Montana Law Review & David Neiwert
The Patriot Movement as an American Expression of Fascism
Wed Sep 27, 2006 15:36

 
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The Patriot Movement as an American Expression of Fascism
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A. The Characteristics of Fascism

There can be little mistaking the Patriot Movement as essentially fascist in nature. The beliefs it embodies fit the general definition of fascism: a philosophy of government that glorifies the nation-state at the expense of the individual [2] while also fitting the more particular definition of fascism offered by historians and sociologists, that is, a political ideology with a mythic core of populist ultranationalism, focused on an ideal of societal rebirth. As with previous forms of fascism, the Patriot Movement's affective power is based on irrational drives and mythical assumptions and its followers find in it an outlet for idealism and self- sacrifice. Its support, however, on close inspection, proves to derive from an array of personal material and psychological motivations. [3]

Patriot beliefs also perfectly embody the many traits of fascism as we have known it historically: the cult of tradition, the rejection of modernism, the belief in action for action's sake while simultaneously viewing the intellectual world with distrust, the view of disagreement as treason, the fear of difference, the appeal to a frustrated middle class, the obsession with an international conspiracy, the feeling of humiliation at the ostentatious wealth of their enemies, the belief that life itself is warfare, coupled with the rejection of pacifism, the contempt for the [Page 23] weak, the glorification of heroism, with its inherent dynamic of creating an enemy, [4] the rejection of "rotten" parliamentary governments coupled with a selective populism, and the use of Orwellian Newspeak to obfuscate their agenda and provide code words to the like-minded. [5]

This last trait is embodied in the very title the movement gives itself. Patriots, as their name suggests, like to claim a love of America and the Constitution, but in reality they are reactionary revolutionaries, seeking to eliminate the barrier between church and state and establish a fundamentalist theocracy. [6] At the core of the movement, the goal is to establish a white Christian Identity theocracy. To get there, it is their wish to roll back the clock on the following advances in the nation's practice of democracy: the protection of civil rights for all citizens equally, the vote for women (and certainly their right to choose an abortion), even the abolition of slavery. Their agenda includes the utter destruction of such modern democratic innovations as progressive taxation, gun control, open international trade, affirmative action, and especially equal rights for gays and lesbians. [7] [Page 24]

B. The Twin Impulses of Revolution

Revolutionary fervor is a feature the Patriots share with other fascists, especially the Nazis of post-Weimar Germany. Like Hitler's followers, the Patriot revolution has two fundamental, related impulses. The first impulse involves a destructive enterprise, which is essentially an outright revolt against civilization itself, particularly such "degenerative" humanist manifestations as democracy and parliamentary government. [8] The second impulse involves a constructive enterprise, which is defined by the desire to build a new body politic in which white Christians have complete control. [9]

These similarities are not merely coincidental. The Patriot Movement is the manifestation of a parallel two-pronged strategy undertaken in the last decade by the self-proclaimed American radical right. The first prong involves attempts to subvert democratic institutions by forming secretive groups whose ultimate goal is to spread terror and the belief that the government no longer can keep people safe. This tactic is similar to that taken by the Nazis when they set the Reichstag ablaze in 1933 and perpetrated Kristallnacht in 1939. Both of these events had the effect of rebounding the blame onto the perpetrators' enemies. [10] The second prong involves presenting a normative face, [Page 25] appearing to share mainstream values by focusing on political discontent and avoiding matters of race and religion. Again, the Nazis adopted such a strategy when they railed against Jews and "degenerates," while focusing on a bright Aryan future that would arrive when these influences were eliminated. The Nazis never described in detail what form such "extermination" would take. [11]

1. The Destructive Impulse

The strategy of secret, subversive armed resistance and guerrilla warfare has a long history in the American radical right, dating back to the right-wing 1960s terrorist group called "The Minutemen." A blueprint emerged in 1979 with the publication of The Turner Diaries; a novel that forecasts a future race war ending in the elimination of all minorities, Jews and "race traitors" in America. [12] Others in the radical right also urged violent underground activity. Robert Miles, for example, ran a Ku Klux Klan chapter in Cohoctah, Michigan, and frequently appeared at Aryan Nations gatherings in Hayden Lake, Idaho. [13] He told the 1983 Aryan Congress, "(i)f we were half the men the leftists are," referring to a recent Black Panther robbery, "we'd be hitting armored cars too." [14]

