Beyond Trump: Disrupt, Defuse, Compete

The crowd goes wild at a Donald Trump rally in Dallas, Texas in September 2015. Credit: Jamelle Bouie via Flickr.

For justice-minded people, the unfolding drama of the 2016 presidential contest has been disorienting and frightening.  The usual jockeying for control of the Republican Party among Christian Nationalists, neoconservatives, and Chamber of Commerce types has been trumped by the rise of stridently bigoted populism. We’ve all witnessed ugly rhetoric in presidential campaigns before, but this is a different level of threat.

To defeat the current upsurge in right-wing populism, progressives will need to disrupt, defuse, and – critically – compete for portions of its constituency.

To defeat the current upsurge in right-wing populism, progressives will need to disrupt, defuse, and – critically – compete for portions of its constituency. Donald Trump’s torrent of racist and misogynist remarks and his fascistic policy proposals –barring Muslims from entry to the U.S. and deporting 11 million undocumented people – are aimed at the growing masses of White middle- and working-class people fearful of their declining economic and social standing. Amidst all the demonizing, explains PRA alum Chip Berlet, Trump’s supporters “are responding to rhetoric that honors them as the bedrock of American society.” From White suffering, he is mobilizing White rage.

It’s working. And the media circus around the primaries has pulled the national conversation to the Right, opening space for liberal politicians to abandon commitments to immigrant justice and other progressive demands. As we develop strategies and slogans to contest bigoted populism, we must think broader than any one candidate and beyond the current electoral calendar.

One thing we desperately need is a compelling story about race and the economy to upend the false but increasingly dominant right-wing populist explanation: liberal elites have usurped the wealth and social standing of “real Americans” and doled it out as patronage to communities of color and other undeserving masses of “takers.”

In reality, the racism that once helped to build the White middle class has for decades been strategically redeployed by the Right to undermine public support for democratic institutions and antipoverty programs. The result: falling real wages and accelerated income and wealth inequality even among Whites. Simply put, racism is destroying the American middle and working classes.

Simply put, racism is destroying the American middle and working classes.

But that story is not told clearly, loudly, or often enough. Most liberal discussion of the economy addresses race, if at all, in terms of disproportionate economic hardship. And much of the current national discussion about racism only addresses jobs and the economy in order to pivot away from the realities of racism. What we need is a synthesis.

As Heather McGhee and Ian Haney-López have argued, “The progressive movement should expand from a vision of racism as violence done solely to people of color to include a conception of racism as a political weapon wielded by elites against the 99 percent, nonwhite and white alike.” Call it the love child of Black Lives Matter and Occupy. Let’s make it clear that racism is not a viable vehicle for economic advancement for the growing White precariat. Only a multi-racial movement of and for working people can accomplish that.

To compete, we’ll have to build it. We can start by flipping the script on race and the economy and agreeing that we need to contest for some of those currently drawn to snake oil solutions to their suffering.

 

A Forthcoming Fortnight of Demagoguery

Religious liberty is already a central feature of the 2016 election campaign.  But the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) intends to enlarge and escalate the debate when it wages its fifth annual Fortnight for Freedom this summer. The campaign will feature two weeks of events—from June 21st to July 4th—in most, if not all, of the Catholic dioceses around the country. Their aim is to highlight interest in, and mobilize support for, their religious freedom agenda. The beginning date is significant because it falls on the date the Church commemorates the martyrdom of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—English Catholic leaders who defied and were executed by the King in the 16th Century. The campaign will include a nine-city tour of relics of these “martyrs of the English reformation.”

Image via YouTube.

Image via YouTube.

In preparation for the campaign, the bishops recently released a ten minute video produced by the Knights of Columbus, titled “The Right to Religious Freedom.”  If the video is any indication, Church leaders are urging their flock to militancy – warning of the threat to religious freedom in America and in the world; mixing soft-focus Catholic evangelism with edgy political propaganda that by any reasonable standard has more in common with the garish partisanship of election years than thoughtful commentary on contemporary issues.  Indeed, the video’s claims that religious persecution and martyrdom may be at hand play into the hyperbolic Christian Right narrative of a looming tyranny in America – a tyranny that the faithful must prepare to resist, violently if necessary.

It is worth focusing on and answering a few themes of the Christian Right’s current campaigns, which are well crystalized in this election year video. The USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty’s tweet announcing the video states: “New video on #TheLittleSistersofthePoor & what Catholic Church teaches on religious freedom!” Another tweet calls it a “conversation starter.”

The reference to the Little Sisters of the Poor involves the Supreme Court case Zubik v. Burwell, and its implications is the focus of the video. The case is a consolidation of seven similar cases questioning whether religiously-affiliated non-profit organizations such as charities and hospitals must conform to the contraception mandate in the regulations under the Affordable Care Act.  The video highlights one of the cases, that of a Catholic order that operates nursing homes. The Little Sisters of the Poor did not want to have to file the simple paperwork requesting a religious exemption from the regulations – claiming that the very act of signing the form that would exempt them from contraception mandates would violate their religious freedom.

The USCCB’s video, however, says little about the substance of the case. The good works of the order are highlighted, while leading Catholic scholars suggest that there is an imminent and inexplicable governmental threat to the rights of the Litter Sisters of the Poor that will lead to a broad and escalating siege against the rights of all.

First they came for the nuns

“A government that doesn’t acknowledge limits on its power to regulate religious institutions is probably going to come after others as well,” Professor Rick Garnett of Notre Dame Law School gravely warns in the video.  As footage of rioting and fire in the night in some unidentified place and time scrolls by in the background, Garnett continues, “Governments that try to squash religious freedom tend to face political fragmentation; political disunity.”  His words thus come across as more of a threat than an observation.

The stakes, in the view of the bishops, are illuminated by Professor David L. Schindler of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute at the Catholic University of America.  “When you are confronted with a tank,” he declares in the video, “it’s clear your freedom is being deprived, and you… have an identifiable enemy.”

Schindler further suggests that the current situation is not “so benign” as it is presented.  He and the bishops seem to be suggesting that if things do not go their way in Zubik, the faithful may have to face military tanks in much the way that reform-minded Chinese students famous did in Tiananmen Square.  In fact, video footage from that episode appears in this video, as well as footage of East Germans breaking through the Berlin Wall.

Thomas Farr. Image via YouTube.

Thomas Farr. Image via YouTube.

Thomas Farr, a Catholic neoconservative who heads the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University also appears in the video, highlighting a running theme on the Christian Right which seeks to conflate domestic issues (such as marriage equality) with anti-Christian genocide abroad. “We can’t love God, we can’t do our job, if we don’t have religious freedom,” Farr declares, “and there are Christians around the world who are being denied that right.”

Such false equivalences and analogies between the horrors of religiously-motivated genocide in the Middle East and domestic issues are the rule rather than the exception for many Christian Right leaders.  In 2015, Farr gave a talk titled “ISIS and Indiana: The Global Crisis of Religious Liberty and Catholic Responsibility,” in which he implied that the terror group ISIS had some bearing on the debate at the time over LGBTQ discrimination in the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Religious liberty, he suggested, is in danger of being “lost in America.” (Farr’s talk was promoted by the USCCB.)

Helen Alvaré, a former staffer at the bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, and now a professor of law at George Mason University is similarly apocalyptic in the video, claiming “When religious freedom goes away, and there is no transcendent authority, there is only majority will, then the law is the only norm, and the people in power now, are always the only power.”

Alvaré’s claim that religious freedom is subject to “majority will” ignores the actual constitutional system in which we live. Our system of government is intended to be a check against majoritarianism and factionalism. And it is explicitly intended to prevent the undue entanglements between church and state. Governments, political parties and individual politicians come and go, but only those with conspiracist worldviews believe that the people who populate the government at any given time are the only power. What Alvaré suggests is that her church represents the correct and permanent “transcendent authority,” and therefore their parochial approach to religious freedom should hold sway.

What is religious freedom? It’s all about religious and non-religious pluralism. As Thomas Jefferson put it: when one’s religious identity “shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

It can be difficult to take seriously the hyperbole and seemingly twisted perspectives of such soft-spoken and scholarly figures as Schindler, Alvaré, and Farr and their sponsors, the leading Catholic bishops in the United States. But it would be foolish to ignore them.

Thomas Farr goes so far as to equate the idea of religious liberty with his own religious identity. He says, “the dignity of the human person, that’s what religious freedom is. Every human being has dignity as a human person because he or she is created in the image and likeness of God.”

In fact, religious freedom has always been defined as having nothing to do with such parochialisms. Indeed, claims like Farr’s are the fount of all theocratic reasoning. His bibliocentric claim that because people are made in God’s image, that this is therefore the meaning of religious liberty, conflates his explicitly religious view with the Enlightenment idea of religious equality when it comes to citizenship. As Thomas Jefferson put it in his landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, one’s religious identity “shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who leads the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty (which organizes Fortnight for Freedom), has denied that he and his fellow bishops are right-wing culture warriors bent on imposing their agenda on everyone else. But he also essentially acknowledged that they want to do just that by, among other things, blocking access to legal and otherwise constitutionally protected contraception and abortion care wherever they can.

Lori has also served as a director and Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus for a decade. That he and his fellow bishops and the Catholic scholars that appear in this Knights of Columbus-produced video seem to adhere to views that have more in common with the most militant elements of the Christian Right should be fair warning to those who value religious pluralism and constitutional democracy.

Trump, Cruz, & Dominionism: Some Christian Right Leaders Fear a Crack-Up

The 2016 Republican presidential campaign has transformed American politics, likely forever. Everyone is making adjustments, but two recent illuminating episodes suggest that some Christian Right leaders are finding the changes to be unusually awkward and challenging.

trump cruzThe Christian Right, as a voting bloc, has never united behind a single candidate during the Republican presidential primaries (with the exception of Ronald Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s unopposed second-term races). Still, we tend to forget that the movement has never been monolithic and that there have always been political tensions between rival candidates and factions. But the factional tensions are different this year. And there are two main reasons for this.

The first tension is related to the unique, and uniquely divisive, candidacy of Donald Trump. Evangelical think tanker Michael Cromartie, in a curiously overwrought speech, widely-discussed in the evangelical press, has gone so far as to call it a conservative “crack-up.”  The second is the specter of Dominionism as it relates to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and his campaign. 

The Christian Post recently reported on the eyebrow-raising remarks of evangelical think tanker Michael Cromartie at a luncheon sponsored by the neoconservative Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington DC.  (IRD is best known for its efforts to degrade the historic communions of mainline Protestantism.)  Cromartie runs the Evangelicals in Civic Life program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) in Washington, DC.

Cromartie is upset that the “new branding” of evangelicalism and the Christian Right is being ruined by evangelical and conservative leaders who support Trump. He said the movement has benefited from the rise of Jim Daly of Focus on the Family, and megachurch pastors and authors Tim Keller and Rick Warren. He believes that they better “present” the movement’s goals than such founding Christian Right figures as James Dobson, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell, Sr.

But this rebranding, Cromartie says, has been undone because of the pro-Trump activities of noted Southern Baptists such as megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr., and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

The Christian Post continued:

“In the last six or seven or eight years, we now have new leaders to replace those leaders, so that it’s a new branding of evangelicals in our society,” Cromartie stated. “Now, that is all out the window, ladies and gentleman, when Jerry Falwell Jr. has the audacity to come out and endorse Donald Trump, when Robert Jeffress goes on and sells his soul every week on Fox News, encouraging the candidacy of Donald Trump.”

“If this is not a crack up,” Cromartie observed,” I don’t know what it is.”

As if to underscore his confusion about all this, Cromartie also cited blogger Matt Walsh, whose hyperbolic post “Let’s Remember The Cowardly Conservative Leaders Who Betrayed Us For Trump” leaves readers with little doubt that the faction fighting is getting bitter.

Speaking of Falwell and Jeffress, Walsh declared:

“They now promote Trump in direct defiance of Scripture, which clearly stipulates that anyone who desires to be a leader must be noble, respectable, temperate, and dignified (and probably not someone who brags about his adultery and thinks the nation’s largest abortion provider is ‘wonderful [sic]).  To claim Trump belongs in any of these categories is blasphemy.”

“Our ‘leaders’” he continued, “have subjugated themselves to the American Kim Jong Un simply for the publicity and the ratings and the chance to be friends with a billionaire celebrity.”

Meanwhile, the candidacy of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and his unexpected emergence as the leading candidate of both the Christian Right and much of the GOP establishment as an alternative to Trump is causing the movement other kinds of indigestion.

Catholic neoconservative strategist Robert P. George is apparently worried about how voters will react to the way Senator Cruz relates his religious views to public policy. Specifically, he is worried about Ted Cruz and Dominionism.

At the beginning of the presidential primary season four years ago, the Christian Right was similarly worried that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) were receiving press attention for their well-established involvements in the theocratic politics of Dominionism.

In that race, those two candidates both dropped out early. But with Cruz actually having a shot at the nomination, George apparently hopes to squelch the emerging discussion about Cruz and Dominionism before it goes any further. This may be why he was featured in a recent article in Christianity Today, which sought to smear researchers who have published about Cruz’s dominionist roots, namely evangelical historian John Fea, evangelical psychology professor Warren Throckmorton, Daily Beast writer Jay Michaelson, and myself.

In the article, George claimed:

“The contemporary religious Left’s version of McCarthyist red-baiting is to smear opponents by labeling them ‘dominionists.’ … Ted’s not a dominionist; he’s a constitutionalist.”

This is as silly as it is wrong.  What’s more, although former PRA Senior Analyst Chip Berlet and I may have defined and popularized the terms “Dominionism” and “dominionist” in the 90s as a way to describe a tendency that is evident across a wide swath of evangelicalism, we have always sought to apply it fairly and accurately.

Nevertheless, George and the authors of the article did not offer a single example of the supposedly McCarthyist-style uses of the term by those of us named in the article or anyone else.

Also ignored by the authors and George is the fact that the term was part of the debate about Christian Reconstructionism in the evangelical community for years before Berlet and I used it for wider publics.1  The term has also been objectively employed in many scholarly books and articles.

As I recently told journalist Bill Berkowitz, who wrote about the discussion of Cruz and Dominionism for Truthout, “The question of whether Cruz is a Dominionist will linger because the available evidence suggests that he is.” John Fea has detailed how, in addition to Cruz’s own statements, Cruz’s father Rafael (who is also his principal campaign surrogate) is openly a 7 Mountains Dominionist, as is the head of Cruz’s Super PAC – revisionist historian David Barton. One of Cruz’s foreign policy advisers, Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council, is also a well-known 7 Mountains Dominionist and a longtime board member of a 7 Mountains political project called The Oak Initiative.

The public debate about the Christian Right is usually limited to the tripartite agenda of what they term “life, marriage, and religious liberty” as put forth in The Manhattan Declaration.  But their agenda has always been broader and deeper than that, which is why Robert P. George, the principal author of the Declaration (and current Vice Chairman of EPPC) does not want to risk us talking about the political and economic dimensions of what they mean by “taking dominion” over society. This, combined with the bitterness of some about evangelical support for Trump, may very well signal a period of disunity rather than the politically homogenized evangelicalism preferred by Washington, DC think tanks and power brokers.


 

[1]  These usages are discussed in Christian Reconstructionism:  R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism by Michael J. McVicar, University of North Carolina Press, 2015.; page 204.

Gunning for Office: Oregon’s Patriot Movement and the May 2016 Primary

This article is based on research from a forthcoming report about Oregon’s Patriot movement, which will be published by the Rural Organizing Project and Political Research Associates.

In the wake of the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January and February 2016, a slew of candidates linked to the so-called Patriot movement are running for office in Oregon, including in the upcoming May primary. Even though most of the actual occupiers were from out of state, the occupation highlighted the state’s large and growing Patriot movement. These often-armed, Hard Right activists organized the initial demonstration that preceded the occupation and helped build political support for the occupiers’ demands. These demands included the transfer of federally owned public lands to state or county governments in order to avoid land-use restrictions, as well as attempts to circumvent the federal government’s decision-making powers by invoking legally groundless claims about the authority of state and county governments.

Patriot Movement-affiliated candidates and elected officials are in several Oregon counties.

Patriot Movement-affiliated candidates and elected officials are in several Oregon counties.

