Chip Berlet

Biographical Information

Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates (PRA), has spent over twenty–five years studying prejudice, demonization, scapegoating, demagoguery, conspiracism, and authoritarianism. He has investigated far right hate groups, reactionary backlash movements, theocratic fundamentalism, civil liberties violations, police misconduct, government and private surveillance abuse, and other anti-democratic phenomena. He is a lively speaker defending democracy and diversity. Berlet is co–author, with Matthew N. Lyons, of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, (Guilford Press, 2000), which received a Gustavus Myers Center Award for outstanding scholarship on the subject of human rights and intolerance in North America. He is on the advisory boards of the Defending Dissent Foundation, the journal Totalitarian Movements and Political Religion, and PRA's Public Eye magazine, and is a vice-president of the Defending Dissent Foundation.

Berlet has appeared live on ABC’s Nightline, NBC’s Today Show, and CBS This Morning. He has been interviewed on scores of other national and local television and radio news programs and talk shows, including NPR’s All Things Considered, Terry Gross’s Fresh Air, David Barsamian’s Alternative Radio, and Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now.

He is the editor of the collection, Eyes Right!: Challenging the Right Wing Backlash, (Boston, South End Press, 1995), which was a recipient of a 1996 Gustavus Myers Center Award. He has written chapters in several scholarly books, written and reviewed articles for peer review sociology journals, and prepared entries in encyclopedias on millennialism, fundamentalism, criminal justice, and religion and war.

Writing and Public Speaking

As a freelance writer, Berlet's byline has appeared in The New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Sun–Times, Des Moines Register, Columbia Journalism Review, Amnesty Now, Mother Jones, The Nation, The Progressive, New Internationalist, Tikkun, Chicago Reader, Chicago Lawyer, The Humanist, Greenpeace Magazine, Boston Phoenix, Pacific News Service, The Guardian (NY), WIN Magazine, In These Times, Boston Real Paper, CovertAction Information Bulletin, National Reporter, Liberation News Service, High Times, and Utne Reader.

In the mid 1980s Berlet began to write for scholarly and academic publications and conferences. He is currently on the editorial advisory board of the journal Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions; and has served as an anonymous peer reviewer for the sociology journal Mobilization! Berlet’s work appears as chapters in a number of academic press and trade scholarly books, most recently “The United States: Messianism, Apocalypticism, and Political Religion,” in Matthew Feldman, Roger Griffin and Robert Mallett, eds., The Sacred in Twentieth Century Politics: Essays in Honour of Professor Stanley G. Payne (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); and "The New Political Right in the United States: Reaction, Rollback, and Resentment," in Michael Thompson, ed., Confronting the New Conservatism. The Rise of the Right in America (NYU Press, 2007). He also coordinated the updating of the entry on "Neo-Nazism" for the second edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica.

Other chapters include “Mapping the Political Right: Gender and Race Oppression in Right-Wing Movements,” in Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism, ed. Abby Ferber, (Routledge 2004); “Anti-Masonic Conspiracy Theories: A Narrative Form of Demonization and Scapegoating,” in Freemasonry in Context: History, Ritual, Controversy, eds. Arturo de Hoyos and S. Brent Morris (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004); “Encountering and Countering Political Repression,” in The Global Activists Manual: Local Ways to Change the World, eds. Mike Prokosch and Laura Raymond, (United for a Fair Economy and Thunder Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002); “Who's Mediating the Storm? Right–wing Alternative Information Networks,” in Culture, Media, and the Religious Right, eds. Linda Kintz & Julia Lesage, (University of Minnesota Press, 1998), and “Following the Threads: A Work in Progress” in Unraveling the Right: The New Conservatism in American Thought and Politics, ed. Amy Elizabeth Ansell, (Westview, 1998).

Berlet has presented papers and moderated panels at American Sociological Association annual meetings. In 2001 he authored “Hate Groups, Racial Tension and Ethnoviolence in an integrating Chicago Neighborhood 1976­1988,” in Betty A. Dobratz, Lisa K. Walder, and Timothy Buzzell, eds., The Politics of Social Inequality, a peer review journal.. He presented a paper on millennialism and fascism at the 1997 meeting of the International Sociological Association in Montreal. He has also presented academic lectures in England and Switzerland.

Berlet has spoken widely on right–wing groups and governmental civil liberties infringements at forums ranging from speeches at rallies and meetings, to sermons at churches and synagogues, to workshops at local and national conventions. He has conducted workshops for the Institute for Policy Studies and at Unitarian-Universalist retreats, and addressed the annual meeting of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. His college campus appearances include public speeches at Dartmouth, Harvard, Boston University, MIT, Colby, Bates, Bowdoin, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Boston. He has given academic classroom lectures at Harvard, Boston University, Boston College, Tufts University, Hampshire College, University of Chicago, University College London, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, Bard College, University of Maine, George Washington University, and Florida State University.

