Following up on IC’s exclusive on the emerging anti-Indian movement in the US, the following essay examines the driving force of the movement–located in Christian Identity doctrine, Christian Right resources and Christian Patriot practice.
As implementation of UNDRIP becomes a significant basis for the exercise of jurisdiction by indigenous nations in Canada and the US, the most virulent opposition will come from the true believers of Christian Identity. Understanding this milieu, and how it relates to other sectors of the anti-Indian movement, is essential to effective indigenous human rights organizing.
Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, vol 22, issue 2, 1999 contains a review by Paul de Armond titled A Time for New Beginnings, in which he examines the history of ideas motivating the fascist movement in the United States. In this article, de Armond locates Wise Use and Christian Patriots within that movement. In his view, a study of the American far right was overdue, and he notes the U.S. Taxpayers Party was a merger of the Christian Right with Christian-Patriot white supremacists, that emerged as an important fusion party of the extreme right during the militia organizing drive of 1994. As Paul observes, USTP’s constitutionalist ideology, choice of phrases and catalogue of enemies provides targets for its “brigades”– much like the Tea Party does today.
Rather than toss political labels around, de Armond urged a behavioral definition of fascism, such as the Reagan administration’s use of the American extreme right to organize paramilitary action in Central America. He reminds readers that it was state and local governments that used armed right-wing paramilitaries like the Klan to attack civil rights activists in the 1960s, and that there is a continuity of the American paramilitary right that includes the Klan, Minutemen, Aryan Nations, Militia of Montana, Covenant Sword and Arm of the Lord.
With each successive wave of violence, notes Paul, the expressions of establishment surprise have become a predictable ritual, and that “It is only in the case of the most horrifying or politically inflammatory violence that significant law enforcement resources have been committed.” As de Armond observes, there have been three waves of right-wing militia organizing since the 1960s, which one can get more detail about in his report Racist Origins of Border Militias.
In his end notes, Paul says, “Fascism is a form of social change as a movement and a form of social institution as an establishment. It is neither a political ideology, a religion, nor a mental illness, though it manifests itself in all these forms. It is a rationalization of theft, just as statism is a rationalization of power, capitalism is a rationalization of acquisition, and sociopathy is a rationalization of the irrational. Anti-fascism is a form of informational public health, related to epidemiology.”
There are several books by our colleagues in the Public Good Project Bookstore that elaborate on parts of his analysis.
Says Paul, “There are two major threads to white supremacy: revolutionary and mainstream.” The skinheads, neonazis and Klan are revolutionaries. That is the smallest faction. The mainstreamers are far more numerous and their rhetoric is strongly reflected in the Minutemen (anti-immigrant groups) and Tea Parties. The main difference between the two factions is their approach to electoral politics.
The revolutionaries reject electoral politics and the mainstreamers embrace it. Leonard Zeskind’s book, Blood and Politics is framed around an analysis of the revolutionary/mainstreamer factions.
There is a third faction, the separatist anti-government survivalists known as the Christian Patriots. They propose withdrawal from society and creation of isolated areas under their own law and authority. These were the groups behind the militia violence of the 1990s. They draw on a mixture of revolutionary and mainstream propaganda and ideology. The hard core of the Christian Patriots are racist Christian Identity believers who rejected the overtly revolutionary approach of Aryan Nations under Richard Butler. John Trochmann of Montana, now a fairly obscure character, was the paradigmatic leader of Christian Patriot militias in the 1990s. Pat Buchanan’s political persona was a fusion of mainstreamer and Christian Patriot influences.
All three groups have adopted a core ideology of white racialist nationalism. The core to this is an idea of distinct racial classes to citizenship and the separation of races by both law and custom.
As Paul observed in an October 1, 2010 remark at Metafilter, “The sunlight v shunning debate is an old one. Every time there has been a crisis, the sunlight approach wins. The key to defeating reactionary racist politics is education and exposure. They work mostly by deception, infiltration and subversion and these tactics are impossible when they are subject to scrutiny and exposure leading to confrontation and rejection. Shunning them actually give them additional cover.
The worst setbacks to the Tea Party have been due to exposure, not people trying to ignore them.”
In his 1996 essay Christian Patriots at War with the State, de Armond observed that, “The  bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City came as the latest in a series of rude shocks to America. Starting with the shoot-out at Ruby Ridge which killed a Deputy U.S. Marshal, the young son and the wife of white supremacist Randy Weaver, Christian Patriot white supremacists have been steadily escalating their endless war against American democracy.”
As Paul noted, the formation of armed vigilante groups called “unorganized militias” was first viewed in the media as the ranting of a bunch of gun-nuts and crack pots. A year after the Oklahoma City bombing, the nation was still uninformed about what Christian Patriotism is and where it is leading people.