The arrest of over two dozen people connected to the Malheur occupation, in addition to the death of occupier Robert “LaVoy” Finicum at the hands of law enforcement, has energized the movement—which now has a new martyr and opportunities for activism to support their newly minted political prisoners. For the last few years, the state’s Patriot movement largely focused on non-electoral movement building; some county sheriffs and a handful of other officials were affiliated with its aims, but by and large it remained outside of the electoral arena. This is changing with Oregon’s May 17, 2016 primary election. In several counties where Oregon’s Patriot movement is strong—including Josephine, Crook, Baker, Douglas, and Harney—candidates tied to the movement are running for office. These candidates include key Patriot movement leaders such as Joseph Rice, as well as Republicans who are courting the movement for votes.

The Patriot movement is a Hard Right movement that is trying to radically transform U.S. political and legal institutions. It seeks to implement a form of right-wing decentralization, including the abolition of environmental laws and the social safety net, replacing them with almost completely unrestricted capitalism, all based on an idiosyncratic reading of the Constitution and various conspiracy theories which support their political views. The best known of the movement’s tactics is the formation of paramilitaries—traditionally “militias,” but more recently including other, more decentralized, armed approaches.

The movement also relies on a number of crank “legal” strategies that have no basis in law. The most important is “nullification,” the notion that a lower government (such as the county or state) can ignore laws passed by a higher authority (usually the federal government). One popular form of nullification is the false claim that county sheriffs have the authority to decide which laws are unconstitutional and therefore should not be enforced.1

The movement also promotes the concept of “coordination”: the false idea that federal agencies must comply with county government plans regarding land-use decisions, usually about natural resource extraction on federal lands that are within a county’s borders. Coordination is a new form of “county supremacy,” an idea popular in the 1990s that is re-emerging.2 By 1996, 70 counties had passed laws attempting to gain control over federal lands.3 (This is based on the idea that removing restrictions on natural resource extraction will revive moribund rural economies.) In the end, these county governments only wasted their energies tilting at windmills, instead of working on constructive solutions to local problems. Related to this, many in the movement believe the federal government has no legal right to own most public land, which they think should be transferred to state or county control. All of these positions reflect hostility toward the federal government, which is not uncommon in the rural West.

Because of the movement’s political focus on the county, it is not surprising that this year’s crop of Patriot-friendly candidates are largely seeking seats at the county level.

The most important Oregon Patriot movement groups today are those associated with the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), and the Pacific Patriots Network. The Oath Keepers are a national membership-based organization that recruits current and former police, military, and first responders; however others can still be “associate members.” Members swear to disobey government orders they claim are unconstitutional, but these are mostly staple right-wing conspiracy theories such as federal government plans to disarm civilians before herding them into concentration camps. The CSPOA is composed of standing law enforcement members and is affiliated with the Oath Keepers. Their founder, former county sheriff Richard Mack, believes the county sheriff has the authority to interpret the Constitution, and therefore decide which laws should be enforced. The Three Percenters are a somewhat decentralized militia; individuals can identify with the label, but in some places, including Oregon, there are also organized groups with leadership structures. Some individual Three Percenters were involved in the Malheur occupation.4 The Pacific Patriots Network is a network of nine “partner” groups, mostly based in Oregon and Idaho, including the Oath Keepers of Josephine County and both the Oregon and Idaho Three Percenters. The Pacific Patriots Network became infamous for their third-party activities around the Malheur occupation in Burns, Oregon—the town just outside the refuge.5 Their members organized the initial January 2, 2016 march that the occupation came out of; held events and meetings in Burns to promote Patriot movement ideology; deployed armed members in the town; and helped bring supplies to the refuge. This allowed them to try to position themselves as a neutral party while really playing “good cop” to the occupiers’ “bad cop,” and raising their public profile at the same time.

If the current wave of Patriot–affiliated candidates in Oregon are elected, it will not be the first time sympathizers with this movement have held office. Quite a few public officials supported the militia movement in the 1990s—the direct precursor to today’s Patriot movement—including then-U.S. Representatives Steve Stockman from Texas and the late Helen Chenoweth-Hage from Idaho, as well as many state and local legislators, such as the late Colorado State Representative and Senator Charlie Duke.6

There are a number of current Oregon officials who have links to Patriot groups or who showed support for nullification, coordination, and/or the Malheur occupation in different ways. (Please note that the inclusion of a candidate or elected official in this article only relates to their political beliefs and is not an accusation that they are engaged in paramilitary training or illegal political actions.)

  • Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer, perhaps the best known in this list of currently serving officials, was on the CSPOA’s Council of Sheriffs, Peace Officers and Public Officials and won the 2012 CSPOA Sheriff of the Year Award. In 2015 he tried to invoke coordination for his sheriff’s office to have rights on federal forestland. He also met with occupiers during the occupation, and the occupation’s leadership was stopped and confronted by law enforcement when they were traveling to meet Palmer at a community meeting in the town of John Day.7
  • State Representative Dallas Heard (District 2) visited the occupation as part of a trip with out-of-state elected officials.8
  • State Representative Carl Wilson (District 3) was praised by the Oath Keepers for writing a letter in support of miners who established armed encampments at the Sugar Pine Mine in Josephine County, Oregon in spring 2015 over a land use conflict with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).9 This incident is seen as a precursor to the Malheur occupation.
  • Baker County Commissioner Bill Harvey has invoked coordination and spoke at a “Rural Lives Matter” rally—one of the first statewide attempts to build Patriot movement public support after the Malheur occupation ended.10
  • Yamhill County Commissioner Mary Starrett publicly blamed the BLM for Malheur occupier Robert “LaVoy” Finicum’s death and has supported the movement’s politics in general.11
  • Grants Pass City Councilor Roy Lindsay is the treasurer of the Josephine County Oath Keepers.12

In addition, state Senator Kim Thatcher (District 13) and state Representatives Bill Post (District 25) and Mike Nearman (District 23) took part in a spring 2015 rally in Salem, Oregon against SB941, a state law requiring background checks for private gun sales. They appeared alongside two Patriot movement leaders, including Three Percenters’ cofounder Mike Vanderboegh. He threatened “civil war” (as he did at the Bundy Ranch) as a response to the new law, calling Oregon Governor Kate Brown and others in the state government “tyrants” and “domestic enemies of the Constitution.” Vanderboegh concluded, “this country has long had a remedy for tyrants—a second amendment remedy. So be careful for what you wish for, Madam—you may get it.”13

In addition to the currently serving officials, there are at least fourteen Patriot movement affiliated candidates running for Oregon office—although there are undoubtedly more who have escaped our attention or are hiding their affiliations. Most candidates are running in the May primary, although some races will be decided in the November election. These include candidates who are Patriot movement activists; those who are directly courting or endorsed by Patriot groups; and those promoting the movement’s radical political positions including nullification, coordination, and sympathy with the Malheur occupation.

State Races

Bruce Cuff is a gubernatorial candidate in the Republican primary and is actively seeking Patriot movement support.14 According to his website, “The highest elected law enforcement officers in the State of Oregon are the 36 County Sheriffs.” It also says, “All Federal lands should be returned to the State of Oregon so local counties can manage the public lands within their borders.” His campaign strategy statement invokes Article 1, Section 8, Paragraph 17 of the U.S. Constitution to support the legally specious belief that the federal government is restricted to owning what, in the Patriot movement’s jargon, is referred to as “forts, ports, and ten square miles” (of Washington, D.C.).15 He is campaigning on the idea of “state sovereignty,” saying that any actions by at least ten federal agencies (including the FBI, BLM, and OSHA) will have to be permitted by both the state governor and local sheriff. He also attacks Oregon Governor Brown for allowing Syrian refugees into the state by invoking typical demonizing rhetoric, including accusations that they are disease carriers and are potential ISIS members.16 Cuff attended a March 2016 Portland rally supporting those arrested for the Malheur occupation; elsewhere he said, “LaVoy was murdered,” and placed the blame on Governor Brown.17 In 2014, Cuff ran in the Republican primary for governor and received 23,912 votes (9.7 percent).18

The Constitution Party of Oregon is a Hard Right theocratic party that split from the party’s national organization in 2006, although the state party has the option to place the national party’s candidate on the ballot. In the 1990s, the national party was named the U.S. Taxpayer Party and it had many links to the militia movement.19 Today, some members are also involved with the Oath Keepers. The Constitution Party of Oregon’s platform calls for the transfer of federal public lands, the right of the county sheriff to interpret the Constitution, and for taxes to be paid in gold or silver. During the occupation, the party called for the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to be transferred out of federal hands.20 The Constitution Party of Oregon’s gubernatorial candidate is Aaron Auer, and party candidates for the November election are expected to be announced soon. Auer ran for Oregon governor in 2014 and received 15,929 votes.21

Dennis Linthicum is the only Republican candidate for state senate for District 28 so he is up for election in November. Linthicum was a Klamath County Commissioner from 2011 to 2015. He appeared at an event alongside then-CSPOA Sheriff Gil Gilbertson of Josephine County, and is active with Patriot movement social media. In a blog post written before the Malheur occupation, about the convictions of Dwight and Steven Hammond (whose mandatory minimum prison sentences for arson were the initial issue which inspired the occupation), Linthicum echoed Patriot movement conspiracies that “the vast majority of actions at the federal level are aimed at building a federal empire of absolute control.” He later wrote favorably about the Malheur occupation, claiming that those who did not support it were beingtrapped in the web of manufactured information,” and implying it was the federal government—not the occupiers—that was the real party guilty of breaking the law.22 In 2014, he challenged Greg Walden in the Republican primary for the U.S. House seat in District 2 and received 19,936 votes (24 percent).23

Jo Rae Perkins is running in the Republican primary for U.S. Representative in District 4 and is heavily courting Patriot movement support. She is challenging Art Robinson, who ran for the position several times, and in 2014 was both the Republican and Constitution Party candidate. Her calendar shows her appearances with right-wing groups like the Oath Keepers of Linn & Benton Counties, Lane County’s 912 Project, and the Liberators—though it omits her Roseburg, Oregon talk hosted by Three Percenters.24 Perkins is a former Linn County Republican Party chair.25 Her platform includes standard right-wing causes such as opposing immigration (including ending sanctuary cities), making abortion illegal, and supporting gun rights. Additionally, she cites Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution to support the erroneous belief the federal government cannot legally own most public lands.26

County Races

In Harney County, where the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation occurred, at least three Patriot-style candidates are running for county positions. Charmaign “Sis” Edwards, one of the few local ranchers who supported the Malheur takeover, is running for Commissioner. She is currently on the South Harney School Board and has a grazing permit on Bureau of Land Management property.27 On December 11, 2015, before the occupation, she signed a “Redress of Grievances” concerning the Hammond family that was being forwarded by a number of Patriot groups.28 Edwards and her husband visited the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and, after meeting with Ammon Bundy, told reporters they supported both the occupation and the transfer of the refuge land to local control.29 She is using “Rural Lives Matter” as a campaign slogan, and in one Facebook post promotes a right-wing conspiracy theory popular in Patriot movement circles about Agenda 21. In reality, this is a nonbinding United Nations’ resolution that advocates ecologically sustainable development; however, right-wing conspiracy theorists believe it is actually a nefarious global socialist plot to drive rural people off the land and into cities, where they will be herded in concentration camps. On Edwards’s Facebook page, she cites Agenda 21 a part of “a serious effort to reduce the population and control man’s existence by a New World Order.”30

Anna Jo Surber is running for Harney County Judge, a position similar to a county commission chair, currently held by Steve Grasty, an outspoken critic of the occupation who is retiring. Surber is an employee at the Narrows, the restaurant and RV park just outside the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters that welcomed the occupiers as customers. Her campaign Facebook page says, “We need constitutional Judges, Sheriffs and other elected officials.”31 One week into the occupation, she agreed with a podcast interviewer that the armed occupation was “a good tactic” and described the occupiers as “peaceful.”32 A couple weeks later, in an interview with Pete Santilli, the Patriot movement livestreamer who was arrested for his role in the occupation and is in jail awaiting trial, Surber described the tactic of nullification as “exactly what I would want to do.”33

Alan Johnson is running for Harney County Sheriff. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Johnson’s candidacy is “sanctioned” by the CSPOA, and he was in attendance at CSPOA founder Richard Mack’s February talk in Harney County.34 He is running against Sheriff David Ward, a supporter of the Hammond family who had initially met with Ammon Bundy and other Patriot activists. However, Ward (along with Judge Steve Grasty) became an outspoken critic of the occupation, even as he continued to meet with the occupiers and work for a peaceful resolution.”

In Josephine County, the co-founder of the Pacific Patriots Network and leader of the county’s Oath Keepers chapter, Joseph Rice, is running for county commission. Rice was the de facto leader of the Sugar Pine Mine operation in spring 2015. In this incident, Patriot movement activists came from around the country to Josephine County and established armed camps in support of locals on a mining claim were who were in conflict with the Bureau of Land Management. Members of the Josephine County Oath Keepers helped organize the original demonstration in Burns in support of the Hammonds, which Ammon Bundy and others left at the end of to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. The Josephine County Oath Keepers is part of the Pacific Patriots Network, and although they technically distanced themselves from the occupation, Rice met with the occupiers and the Pacific Patriots Network came back to Burns to attempt to politically profit from the situation.35 In this primary, Rice is vying for Position 2 County Commissioner against other prominent local right-wingers, including Dale Matthews, who runs the Bad County website, and Paul Walter, who runs the conspiracist News With Views website.36

In Crook County, two members of the Central Oregon Patriots (COP) are seeking county positions. COP is an influential local political organization; its origins are in the Tea Party and although its politics are similar to the Patriot movement it is tactically more moderate than the other groups mentioned here.37 However, COP has cross-membership with the Oath Keepers and connections with members of the Central Oregon Constitutional Guard, which is part of the Pacific Patriots Network. COP co-organizer, Ken Taylor, is the Crook County Republican Party chair.38

COP Chair Craig Brookhart is running for Crook County Judge, a position that, like in Harney County, is roughly equivalent to a county commission chair. In 2012, Brookhart ran in the county Republican primary for Judge, receiving 972 votes (32.96 percent).39 Brookhart is also secretary of the Crook County Republican Party, a Precinct Committee Person and the Chair of the Crook County Natural Resources PAC, another vehicle for Patriot movement politics.40 The PAC has already held a seminar to promote the idea of coordination.41 Brookhart’s election website carefully hides his Hard Right connections; COP is never mentioned, and the PAC only in passing.42 His platform calls to “restore local control of natural resources,” and he calls himself a “Constitutional Conservative” while making various appeals to the Constitution in a manner consistent with Patriot views.43

COP member Pete Sharp is also running for Crook County commission. He has said, “With my platform, I put God first,” and “I want to get back to the Constitution, which means less government, less control, and the government working for the people of the county.” He is also promoting Crook County invoking coordination status and hopes this will allow for more logging.44

In Douglas County, hardline Patriot movement activist J.D. Parks is running for county commission. He is a Three Percenter, an Oath Keeper, and a founding member of the Heirs of Patrick Henry—a member group of the Pacific Patriots Network.45 Parks’s election Facebook page posts typical movement propaganda and views; for example, in one post he says, “One of our two senators actually lives in New York. The other is a communist.”46 He was part of the Sugar Pine Mine action in 2015 and is forwarding a resolution to transfer federal lands to the state and county level.47

Kody Justus, who is running for Baker County commission, is another hardline Patriot movement activist. The coordinator of his county’s Oath Keepers group and Vice-Chair of the Baker County Republicans, Justus took his nine-year-old daughter with him when he brought supplies to the Malheur occupation this January, earning a mention in the New York Times.48 His campaign video promotes “aggressively engaging federal agencies through coordination and pursuing the transfer of public lands to local control.”49 Justus’s website includes links to groups with Patriot movement-style politics like CSPOA, the Tenth Amendment Center, and Defend Rural America. Justus also attended the Rural Lives Matter rally in Halfway, Oregon on February 6, 2016—one of the first post-Malheur occupation support events.50

Sheriff’s Deputy John Hoopes is running for Baker County Sheriff in an election that will be decided in November. Hoopes is a CSPOA member, visited the Malheur occupation, and attended the Rural Lives Matter event in Halfway. 51 Hoopes’s Facebook page promotes talks by sovereign citizen lawyer KrisAnne Hall and CSPOA founder Richard Mack.52 In his answers to a 2015 candidate questionnaire, Hoopes said he wants Baker County to control public lands and that as sheriff he will refuse to enforce laws that “support gun registration or confiscation” because he believes they are unconstitutional.53

Last, Mandi Jacobs, a Patriot movement activist, is a write-in candidate to be a Republican Party Precinct Committee Person in Douglas County’s Precinct 17—despite the fact that she has not been registered as a party member for the required period to be eligible.54 Her run for this low-level elected position is of note because it represents part of a bottom-up, rather than a top-down, approach to taking over political institutions—an approach which can be seen reflected across the Patriot movement’s strategies.

