CHRISTIAN IDENTITY, SURVIVALISM & THE POSSE COMITATUS
A New Face for Racism & Fascismby Chip Berlet
The use of deadly force against the family of Idaho white supremacist Randy Weaver was a tragic example of police misconduct and abuse of power by government agencies. But even as the seige was underway, far rightists began manipulating justifiable revulsion over the government's murderous tactics to recruit persons into a brand of populism that avoids overt racist appeals and uses radical-sounding anti-government rhetoric to mask the same underlying fascist goals promoted by former neoNazi and Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Both Duke and Weaver promote versions of Christian Identity, a white supremacist philosophy that mirrors resugent neo-Nazi activism world-wide. "Identity is based on the premise that the Jews are literally Children of Satan - the seed of Cain, that people of color are 'pre-Adamic' mud people - God's failures before perfecting Adam, and that white Christian Aryans are the 'Lost Sheep of the House of Israel' - God's chosen people, and therefore America is the biblical promised land," explains Lenny Zeskind, research director of the Center for Democratic Renewal.
"Some Identity members collect weapons and ammunition in expectation that the Biblical "End-Times" are near," says Zeskind who wrote a monograph on Christian Identity for the Division of Church and Society of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. "Identity theology binds together a number of previously isolated groups...Important sections of the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazi movement, the Posse Comitatus, the Aryan Nations, and other groups have adopted Identity theology," Zeskind reports.
Identity is based in part on an earlier religious concept called "British Israelism." The group most responsible for spreading Christian Identity in the 1980's was the Posse Comitatus, a loosely-knit survivalist movement which grew out of the Christian Identity teachings of Col. William Potter Gale in California. Survivalists believe the collapse of society is imminent, and thus they collect weapons and conduct field exercises in armed self-defense and reconnaissance. Some survivalists store large quantities of grains, dried foods, canned goods, water and vitamins in anticipation of long-projected economic or political collapse and racial rioting. Many have moved to isolated rural areas. Not all survivalists are part of the white supremacist movement, but many are. Randy Weaver was a survivalist as well as a promoter of racist Christian Identity.
The Posse Comitatus, Latin for "power of the county" but more accurately transliterated as "to empower the citizenry," is the legal concept used by sheriffs in Hollywood westerns to round up a posse and chase the varmints. In modern legal terms it means the right to deputize citizens to carry out law enforcement functions, and it also is the basis of a federal law preventing the use of federal troops in civilian law enforcement without the express consent of the President. Members of the Posse Comitatus, however, promote an unsubstantiated belief that the Constitution does not authorize any law enforcement powers above the level of county sheriff, and that state and federal officials above the county level are part of a gigantic conspiracy to deny average citizens their rights.
Many Posse and Identity adherents believe Jews, Blacks, Communists, Homosexuals and race-traitors have seized control of the United States. They refer to Washington, D.C. as the Zionist Occupational Government (ZOG). They read the novel "The Turner Diaries" in which an underground white army leads a revolution against ZOG.
In the early 1970's a Posse manifesto was issued in booklet form. Gale issued his own charters and a handbook called the "Guide for Volunteer Christian Posses." H. L. "Mike" Beach in Portland, Oregon began issuing "Sheriff's Posse Comitatus" charters and handbooks. Early factionalism gave way to an informal political and religious movement which began to grow. In late 1974 a national Posse convention was held in Wisconsin with 200 - 300 attending.
The most visible and active branch of the Posse for many years was in Wisconsin. The press gave much attention to Wisconsin Posse leader James Wickstrom, although his claims to hold some vague national leadership post was flatly contradicted by the autonomous and anarchistic nature of the Posse itself.
States where Posse activity was reported in the 1980's included: California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
The most violent Posse confrontation involved the mishandled attempt to serve legal papers on Posse activist Gordon Kahl. Two federal Marshalls were killed, and several persons wounded. Kahl fled underground and was later killed in another mishandled attempt to flush him from a fortified bunker. Kahl and other white supremacists killed or jailed by the government have become martyrs to Posse adherents and other racists. After the Gordon Kahl incident, many Posse and Christian Identity members decided to carry out activities in secret or through front groups.
While the Posse was growing in the midwest and west, members of Ku Klux Klan and Nazi groups joined together for a deadly assault on an anti-Klan rally in Greensboro, North Carolina on November 3, 1979. Five members and supporters of the Communist Workers Party were killed in the shootout. Following the Greensboro shootings and the death of Gordon Kahl, a number of previouslyantagonistic racist groups in America began to make contact with each other, and began to establish informal means of communication and information sharing. Christian Identity was the glue than held the groups together.
Not all Klan groups accepted the new Identity-based coalition, but those that did began to call themselves the Fifth Era Klan to demark what they hoped would be the fifth period of growth by the Klan since its inception. The Fifth Era Klan adherents sought to forge ties with other racist groups across the nation. One concept hotly debated was the idea of a mass movement of white supremacists to the pacific northwest where there were relatively few minorities and a low population density. The idea was to create a racially-pure Aryan bastion, an idea that attracted Randy Weaver.
Cooperation among racist groups was in the 1980's by the establishment of several racist computerized bulletin board systems and the distribution of a cable TV program "Race and Reason" hosted by California's Tom Metzger, head of White Aryan Resistance. Racist groups staged joint activities, sometimes built around survivalist encampments. As this cooperation became more formalized, what emerged was, in effect, a white racist alliance which shared a belief in Identity. One of the leaders of the movement in the northwest was Identity Pastor Richard Butler of the Church of Jesus Christ--Christian which operated out of a compound called Aryan Nations in Hayden Lake, Idaho, near the Weaver family home.