“The long-standing failure of the FBI to arrest the Justus Township Freemen in Jordan, Montana on charges of fraud, forgery, and intimidation of public officials” says Paul, “focused national attention on the individuals involved. However, the near-total absence of informed public discussion has left most Americans in the dark as to what was really going on with the Freemen, the militias and the Christian Patriot faction of white supremacy.
Showing the Freemen as cardboard ‘extremists,’ the media has not explored the cohesive ideology and — more importantly — the theology that guides Christian Patriotism.”
“Americans are amazingly tolerant of diverse religious beliefs” noted de Armond. “Religious con men, charlatans, self-appointed messiahs, frauds, thieves, bigots, crack-pots and cranks have flourished in America as nowhere else.”
“One such religion,” says Paul, “is Christian Identity. Incorporated in Los Angeles in 1948, Wesley Swift’s Church of Jesus Christ Christian was initially a racist sect which became Christian Identity. The central belief in Identity doctrine is the existence of two races on earth: a godly white race descended from Adam and a satanic race fathered by Satan.”
In 1970, Swift died, and Richard Butler assumed control and moved the church to Idaho, where he renamed it Aryan Nations – Church of Jesus Christ Christian.
As de Armond observed, “The function of religion in the lives of these men was to provide a theological justification for their racism and anti-Semitism. Stated another way, racism and anti-Semitism were their religion.” The Identity movement was the glue to hold together racist ideology in the United States, and is the inspiration for America’s present white supremacist movement.
“Baldly stated,” says de Armond, “the white supremacist movement seeks to undermine federal authority and bring about the collapse of the United States of America. The destruction of federal power is the prerequisite to establishing a new racial nationalist state. It is highly unlikely that such a thing is within the means of the small number of militant racists, but it is certain that they will continue to use all means at their disposal to pursue that unrealistic goal.”
These means include bombings, sabotage, undermining discipline in the armed forces, counterfeiting, tax evasion, bank robbery, subversion of local governments and law enforcement, fraud, and attempts at nuclear, chemical, biological and psychological warfare. Instances of all of these acts have occurred.
White supremacy is not monolithic. It has factions and clear distinctions can be drawn between them. The largest and most active faction has adopted the name “Christian Patriotism.”
Christian Patriotism is the result of the confluence of the far-right tax resistance movement, regressive Populism, and Identity doctrine. The Christian Patriot branch of white supremacy has its legal and philosophical roots in the “property rights” and “states’ rights” clauses in the Constitution. These sections of the Constitution were a compromise necessary to enlist the cooperation of the slave-holding states in replacing the unworkable Articles of Confederation with the federal Constitution. The exaltation of the rights of property over the rights of people is a common denominator of the entire right wing of American politics.
As de Armond continues, “A major advance in the right-wing mythos came in the aftermath of the Civil War. In seeking ratification of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, the victorious Unionists were confronted by the near insurmountable obstacle of Article V, which requires the consent of three quarters of the states in order to ratify an amendment to the Constitution.
The recently conquered Confederacy — now rejoined to the Union — possessed sufficient votes to block the amendments abolishing slavery, extending the full rights of citizenship to all people born in the United States and granting equal protection of the laws to all people within the United States’ jurisdiction. The Unionists solution was to impose military occupation governments in a sufficient number of the former Confederate states long enough to ratify the new amendments. Immediately after ratification, the military governments were replaced with civilian ones.
This historical fact is little known outside of the South. The response to the forcible alteration of the Constitution was a conspiracy theory which asserts all amendments beginning with the 13th and 14th Amendments were never properly ratified and thus are not part of ‘the supreme Law of the Land’ as described in Article VI. This conspiracy theory has become the central myth of Christian Patriot ‘common law’ — the organic Constitution.”
In its most concise form, the myth of the organic Constitution can be summarized as follows:
The Constitution is a divinely inspired document in which human agency is secondary to God’s will. Only the original Constitution and Bill of Rights as signed by the Founders is the supreme Law of the Land and this law should be interpreted in the light of Biblical understanding.
The upshot of the myth of the divinely inspired organic Constitution is that Christian Patriot sovereigns can do whatever they want if they convince other sovereigns that such an action is “constitutional.” According to the Christian Patriots, no other laws apply but the ones that they recognize.
“Common law” as practiced by the Christian Patriots is not law in the sense that most people understand it. It is the arbitrary and capricious pronouncements of petty tyrants. The Christian Patriots frequently claim that common law descends from the Magna Carta. It does, but only in the sense that they see themselves as modern feudal lords whose sovereignty is granted by God, sealed by their “pure-bloodedness” and secured by their property. The “peers” of a common law jury are not peers in the ordinary sense of equals. They are peers in the sense of aristocratic lords in the earthly Kingdom of Heaven. As sovereigns, their word is law. Failure to obey that law is treason and punishable by death.