The Patriot movement in Oregon has shown that it can grab headlines through the use of armed action. It will be seen this May and November whether it can capture political power at the ballot box as well. If they successfully gain county-level seats across the state, we can expect confrontations around federal land transfer, nullification, and coordination. These actions will attempt to short-circuit existing democratic structures and circumvent federal laws (especially environmental restrictions), and Patriot movement-affiliated county officials will help create a welcoming environment for further right-wing paramilitary activities in the state.

ENDNOTES

Unless otherwise noted, all online citations are accessible as of April 19, 2016.

1) The origin of this idea is usually attributed to Posse Comitatus, a decentralized Christian White supremacist group. See Daniel Levitas, The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right (New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2002).

2) There is an actual federal rule called “coordination,” but it has a different meaning, and does not grant counties the right to dictate land-use decisions to federal agencies. See Montana Human Rights Network, “Recycled County Supremacy Gains Traction, Lacks Legal Basis,” November 2, 2012, http://www.mhrn.org/publications/specialresearchreports/MHRN%20Report%20-%20Coordination.pdf.

3) Kenneth S. Stern, A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), 125.

4) Rachel Tabachnick, “Profile on the Right: Oath Keepers,” Political Research Associates, April 23, 2015, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/04/23/profile-on-the-right-oathkeepers; Political Research Associates, “Profiles on the Right: Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association,” November 22, 2013, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/11/22/profiles-on-the-right-constitutional-sheriffs-and-peace-officers-association; Spencer Sunshine, “Profiles on the Right: Three Percenters,” Political Research Associates, January 5, 2016, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2016/01/05/profiles-on-the-right-three-percenters.

5) “Partners,” Pacific Patriots Network, http://www.pacificpatriotsnetwork.com/partners.php; OPB Staff, “New Armed Group Enters Harney County, Meets With Sheriff,” OPB, January 9, 2016, http://www.opb.org/news/series/burns-oregon-standoff-bundy-militia-news-updates/armed-convoy-arrives-at-harney-county-courthouse.

6) Stern, A Force Upon the Plain, 212–17.

7) CSPOA, “The Leadership—CSPOA Council of Sheriffs, Peace Officers and Public Officials,” https://web.archive.org/web/20150820114146/http://cspoa.org/about/leadership, archive from August 20, 2015; Jonathan Thompson, “The rise of the Sagebrush Sheriffs,” High Country News, February 2, 2016, https://www.hcn.org/issues/48.2/the-rise-of-the-sagebrush-sheriffs; George Plaven, “Grant County sheriff demands coordination with Forest Service,” East Oregonian, October 9, 2015, www.eastoregonian.com/eo/local-news/20151009/grant-county-sheriff-demands-coordination-with-forest-service; Les Zaitz, “State licensing board seeks investigation of Grant County sheriff who met militants,” Oregonian/OregonLive, February 18, 2016, http://www.oregonlive.com/oregon-standoff/2016/02/state_police_board_seeks_inves.html.

8) John Sepulvado, “Oregon Lawmaker Says Roseburg Shooting Prompted ‘Fact-Finding’ Visit To Armed Occupation,” OPB, March 20, 2016, http://www.opb.org/news/series/burns-oregon-standoff-bundy-militia-news-updates/roseburg-shooting-republican-politician-dallas-heard-occupation-visit. The refuge trip that Representative Heard went on was organized by COWS (Coalition of Western States), but he says that he is not a member of the group.

9) The Facebook account of the Oath Keepers of Oregon posted, “Every Politician should be supporting the miner’s rights or else they are violating their oath. At least Oregon state Rep. Carl Wilson Supports Miners’ Access To Due Process:,” May 15, 2015, https://www.facebook.com/OathKeepersofOregon/posts/686948074750130. The Josephine County Oath Keepers also posted Representative Wilson’s press release on their site; see “Rep. Carl Wilson Supports Miners’ Access To Due Process,” April 28, 2015, http://oathkeepersjoco.com/downloads/Rep-Carl-Wilson-Supports-Miners-Access-To-Due-Process.pdf.

10) Joshua Dillen, “County, Forest Service discuss coordination,” Baker City Herald, October 2, 2015, http://www.bakercityherald.com/Local-News/County-Forest-Service-discuss-coordination; Jayson Jacoby, “Message Delivered,” Baker City Herald, February 8, 2016, http://www.bakercityherald.com/Local-News/Message-Delivered.

11) Nicole Montesano, “Commissioners urged to help calm Malheur tension,” Yamhill Valley News Register, January 28, 2016, http://newsregister.com/article?articleTitle=commissioners-urged-to-help-calm-malheur-tension–1454029836–20827–. Starrett is also a former Constitution Party official and candidate.

12) Tay Wiles, “Sugar Pine Mine, the other standoff,” High Country News, February 2, 2016, http://www.hcn.org/issues/48.2/showdown-at-sugar-pine-mine.

13) “Senator Kim Thatcher—‘I will not comply!’—SB 941 Protests” (video), YouTube, uploaded May 31, 2015, https://youtu.be/3oe3co_tHfU; “Bill Post—‘I will not comply’ SB 941” (video), YouTube, uploaded May 31, 2015, https://youtu.be/Ycbey1VMyCQ; “Mike Nearman—‘I will not comply’—SB 941” (video), uploaded May 31, 2015, https://youtu.be/ystyU-kv5J4. For Vanderboegh, see “We Will Not Comply Rally—Salem, Oregon—May 30, 2015” (video), YouTube, uploaded July 3, 2015, https://youtu.be/sDD7GZJLSkE. His call for “civil war” is around 57:15, and comments on Governor Kate Brown around 1:04:40.

14) For example, he is speaking to the Douglas County Oath Keepers on April 15, 2016 as publicized on their Facebook page, March 22, 2016: http://www.facebook.com/oathkeepers/posts/468874663307449.

15) “Strategies to Return Local Control to the Communities and Voters of Oregon,” Bruce Cuff for Governor of Oregon, http://www.time4cuff.co/strategies-to-return-local-control.html, accessed April 17, 2016.

16) “Oregon is a Sovereign State!,” Bruce Cuff for Governor of Oregon, http://www.time4cuff.co/oregon-is-a-sovereign-state-.html, accessed April 17, 2016.

17) KOIN 6 News Staff, “Shouts of support, waves for jailed Bundy brothers,” KOIN6, March 5, 2016, http://koin.com/2016/03/05/shouts-of-support-waves-for-jailed-bundy-brothers; “BLM Protest Wardo interviews Bruce Cuff and J D Parks Oregon 3/26” (video), YouTube, uploaded April 1, 2016, https://youtu.be/qQyF7wamshU. See starting at 2:27.

18) “Oregon 2016 Election Center,” Washington Times, http://m.washingtontimes.com/elections/OR/profile.

19) Montana Human Rights Network, The Constitution Party of Montana: The Radical Right Wing’s Collision with Mainstream Politics, third edition, 2009 (originally 2000), http://www.mhrn.org/publications/specialresearchreports/CPOM%20Updated%20report.pdf, 9–13, 63–64.

20) “Platform of the Constitution Party of Oregon,” The Constitution Party of Oregon, http://www.constitutionpartyoregon.net/platform_of_the_constitution_par.htm; see also, Constitution Party of Oregon’s Facebook post from January 10, 2016, https://www.facebook.com/ConstitutionPartyOfOregon/posts/561405287347989.

21) Oregon Secretary of State, “November 4, 2014, General Election, Official Abstract of Votes,” http://sos.oregon.gov/elections/Documents/results/results-2014-general-election.pdf.

22) “Josephine County Republicans Present Rich Wyatt and Kevin Starrett,” 2015, https://jocogop.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/richwyatt.png; Dennis Linthicum, “BLM v Hammond—A Blind Pimple Or Worse?,” Dirt Road Economist, November 23, 2015, http://www.dirtroadeconomist.com/2015/11/23/blm-v-hammond-a-blind-pimple-or-worse; “Absolute Power is not Easily Tamed,” Dirt Road Economist, January 28, 2016, http://www.dirtroadeconomist.com/2016/1/28/absolute-power-is-not-easily-tamed.

23) “Oregon—Summary Vote Results,” May 21, 2014, http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/files/elections/2014/by_state/OR_US_House_0520.html.

24) “March 2016” calendar, http://www.perkins4oregon.com/Calendar/Events/2016/03.aspx; “Meet with Jo Rae Perkins,” Facebook event, http://www.facebook.com/events/890834391033614, accessed April 1, 2016; screenshot in possession of author. The 912 Project was founded by Glenn Beck.

25) Ian K. Kullgren, “Election 2016: Who’s running for office in Oregon? Portland? We’ve got your list right here,” Oregonian/OregonLive, March 09, 2016, http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/03/candidate_list_final_2016.html.

26) “Issues,” http://www.perkins4oregon.com/Issues.aspx, accessed April 17, 2016.

27) “Charmaign ‘Sis’ Edwards for Harney County Commissioner,” March 30, 2016, http://www.facebook.com/Edwards4Commissioner/posts/1750781981820909; Karina Brown, “Residents Mixed on Bundy Militia’s Takeover,” Courthouse News Service, January 7, 2016, http://www.courthousenews.com/2016/01/07/residents-mixed-on-bundy-militias-takeover.htm.

28) We the People—United Individuals of these States United: Coalition of Western States (COWS), Pacific Patriot Network (PPN), Bundy Family and Supporters, Oregon Oath Keepers, Idaho III%, Central Oregon Constitutional Guard, Oregon Tactical, Oregon Bearded Bastards, Liberty Watch Washington, Nevada Committee for Full Statehood, Rural Heritage Preservation Project, Liberty For All (LFA), etc., “NOTICE: Redress of Grievance – December 11, 2015,” http://holdingblock.blogspot.com/2015/12/we-people-united-individuals-of-these.html.

29) Brown, “Residents Mixed on Bundy Militia’s Takeover.”

30) http://www.facebook.com/charmaign.edwards; see February 21, 2016 post.

31) Caitlin Dickson, “In Oregon occupation, residents choose sides on social media—and things get ugly,” Yahoo News, January 11, 2016, http://www.yahoo.com/news/in-oregon-occupation–residents-choose-sides-on-social-media%E2%80%94and-things-get-ugly-202711268.html; “About,” http://www.facebook.com/Annajoforjudge.

32) Trent Loos’ Podcast, “Loos Tales for Jan 11, 2016 Anna Jo Surber works at the The Narrows,” January 10, 2016, http://trentloos.podomatic.com/entry/2016-01-10T05_07_40-08_00. See around 1:40, 3:00, and 3:38.

33) “Anna Jo Surber Running For Commissioner In Harney County Oregon— #OregonFront,” January 26, 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbO9rSXn2RE. See around 7:44.

34) Bill Morlin, “‘Constitutional Sheriff’ Richard Mack Hoping to Capitalize on Oregon Standoff,” February 16, 2016, http://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/02/16/%E2%80%98constitutional-sheriff%E2%80%99-richard-mack-hoping-capitalize-oregon-standoff.

35) Tay Wiles and Jonathan Thompson, “Who’s who inside and on the outskirts of the Malheur occupation,” High Country News, January 11, 2016, http://www.hcn.org/articles/whos-who-at-the-oregon-standoff-malhuer-bundy.

36) Josephine County Voters’ Pamphlet: Official Primary Election, May 17, 2016, http://www.co.josephine.or.us/Files/May%202016%20Primary%20Election%20VP.pdf.

37) An archived COP website says, “On September 12, 2009 two area citizens were part of the largest peaceful protest march in the history of our nation. We now recognize the Tea Party on 9/12/2009 as the genesis of COP.” See https://web.archive.org/web/20160212180928/http://www.copatriots.org.

38) “Ken Taylor,” http://www.linkedin.com/in/ken-taylor-59b24719; “Crook County,” http://www.oregonrepublicanparty.org/CrookCounty.

39) Jason Chaney, “Brookhart again running for judge,” Central Oregonian, November 24, 2015, http://www.pamplinmedia.com/ceo/162-news/282544-158473-brookhart-again-running-for-judge; “Primary Election, May 15, 2012—Official Final Results” http://co.crook.or.us/Portals/0/MayPrimary2012.pdf.

40) Aaron West, “Three running for Crook County judge,” The Bulletin (Bend), April 5, 2016, http://www.bendbulletin.com/newsroomstafflist/4186316-151/three-running-for-crook-county-judge.

41) Aaron West, “Crook County residents form a PAC to make a land use plan,” The Bulletin (Bend), February 29, 2016, http://www.bendbulletin.com/localstate/4042307-151/crook-county-residents-form-a-pac-to-make.

42) Brookhart for Crook County Judge, 2016, http://electcraigbrookhart.com.

43) “Platform,” Brookhart for Crook County Judge, 2016, http://electcraigbrookhart.com/Brookhart_for_Crook_County_Judge/Platform.html; “About Me,” Brookhart for Crook County Judge, 2016, http://electcraigbrookhart.com/Brookhart_for_Crook_County_Judge/About_Me.html.

44) Jason Chaney, “Sharp joins county commissioner race,” Central Oregonian, December 4, 2015, http://www.pamplinmedia.com/ceo/162-news/284047-159397-sharp-joins-county-commissioner-race; Aaron West, “7 up for open seat in Crook County,” The Bulletin (Bend), March 26, 2016, http://www.bendbulletin.com/newsroomstafflist/4162552-151/7-up-for-open-seat-in-crook-county.

45) Carisa Cegavske, “Susan Morgan critic J.D. Parks running for her commission seat,” NR Today, February 9, 2016, http://www.nrtoday.com/news/20566618-113/susan-morgan-critic-jd-parks-running-for-her, accessed April 1, 2016. Copy in possession of author.

46) “J.D. Parks for Douglas County Commissioner,” http://www.facebook.com/groups/781291355309827.

47) “J.D. Parks—Bringing the Constitution back at the local Level,” February 24, 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RD4VFnFCkAY. One of Parks’s opponents is Gary Leif, who visited the Malheur occupation, but came away saying he did not support it. See Carisa Cegavske, “County commissioner candidate Gary Leif meets with protesters at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge,” NRToday, January 22, 2016, http://www.nrtoday.com/news/20276992-113/county-commissioner-candidate-gary-leif-meets-with-protesters.

48) Gina Perkins, “Coordinator of County’s Oath Keeper Group Running for Commissioner,” Record-Courier, January 28, 2016, http://www.therconline.com/#!Coordinator-of-Countys-Oath-Keeper-Group-Running-for-Commissioner/cg4a/56aa60a60cf2c295f1f2674f; Julie Turkewitzjan, “Fervor in Oregon Compound and Fear Outside It,” New York Times, January 12, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/13/us/fervor-in-oregon-compound-and-fear-outside-it.html.

49) “Kody Justus for Baker County Commission,” https://vimeo.com/157685693.

50) Kody Justus for Baker County Commission, http://www.justusforbakercounty.com; Jayson Jacoby, “Message Delivered, Baker City Herald, February 8, 2016, http://www.bakercityherald.com/Local-News/Message-Delivered.

51) A February 19, 2016, comment on a February 20 “Hoopes 4 Sheriff” Facebook post says he has joined CSPOA; Jayson Jacoby, “Message Delivered, Baker City Herald, February 8, 2016, http://www.bakercityherald.com/Local-News/Message-Delivered.

52) “John ‘Hoopes 4 Sheriff,’” http://www.facebook.com/John-Hoopes-4-Sheriff-1708084419467568.

53) “Sheriff candidates interviewed: John Hoopes’ answers,” March 13, 2015, http://www.bakercityherald.com/Local-News/Sheriff-candidates-interviewed-John-Hoopes-answers.

54) Facebook post, March 15, 2016; http://www.facebook.com/mandi.jacobs.3/posts/1149962291681485.

