Ku Klux Klan (III)
1969-Present Posse Comitatus
1973-Present Aryan Nations
1979-Present New Christian Right (anti-abortion / homophobia)
1983-86 Bruders Schweigan / Order Strike Force II
1984-Present Wise Use Movement
1984-1988 Committee of the States
1992-Present Patriot "Militia" Movement
The nation is still in a state of shock and denial following the bombing in Oklahoma City. No one wants to live in a country where such things happen. Few are willing to admit that the political establishment has been powerless to prevent the current drift towards tyrannical intolerance and hatred. Once more, the leaders have failed the country and the citizens must look to themselves to protect each other.
The current resurgence of anti-democratic extremism is another cycle in the struggle for peace, justice and equality. Extremists have repeatedly attacked democracy in America, a country characterized by a profound ignorance of its own history.Across America, people are beginning to assert their right of voluntary association to defend the rights of all. It is only a glimmer at present -- the effort may fail.
The paralysis of the liberals has caused many people of progressive sentiment to step outside party politics and turn to social organizing. Here and there, small groups of concerned citizens are banding together. Most noticeable in rural areas, these groups are motivated by a sense of fairness and human dignity. In one area, the issue may be attacks on abortion providers. In another, the harassment of environmentalists. In my county, the catalyst was a cross burning in front of a migrant labor camp.
When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, she was thinking of her sore feet and how tired she felt. It is from these small things that social movements grow.
Once again, America's true patriots must put aside their comfort, their wealth, and even their safety to defend true freedom, true liberty and true justice. It is the same burden that was borne by the Abolitionists, the Suffragettes, the Grangers, the Progressives, the Wobblies, the Bonus Marchers, the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, the Montgomery bus boycott, the Freedom Riders, the Civil Rights marchers, the Free Speech protesters, the Moratorium Day Committee, the Earth Day organizers, the Sanctuary movement and the abortion clinic defenders -- those who go first, not those who reap the public honors.
Carl Schurz vastly improved on Decatur's toast, when he said in an address to Congress, "Our country right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right." So should it be with us.
The first published research report on militias laid out the entire picture of the paramilitary right's resurgence: Montana Human Rights Network, A Season of Discontent: Militias, Constitutionalists, and the Far Right, May 1994.
Montana Human Right Network, A Season of Discontent, op. cit.
Daniel Junas, "Angry White Guys with Guns, the Rise of the Citizen Militias." CovertAction Quarterly, No. 52, Spring 1995.
Chip Berlet, "Militia Nation," The Progressive, June 1995.
Loretta Ross, "Saying It with a Gun," The Progressive, June 1995.
The present militia pseudo-legal justifications, documents, arguments and rhetoric are word for word the same as the "Unorganized Militia" of the Committee of the States (1984), a key group in the racist Identity Movement. The difference between the current "Unorganized Militias" and COS is that the Christian Identity beliefs which were such a strong part of the Christian Patriot movement are now submerged, concealed and disavowed.
Luther Gerlach and Virginia Hine, People, Power, Change: Movements of Social Transformation, Bobbs-Merril, 1970.
Cheri Seymour, Committee of the States: Inside the Radical Right, Camden Place Communications, Inc., 1991.
Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, "Summary Report of Militias and Bigotry Meeting," Northwest Beacon, Feb. 1995.
Daniel Junas, "Angry White Guys with Guns," op. cit.
Fred Clarkson, "Hard COR," Church and State, January 1991.
See Frank Symth, "CROSSFIRE: Wounded by Congress, the NRA'S regime bullies its own board and launches a new offensive on America," Village Voice, June 21, 1994.
The bumper sticker slogan, "They can have my gun when they take it from my cold, dead fingers," captures the spirit of armed resistance to lawful authority. The gun lobby has created a multimillion dollar business of selling and reselling this myth to approximately three million gun owners.
Moon's religious cult (est. 6,000 members) is only a small part of the Moon organization, which is essentially a theocratic state without a sovereign territory. Alternately, the Moon empire can be seen as a multi-national corporation with religious overtones. Annual gross revenues of the Moon organization are estimated to exceed $2 billion.
The Moon organization has considerable ability to influence public opinion through its ownership of the Washington Times newspaper and The World and I magazine. The Washington Times has been described as "the bullhorn of the Right."
For more on the creation of the Wise Use Movement, see Jim Halpin and Paul de Armond, "Merchant of Fear," Eastsideweek, Oct. 26, 1994.
----, Recent Trends and Future Prospects of Terrorism in the United States, op. cit..
Verlyn Klinkenborg, "Violent Certainties," Harper's Magazine, Jan. 1995.
In Washington State, county supremacy is an undercurrent with the Wise Use county secession groups that are attempting to split off five new counties along the I-5 urban corridor near Puget Sound. A clause in the Washington State Constitution allows for the creation of new counties by subdivision. All of the secession groups formed from Wise Use property rights groups. The secessionists have direct and extensive ties with white supremacy, militias, the National Federal Lands Conference, and extreme right-wing political campaigns.
A recent court ruling has forced the secession organizations to comply with a 1994 declaratory order from the Washington Public Disclosure Commission. This ruling will make public the financing of the secessionists political activity.
See Paul de Armond with Jim Halpin, "Steal This State," Eastsideweek, August 17, 1994.
Right wing tax resisters frequently use pro se pseudo-legal actions (also know as "common law") which attempt to apply the logic of commercial contracts to statutory law.
The filing of "sovereign citizen" documents with county recorders is used by some tax protesters to claim "first class" citizenship. This tactic has been misreported in numerous recent articles as "renouncing American citizenship." Nothing could be farther from the truth -- the sovereign citizen asserts a claim of being more American than "federal" citizens.
Andrew Hamilton, Zenger's attorney, is widely (and falsely) credited with introducing the notion that truth is a defense in matters of libel. Hamilton's defense by jury nullification consisted of "talking over the head of the judge" to get the jury to acquit his client of seditious libel. Hamilton clearly did not believe that truth a defense in seditious libel cases, since he later prosecuted printers for publishing truths that were embarrassing to his political allies.
The main difficulty with the Catron ordinances is that ordinary citizens have frequently been denied legal standing to challenge them in court. The state and federal attorneys (who could obtain legal standing quite easily) have been disgustingly timid in filing challenges.