Out of this rhetoric was born another organization called The Order. Before its yearlong campaign ended in a fatal, fiery FBI shootout with its leader Robert Mathews, The Order had piled up a string of robberies and pipe bombings, culminating in the assassination of radio talk-show host Alan Berg. The activities of this group made any leftist terror gangs look like kindergartners. Robert Miles, who was the beneficiary of some of The Order's robbery-obtained wealth, continued to urge a stealth war, stating: "(i)nvisibility is a weapon. It is the characteristic of the Order . . . . It does work. It can work. It shall work again." [15] [Page 26]

2. The Constructive Impulse

At the same time they sought invisibility, Miles and others developed a strategy for gaining broader mainstream appeal by presenting themselves as normal Americans. Miles urged his followers to keep a low profile and never to let their racist beliefs appear in conversation before a potential recruit had been brought along far enough. Similarly, Miles discouraged talk about violence: "Most Americans avoid trouble. Most already have trouble with dissimilar ethnic groups. Most do not want trouble. Yet when push comes to shove, even mice have teeth. Don't be the one to advocate violence." [16]

The smiling, normal face of the radical right was first presented in 1988 by former Klansman David Duke when he ran for the presidency on the Populist Party ticket, with Bo Gritz as his original running mate. A year later, Duke was elected to the Louisiana Legislature, and in 1990 was only narrowly defeated for a Louisiana seat in the U.S. Senate. In fact, he collected a majority of the state's white votes, but was swamped by black voters who chose the incumbent J. Bennett Johnston. [17] However, Duke's limited victories were relegated to a single state, while the leaders of the radical right remained in search of a larger national following.

Even neo-Nazis began to realize that their emphasis on racial issues was hurting their cause. At the 1990 Aryan Congress, John Trochmann [18] urged his compatriots in the radical [Page 27] right to drop the Nazi symbolism, Hitler worship and Klan robes, and revert instead to things Americans can relate to: the Constitution, the American flag, and the Bible. It was more important to talk about politics, he said, because race was a turnoff to most ordinary citizens.

3. The Impulses Combine

The twin impulses of the Patriot Movement coalesced in 1992 in the structural strategy that former Klansman Louis Beam outlined for Christian Identity minister Pete Peters for a gathering in Estes Park, Colorado. Beam advocated leaderless resistance, the formation of small cells of like-minded Christian Patriots into diffuse militia units that would be difficult to infiltrate. He also advocated creating a movement that could not be toppled from the top. Within the year, militia groups were springing up around the nation, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. [19]

Beam's strategy worked well for both prongs of the fascists' drive for power. The violent underground warriors now had a formal structure that soon manifested itself in the clique of conspirators, men with no formal connection to Beam and only informal ties to anyone else in the Movement's national leadership. These groups worked in small numbers, like Timothy McVeigh and Mike Nichols [20] who are accused of bombing the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, as well as in groups like The Order, but calling themselves the Phineas Priesthood and the Aryan Republican Army. [21] At the same time, this strategy provided a form for the essentially political units of the public face of the Militia Movement, attracting followers by tapping into mainstream discontent and arming themselves as a response to what they saw as encroaching government oppression. Thus, the Patriots are able to weaken the foundations of popular approval for democratic institutions by exposing the public's vulnerability to the threat of violence, and, at the same time, gaining wider acceptance in the political arena. This strategy is similar to that of the Nazis during their ascent in 1930s Germany. [22] [Page 28]

Most significantly, the Patriots' nominal normalcy, particularly their focus on political issues that often cross into mainstream conservatism, has enabled them to recruit people otherwise disinclined (or forthrightly opposed to) racist or violent agendas. Once recruited, these followers are drawn into a kind of alternate universe populated by evil government conspirators and sheeplike citizen-slaves. The Patriots' decentralized revolution, after all, is essentially a belief system rather than a system of organizations. And these beliefs also have a tendency to eventually spin out of control, as once-normal citizens begin engaging in activities ranging from armed standoffs with federal authorities to constructing pipe bombs in their basements. [23]
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