The Christian Right’s Favorite New Target: North Carolina Isn’t Alone

A slate of anti-LGBTQ laws and policies is sweeping across the country with transgender and gender-nonconforming people squarely in the crosshairs. While violence and oppression continue to wreak havoc on the lives and livelihoods of trans people, as of this writing at least 44 anti-trans bills have been proposed in 16 states this year, aimed at putting an already vulnerable community at even greater risk for harassment, abuse, ostracization, and discrimination.

But this attack isn’t restricted to the Bible Belt, nor is it limited to GOP-dominated cities and states. Trans people are being systematically targeted across the country as part of a nationally coordinated effort led by a coalition of Christian Right powerhouses – organizations that have been plotting this campaign since long before even the concept of a “post-marriage equality moment” existed.

Mickyel “Micky” Bradford, a regional organizer with the Transgender Law Center, protests HB2 outside of the governor's mansion. Image courtesy of Ryan Lavalley

Mickyel “Micky” Bradford, a regional organizer with the Transgender Law Center @ Southerners On New Ground (TLC@SONG), protests HB2 outside of the governor’s mansion. Image courtesy of Ryan Lavalley

Precariously situated at the end of the LGBT family, the “T” has often been neglected and/or forgotten by those on both the Right and the Left. Now, with the LGB portion of the queer umbrella experiencing increasing levels of legal acceptance, affirmation in the media, and economic access in the United States, the Right has cast their spotlight in the direction of those whom they’ve determined are still easily scapegoated; those who dare to continue resisting assimilation – trans and gender-nonconforming people.

Last week, North Carolina’s General Assembly approved a bill that was described by Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, as “the most extreme anti-LGBT bill in the nation.” House Bill 2 (HB2) invalidates the recent expansion of nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals in the City of Charlotte, and additionally prevents all municipalities in the state from adding any new protections for LGBTQ people.

HB2 was introduced and passed in the span of a single day during a special session called expressly for the purpose of eliminating Charlotte’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance (costing taxpayers $42,000). The ordinance in question would have (among other things) granted the right to transgender individuals to use public facilities that correspond to the gender with which they identify. In other words, this straightforward civil rights measure would have allowed a trans man (or, more simply put, a man) to utilize a men’s bathroom, and a trans woman (a woman) to use bathrooms designated for women.

Despite the valiant resistance of organizers, activists, faith leaders, and families from across the state (and the fact that, to date, there have been no cases in which a trans person has committed assault in a bathroom), anti-trans fear mongering ruled the day, and within hours of passing both the House and Senate, HB2 was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, R, who previously stated that Charlotte’s nondiscrimination policy would “create major public safety issues by putting citizens in possible danger from deviant actions by individuals taking improper advantage of a bad policy.”

Gov. McCrory’s words speak to the effectiveness of the massive coalition of national players behind this devastating blow to LGBTQ people in the State of North Carolina. Over the last several years, right-wing opponents to social justice have steadily honed their anti-trans tactics and rhetoric, and now we’re seeing the effects of their well-resourced, diligent campaigning.

Today's anti-trans attacks echo the "save our children themes" from Anita Bryant in the 1970s.

Today’s anti-trans attacks echo the “save our children themes” from Anita Bryant in the 1970s.

Led by Christian Right powerhouses like the Alliance Defending Freedom, Focus on the Family, and Family Research Council, this coalition aims to scare communities into believing that women and girls are in grave danger as a result of comprehensive civil rights legislation by falsely painting transgender people as deviant, dangerous, and sick. (If this sounds eerily familiar, recall that less than 40 years ago, this exact same rhetoric was applied in anti-gay witch hunts such as Anita Bryant’s infamous “Save Our Children” campaign in 1977, which successfully repealed a county ordinance in Florida that prohibited discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens in employment, housing, and public accommodations.)

Indeed, McCrory’s comments echo both the historic vitriol of the Christian Right of yesteryear and the distorted, anti-trans language that Bryant’s contemporaries are currently propagating around the country. Notably, McCrory’s rhetoric matches that of a letter he received on March 2, 2016 from John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council (NCFPC), reacting to the passage of Charlotte’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance, demanding that the General Assembly call a special session to overturn it and “preempt any other municipality or county in the state from enacting a similar ordinance,” spoon-feeding McCrory the talking points needed to make it all happen.

SEE ALSO: When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right http://www.politicalresearch.org/2016/01/12/when-exemption-is-the-rule-the-religious-freedom-strategy-of-the-christian-right

SEE ALSO: When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right http://www.politicalresearch.org/2016/01/12/when-exemption-is-the-rule-the-religious-freedom-strategy-of-the-christian-right

It’s important to know that NCFPC isn’t just some obscure, local, “family values” operation. NCFPC is an affiliate of Focus on the Family’s policy arm, CitizenLink, a multi-million dollar operation that oversees a national network of 39 state-based “family policy councils” collectively committed to restricting access to abortion and reproductive justice, resisting efforts toward LGBTQ equality, and redefining religious freedom into a dangerous tool of oppression. In addition to providing strategic direction for its affiliates, CitizenLink also contributes financially. According to the most recently available IRS form 990s from both organizations, CitizenLink contributed nearly $170,000 to NCFPC in 2013, which amounts to over one third of NCFPC’s operating budget that year.

What’s also at play here is major backlash against the Obama administration’s expansion of Title IX protections in April 2014. Under the new guidelines, Title IX prohibits discrimination in publicly funded schools not only on the basis of sex, but also on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, and disability.

In a press release issued last Wednesday, ACLU-NC flagged this element of potential harm caused by HB2, noting that in addition to eliminating protections for LGBTQ people, the bill “jeopardizes the more than $4.5 billion in federal funding that North Carolina receives for secondary and post-secondary schools under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination, including discrimination against transgender students.”

This isn’t new news to the U.S. Right.

According to a report from the Human Rights Campaign, within months of the 2014 change, dozens of religious colleges and universities had applied for and been granted a “religious exemption” from the law. While the exact nature of the relationship is unclear, at least four of the qualifying schools cc’d the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on their exemption request letters.

Later that year, ADF—one of the Christian Right’s most powerful legal institutions, and a longtime partner of Focus on the Family and CitizenLink—would take on an even more prominent and aggressive role in the anti-trans Title IX pushback. In December 2014, ADF sent emails to public school districts nationwide encouraging use of their model “Student Physical Privacy Policy,” which provides guidelines for how schools can supposedly “protect” [cisgender] students in areas such as bathrooms and locker rooms. In reality, the model policy effectively encodes trans-exclusionary guidelines and subjects transgender students to further scrutinization, shame, and interrogation when it comes to their privacy.

SEE ALSO: Alliance Defending Freedom: The Right-Wing Lawyers Fueling Transphobia in Schools. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/12/18/alliance-defending-freedom-the-right-wing-lawyers-fueling-transphobia-in-school/

SEE ALSO: Alliance Defending Freedom: The Right-Wing Lawyers Fueling Transphobia in Schools. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/12/18/alliance-defending-freedom-the-right-wing-lawyers-fueling-transphobia-in-school/

What’s playing out on the ground in places like North Carolina, Tennessee, South Dakota, Washington State, and in school boards across the country isn’t some sort of isolated, homegrown scheme, and it isn’t the result of trans and gender-nonconforming people seeking to harm or threaten women and girls. These anti-trans bills are part of a nationally-coordinated, proactive campaign that seeks to deploy dangerous transphobic myths and rhetoric in order to mobilize conservatives and preserve a gender essentialist status quo that ultimately harms us all.

To join in the chorus of social justice advocates speaking out against HB2, please consider signing this petition from our friends at ACLU Action, calling on Gov. McCrory to repeal the law.

 

TONIGHT: What Happens When Terroristic Threats Come From Someone Wealthy & White?

Editor’s Note: Jonathan Hutson is the author of a forthcoming article in The Public Eye magazine fully examining the case of David Lenio and the disparate treatment of offenders from different backgrounds and ethnicities by the criminal justice system.

In the wake of a controversial decision this month to drop the felony intimidation charge against David Joseph Lenio—a 29-year-old White Nationalist who tweeted threats last year to shoot up a grade school in Kalispell, Montana, and “put two in the head of a rabbi,” then retrieved a weapons cache—the Investigation Discovery channel will premier the next installment of “Hate in America,” which explores the growing movement of strong-man worshiping populists, nativists, and armed anti-government militants across the country through the lens of Montana’s Flathead Valley.

Preview:

In “Hate in America: A Town on Fire,” which premiers Thursday, March 24 at 8pm ET / /7pm CT, Emmy Award-winning journalist Tony Harris introduces America to this beautiful valley nestled outside Glacier National Park.

The case of David Lenio is opening up many questions about the criminal justice system and White supremacy. Specifically, questions about how terroristic threats are treated when the person making them comes from a wealthy White background versus someone who is low-income or a person of color.

Armed and Ready

On December 30, 2014, the day he arrived in Montana, Lenio tweeted several times that he felt so angry at being economically disadvantaged that he wanted to “shoot up” a grade school in Kalispell. This short-order cook and snowboarder who falsely claimed to be destitute and homeless but who is actually the son of influential banker Remos Joseph Lenio, who co-founded the private investment bank Tillerman & Co. of Grand Rapids, blames a Jewish conspiracy for his sense of being disinherited from his economic birthright. He bragged that, in retaliation for his supposed life of poverty, he could kill more people than the 20 school kids and six adults who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012.

Specific Threats

Screenshot of a David Lenio holding a semi-automatic pistol in a video uploaded to YouTube in 2012.

Screenshot of a David Lenio holding a semi-automatic pistol in a video uploaded to YouTube in 2012.

Here is one of his tweets from the day he arrived in Kalispell, threatening Kalispell school children and teachers: “I David Lenio am literally so indebted & #underpaid that I want to go on a sandy hoax style spree in a kalispell, MT elementary #school 2014.” There are only five elementary schools in Kalispell.

From then until his arrest six weeks later, he obsessed about mass shootings and terrorist attacks – which he invariably claimed were hoaxes and false-flag operations perpetrated by Israel or the federal government.

By February 12, 2015, Lenio was calling for the rise of a new strongman to lead a White supremacist movement in fixing the American economy, stating that he was prepared to go down in a hail of bullets while killing Jews. “USA needs a Hitler to rise to power and fix our #economy,” he tweeted, “and i’m about ready to give my life to the cause or just shoot a bunch of #kikes …”

Calling for a Chapel Hill-Style Mass Shooting of Jews

Lenio also seized on the February 10 murders of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to call for a Chapel Hill-style mass shooting of Jews in retaliation for those murders and for his sense of economic disempowerment. On February 13, he tweeted: “I think every jew on the planet deserves to be killed for what kikes have done to our #dollar and cost of living Killing jews > wage #slave.” He added, “Best way to counter the harm #jewish #politics is causing is #ChapelHillShooting styling [sic] killing of #jews til they get the hint & leave.”

“I bet I could get at least 12 unarmed sitting ducks if I decide to go on a killing spree in a #school,” he tweeted on February 12th. “Sounds better than being a wage slave.”

The same day, he tweeted, “What do you think costs more in most U.S. cities? A gun with enough ammunition to kill 100 school kids or the security deposit on an apartment,” he tweeted. Then he wrote: “What would I rather do? Be a #wage slave for the rest of my life or tell society fuck you & do your kids a favor by shooting up a #school?”

‘I Bet I’d Take Out At Least a Whole Classroom’

Two days later he expressed a desire to emulate the shooting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina – in which a White man was arrested and charged with fatally shooting three Muslim students – Lenio wrote: “I bet I’d take out at least a whole #classroom & score 30+ if I put my mind to it #Poverty is making me want to kill folks #mental health.”

The line between free speech and true threats is crossed when one goes beyond scapegoating and conspiracy theories to threaten the indiscriminate shooting of 30+ school kids and teachers, as well as threatening to put two bullets in the head of a rabbi (of which there are only two in the Flathead Valley) to salve a sense of economic grievance and to advance White supremacy. There is also reason to believe that Lenio planned to put his murderous ideas into action.

Police found that on February 15, just after I reported his threats to law enforcement, Lenio had retrieved a cache of rifles and ammunition from his storage locker. He also had a loaded semi-automatic handgun with him in his van at the time of his arrest – along with extra ammunition clips and jugs of urine.

The First Amendment protects unpopular, crude, and controversial speech. But First Amendment protection is not absolute. Certain speech acts, such as extortion, false advertising, and true threats which would make a reasonable person fear violence and take precautions are not protected. Nor should they be.

In the Lenio case, the threats resulted in a nationwide effort involving FBI, police, and sheriffs from three states. Flathead County schools contacted every parent to let them know that the schools had enacted a security plan to respond to the Twitter threats, and extra police and sheriff deputies were deployed to guard the schools. When parents received the calls, they were scared for their kids, as any parent would be. And, for the first time ever, the Flathead Valley’s synagogues hired security guards.

As Rabbi Fancine Green Roston and I  wrote in the Flathead Beacon, “Each of us writing this piece knows what it is to be threatened by Lenio. One of us (Francine) is one of only two Flathead Valley rabbis and has kids in the local schools. Lenio tweeted to the other of us (Jonathan) to ask where his kids go to school. Lenio crossed the line between hate speech and hate crime.” However, we presciently titled our op-ed “David Lenio Reloaded?” because the justice system was already bending over backward to show Lenio undue leniency—unlike other defendants.

In the “Hate in America” series, produced by NBC’s Peacock Productions for the Investigation Discovery channel, former CNN news anchor and Emmy-winning journalist Tony Harris teams with noted civil rights advocacy organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), to showcase stories from the organization’s files, including the David Lenio case, which SPLC’s HateWatch has reported on in detail.

Lingering Questions

Why did the justice system give David Lenio preferential treatment by releasing him into the custody of his wealthy banker dad without bail in July 2015? Why did the authorities fail to act when Lenio violated his release conditions at least 348 times in August 2015 even though 37 other Flathead County Detention Center residents had been rearrested for violating their release conditions? Why did the prosecutor and judge keep delaying the trial and finally agree to drop the felony charge of intimidation against him without any meaningful conditions? And what could be the significance of those jugs of urine in Lenio’s van? Those are topics about which I plan to write more extensively in the future.

The same week Lenio received a deferred prosecution, a 24-year-old mentally ill transient in Oregon (who actually was homeless, unlike Lenio, who merely pretended to be while enjoying expensive snowboarding jaunts in the nearby resort in Whitefish) got 18 months in prison for making Facebook threats against unnamed police officers. In the Oregon case, the offender, Timothy Loren McCoy Fleming, didn’t possess a real, working gun; he had an inoperable pellet gun. In contrast, Lenio had fetched a working semi-automatic pistol and a working semi-automatic rifle along with a busted bolt-action rifle and spare ammunition clips after making his threats specifically against a Kalispell grade school as well as threats to put “two in the head” of a rabbi, in a Montana valley where only two rabbis reside.

Meanwhile, here’s a Investigation Discovery channel finder. Don’t miss “Hate in America: A Town on Fire” tonight, March 24, at 8ET / 7CT.

Russian Social Conservatism, the U.S.-based WCF, & the Global Culture Wars in Historical Context

 

Click here a printable PDF.

Click here a printable PDF.

A Right-Wing International?

This article appears in the Winter 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

As the poll observer listened sympathetically, the rural priest diagnosed the root of Russia’s social problems in “the decay of all the old supports: religion, family, morality, the traditional way of life.”1 An election of representatives to the Russian State Duma was underway, and the man the bearded priest was talking to—Professor Sergei Bulgakov, an Orthodox Christian intellectual and future theologian—was observing the vote in Crimea. While the priest’s lament sounds like a textbook complaint of contemporary social conservatives, the year was 1912.

Russian Students Day in Saint-Petersburg, 2014. Photo by Saint-Petersburg Theological Academy via Flickr.

Russian Students Day in Saint-Petersburg, 2014. Photo by Saint-Petersburg Theological Academy via Flickr.

Social conservatives have been focusing on the family for a long time, and Russians have frequently been at the forefront of the fight for “traditional” values. In more recent times, Russian conservatives were central to the founding and operations of the World Congress of Families (WCF), a Christian-dominated inter-confessional coalition of right-wing activists from around the world dedicated to defending what they call “the natural family,” that is, a nuclear family consisting of a married man and woman and their children. When the coalition met for its ninth global conference this October in Salt Lake City, Utah, several Russian activists numbered among the speakers, including Alexey Komov.