Research

Berlet warned reporters about the armed militia movement prior to the right–wing terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City, and quickly emerged as a leading authority on the nature and overlap of right–wing populism, the patriot movement, armed militias, White supremacists, and antisemites. He was interviewed widely, and retained by CNN as an on–camera expert. He also urged restraint and respect for civil liberties by government agencies monitoring the very real threats posed by the militias and related movements.

Berlet has written extensively on the dynamics of oppression, and wrote the main article in the Fall 1998 Public Eye, “Dances with Devils: How Apocalyptic and Millennialist Themes Influence Right Wing Scapegoating and Conspiracism” which predicted the rise of scapegoating and violence as the year 2000 approached. During this period he was on the advisory board of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University. Berlet is a member of the American Sociological Association, the ECPR Standing Group on Extremism & Democracy, and on the board of the Lexington Network for the Study of America based in Belgium.

He has written about the John Birch Society, armed militias, Ku Klux Klan, Posse Comitatus, Aryan Nations, Christian Identity, racist skinheads, and the Lyndon LaRouche fascist cult. He has also reported on civil liberties abuses by the FBI, CIA, Military Intelligence, local police “Red Squads,” and right–wing spy networks. He has criticized the authoritarian hierarchies and totalitarian control methods of groups working on the left, including the National Labor Federation and the Newmanites (New Alliance Party). He has been quoted as an expert on these movements in Time, Newsweek, the Boston Globe, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic and other national and international periodicals.

Berlet has closely studied the history of the old right, watched the rise of the New Right, and tracked the growth of the Christian Right and other theocratic fundamentalists. He keeps current by reading a large number of publications from these movements on a weekly basis. He also monitors short-wave radio, online computer services, and the Internet.

Challenging White Supremacy and Antisemitism

Berlet has attended meetings held by right–wing patriots, armed militia activists, White supremacists, Holocaust revisionists, the Ku Klux Klan and neo–Nazis. Berlet has confronted leaders of these groups on radio and television talk shows, including a memorable exchange with the late White nationalist minister Bob Miles on the Oprah Winfrey program. He chastised TV host Charles Grodin on his CNN program for being an apologist for patriot movement leader Bo Gritz; and confronted a right-wing Colorado state senator, Charles Duke, while appearing with him on ABC’s Nightline. He is known for his willingness to challenge the right on Internet newsgroups and other online services. A persistent critic of Lyndon LaRouche, Berlet has been sued twice by the LaRouchians for his characterization of them as a conspiracist neo–Nazi political movement engaged in illegal fundraising schemes and run by a lunatic cult leader. The LaRouchians eventually lost both cases.

He was among the first researchers to warn of the attempt by antisemitic and White supremacist hate groups to recruit financially–strapped Midwest farmers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. PRA (then named Midwest Research and based in Chicago) helped expose a growing White racist coalition linking farm belt hate groups such as Aryan Nations and the Posse Comitatus, the urban racist skinhead movement, the Ku Klux Klan, and neo–Nazi groups. As a result, Berlet and his colleagues received the Chicago Citizens Alert Willie Baker Award in 1987 for advancing racial justice.

During this period, Berlet and his family lived for ten years in the Southwest–side Chicago neighborhood of Marquette Park, where the White racist coalition sought to inflame existing tensions over integration into naked race hate and violence. Berlet and his wife, Karen, were part of a multi–racial community group fighting the resulting rash of racist hate crimes including physical assaults and the firebombings of Black families’ homes. Eventually they helped build a broad coalition of community leaders that stepped forward to rally the neighborhood against the hate groups and interrupt their outreach to youthful recruits. Berlet has helped other neighborhood, community and political groups fight back attempts by organized hate groups to exploit prejudice. While monitoring Klan/Nazi rallies in his neighborhood, Berlet was injured twice: while helping rescue a Black youth being beaten by racist thugs, and while photographing an attack on anti-racist protesters.

In 1985, Berlet co–founded the Public Eye BBS, the first computer bulletin board system designed to challenge the information circulated by the KKK and neo–Nazis on racist and antisemitic bulletin boards. In the 1990s, Berlet spent an hour personally briefing Senator Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL) on hate groups in the military. He was subpoenaed (but not called to the stand) as an expert witness in the trials of John Salvi, convicted of killing and injuring staff at reproductive health clinics outside Boston; and Terry Nichols, convicted of involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Civil Liberties

[Expanded Version Here]

Berlet’s work exposing threats to civil liberties has covered censorship, police misconduct, government surveillance, right wing surveillance operations, and covert action. Berlet is a co–founder and was for several years on the editorial board of the legal newsletter Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Law Report, now published by the West Group. A paralegal member of the National Lawyers Guild, Berlet was for several years an elected vice–president of the NLG, and for several years served as Co–chair of the NLG’s Civil Liberties Committee. He is on the board of advisors to the Defending Dissent Foundation, and for several years served on the board of advisors to the Chicago–based Bill of Rights Foundation, and the Committee to Defend the Constitution (DEFCON).