Attorneys are frequently baffled by common law practices, since the documents which the Christian Patriot sovereigns issue frequently look very similar to standard legal documents. Many Christian Patriots have spent considerable amounts of time studying legal language and procedure. As a result, Christian Patriot common law shares much of the form of law, but few of the basic assumptions and definitions. Most of the jail house lawyering done by Christian Patriots is learned by rote and believed with a religious fervor.
This can — and frequently does — lead to considerable confusion and shouting matches in courtrooms, as occurred when the Justus Township Freemen were arraigned.
The Christian Patriot claim that real courts do not have jurisdiction over them is the usual starting point for common law legal shenanigans. The peers of the Christian Patriot Republic refuse to be judged by anyone who is not a Christian Patriot sovereign. Only Christian Patriot common law courts with juries composed of sovereigns can sit in judgment of a sovereign. Should anyone disagree with the sovereign challenging jurisdiction, that disagreement — even coming from the bench in a real courtroom — is an “unconstitutional” act and thus proof of treason. Since the penalty for treason is death, the next step is usually a death threat against the judge, sheriff, prosecutor, county clerk or whoever dares to disagree with the sovereign.
The final piece in the Christian Patriot puzzle is their attitude towards money and banking. Expressed — as usual — as a conspiracy theory, the Christian Patriot mythos describes “money” as only gold and silver. All paper currency and financial institutions (except their own) are fraudulent.
In the minds of Christian Patriots, the banks are all controlled by Satan through the Jews. It’s not as fashionable these days to say Jews control the banks as it used to be, so the most common catch-phrase is “international bankers.” In the minds of Christian Patriots, the center of the entire conspiracy is housed in the Federal Reserve and the creation of the Federal Reserve was part of the Illuminati conspiracy which also altered the Constitution by passing all those “unconstitutional” amendments to the organic Constitution.
With the creation of the Federal Reserve System, the passage of the income tax and the final recognition of federal responsibility for the general welfare during the New Deal, the final stones of the foundation of the modern “banking conspiracy” theory were laid. Again, the generational lag postponed the superstitious hysteria past the end of WWII. At this time, the seeds of Identity began to take root through the actions of Wesley Swift, William Potter Gale, Richard Butler and others under the cover of “anti-communism.”
In their corner of American political opinion, Christian Patriots have collected all the conspiratorial baggage of American history and assembled it into a cohesive and comprehensive — but fundamentally irrational — explanation of the world. These beliefs commit them to revolutionary and frequently violent action. While not all Christian Patriots are believers in Identity doctrine, most — if not all — have adopted the assumptions of Identity as key beliefs. De Armond’s 1997 report Putting the Far Right into Perspective distinguishes between the Christian Right and Christian Patriots, and examines the different behaviors, rationalizations and strategies of right-wing groups and movements.
As de Armond remarks, “The Christian Patriot movement is driven much more by the theological world-view of Identity doctrine, rather than a political ideology. Because religion has only recently come to play a direct role in national politics, there is a blind-spot in most observers’ picture of the outbreak of Christian Patriot militancy which began in 1992. This is no doubt partly due to the respect for and toleration of religious dissent in America. The result is that Christian Patriots — such as the Justus Township Freemen in Montana — have been labeled “extremists” without a serious examination of the belief structures which have led them to their current situation.” Conspiracy theories and Identity doctrine drive the movement.
Ken Toole is director of the Montana Human Rights Network, the first civil-liberties group to come into direct confrontation with militias. In Ken Stern’s book on the militias, A Force Upon the Plain, Toole explained how Identity recruitment works:
“At the front end, it’s picking up lots and lots of people by hitting on issues that have wide appeal, like gun control and environmental restrictions, which enrage many people here out West. Then you go a little bit further into the funnel, and it’s about ideology, about the oppressiveness of the federal government. Then, further in, you get into the belief systems. The conspiracy…Finally, at the narrow end of the funnel, you’ve drawn in the hard core, where you get someone like Tim McVey.”
As de Armond observed in 1996, “The notion of Christian Identity doctrine as the “motor” for militant white supremacy is widely shared among experts. Many of the most violent white supremacist groups of the last three decades have either been led by or composed of individuals who are Identity believers. Among experts, the overwhelming majority agree that Christian Identity provides the “motor” for recruitment, propaganda and militant action by Christian Patriot white supremacists.”
A mandate from God is a powerful thing.
Endnote: The text of this essay is almost exclusively from the writings of Public Good Project research director Paul de Armond, who passed away in 2013. Creation of this composite, edited by Public Good Project administrative director Jay Taber, is intended to bring Paul’s writings on the topic together into a single comprehensive analysis.
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