Komov is WCF’s Regional Representative for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States; the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society’s representative to the United Nations; and a member of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarchal Commission on the Family and the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood. He was in Utah to speak about “The Family in Europe—Past, Present, Future,”2 and during his presentation, he touted Russia’s leading role in the global “pro-family” movement today, emphasizing that the nation’s Communist past has given Russia and other Eastern European countries a taste of the dangers supposedly inherent in secularism, which “more naïve” Westerners might miss. As a result, he maintained, “Eastern Europe can really help our brothers in the West” to resist the “new totalitarianism” associated with “political correctness” and the sexual revolution.3

In addition, Fr. Maxim Obukhov, the director of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of Family and Life, attended and received the 2015 Pro-Life Award for his longtime involvement in prominent Russian organizations that oppose abortion and promote the “natural family.”4

WCF IX represents an opportunity to consider the outsized role contemporary Russia plays in the global culture wars, with particular attention to two related questions. The first is whether Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the subsequent chill in U.S.-Russian relations represents any kind of turning point for the collaborative efforts between Russian and U.S. social conservatives, and particularly the impact of the removal of WCF’s official imprimatur from what would have been WCF VIII in Moscow, but instead became billed as an international forum called “Large Families: The Future of Humanity.” The second and more interesting question regarding the relationship between the U.S. and Russia with respect to the global culture wars was posed two years ago by Political Research Associates’ Cole Parke: “When it comes to the culture wars, who’s exporting and who’s importing?”5 As Komov’s words suggest, contemporary Russian conservatives certainly don’t see themselves as solely on the receiving end of this international movement.

It’s a mistake to think of U.S. and Russian social conservatives as having a one-way relationship, or to imagine Russian conservatism as confined to Russia itself.

Very important work has been done on the efforts of American social conservatives to export far right ideology in connection, for example, with Uganda’s infamous “Kill the Gays” bill.6 It is also the case that U.S. social conservatives helped lay the foundations for resurgent social conservatism in post-Communist Eastern Europe and Russia. Russian Orthodox Christian journalist and commentator Xenia Loutchenko, who has researched some aspects of Russian-American collaborative culture warring efforts,7 assesses American influence in the early post-Soviet days as particularly important with respect to building the Russian anti-abortion movement (for which Fr. Maxim Obukhov was honored at WCF IX).

Nevertheless, as Loutchenko and I also discussed in an interview conducted in Moscow in May 2015,8 it would be a mistake to think of the relationship between U.S. and Russian social conservatives as something of one-way influence, or to look at Russian social conservatism as essentially confined to Russia itself.9 Seriously considering Russia’s influence on international social conservatism, both historically and in our own time, presents new ways of thinking about the global culture wars—as well as important insights for how progressive activists might strategically resist the international Right’s global encroachment on human rights.

Russian Religious Conservatism in Historical Context

It’s no coincidence that the idea to found WCF was hatched in Russia in 1995, as the result of discussions between Allan Carlson, then president of the Rockford, Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, and Anatoly Antonov and Viktor Medkov, two professors of sociology at Lomonosov Moscow State University.10 Nor is it coincidental that Carlson was heavily inspired in the first place by the Russian-born conservative sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, longtime head of the Sociology Department at Harvard, where Sorokin worked from 1930-1959.11 Throughout his years in the West, Sorokin consistently exhibited concern about the ostensible crisis of Western culture, which he linked to the “collapse of the family” in books such as his 1947 Society, Culture, and Personality: Their Structure and Dynamics, a System of General Sociology and his 1956 The American Sex Revolution.

Sorokin’s work represented a continuation of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European attempts to defend a role for the realization of spiritual values—in some cases explicitly for Christianity—in society and governance. This discourse was developed, with substantial Russian participation and influence, in response to revolution, secularization, and what I have described elsewhere as the “perceived cultural threat of nihilism.”12

Guiding this fear was the idea that, absent absolute values grounded in unchanging religious truth, human morality will decay and society will descend into chaos. Sexual “permissiveness” is of particular concern, because it supposedly indicates a reversion to an animalistic nature that only higher values are capable of countering. As the fin-de-siècle Russian Christian philosopher and apologist Prince Evgeny Nikolaevich Trubetskoi put it, “Faith in the ideal is that which makes man human.”13 Similar sentiments, including in the writings of Trubetskoi and Bulgakov, were often tied to the concern that in a society without prevailing spiritual values, the state will be elevated to the status of a god, an idol that would encroach utterly on human freedom. As the fictional revolutionary conspirator Shigalev put it in Dostoevsky’s 1872 novel Demons, “Beginning with absolute freedom I conclude with absolute despotism. And I would add that apart from my solution to the social question, there can be no other.”

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow. Photo by Marco Fieber via Flickr.

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow. Photo by Marco Fieber via Flickr.

Christian critics of 20th-century totalitarianism advocated the realization of religious values in society and statecraft on precisely these grounds, arguing that godlessness would inevitably lead to tyranny by making the state into an idol. T. S. Eliot, for example, argued in a 1939 series of lectures that a critical secular liberalism was inherently unstable—it would have to be replaced by something with substantive content, and if that something were not religion, then it would be the “pagan” fascism of Germany or Italy, or the Communism of the Soviet Union.14 While Eliot referred to the French Neo-Thomist theologian and personalist philosopher Jacques Maritain as an influence, we know that Maritain was heavily involved in dialogue with Russian exiles in Paris,15 not least the Christian existentialist Nikolai Berdyaev, who had made a very similar argument to Eliot’s in his 1924 The New Middle Ages (translated into English in 1933 with the title The End of Our Time). Berdyaev would exert considerable influence on American understandings of Russian history and on religious anti-Communism.16 Meanwhile, the refrain about the state becoming an idol has become a staple of conservative defenses of “religious freedom.” As Tucker Carlson put it in April 2015, in defense of the supposed right of businesses not to hire atheists, “If there’s no God, then the highest authority is government.”17

But to return to Berdyaev and his relationship to the contemporary Russian Right, it is important to note that he was not only an advocate of a religious society, but also of a kind of Russian national messianism. That is, he (along with Bulgakov and others) believed in a particular Providential calling for Russia, and, while opposing the Bolsheviks, they looked forward to a future in which a spiritually renewed Russia would have an important role to play in reviving the Christian roots of European civilization.18 The key point here, even more than any specific understanding of family relations, is the idea of a special role for Russia in the world’s moral progress—an idea that, despite the intellectual contortions that thinkers like Berdyaev and Bulgakov went through in attempts to avoid charges of chauvinism and nationalism, all too easily play into a sense of Russian exceptionalism: a sense that Russia represents a morally superior civilization.

With or without claiming inherent moral superiority, in any case, there is a clear claim here that Russia has a spiritual mission to enlighten other nations. Historically, this claim is rooted in Slavophilism, a nineteenth-century Russian form of nationalist thinking that asserted that Russia had a special path of development and represented a more holistic, harmonious, moral civilization than that of the Latin West. Instead of the West’s calculation, capitalism, individual rights, contracts, and “rationalism,” Russia had “sobornost.” A nearly untranslatable term, sobornost was invoked by Aleksey Khomyakov and other Slavophiles to mean a kind of collective social harmony in which individuals realize themselves organically as a part of the community, a concept that was meant to contrast with the individualism that supposedly characterized the West.

The collapse of the Soviet Union brought with it an upsurge in interest in Russian religious and émigré thought, already known to Soviet dissidents in samizdat (the underground reproduction of censored publications across the Communist bloc). In the 1990s, there was a widespread sense that perhaps these thinkers had preserved a more authentic form of Russian thinking and culture. Russian nationalism was on the rise—its official suppression had been a source of tension in the USSR—and some Russians gravitated to the messianic conceptions of intellectuals like Bulgakov and Berdyaev, or the much more radically conservative monarchist Ivan Ilyin, for ways to conceptualize Russian greatness. And that greatness could not be conceptualized apart from a mission that was larger than Russia itself.

Along with post-Communist concerns about a “demographic winter”—the idea that the West is suffering a “birth dearth” of too few babies as a result of secular values and the embrace of progressive sexual mores19—the Russian discourse of moral mission and the superiority of Christian values to those of the “decadent” West has played a key role in the resurgence of social conservatism in post-Soviet Russian society. It should be noted that this discourse is essentially imperial; Russian concerns about public morality have never been only about Russia, but have always been bound up with considerations of the role that Russia should play in the wider world. One of the most influential exponents of this exceptionalist discourse today is the neo-Eurasianist Alexander Dugin.20

Perhaps feeling betrayed by the middle class his policies had helped create, Putin took a populist, nationalist turn, identifying himself more closely with the Orthodox Church and expecting its absolute loyalty in return.

These days, these sensibilities get a boost from Russian political leaders as well. Not only has Dugin had Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s ear,21 but Putin also sent the leadership of the currently-ruling United Russia Party books by the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian religious philosophers Vladimir Solovyov, Berdyaev, and Ilyin as New Year’s presents in 2014. These three intellectuals had varying approaches to theology and politics—the Christian socialist Berdyaev and the monarchist Ilyin hated each other—but all of them advocated the integration of religious values in society and governance.22 In his third term in office, Putin has worked very closely with the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, and Russian plutocrats to promote social conservatism at home and abroad. The latter include figures such as “God’s oligarch,” Konstantin Malofeev,23 the successful founder of Marshall Capital Partners who is known for investing his fortune into Orthodox Christian and social conservative initiatives, such as the Russian Society of Philanthropists for the Protection of Mothers and Children, the Safe Internet League, and the YouTube channel “Tsargrad TV,” which Loutchenko has described as an attempt to build a Russian FOX News.24 It also included former Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin. (Yakunin is on the U.S. sanctions list for his closeness to President Putin, while Malofeev has been sanctioned by the European Union in response to accusations from the Ukrainian government that he was financing the rebels in Donbas.) This elite backing lends considerable oomph to Russian social conservatives’ international efforts, making it all the more important for advocates of human rights to be aware of them.

Russia’s Hard Right Turn

Since the end of 2011, when tens of thousands of Russians participated in mass protests against election fraud, Russian social conservatism’s star has risen within Russian circles of power. The late-2011 protests continued into 2012, ahead of the election of Putin to a third term as president. Perhaps feeling betrayed by the middle class his policies had helped create, representatives of whom made up the bulk of the protesters, Putin took a populist, nationalist turn, identifying himself more closely with the Orthodox Church and expecting its absolute loyalty in return. This became abundantly clear that February, when members of the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot famously demonstrated in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, performing their “Punk Prayer” to condemn Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, for backing Putin’s candidacy. (Three members of the collective were sentenced to two years in penal colonies for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”—one was freed on probation—with the vocal support of some U.S. conservatives like Concerned Women for America’s Janice Shaw Crouse.25 Two would emerge to international celebrity.)

"Enough is enough - Open your mouth!" demonstration against homophobia in Russia. Photo by Marco Fieber via Flicker.

“Enough is enough – Open your mouth!” demonstration against homophobia in Russia. Photo by Marco Fieber via Flicker.

The “Punk Prayer” performance led to new legislation, enacted in June 2013, that made it a crime to insult religious believers’ feelings. But the law was just one expression of what Russian political commentator Alexander Morozov has called a “conservative revolution,” marked by populist rhetoric scapegoating political opponents and the LGBTQ community, which began with Putin’s third term.26 There was also the Dima Yakovlev Law, Russia’s ban on the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens, which passed the Russian State Duma and Federation Council in late December 2012 and took effect on January 1, 2013. The Russian president’s children’s rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, pushed hard for this law, promoting it not only on the grounds of individual cases of abuse and neglect involving Russian children adopted by Americans, but also on the basis of opposition to potential adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples.27 While this law could hardly have been well-liked by many American social conservatives—Russia was a popular country for American evangelicals seeking to adopt foreign children—National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown actually joined a delegation of French members of the National Front in Moscow, where he encouraged the passage of the law because it would keep Russian children from going to countries that allow same-sex couples to adopt.28

June 2013 then saw the passage of Russia’s federal law “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values,” popularly known as the “anti-gay propaganda law,” which bars vaguely defined “propaganda” of “non-traditional” sexual relations to minors, effectively making it illegal to provide LGBTQ teenagers with life-saving information.29 Members of the United Russia Party quickly fell in line with the changes originating at the top, and so opposition to such moves was eliminated from the political center amid increasing rhetoric about ‘national traitors’ and ‘fifth columnists.’ In Morozov’s view, the Russian political center is now “full of supporters of global ‘conservative revolution.’”30

Meanwhile, direct Russian government collaboration with the Orthodox Church has proceeded apace in matters of both domestic and foreign policy. Pavel Astakhov’s position on “children’s rights” is actually an essentially radical doctrine of state non-interference in family matters—that is, despite staggeringly high rates of domestic abuse in Russia, he is opposed to any legal enshrining of the term “domestic abuse” on the grounds that it is an affront to the sacrality of the (“natural”) family and paves the way for undue state interference in parents disciplining their children. In this respect, Astakhov’s official pronouncements parrot the ideas of the far right Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov, head of the ROC’s Commission on Family Matters and the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood, who frequently has Astakhov’s ear.31

WCF moscow russia logoAs Sergei Chapnin  has astutely observed, the ROC has coordinated with government propagandists to promote patriotism and traditional values. Chapnin writes, “Beyond liturgy and piety, other traditions were revived: respect for the family, opposition to abortion,32 the banning of homosexual practice and propaganda. These measures are seen as asserting traditional Russian mores in opposition to the decadence of the West.”33

But Russian conservatism isn’t just defensive. As Chapnin explains, there’s an imperial element as well:

The Church has taken on a complex ideological significance over the last decade, not least because of the rise of the concept of Russkiy Mir, or “Russian World.” This way of speaking presumes a fraternal coexistence of the Slavic peoples—Russian, Ukrainian, Belarussian—in a single “Orthodox Civilization.” It is a powerful archetype. It is an image of unity that appeals to Russians, because it gives them a sense of a larger destiny and supports the imperial vision that increasingly characterizes Russian politics.

This imperial ethos was certainly on display in what would have been WCF’s eighth annual meeting in 2014, when the World Congress of Families had planned to head back to its birthplace in Russia. Those plans, however, took a different turn.

Global Social Conservatism in Putin’s Third Term – A Right-Wing International?

Prior to the annexation of Crimea, Putin had received a substantial amount of praise from representatives of the U.S. Religious Right, even if some mistrusted his KGB past. President and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Franklin Graham, for example, could not resist praising Putin for the passage of Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law, declaring that Russia was acting more morally on this issue than the United States, despite his reservations about Putin’s Soviet background.34 American Christian culture warriors also sometimes took credit for Russia’s conservative legislative onslaught. For example, Scott Lively, a Christian Right author and activist who is currently being sued for crimes against humanity for his involvement with the Uganda “kill the gays” bill and who has traveled to Russia and Eastern Europe on more than one occasion, claiming credit for the passage of the anti-gay “propaganda” law.35

Despite examples of claims to have exported their initiatives to Russia, however, U.S. social conservatives also frequently recognized Russia’s agency and leadership in global social conservatism. WCF Managing Director Larry Jacobs minced no words when he reiterated the Russian messianic trope described above, declaring on End Times Radio in June 2013, “The Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world.”36 Likewise, it was not an affect, or mere diplomacy, when American anti-LGBTQ crusader Paul Cameron proclaimed to the Russian State Duma that he had come “to thank the Russian people, the State Duma, and President Putin… in the name of the entire Christian world” for Russia’s active legal repression of LGBTQ rights.37

A few months after Cameron’s visit to Russia, however, it became more complicated for Russian and U.S. social conservatives to unite, making it momentarily possible to hope that international tensions might hamper the effectiveness of the global culture wars. In our interview in May 2015, Loutchenko and I speculated that 2014 might have represented a turning point in this regard. Although subsequent events have shown that many American social conservatives are more than willing to work with Russia, when Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, the world at large reacted with alarm, and the conservative “pro-family” world became divided. WCF had planned to go back to Russia that coming September for its eighth conference, but Putin’s brand had now become toxic to enough conservatives to make this difficult, even apart from any fear of the possible violation of U.S. sanctions against Russia. WCF withdrew its official sponsorship from the event, releasing a statement explaining that their withdrawal was made necessary by practical considerations, but which also went out of its way to praise Russian churches and individuals for their “leadership role in the fight to preserve life, marriage, and the natural family at home and as part of the international pro-family movement.” It added, “The World Congress of Families takes no position on foreign affairs, except as they affect the natural family.”38 Other social conservative groups were not so sympathetic. Concerned Women for America pulled out of the event altogether, with its CEO and president Penny Nance declaring that her organization did not “want to appear to be giving aid and comfort to Vladimir Putin.”39 (Subsequently, articles in the conservative journals First Things40 and American Conservative41 have warned against the religious nationalism of Putin’s “Corrupted Orthodoxy” or “Orthodox Terrorism.”)

