IFAS | Freedom Writer | October 1996 | review2.html

American Militias
American Extremists

AMERICAN MILITIAS: Rebellion, Racism, and Religion by Richard Abanes. 296 pp. Intervarsity Press (1996).

AMERICAN EXTREMISTS: Militias, Supremacists, Klansmen, Communists, and Others by John George and Laird Wilcox. 443 pp. Prometheus Books (1996).

Reviewed by Steven Jonas

American Militias is a comprehensive primer on the right-wing militia movement. It contains much primary source material, gathered both from written works and personal interviews with militia leaders. It begins with an overview of this very dangerous phenomenon, and then goes on to consider its most important components in some detail, weaving the material into a useful and organic whole.

The book's subtitle tells us of the primary ideological associations of the vast majority of American militias, although the picture is a highly complex one: not every militia member subscribes to every piece of every ideological concept associated with any of the militias. But Mr. Abanes, himself an evangelical Christian, goes to great lengths in attempting to show that regardless of their ideological variations, none of them are what he would define as "Christian."

The approach to the subject by American Extremists is rather different from that of American Militias. After presenting some historical material on what the authors define as American extremism going back to pre-Columbian times, a detailed explanation of their definition of the term, and a discussion of the motivation of extremist group joiners, the nature of ideology, authoritarianism, and the conspiracy theory of history, they present a descriptive catalogue of groups they describe as "extremist."

Their definition of "extremism" is an idiosyncratic one: "style and tactics matter more than goals." One goal of some American militias, as well of the German Nazis, that of elimination of the Jews, leads them to extremist "style and tactics," not the other way around.

In their attempts to create the appearance of "balance," George and Wilcox include a wide range of left wing as well as right wing groups in their "extremist" catalogue. In doing so, they fail to note that for the most part none of the named left wing groups has ever presented the kind of organized violent threat to the maintenance of constitutional democracy that the right wing groups do. For example, part of the defense offered by the US Communist leadership in their late-1940s trials for "advocating the violent overthrow of the government" was that the party constitution specifically endorsed following the electoral road to socialism. That fact-based defense failed! Almost all of the named left wing groups are either defunct or tiny debating societies. Very useful are the capsule descriptions of a variety of right wing groups and an appendix entitled, "Fake Quotes and Fabricated Documents."

Neither book makes any significant proposals for organizing to defend constitutional democracy in the United States. In my view, such a movement should begin by actively mobilizing the Constitution itself, especially the preamble, and taking it into battle against the forces of darkness, and demanding that existing state laws against private armies be enforced. Both books provide much useful information about these groups.

Steven Jonas, MD, is associated with the Health Sciences Center at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.