Right Woos Left: When Patriot Movement Groups Try to Recruit Progressive Activists

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This an excerpt from Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement co-published with Rural Organizing Project.

Sometimes Patriot movement groups reach out to progressive activists in an attempt to recruit them to their cause. As you would expect, they typically downplay their reactionary social views and stress the more libertarian parts of their ideology. This is what Political Research Associates calls the “sucker punch.”1)“The Sucker Punch of Right/Left Coalitions,” Political Research Associates, www.publiceye.org/sucker_punch. See also Chip Berlet, Right Woos Left: Populist Party, LaRouchite, and Other Neo-fascist Overtures To Progressives, And Why They Must Be Rejected, Political Research Associates, originally February 27, 1999, www.politicalresearch.org/1999/02/27/right-woos-left.Various right-wing populists reach out to progressives with rhetoric that seems to match their beliefs. But once they are drawn in, the real agenda of the Patriot movement comes into play: dismantling progressive social gains and reestablishing conservative racial, gender, and sexual hierarchies—as well creating unrestrained capitalism and greenlighting the destruction of the environment.

The Oath Keepers have been particularly keen on reaching out to progressives. They went to several Occupy Wall Street events, including in Oregon.2)Spencer Sunshine, “20 on the Right in Occupy,” Political Research Associates, February 13, 2014, www.politicalresearch.org/2014/02/13/20-on-the-right-in-occupy; witness testimony, as told to author, July 13, 2016. In the state, the Oath Keepers worked hand-in-glove with the group PANDA (People Against the National Defense Authorization Act)—who were able in turn to work with Occupy Wall Street, and other progressive groups. Many progressives were disturbed by the National Defense Authorization Act, originally passed in 2011; according to the American Civil Liberties Union, it “contains a sweeping worldwide indefinite detention provision.”3)“President Obama Signs Indefinite Detention Bill Into Law” (press release), American Civil Liberties Union, December 31, 2011, www.aclu.org/news/president-obama-signs-indefinite-detention-bill-law.

PANDA received support from some progressives during their successful campaign to get several Oregon counties to pass resolutions against National Defense Authorization Act; according to the Oath Keepers, these included Lane, Klamath, Josephine, Douglas, and Coos counties.4)Elias Alias, “Oregon Oath Keepers Slam NDAA In Five Counties!,” Oath Keepers, August 14, 2014, www.oathkeepers.org/oregon-oath-keepers-slam-ndaa-in-five-counties. Yet in the familiar bait-and-switch, after Patriot activists established armed encampments at the Sugar Pine Mine at the invitation of its owners, one PANDA leader denounced the Rural Organizing Project and defended both the Patriot movement in general and militia organizing specifically.

The Patriot movement’s interests overlap with a few other issues usually associated with progressives.

  • They oppose intrusive government surveillance; the Oath Keepers have even praised Edward Snowden.5)Mike Riggs, “Oath Keepers Group Places Massive Pro-Snowden Ad Inside Pentagon Metro Station,” Reason, July 24, 2013, http://reason.com/blog/2013/07/24/oath-keepers-place-massive-pro-snowden-a.
  • The Patriot movement often supports alternative energy sources and energy independence—positions which are consistent with its xenophobic nationalism.
  • It is also opposed to eminent domain, used by the energy companies while building the fracking pipelines, as a violation of private property rights.
  • Other popular sites of crossover include opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
 There are a number of issues which interest both progressives and Hard Right activists, including opposition to Monsanto.

There are a number of issues which interest both progressives and Hard Right activists, including opposition to Monsanto.

Aaron Auer, gubernatorial candidate of the theocratic Constitution Party of Oregon, opposes GMOs.

Aaron Auer, gubernatorial candidate of the theocratic Constitution Party of Oregon, opposes GMOs.

 

There is widespread anti-vaccine sentiment in the Patriot movement. There is also a strong emphasis on the home canning, rainwater collection, and other subsistence activities. On the Right, this is part of the survivalist/prepper movement, and on the Left, crosses over with the interests in D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) culture and radical environmentalism.

The Patriot movement has spoken out of both sides of its mouth about Ferguson and Black Lives Matter. (See box on p. 41.) You hear some argue the conspiracy that Obama is stirring up racial tensions so martial law can be declared, or ludicrously claim that Black Lives Matter protestors are treated with leniency compared to the Malheur occupiers.