WCF Managing Director Larry Jacobs minced no words when he reiterated the Russian messianic trope, declaring, “The Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world.”

It wasn’t that CWA or other social conservatives who turned against Russia now objected to Russia’s hard anti-LGBTQ line, of course. It was that the annexation of territory in violation of international law revived Cold War era right-wing perceptions of Russia as a threatening state that is not to be trusted. (In this regard, it should not be forgotten that American Christians have missionary ties to Ukraine, which is also a popular country for U.S. adoptions.) Nevertheless, the American leaders of WCF stuck by their Russian partners. The meeting went forward, but not as an official WCF conference. Instead, the conference was titled “Large Families: The Future of Humanity.” U.S. WCF leaders remained intimately involved, with Communications Director Don Feder and Managing Director Jacobs on the organizing committee.42 The event depended for its financing primarily on Russian oligarchs Yakunin and Malofeev.

Larry Jacobs at a WCF presentation, 2012. Photo by HazteOir.org via Flickr.

Larry Jacobs at a WCF presentation, 2012. Photo by HazteOir.org via Flickr.

Meanwhile, the lack of international approval for the renamed WCF VIII most likely emboldened Russian social conservatives in their claim to global leadership in the fight against abortion and LGBTQ rights—a claim that WCF’s American leaders and their fellow conservative comrades, apparently untroubled by Russia’s increasing anti-Westernism, had already recognized. For example, some Russian speakers highlighted the changed circumstances of the conference as proof that Russia was a global leader in tackling problems other countries wouldn’t face. As one of the first speakers, Duma deputy Yelena Mizulina, who authored the anti-gay “propaganda law,” proudly announced, an event like this one, which took place in the Kremlin and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior (where the Pussy Riot protest took place), most likely could not take place in Europe or the U.S. in their current climates.

Last year’s WCF in Salt Lake City may belie Mizulina’s statement to some extent—WCF IX demonstrated a clear attempt to tone down Hard Right rhetoric43—but her claim matters. To Russian and U.S. social conservatives, a key takeaway from the forum was the impression that, while Russia is very happy to be working with foreigners in the fight for the so-called “natural family,” it is Russia that is at the helm. WCF’s Larry Jacobs admitted as much when he stated at the event, “I think Russia is the hope for the world right now.” Invoking Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Jacobs went on to explain that since Russia had defeated Marxism, it could help the West defeat “cultural Marxism” today—a nearly identical claim as that which Alexey Komov made this past fall at WCF’s meeting in Salt Lake City.44

And Russia is clearly pushing forward with this agenda on the international stage, with Komov in a leadership role. Take, for example, Russia’s role in securing the passage of a UN Human Rights Council resolution on “Protection of the Family,” which defined the family “as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children.”45 This resolution, sponsored in part by Russia—whose influence at the UN is bolstered by its permanent seat and veto on the UN Security Council—was clearly understood, by both supporters and opponents, as an attack on individual rights and a win for supporters of the “natural family”46 (which implicitly excludes families headed by same-sex couples). Komov has bragged of his part in delegations to the UN, which included Russian political leaders Mizulina and Astakhov, in which they pursued similar goals.47

Meanwhile, when I spoke with Russian commentator and researcher Xenia Loutchenko in May, she highlighted Russia’s success in attracting members of the European Right, mentioning that the French National Front recently took millions of dollars in loans from a Russian bank, in what many saw as a reward for the National Front’s support for the annexation.48 She also described Yakunin’s World Public Forum, which hosts an annual “Dialogue of Civilizations” in Greece, as a “right-wing international.” The phrasing might be hyperbolic, with its invocation of the Soviet-dominated Comintern, or Communist International, which was dedicated to spreading Communism around the world from the 1920s-40s. Nevertheless, drawing a comparison between the Comintern and the contemporary global culture wars, in which Russia is playing a leading role that is far from entirely derivative, makes a valid point. We will not be able to grasp Russia’s role in the global culture wars if we persist in treating Russia as essentially a recipient of America’s exported culture wars, and not an independent actor, and even exporter, in its own right.

The recent Cold War past makes it difficult for some, on both the Left and the Right, to imagine contemporary Russia as a conservative state vying for the role of international leader in global right-wing politics. Retired NYU Professor Stephen F. Cohen’s recent writings, for example, have desperately tried to salvage a vision of post-Soviet Russia as somehow left-wing. While Cohen is not wrong to perceive continuity between Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, it is important to note that the relevant ideological continuity extends further back, with its origins lying in the messianic discourse of moral superiority associated with twentieth- and twenty-first century Russian intellectuals and, before them, with Russian Slavophilism, which intellectual historian Andrzej Walicki once described, quite accurately, as “a conservative utopia.”49 During the Soviet Union’s seven decades of existence, the conservative version of this Russian messianism persisted in the Russian diaspora and among Soviet dissidents such as Solzhenitsyn. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, projected its own purported moral superiority as the ostensible vanguard of socialism, a system understood as far more just than Western capitalism. Just as the official Soviet, left-wing version of this ideology of moral superiority attracted its share of fellow travelers, so has, and does, the now resurgent right-wing brand.

After Putin annexed Crimea in 2014, U.S. paleo-conservative Pat Buchanan suggested that God is on Russia’s side now.

This right-wing iteration of moral exceptionalism entails a belief that Russia was given a Providential calling to revive the Christian roots of European, or more broadly Western, civilization. Despite (or perhaps because of) the sense of moral superiority of Russian civilization, it has proven irresistible to certain Western Russophiles—whether late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British religious conservatives, or, fast forwarding to the present, American “paleo-conservative” Pat Buchanan.50 Notably, it was after Putin annexed Crimea on March 18, 2014, that Buchanan strongly suggested that God is on Russia’s side now.51 Like Buchanan, the American leadership in WCF seems prepared to see Russia as doing the Lord’s work, and therefore to go on working closely with Russian social conservatives despite tense international relations and concerns about Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis.52 What’s more, Franklin Graham has lost all compunction about praising Putin, and, after a recent visit to Moscow during which he met with Patriarch Kirill, seems to be entirely on board with the idea that Russia is “protecting traditional Christianity.” In turn, Patriarch Kirill has declared American Protestants and Catholics who defend the “natural family” to be “confessors of the faith.” Such propagandistic statements, meant to impact U.S. public opinion, might be construed as Russia exporting its culture wars to us, as leaders of the “godless” West.53 In this regard, it is also worth noting that the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate is expanding its presence in Paris, with plans for the construction of a new cathedral that will include a cultural center, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year.54 It is also important, of course, that Russia is exporting its culture wars in what the Russian state considers its more immediate sphere of influence, with Astakhov turning up at regional WCF conferences in countries such as Georgia, and а Russian-model anti-LGBTQ “propaganda” initiative, withdrawn at least for the present, having been recently considered in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament55

The events of 2014 may have tempered enthusiasm for Russia among some on the U.S. Right, but for many of those dedicated to the pursuit of an anti-human rights, “pro-family” agenda at home and abroad, partnership with Russian social conservatives will continue. If we wish to understand the effect of such partnerships, however, we must stop looking at Russian social conservatism as a kind of American import. We should take steps not to underestimate the global significance of Russian culture warring in its own right. While there is a complex transnational intellectual history at play here, Russian actors are more than capable of damaging LGBTQ and women’s rights all on their own, independent of U.S. actors. If we consider Russian involvement in WCF as entirely derivative of U.S. leadership, we may well miss the full import of the new Russia-led “right-wing international,” which would hamper the ability of human rights advocates to counter its influence.


Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that Scott Lively is “on trial” for crimes against humanity. The legal proceedings against Mr. Lively have not yet reached the trial stage.


About the Author

Christopher Stroop (@C_Stroop) earned a Ph.D. in Russian history and Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities from Stanford University. Currently a Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar in the History Department at the University of South Florida, Christopher is also a senior research fellow in the School of Public Policy at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration in Moscow and editor of the academic journal State, Religion and Church.


Endnotes

1 Sergei Bulgakov, “Na vyborakh. Iz dnevnika” [Observing the Elections: From my Journal], Russkaia mysl’ [Russian Thought] 33:11 (1912), 185-92, esp. 189.

2 World Congress of Families IX, “The Family in Europe – Alexey Komov, Maria Hildingsson, Laszlo Marki, Dr. J. Szymcsak,” YouTube Video, 1:01:35, November 13, 2015, https://youtu.be/a9Rpyl2NofI.

3 I thank PRA researcher Cole Parke for providing me with a recording of Komov’s presentation, which he gave on October 27, 2015 to an apparently highly receptive audience (judging by the laughter, comments, and applause audible in the recording).

4 Benjamin May, “World Congress of Families IX Announces Four Recipients Who Will Receive Awards in Salt Lake City on October 27,” Christian Newswire, October 20, 2015, http://www.christiannewswire.com/news/7575776890.html.

5 Cole Parke, “U.S. Conservatives and Russian Anti-Gay Laws – The WCF.” Eyes Right Blog, October 17, 2013, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/10/17/u-s-conservatives-and-russian-anti-gay-laws-the-wcf/.

6 Rev. Kapya Kaoma, “Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia,” Political Research Associates: 2009, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2009/12/01/globalizing-the-culture-wars-u-s-conservatives-african-churches-homophobia/.

7 For example, see Xenia Loutchenko, “Vera ili ideologiia? ‘Tsargrad-TV’, Radio ‘Vera,’ i Novye Dukhovnye Skrepy” (Faith or Ideology? Tsargrad-TV, Radio ‘Faith,’ and New Spiritual Supports), Colta, September 22, 2014, http://m.colta.ru/articles/media/4720.

8 My abridged translation of our interview has been published in a new independent U.S.-based journal of Orthodox Christian thought. “Religion and Politics in Russia: An Insider’s View. Xenia Loutchenko Interviewed by Christopher Stroop,” The Wheel 1:3 (2015), 30-35, Available online: http://static1.squarespace.com/static/54d0df1ee4b036ef1e44b144/t/564281e0e4b0a83ded1ed25e/1447199200469/Loutchenko.pdf.

9 Ibid.

10 Hannah Levintova, “How US Evangelicals Helped Create Russia’s Anti-Gay Movement,” Mother Jones, February 21, 2014. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/02/world-congress-families-russia-gay-rights.

11Cole Parke, “U.S. Conservatives and Russian Anti-Gay Laws – The WCF.” Eyes Right Blog, October 17, 2013, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/10/17/u-s-conservatives-and-russian-anti-gay-laws-the-wcf/.

12 Christopher Stroop, “Nationalist War Commentary as Russia’s Religious Thought: The Religious Intelligentsia’s Politics of Providentialism.” Russian Review 72:1 (2013), 94-115, esp. 100-01.

13 E. N. Trubetskoi, “Vozvrashchenie k filosofii” (The Return to Philosophy) in Filosofskii sbornik L’vu Mikhailovichu Lopatinu k tridtsatiletiiu nauchno-pedagogicheskoi deiatel’nosti. Ot Moskovskago Psikhologicheskogo Obshchestva. 1881-1911.) (Philosophical Festschrift in Honor of Lev Mikhailovich Lopatin’s Thirty Years of Scientific-Pedagogical Work [1881-1911], from the Moscow Psychological Society). (Moscow: Kushnerev, 1912), 1-9, esp. 9.

14 T. S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society, NY: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1940.

15 Catherine Baird, “Religious Communism? Nicolai Berdyaev’s Contribution to Esprit’s “Interpretation of Communism,” Canadian Journal of History 30:1 (1995), 29-47.

16 Christopher Stroop, “The Russian Origins of the So-Called Post-Secular Moment: Some Preliminary Observations,” State, Religion and Church 1:1 (2014), 59-82, https://www.academia.edu/5949640/The_Russian_Origins_of_the_So-Called_Post-Secular_Moment_Some_Preliminary_Observations.

17 Scott Kaufman, “Fox Guest: Keep Discrimination Legal Because Bible Tells Businesses Not to Hire Atheists,” Alternet, April 7, 2015. http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/fox-guest-keep-discrimination-legal-because-bible-tells-businesses-not-hire.

18 Christopher Stroop, “The Russian Origins of the So-Called Post-Secular Moment: Some Preliminary Observations,” State, Religion and Church 1:1 (2014), 59-82, https://www.academia.edu/5949640/The_Russian_Origins_of_the_So-Called_Post-Secular_Moment_Some_Preliminary_Observations.

19 Kathryn Joyce, “Missing: The ‘Right’ Babies,” The Nation, February 14, 2008, http://www.thenation.com/article/missing-right-babies/.

20 Although it is a little too essentializing in its treatment of Russian national character, on Russian exceptionalism, including brief comments on Dugin, see Paul Coyer, “(Un)Holy Alliance: Vladimir Putin, the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Exceptionalism,” Forbes, May 21, 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/paulcoyer/2015/05/21/unholy-alliance-vladimir-putin-and-the-russian-orthodox-church/.

21 Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn, “Putin’s Brain: Alexander Dugin and the Philosophy Behind Putin’s Invasion of Crimea. Foreign Affairs, March 31, 2014, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russia-fsu/2014-03-31/putins-brain.

22 Paul Goble, “Window on Eurasia: The Kremlin’s Disturbing Reading List for Russia’s Political Elite,” Window on Eurasia—New Series, January 24, 2104, http://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.ru/2014/01/window-on-eurasia-kremlins-disturbing.html.

23 Joshua Keating, “God’s Oligarch,” Slate, October 20, 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2014/10/konstantin_malofeev
_one_of_vladimir_putin_s_favorite_businessmen_wants_to.html
.

24  Xenia Loutchenko, “Vera ili ideologiia? ‘Tsargrad-TV’, Radio ‘Vera,’ i Novye Dukhovnye Skrepy” (Faith or Ideology? Tsargrad-TV, Radio ‘Faith,’ and New Spiritual Supports), Colta, September 22, 2014, http://m.colta.ru/articles/media/4720.

25 Miranda Blue, “Pussy Riot’s American Detractors,” Right Wing Watch, February 18, 2014,  http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/pussy-riots-american-detractors.

26 Alexander Morozov, “Konservativnaia revoliutsiia: smysl Kryma” [A Conservative Revolution: The Meaning of Crimea], Colta, March 17, 2014, http://www.colta.ru/articles/society/2477.

27 Brody Levesque, “Russian children’s rights commissioner: only Italy can adopt Russian children,” LGBTQ Nation, December 3, 2013, http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2013/12/russian-childrens-rights-commissioner-only-italy-can-adopt-russian-children/.

28 See Miranda Blue, “Globalizing Homophobia, Part 2: ‘Today the Whole World is Looking at Russia,’” Right Wing Watch, October 3, 2013. http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/globalizing-homophobia-part-2-today-whole-world-looking-russia.

29 “Federal Law of the Russian Federation of July 29, 2013, No. 135-F3, Moscow. Amending Article 5 of the Federal Law ‘On the Defense of Children from Information Harmful for their Health and Development,’ and other legislative acts of the Russian Federation with the goal of protecting children from propaganda rejecting traditional family values.”: http://www.rg.ru/2013/06/30/deti-site-dok.html

30 Alexander Morozov, “Konservativnaia revoliutsiia: smysl Kryma” [A Conservative Revolution: The Meaning of Crimea], Colta, March 17, 2014. http://www.colta.ru/articles/society/2477.