Before joining Political Research Associates in 1982, Berlet spent three years as a paralegal investigator at the Better Government Association in Chicago, engaged in research and trial preparation for the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against illegal government surveillance by the Chicago Police Intelligence Unit––litigation dubbed the “Chicago Red Squad” case. He has also served as a paralegal on other intelligence abuse and civil liberties cases filed against local police, the FBI, CIA and Military Intelligence on behalf of groups such as the Spanish Action Committee of Chicago, National Lawyers Guild, American Indian Movement, Socialist Workers Party, Christic Institute, and American Friends Service Committee. In 1979 he helped organize national citizens hearings on FBI surveillance abuses.

Media Activism

A persistent activist on issues involving access to media and information policies, Berlet has authored critiques appearing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Library Quarterly, Extra!, Alternative Media Review, More Magazine, and TUM: the Colorado Journalism Review. He represented the Chicago Citizens Commission on the Media at hearings establishing Chicago’s cable television franchise where he played a key role in increasing community access and governance provisions in the authorizing statute. In the 1970s he served on the boards of the Underground Press Syndicate and the Alternative Press Syndicate. He was invited to conduct a seminar for the 1998 Nieman Fellows in journalism at Harvard University. The Public Eye BBS, which he co-founded, provided information on civil rights and civil liberties in the mid-1980s, and included the first online kit for requesting information under the federal Freedom of Information Act. He was the original webmaster for PRA’s site http://www.publiceye.org.

Human Rights

When PRA was retained in 1992 to assist the law firm fighting Colorado’s homophobic Amendment Two, Berlet helped form a national network of researchers and activists studying the rising attacks on the rights of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender persons. As part of this work he was asked by activist Suzanne Pharr to join with Loretta Ross as co-conveners of the progressive strategic study circle dubbed the Blue Mountain Working Group, for which he helped write and co-signed the widely-circulated “Call to Defend Democracy and Pluralism.”

He has worked on joint projects with many groups including Facing History and Ourselves, Planned Parenthood, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Massachusetts chapter of the American Jewish Congress, and the Chicago chapter of the American Jewish Committee. He is a member of the National Writers Union, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Interfaith Alliance. He was an advisor to the six-part PBS series “With God on Our Side,” and served on the governing board of Equal Partners in Faith.

Background

An award–winning photo–journalist, Berlet’s photographs have appeared on book, magazine, and record album covers, and posters, and have been carried on the Associated Press wire, and been published in periodicals such as the Denver Post, Washington Star, and Chronicle of Higher Education. His photographs of Klan and Nazi rallies and police misconduct have been widely reproduced.

Berlet was born in 1949 and raised in northern New Jersey. He was active in church-based social justice and civil rights work as a teenager, serving as a youth delegate to various National Council of Churches meetings, and as the co-proprietor of a coffee house in his Presbyterian church. He attended the University of Denver for three years before leaving to work as an alternative journalist in 1971. In the mid-1970s Berlet co–edited a series of books on student press rights, campus activism, student financial aid, and higher education policy for the National Student Association and National Student Educational Fund. He cites as the major early influences on his work and activism Martin Luther King, Jr., Gabrielle Simon Edgcomb, George Seldes, I.F. Stone, Earl B. Dickerson, Hannah Arendt, John Rice, and Fannie Lou Hamer. He presided over a tribute by journalists at Seldes’ burial ceremony.

Berlet has lived and worked in Denver, Colorado, Washington, DC, and Chicago, Illinois. He has earned a living as a reporter, researcher, paralegal investigator, photographer, graphic artist, printer, and truck driver. He helped form and was for many years a shop steward in the UAW affiliated staff union within the National Lawyers Guild. He currently resides with his wife, Karen, in a suburb of Boston, where he relaxes with gardening and his outdoor goldfish pond. Their adult son, Robert, is an attorney.

About Political Research Associates

Political Research Associates (PRA) is an independent, nonprofit research center that unmasks the US political right. PRA collects and analyzes information on anti–democratic, authoritarian, and racist right–wing movements and publishes educational resources that explain their ideologies, tactics, agendas, financing and links to each other. PRA serves as a one–stop information resource for activists, organizers, educators, and others seeking to understand and counter right–wing campaigns, and for journalists needing accurate, up–to–date information and analysis on the right. Resources include: the PRA Library, containing the most comprehensive collection of right–wing materials in the country; a quarterly newsletter, The Public Eye; information packets; topical reports; monographs; books; and speakers. PRA is online at http://www.publiceye.org and http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org.

Begun in 1981 in Chicago as Midwest Research, PRA relocated to the Boston area under its current name in 1987. PRA has accumulated an outstanding depth of knowledge and understanding of the right over the last 20 years. This has made it a key national resource for anyone needing accurate information and analysis about right–wing movements in this country.

While PRA actively collaborates with many other organizations that oppose the right, PRA is unique in two important ways. First, PRA monitors the full spectrum of the right, from the right wing of the Republican Party to paramilitary organizations such as the armed citizens’ militias. Second, PRA is nationally known for its analysis of the history and composition of the right in the US and the significance of unfolding events as they occur. PRA studies the ideological basis for systems of social and economic inequality including racism, sexism, homophobia, and antisemitism.

 

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