Malheur occupier Brandon Dowd encouraged Black Lives Matter activists to come to Malheur and learn the crank legal theories being taught there. (Photograph courtesy of Spencer Sunshine)

Malheur occupier Brandon Dowd encouraged Black Lives Matter activists to come to Malheur and learn the crank legal theories being taught there. (Photograph courtesy of Spencer Sunshine)

On the other hand, a Black member of the Malheur occupation, Brandon Dowd, hoped to recruit Black Lives Matter activists. “I would encourage more Black people to come here to get educated,” he said. “They could learn a lot being here and talking to these constitutional lawyers.”6)Sam Levin, “Black Oregon militiaman: Black Lives Matter can learn from occupiers,” Guardian, January 17, 2016, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/17/oregon-militia-black-lives-matters-activist-us-constitution. One speaker at a Portland rally for the Malheur arrestees called on Black Lives Matters protestors to join them.7)Amelia Templeton, “Occupation Supporters Try To Sway Broader Audience In Portland,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, March 5, 2016, www.opb.org/news/series/burns-oregon-standoff-bundy-militia-news-updates/portland-oregon-standoff-protest-rally-lavoy-finicum. And at the Cave Junction community watch meeting Sovereign Citizen-style fake courts were promoted as, “A people’s answer to Ferguson.”8)“Community Meeting,” Facebook event for December 15, 2014, www.facebook.com/events/332140650303625. (See Josephine County section.) The person heading up the fake courts seems to be quite socially liberal in his views—as are a number of Sovereign Citizens.

And despite its origins in open White supremacy, today the Sovereign Citizen movement has a large number of Black members, as well as an increasing number of Latinos and even Native Americans. Gavin Long, the veteran who shot six Baton Rouge police officers in July 2016, killing three of them, embraced membership in the group Empire Washita de Dugdahmoundyah, which is influenced by Sovereign Citizen ideas. According to JJ MacNab, an expert on Sovereign Citizens, this ideology is most common among African-Americans in east coast cities such as Philadelphia and Washington, DC, and in the South—particularly Florida, Tennessee, and around New Orleans.

Lastly, one Marxist group rallied to the Malheur occupiers’ side during the Malheur occupation. The Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyist sect, has called to: “Free Dwight and Steven Hammond! No to another Waco! Drop the charges against Ammon Bundy and others who occupied the Malheur reserve!”9)Brandon Ellington Patterson, “Baton Rouge Cop Killer Was a ‘Sovereign Citizen.’ What the Heck Is That?,” Mother Jones, July 20, 2016, www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/07/gavin-long-sovereign-citizen-posse-comitatus-patriot-militias; “Oppose FBI raid, killing in Oregon!,” Militant 80, no. 5 (February 8, 2016), http://themilitant.com/2016/8005/800520.html.

References   [ + ]

1. “The Sucker Punch of Right/Left Coalitions,” Political Research Associates, www.publiceye.org/sucker_punch. See also Chip Berlet, Right Woos Left: Populist Party, LaRouchite, and Other Neo-fascist Overtures To Progressives, And Why They Must Be Rejected, Political Research Associates, originally February 27, 1999, www.politicalresearch.org/1999/02/27/right-woos-left.
2. Spencer Sunshine, “20 on the Right in Occupy,” Political Research Associates, February 13, 2014, www.politicalresearch.org/2014/02/13/20-on-the-right-in-occupy; witness testimony, as told to author, July 13, 2016.
3. “President Obama Signs Indefinite Detention Bill Into Law” (press release), American Civil Liberties Union, December 31, 2011, www.aclu.org/news/president-obama-signs-indefinite-detention-bill-law.
4. Elias Alias, “Oregon Oath Keepers Slam NDAA In Five Counties!,” Oath Keepers, August 14, 2014, www.oathkeepers.org/oregon-oath-keepers-slam-ndaa-in-five-counties.
5. Mike Riggs, “Oath Keepers Group Places Massive Pro-Snowden Ad Inside Pentagon Metro Station,” Reason, July 24, 2013, http://reason.com/blog/2013/07/24/oath-keepers-place-massive-pro-snowden-a.
6. Sam Levin, “Black Oregon militiaman: Black Lives Matter can learn from occupiers,” Guardian, January 17, 2016, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/17/oregon-militia-black-lives-matters-activist-us-constitution.
7. Amelia Templeton, “Occupation Supporters Try To Sway Broader Audience In Portland,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, March 5, 2016, www.opb.org/news/series/burns-oregon-standoff-bundy-militia-news-updates/portland-oregon-standoff-protest-rally-lavoy-finicum.
8. “Community Meeting,” Facebook event for December 15, 2014, www.facebook.com/events/332140650303625.
9. Brandon Ellington Patterson, “Baton Rouge Cop Killer Was a ‘Sovereign Citizen.’ What the Heck Is That?,” Mother Jones, July 20, 2016, www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/07/gavin-long-sovereign-citizen-posse-comitatus-patriot-militias; “Oppose FBI raid, killing in Oregon!,” Militant 80, no. 5 (February 8, 2016), http://themilitant.com/2016/8005/800520.html.
Spencer Sunshine, Ph.D. (associate fellow) researches the Patriot movement, unorthodox fascist currents, left/right crossover movements, and left-wing antisemitism. He is the lead author of the 2016 report Up In Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement, which is a collaboration between PRA and Oregon’s Rural Organizing Project. Follow him on Twitter at @transform6789.