31 Jennifer Monaghan, “Russian Orthodox Priest: Parental Violence Campaigns are Anti-Family,” The Moscow Times, March 24, 2015. http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/russian-orthodox-priest-parental-violence-campaigns-are-anti-family/517976.html. Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov, “Vystuplenie protoiereia Dimitriia Smirnova na Obshchesetvennom sovete P. Astakhova” (Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov’s Presentation at the Community Forum of [the Ombudsman of the Office of the President of the Russian Federation for Children’s Rights] P. Astakhov). April 5, 2014.  http://www.dimitrysmirnov.ru/blog/cerkov-56880/.

32 With respect to abortion, as of November 21, 2011, according to Federal Law 323-F3, Russia banned abortions after 12 weeks except in the case of rape (up to 22 weeks) or medical necessity (at any time). Orthodox Christian leaders and their allies in the Duma continue to push for more severe restrictions, such as required ultrasounds.

33 Sergei Chapnin, “A Church of Empire: Why the Russian Church Chose to Bless Empire,” First Things, November 2015, http://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/11/a-church-of-empire. Chapnin served as managing editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, an official organ of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, from 2009 until December 16, 2015. Chapnin’s moderate, highly informed and frank assessments of Russian church life are impressive, and his presence in the patriarchate was a rare bright spot among its prominent predominantly far-right voices. On December 18, social media associated with the Russian intelligentsia and Orthodox Church exploded with the news that Chapnin had been fired from the patriarchate for his critical views of the church’s prevailing ideology and relationship to the Russian state, particularly for remarks he made in a talk given at the Carnegie Moscow Center on December 9. The media have now confirmed the firing. See, for example, “Moscow Patriarchate Fires Sergey Chapnin, Editor of its Journal.” AsiaNews.it, Dec. 19, 2015. http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Moscow-Patriarchate-fires-Sergey-Chapnin,-editor-of-its-journal-36205.html.

34 Franklin Graham, “Putin’s Olympic Controversy,” Decision Magazine, February 28, 2014, http://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/march-2014/putins-olympic-controversy/.

35 Hannah Levintova, “How US Evangelicals Helped Create Russia’s Anti-Gay Movement,” Mother Jones, February 21, 2014. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/02/world-congress-families-russia-gay-rights. Meredith Bennett-Smith, “Scott Lively, American Pastor, Takes Credit for Inspiring Russian Anti-Gay Laws,” Huffington Post, September 9, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/19/scott-lively-russian-anti-gay-laws_n_3952053.html.

36 Quoted in Jay Michaelson, “The ‘Natural Family’: The Latest Weapon in the Christian Right’s New Global War on Gays,” The Daily Beast, June 14, 2015, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/06/14/the-natural-family-the-latest-weapon-in-the-christian-right-s-new-global-war-on-gays.html.

37 Christopher Stroop, “Russian Parliament Hosts U.S. Anti-Gay Activist Paul Cameron,” Religion Dispatches, December 12, 2013. http://religiondispatches.org/russian-parliament-hosts-u-s-anti-gay-activist-paul-cameron/.

38 World Congress of Families, “Planning for World Congress of Families VIII Suspended,” n.d., http://worldcongress.org/press-releases/planning-world-congress-families-viii-suspended.

39 Evan Hurst, “Russian ‘Pro-Family’ Conference Exposing Internal Dissension Among American Religious Right Leaders?” Two Care Center Against Religious Extremism, September 10, 2014, http://www.twocare.org/russian-pro-family-conference-exposing-internal-dissension-among-american-religious-right-leaders/.

40 Mykhailo Cherenkov, “Orthodox Terrorism,” First Things, May 2015, http://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/05/orthodox-terrorism.

41 Philip Jenkins, “Putin’s Corrupted Orthodoxy,” The American Conservative, March 24, 2015, http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/putins-corrupted-orthodoxy/.

42 Hannah Levintova, “Did Anti-Gay Evangelicals Skirt US Sanctions on Russia?” Mother Jones, September 8, 2014, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/09/world-congress-families-russia-conference-sanctions.

43 Peter Montgomery, “World Congress of Families in Denial over Promoting Homophobia Globally,” Right Wing Watch, October 21, 2015, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/world-congress-families-denial-over-promoting-homophobia-globally.

44 “Final Plenary Session,” International Forum “Large Family [sic.] and the Future of Humanity,” http://www.familyforum2014.org/#!final-plenary-session/c1umu.

45 “Resolutions and Voting Results of 29th HRC Session,” UN Watch, July 2, 2015, http://www.unwatch.org/resolutions-and-voting-results-of-29th-hrc-session/.

46 Jay Michaelson, “At the United Nations, it’s Human Rights, Putin Style,” The Daily Beast, June 26, 2014, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/06/26/at-the-united-nations-it-s-human-rights-putin-style.html. Rebecca Oas, “Big Win for Traditional Family at UN Human Rights Council,” C-Fam, July 9, 2015, https://c-fam.org/friday_fax/big-win-for-traditional-family-at-un-human-rights-council/.

47 “Plod very. Posol vsemirnogo kongressa semei v OON Alexey Komov. Chast’ 2” (The Fruits of Faith. The Ambassador of the World Congress of Families to the UN, Alexey Komov. Part 2), http://tv-soyuz.ru/peredachi/plod-very-posol-vsemirnogo-kongressa-semey-v-oon-aleksey-komov-chast-2.

48 On the National Front’s relationship to Russia see Anne-Claude Martin, “National Fronts Russian Loans Cause Uproar in European Parliament,” EurActiv.com, December 5, 2014, http://www.euractiv.com/sections/europes-east/national-fronts-russian-loans-cause-uproar-european-parliament-310599. Also relevant: Sam Ball, “Sarkozy to Meet Putin as French Right Looks to Russia,” France 24, October 29, 2015, http://www.france24.com/en/20151028-sarkozy-meet-putin-french-right-looks-russia-syria-hollande-assad.

49 Andrzej Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth-Century Russian Thought, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989.

50 Michael Hughes, “The English Slavophile: J. W. Birkbeck and Russia,” The Slavonic and East European Review, 82:3 (2004), 680-706.

51 Patrick J. Buchanan, “Whose Side is God on Now?” April 4, 2014. http://buchanan.org/blog/whose-side-god-now-6337.

52 For more evidence of this, note the effusive praise lavished on Russian actors by WCF IX Executive Director Janice Shaw Crouse: Fr. Mark Hodges, “Janice Shaw Crouse: Homosexual Activists Peddling ‘Falsehoods’ about World Congress of Families,” Life Site, September 29, 2015, https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/janice-shaw-crouse-homosexual-activists-peddling-falsehoods-about-world-con.

53 “Franklin Graham praises ‘Gay Propaganda’ Law, Criticizes US ‘Secularism,’ in Russia Visit,” Pravmir, November 3, 2015, http://www.pravmir.com/franklin-graham-praises-gay-propaganda-law-critizes-us-secularism-in-russia-visit/. Priest Mark Hodges, “Russian Orthodox Patriarch: Americans for natural marriage are ‘Confessors of the Faith,’” Pravmir, November 3, 2015, http://www.pravmir.com/russian-orthodox-patriarch-americans-for-natural-marriage-are-confessors-of-the-faith/.

54 “France: A New Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Paris,” Dici, February 14, 2014, http://www.dici.org/en/news/france-a-new-russian-orthodox-cathedral-in-paris/. “Frantsiia razreshila stroit’ pravoslavnyi dukhovno-kultur’nyi tsentr v parizhe” (France has Permitted the Construction of an Orthodox Cultural Center in Paris), Pravoslavie.ru, December 25, 2013, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/news/67006.htm. Since the days of Berdyaev and Bulgakov, both of whom lived out most of the rest of their lives in France after the Bolshevik victory in the Russian civil war, there has been a large Russian Christian presence in Paris with a complicated relationship to Moscow. While the details of this situation are beyond the scope of this article, it is important to note  that Moscow seems to be attempting to exert greater influence over the ethnic Russian Christian population that remains in France.

55 “Pavel Astakhov prinial uchastie v konferentsii Vsemirnogo kongressa semei v Tbilisi” (Pavel Astakhov Took Part in a Conference of the World Congress of Families in Tbilisi), Press Service of the President of the Russian Federation’s Ombudsman for Children’s Rights, May 18, 2015, http://www.rfdeti.ru/news/9835-pavel-astahov-prinimaet-uchastie-v-konferencii-vsemirnogo-kongressa-semey-v-tbilisi. “ V Kyrgyzstane iz parlamenta otozvan zakonoproekt o zaprete gei-propagandy” (In Kyrgyzstan the Parliamentary Bill Banning Gay Propaganda has been Withdrawn), Gay Russia, June 30, 2015, http://www.gayrussia.eu/world/11571/.

Dominionism is the New Religious Freedom

Historians may someday see the 2016 election season as the turning point in how our society understands the Dominionist movement that is seeking to recast society in its own image.  The herald of this new understanding is—ironically, as I will discuss below—a Washington Post commentary by historian John Fea, titled:  “Ted Cruz’s campaign is fueled by a dominionist vision for America.”  The Post’s publication of Fea’s piece follows years of both scholarly and journalistic tip-toeing around this elephant on the table of American public life – a dynamic modern theocratic religious and political movement that prior conventional wisdom notwithstanding is not fringe.

Ted Cruz speaks to supporters gathered at a late-night campaign stop at Penny's Diner in Missouri Valley, Iowa, in Jan. 2016. Image via Matt A.J. on Flickr.

Ted Cruz speaks to supporters gathered at a late-night campaign stop at Penny’s Diner in Missouri Valley, Iowa, in Jan. 2016. Image via Matt A.J. on Flickr.

Fea, who chairs the History Department at the evangelical Messiah College in Pennsylvania, matter of factly discusses the influence of “seven mountains dominionism” on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) – who may be the most openly theocratic candidate ever to be a serious contender for a major party presidential nomination.  Perhaps just as remarkably, the Dominionism advocated by the likes of the Cruz family is wrapped in a claim that religious freedom is under assault in the U.S.

As I reported in the recent report, When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right:

“I believe that 2016 is going to be a religious-liberty election,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) declared before a raucous crowd of some 7,000 Southern Baptists in October 2015.  “As these threats grow darker and darker and darker, they are waking people up here in Texas and all across this country.”

Unsurprisingly, Cruz features this claim at many of his presidential campaign rallies. This is the new normal.

But of course, Cruz’s notion of religious freedom is all about creating religious exemptions to the legal requirements to recognize the civic equality of LGBTQ people, and the rights of people seeking their sexual and reproductive health care, as well as the rights of people – including many Christians – whose religious views are different than those of the Cruzes and their ilk.

The term “Dominionism” was first popularized in the 1990s by researchers, including Chip Berlet, scholar Sara Diamond, and myself, who needed a term to describe the political aspirations of Christian Rightists who believed that they have a biblical mandate to control all earthly institutions –including government – until the second coming of Jesus. But the idea of conservative Christians gaining political power sufficient to take dominion over society predated our use of the term by decades.

The two main schools of Dominionist thought include Christian Reconstructionism, founded by the late R.J. Rushdoony, which advances the idea not only of the need for Christians (of the right sort) to dominate society, but institute and apply Old Testament “Biblical Law.”

The other, closely related form of Dominionism is advocated by the Pentecostal  New Apostolic Reformation, which exuberantly advocates for Christians to “reclaim the seven mountains of culture”: government, religion, media, family, business, education, and arts and entertainment.

The religious vision and political aspirations of Ted Cruz and his father Rafael are widely known in conservative Christian religious and political circles and are being discussed in his home state of Texas.  So much so, that reporter Jonathan Tilove of the Austin American Statesman wrote last summer about how Raphael Cruz was compelled to insist, “We are not talking about theocracy.”  But Fea reports that the Cruzes are close to Christian Nationalist author, historical revisionist and longtime Texas Republican leader David Barton, who declares that the United States was founded as a Christian Nation but has fallen away from this foundation and must be restored to avoid punishment from God.

Fea writes:

“Anyone who has watched Cruz on the stump knows that he often references the important role that his father, traveling evangelist Rafael Cruz, has played in his life. During a 2012 sermon at New Beginnings Church in Bedford, Texas, Rafael Cruz described his son’s political campaign as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

The elder Cruz told the congregation that God would anoint Christian “kings” to preside over an “end-time transfer of wealth” from the wicked to the righteous. After this sermon, Larry Huch, the pastor of New Beginnings, claimed Cruz’s recent election to the U.S. Senate was a sign that he was one of these kings.

According to his father and Huch, Ted Cruz is anointed by God to help Christians in their effort to “go to the marketplace and occupy the land … and take dominion” over it. This “end-time transfer of wealth” will relieve Christians of all financial woes, allowing true believers to ascend to a position of political and cultural power in which they can build a Christian civilization. When this Christian nation is in place (or back in place), Jesus will return.

Rafael Cruz and Larry Huch preach a brand of evangelical theology called Seven Mountains Dominionism. They believe Christians must take dominion over seven aspects of culture: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government. The name of the movement comes from Isaiah 2:2: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains.”

Fea also notes that Barton, who runs the Keep the Promise Super PAC that supports Cruz’s campaign, shares this vision:

“Barton’s Christian nationalism is a product of this theological approach to culture. Back in 2011, Barton said that if Christians were going to successfully “take the culture” they would need to control these seven areas. “If you can have those seven areas,” Barton told his listeners to his radio show, “you can shape and control whatever takes place in nations, continents and even the world.”

This is remarkable, in part, because a few years ago, journalists and scholars who wrote about Dominionism found themselves facing a smear campaign by, among others, writers at the same paper in which Fea’s commentary appears. Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson and then-religion writer Lisa Miller were part of this national effort to discredit the idea that Dominionism was a real thing or that even if it was, that it was of much significance. This despite the fact that then-Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) had made his de facto presidential campaign announcement at a massive prayer rally organized by leaders of the movement for Seven Mountains Dominionism, and that then presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachman’s (R-MN) mentor at law school was John Eidsmoe, a prominent Christian Reconstructionist theorist, (who now works at the Foundation for Moral Law, founded by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.)   Perry’s campaign later imploded, (for reasons other than the Dominionism controversy) and Bachman’s campaign never gained traction, but the episode certainly prefigured current events.

Now, some four years later, former Gov. Perry has endorsed Ted Cruz for president. Cruz has won the Iowa caucuses, and The Washington Post has published a major article about the Seven Mountains Dominionism of Sen. Cruz and his father.  A great transformation in American politics and religion, once pooh poohed by established interests (which also denounced those of us who recognized and wrote about its importance) is now accepted as uncontroverted fact.  And the attack dogs of the various political establishments are not yet snarling.

Crime Control & Political Repression: From the War On Drugs To The War On Terror

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

This article appears in the Winter 2016 issue of The Public Eye magazine.

American political time is often rhetorically divided into before and after the attacks of September 11, 2001. In this model, “before” signals liberty and respect for individual rights while “after” brought increasing restrictions and surveillance as a result of terrorism. But this distinction both romanticizes the past and obscures some of the institutional architecture underlying the War on Terror. In fact, there’s a direct line between the pervasive infiltration of Muslim communities seen since 2001 and the militarized street-surveillance and home invasion experienced by African American communities, which has steadily escalated from the early 1980s until the present.

The national emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement speaks to the level of rage (and community organizing) that exists beneath the surface of marginalized communities, but also to the impact of systematic law enforcement-driven repression. The steady expansion of both the power and use of law enforcement in multiple areas of life reflects (and institutionalizes) right-wing worldviews regardless of the political party or identity claims of the speaker.

Informants and undercover agents have been central to a significant proportion of federal prosecutions of “homegrown” Islamic terrorism cases.1 Those informants typically do much of the actual work to transform loose talk into concrete action.2 The procedural elements of these prosecutions, however, originated long before today’s War on Terror; the methods employed by the FBI against Muslims have been developed and refined for decades in the War on Drugs, as can be seen in brief descriptions below of a current homegrown terrorism case and a 1990s drug trafficking case.

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Statue depicting the traditional “Blind Justice,” in front of the Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.. Photo by Tim Evanson via Flickr. 

On April 10, 2015, a 20-year-old Kansas man named John Booker was charged3 with three counts of attempted terrorism: attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction at Fort Riley, in northern Kansas; attempt to damage and destroy U.S. government property (again at Fort Riley); and attempt to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization (specifically the Islamic State, or ISIS/ISIL). The FBI complaint details the involvement of two confidential informants who had actively participated in every stage of planning the “plot” underlying the charges: they provided Booker with a list of the materials needed to make a bomb, they volunteered to build the bomb for him, delivered the supposed bomb to him in a van, and provided him with a map of the Fort Riley area.