The members of the group variously called The Order, White American Bastion, or The Silent Brotherhood, who were convicted in Seattle for staging armed robberies and mudering Denver talk show host Alan Berg, were predominantly adherents of Identity. According to the Klanwatch Intelligence Report of the Southern Poverty Law Center:
"A look at the backgrounds of some of the 23 Order members prosecuted in Seattle illustrates the cooperation between radicals that now permeates the extremist right: Five had Klan ties, one had been a Nazi party member, a half-dozen were Aryan Nations, one was a veteran tax protester, four CSA's [Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord] five National Alliance members....Many of the 23 were united by Identity..."
"Aryan" or "White" as used by Identity ostensibly refers to persons of Nordic, Anglo-Saxon or Germanic stock, or at the very least, persons stemming from Northern or Middle European ancestors. The Identity definition of "Aryan" is more closely related to mythological or operatic reality rather than any scientific or anthropological definition of Indo-European peoples. Aryan actually is a term used by linguists to trace the common roots of the Indo-European languages.
Christian Identity borrows paranoid conspiratorial beliefs from reactionary groups such as the John Birch Society. Birchers claim that secret cabals run most world governments under orders from wealthy elites such as the Rockefeller family acting through groups such as the Trilateralist Commission, the Bilderberger banking conference, the Council on Foreign Relations, and officials of the Federal Reserve Bank.
From ultra-right Christian fundamentalists comes the idea of a secular humanist conspiracy involving liberal elites such as radical academics, teachers union leaders, journalists and network television programmers and gay men and lesbians who pave the way for leftists, socialists and communists. These are the core beliefs of persons such as Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Academia and Accuracy in Media, and Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum. Pat Robertson, leader of the Christian Coalition, recently wrote a book attacking president Bush's New World Order and echoing many paranoid conspiratorial charges of the reactionary and fascist right. Robertson also throws in a discussion of sinister networks of Masonic lodges and the shadowy Illuminati group. It is these reactionary forces that made TV appearances during the Republican convention.
White supremacists add to the bizare brew a list of racial enemies such as Jews, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Indians, indeed all non-Aryans. The Posse Comitatus also sees as agents of the conspiracy all state and national elected politicians, and all law enforcement officials above level of county sheriff such as game wardens, Internal Revenue Service agents, federal marshalls, and the FBI.
Christian Identity wraps all the conspiracy theories together and adds the myth that white Christian Americans are God's Chosen People fighting a religious war against satanic forces. Identity combines the worst aspects of Hitlerian racial theories, the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades.
Persons who believe in Christian Identity generally:
* Support White Power & Aryan Supremecy;
* Believe in Black genetic inferiority;
* Possess Romanticized notions of Aryan culture;
* Are virulently anti-Communist;
* Manifest a jingoistic patriotism a la "Rambo;"
* Mistrust government & law enforcement;
* Fear Black power & Black pride;
* See media coverage of non-Aryans as a Jewish-Communist Plot; * Resent Black job gains in the working class & professions;
* Think Black politicians are pawns of Jews;
* Believe Black activism is directed from Moscow or Tel Aviv; * Practice armed survivalism as a defensive necessity.
Identity theories permeate the Populist Party. Bo Gritz ran for President under the Populist Party banner. Gritz, served as the negotiator who brought Randy Weaver out of his cabin to surrender to authorities. Gritz has called for right and left to join forces to smash the government.
The fascist right has targetted for recruitment members of tax protest groups, farm and ranch organizations, former or current members of the Ku Klux Klan and various nazi groups, supporters of Lyndon LaRouche, persons organizing against government repression or covert action, alternative health care advocates, antiwar organizers, and persons concerned about peace in the Middle East. Gritz, however, primarily seeks to build networks of support in reactionary and far-right circles. He made a presentation on "MIA/POW & Government Drug Dealers" at the Third Christian Heritage National Conference held in November of 1990 in Florida. Among other featured speakers were Bob Weems, Pete Peters, Col. Jack Mohr and other persons who promote Christian Identity. Also speaking were Eustace Mullins, who provided the "Total Conspiracy Update," and A.J. Barker, national chairman of the Populist Party which ran David Duke for President in 1988 with Gritz as the original vice-presidential nominee. Gritz later dropped off the ticket to run for local office, and now makes excuses for his earlier affiliation with Duke. Gritz claims he opposes racism and is trying to clean up the Populist Party.
But as Zeskind of the Center for Democratic Renewal explains, "Gritz's standard stump speech is an amalgam of themes popular among white supremacists and others on the far right: the Federal Reserve System (FED) is unconstitutional and should be abolished and a vast conspiracy of "internationalists" are taking over the world." Pastor Pete Peters, a leading proponent of the Christian Identity religion, helped publish and distribute Gritz's book "Called to Serve," which is used to promote the Gritz presidential campaign. In a speech at Peter's Colorado headquarters, Gritz acknowledged Peters' assistance. In his book Gritz writes that "Eight jewish families virtually control the FED."
In the past the KKK and other racist and fascist groups in the U.S. intertwined with the political and law enforcement power structure of the communities in which they operated, especially in the rural South. The new racist Identity movement, however, is openly hostile toward most law enforcement officers because they are seen as collaborating with the Zionist Occupational Government. Thus Identity's critique of government misconduct is central to their ideology, and has resulted in repeated armed conflicts with government agencies which in turn have used questionable tactics to target this sector of the racist right.
Police brutality should be opposed whether it is used against Rodney King or Randy Weaver, but activists need to be clear that the vast majority of incidents of police brutlaity are directed people of color. Persons fighting government misconduct must also ensure they do not become pawns of fascist political movements using anti-government appeals to mask their underlying white supremacist goals.
Original version circulated as an article by New Liberation News Service. This version is revised.
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