A year earlier, in March 2014, Booker had come to the attention of the FBI after posting messages on Facebook indicating that he was planning to engage in violent jihad. Booker was interviewed by FBI agents and described his plans in considerable detail, but was allowed to go free with no other action taken, suggesting that the FBI agents involved did not consider him a credible threat. It seems clear that John Booker ideologically supported ISIS/ISIL and had some aspiration to engage in violence, but these encounters with the FBI suggest that, on his own, he had little capacity to turn his provocative statements into action. The key event leading to the terrorism charges occurred in October 2014, approximately seven months after his first meeting with the FBI, when he met the first of the two informants who set in motion the events that led to his arrest in April 2015. (The information currently available on this case comes from the FBI, and does not describe the motivations of the informants or whether they received compensation of some kind for their participation.)

Compare Booker’s arrest and prosecution with that of a man identified only as Miguel in an article written by a former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent. In 1996, Miguel, an immigrant from Bolivia who worked as a parking lot attendant in Washington, D.C., was charged as a drug kingpin based solely on the testimony of a paid informant with an extensive criminal record.4 The informant had fled to the United States to avoid prosecution for a variety of criminal charges in Argentina and Bolivia, and over the preceding four years had been paid by the DEA for information in several other cases. Miguel had spent three of those years working 60 hours a week for a large parking lot company.

The informant was a distant family friend of Miguel and, based on his past experience, saw an opportunity to make money by fabricating a story to sell to the DEA. He proceeded to invent a fake “cocaine deal,” wherein Miguel was the “kingpin,” even though Miguel had no prior involvement in drugs or drug dealing. While the informant developed his story with the DEA, he simultaneously lured Miguel into playing along with a supposed one-time deal that would net them both considerable cash, if Miguel pretended to be a major Bolivian cocaine dealer. It ended with a staged transaction in which Miguel accepted a bag of cash in exchange for a promise to deliver cocaine a few weeks later; he was arrested as he left the room. The informant was paid $30,000 for arranging the encounter, and after several years in and out of court Miguel ended up taking a plea bargain than gave him a four-year sentence.

Informants have played such consistent and central roles in the War on Drugs that the provision of information has repeatedly generated elaborate economic relationships between prosecutors and inmates. In 1990, an L.A. County grand jury found that a well-developed network of jailhouse informants investigated cases based on newspaper accounts and any other sources they could acquire, and provided (largely false) testimony for the prosecutor’s office in exchange for reduced jail time, privileges, and other incentives.5 Between 2004 and 2006, a similar network of informants was found to be operating in Texas prisons, investigating cases based on publically accessible material and providing testimony for the prosecutor’s office, resulting in some cases being thrown out.6 Informants in homegrown terrorism cases, similarly, often receive some form of compensation, including money or assistance with immigration or other legal issues.7

The Right and the War on Drugs

U.S. drug policy has deeply racist roots. The Harrison Act of 1914, the first law to significantly control access to opiates and cocaine, was passed in part by exacerbating prejudices against Chinese immigrants and impoverished southern African Americans.8 In the early 1930s, Harry Anslinger, head of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics, claimed that use of marijuana caused half of the violent crime committed in Black, Mexican and other Latin American immigrant neighborhoods.9 The War on Drugs both continued and dramatically amplified this historical pattern. Nixon’s 1971 declaration that drugs were a threat to the nation occurred within the context of significant social conflict and change, during which conservative resistance to the Civil Rights movement included defining social unrest as criminal activity.10 Ronald Reagan, in turn, built upon two of Nixon’s more toxic legacies: the “Southern Strategy” of using mildly-coded racism to align southern Whites with the Republican party, and the War on Drugs, with its attendant images of Black urban crime and drug dealing. (It’s worth noting that Whites and Blacks use and sell drugs at very similar rates.11)

The ideological valuing of order, discipline, and traditional social hierarchies are definitional characteristics of right-wing movements, from fascism to the KKK, and the Moral Majority to the Tea Party.

One of the challenges in describing the links between the Right Wing and both the War on Drugs and the War on Terror is the extent to which the political discourse of U.S. society has moved to the Right culturally. Over the last 40 years, the U.S. has grown increasingly sensitive to the perception of risk and the need for safety, accepting “freedom from” over “freedom to.” This is characteristic of societal moves to the Right, as German philosopher Erich Fromm noted in relation to the cultural psychology underlying the growth of Nazism. The ideological valuing of order, discipline, and traditional social hierarchies are definitional characteristics of right-wing movements, from fascism to the KKK, and the Moral Majority to the Tea Party. Yet core elements of this mindset have become normalized in the U.S., with Democrats as well as Republicans wanting to appear tough on both crime and foreign policy, and the presence of police officers in schools treated as normal (even when individual officers’ behavior may be questioned). Throughout the War on Drugs, personal privacy and individual liberty were steadily constricted by the need to keep us “safe” from the dangers of drug use and drug dealing, laying the legal and cultural groundwork for the much greater invasiveness of the War on Terror that would follow.

Race, Searches, and the Presumption of Guilt

In the movie CitizenFour, filmmaker Laura Poitras implicitly and explicitly makes the point that much of what we now talk about as “privacy” used to be called liberty. When the War on Terror began, the justification of mass searches of body and property on the grounds of safety had already become astoundingly normalized, and complaints were met with the assertion that only the guilty need worry. Once a society has accepted the need for chronic, invasive control of one vulnerable community on the grounds of protecting society, it’s a small step to target additional communities and employ somewhat different forms of surveillance.

Much of what we now talk about as “privacy” used to be called liberty.

Routine drug testing has become perhaps the most widespread example of the erosion of judicial and Constitutional protections against searches without probable cause. Urine tests for evidence of recent drug use have become a commonplace experience for health care workers, transit workers, and numerous other public service occupations, and are a standard element of participation in high school team sports. However taken-for-granted this has become, prior to 1989 routine drug tests without individual suspicion only took place in the military. In 1986, the Reagan Administration recommended testing employees for drug use as part of the War on Drugs, and the 1988 Drug Free Workplace Act required that companies with federal contracts provide a workplace free of illicit substances. In response, there were multiple cases in which courts ruled against mass-testing of firefighters,12 school bus drivers,13 and public school students,14 on the grounds that testing without individual suspicion would violate due process, privacy and protections against unreasonable search and seizure. In 1989, however, the Supreme Court discovered a “legitimate [state] interest” in protecting the public from drug use that justified an exception to the due process and individual suspicion requirements in the Fourth Amendment.15 Widespread testing in aviation, trucking, railroads and mass transit quickly followed. By 1995, the court’s understanding of legitimate state interest had moved so far that it approved random mandatory testing of student athletes.16

Silent March against "Stop and Frisk," New York City, 2012. Photo by Michael Fleshman via Flickr. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Silent March against “Stop and Frisk,” New York City, 2012. Photo by Michael Fleshman via Flickr. 

At the same time, Fourth Amendment protections were being eroded in other ways as well. The most egregious and destructive violations of privacy and person in the War on Drugs may be the development of the no-knock warrant. In 1970, an anti-crime bill authorized judges to issue search warrants that permitted agents to break down a door without first knocking and identifying themselves. The warrants were initially permitted for use only in a small number of federal anti-drug investigations, but they are now more common and associated with SWAT team raids, which increased from 3,000 in 1981 to 50,000 in 2005.17 An ACLU review18 of SWAT raids found that almost 80 percent were used to serve a search warrant (62 percent for a drug search) but only 35 percent of cases clearly resulted in finding contraband of any kind.

No-knock warrants and SWAT raids have resulted in an uncountable number of unnecessary injuries and deaths that are in some ways intrinsic to the process of militarized forced entry into a home. In Massachusetts in 2011,19 a 68-year-old African American man was watching TV in his pajamas when a SWAT team broke down his door with a no-knock warrant to search for his daughter’s boyfriend, who did not live at the house. The man was shot while lying facedown on the floor, and it was later revealed that the suspect they were looking for had been arrested outside the home before the door was broken down. In Georgia in 2014,20 officers executed a no-knock warrant at 3 A.M. at a home with children’s toys in the yard. They threw a flashbang or “stun” grenade into the home as they entered, and the grenade landed in the crib of a 19-month-old toddler. Given the number of no-knock warrants issued annually, it is literally impossible to know the exact number that have resulted in injury or death to innocent parties, but the process puts the people inside the home at significant risk.

Cases and Trials: Prosecutors and Courts

The expansion of law enforcement powers over the past 40 years has not been limited to invasions of privacy, but has moved into the operation of criminal law in the courts as well. Progressives have historically viewed the federal courts as upholders of basic rights and protections, largely based on the work of the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice. But the criminal branch of the federal system has become fully complicit in law enforcement assaults on vulnerable communities in both the War on Drugs and the War on Terror.

Drug laws have had a significant effect on criminal charging, trials and convictions in the federal courts in ways that enabled the subsequent, and higher profile, prosecutorial abuses of the War on Terror. The road from arrest to prison, from police practices to mass incarceration, passes through the courts. Theoretically, judges hold significant power, both direct and indirect, to modify law enforcement practices through questions about the admissibility of evidence, the constitutionality of particular actions, and the ultimate sentence imposed on a guilty party. An obscure but crucial element of the War on Drugs has been to shift power from judges to prosecutors,21] with multiple consequences for criminal defendants. These changes have both grown out of and accelerated the politicization of crime and punishment.22

Mandatory minimums

In 1984, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act replaced the federal Parole Commission with the Sentencing Commission, a bureaucratic declaration that punishment now trumps rehabilitation in the federal prison system. From 1984-88, the Sentencing Commission and subsequent anti-drug bills eliminated parole in the federal prison system and instituted escalating mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, including dramatically higher sentences for crack cocaine over powder cocaine.23 The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine was the most overtly racialized element of the anti-drug bills, since crack was known to be a form of cocaine largely used by Blacks while cocaine in powder form was more common among Whites. The elimination of parole for all federal convictions after 1987, when the rule was passed, has been less visible since state prison systems still have parole and the vast majority of incarcerated people are in state prisons. The recent attention to the early release of 6,000 people convicted of federal drug offenses24 might not have happened if they could have been quietly released on parole without the need for formal action.

In combination, the sentencing guidelines and elimination of parole shifted the balance of power in the federal courts.25 Mandatory minimum sentences mean that the parameters of prison time are primarily determined by the charge itself, and negotiations then focus on the charge as a way to manage the sentencing outcome. In practical terms, this gives prosecutors enormous power to determine the fate of an arrestee through the minimums associated with different charges, and facilitates a pervasive system of plea bargains in which a defendant’s fate is determined outside the courtroom and with little judicial oversight. This dynamic was exacerbated by cutbacks to public defenders and other indigent defense resources.

Plea bargains

Approximately 90 percent of cases settle through the plea bargain process, and defendants who insist on going to trial usually receive harsher sentences,26 although this may reflect the power of sentencing guidelines. Plea bargains involve manipulation of the charges and sentencing recommendations made by the prosecutor, without meaningful judicial review or meaningful documentation of the negotiation process. The sentencing guidelines for drug offences exacerbate this situation dramatically, with punitive threats of charges that carry high mandatory minimums used to coerce bargains.27 A particularly toxic element of the process comes from a clause in the drug-related sentencing guidelines that recommends reduced sentences for defendants who “cooperate” with police and prosecutors. This clause has generated a quasi-underground economy of “snitching” in which information buys sentence reductions, generally at the expense of those too powerless to exact revenge.

Use of informants

Informants have become a pervasive aspect of drug cases at both federal and local levels, but with little or no oversight by the Department of Justice.28 The system of mandatory minimums paired with leniency in exchange for information offers significant incentives for defendants to provide information to police and prosecutors and creates a legal context that invites corruption from all players.29 Over time, this constant supply of informants has generated some dependence among prosecutors, exemplified by Miguel’s story, as informant testimony provides a less expensive and time consuming alternative to building cases based on material evidence.30 The resulting system invites slanted or outright false testimony from informants while providing significant incentives for prosecutors to overlook indications of problems with informant sources and lack of supporting evidence.31 It also uses the weak to punish the weak: turning in an impoverished neighbor safely reduces prison time, while providing information about higher-level drug dealers could cause more problems than it solves.

Federal prosecutions of “homegrown terrorism” build on elements of the War on Drugs: defendants face extreme prison sentences, power lies primarily with prosecutors and investigators, and cases are built through dependence on informants and plea bargains coupled with extended pre-trial detention.

This system of threats, harsh prison sentences, informants, and plea bargains should sound very familiar to anyone paying close attention to terrorism cases. Federal prosecutions of “homegrown Islamist” terrorism build on elements of the War on Drugs: defendants face extreme prison sentences, power lies primarily with prosecutors and investigators, and cases are built through dependence on informants and plea bargains coupled with extended pre-trial detention.32

Prosecuting “terrorists”

U.S.-based Islamist terrorism cases, commonly called “homegrown,” have the same core procedural elements as drug prosecutions although they are anchored in a different set of criminal laws. People charged with committing certain offenses (e.g. weapons possession) for political reasons face “terrorism enhancements” rather than mandatory minimums, but with similar consequences. Terrorism enhancements add a multiplier to the standard sentencing recommendations for a charge, again shifting significant power to the prosecutor in the choice of what charges to file. The resulting threat of extreme sentences creates pressure for negotiated guilty pleas and sentencing bargains. Informants again play a central role in the building of cases, and typically receive significant legal or financial incentives for their cooperation with authorities. Threats of deportation or prosecution as well as plea bargains on existing charges have proven as effective in generating informants in terrorism cases as they have in drug cases. The process again creates cases that get resolved largely behind the scenes, with vulnerable defendants pressured into guilty pleas in exchange for reduced sentences. The resulting spectacle reinforces the perception of Muslim communities as centers of terrorist activity, although a closer look at prosecutorial activity raises questions about the definition of certain legal terms.

Theories of prevention

Many civil rights advocates have pointed to the increased militarization of police forces as a factor in political repression. Photo by Tony Webster via Flickr. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

Many civil rights advocates have pointed to the increased militarization of police forces as a factor in political repression. Photo by Tony Webster via Flickr. 

Legally, the defense of entrapment requires prosecutors to demonstrate that the defendant would have committed a crime of this type regardless of the informant or undercover agent. Homegrown terrorism cases have been built around a theory of radicalization to support prosecution arguments that Muslim defendants would have engaged in terrorism without the instigation of the informant or law enforcement officials,33 a claim to “pre-emptive” prosecution as a form of national defense. While focused on religion and national security, the core logic of the argument builds upon and extends the presumptions of danger and guilt embedded in the criminalization of low-income Black and Latino communities through frisking young Black men walking down the street or calling the police to handle misbehaving students in inner city public schools. In all these cases, the justification rests on a presumption that membership in certain racial/ethnic groups constitutes a predisposition to commit particular kinds of acts, and that militarized police practices are necessary to protect society.

Politics by other means

Among progressives, the War on Drugs and mass incarceration are increasingly understood in relation to the larger history of legal repression of Black people in the U.S. The focus on post-1970s racially disproportionate incarceration and its consequences,34 however, overlooks both the deeply racialized history of U.S. drug law and the multiple contexts for the expansion of law enforcement over the past 40 years.

U.S. drug law has been a tool of racial control throughout its 100-year history, 35 but the War on Drugs shifted the legal environment in qualitative, and not just quantitative, ways. As described throughout this article, the past four decades have seen changes in constitutionally-derived legal protections regarding searches and the right to privacy of home and person which affect all of us to some degree, but have specifically targeted African American communities. Within the court system, there has been a systematic shift of power from judges to prosecutors and the creation of incentives for the use of informants and other practices that reduce transparency and sidestep open judicial process. These gradual but steady reductions in civil liberties and the protections of due process were initially developed to “protect” the public from exposure to drugs and drug use, but have expanded into other areas of law enforcement. Over the past few years, the mandatory minimums and mass incarceration of the War on Drugs have been rolled back in certain ways, as with the decision to release several thousand federal prisoners as part of a rollback of mandatory minimum sentences.36 Meanwhile, the War on Terror continues unabated and employs many of the same legal strategies at an even higher level against Muslim communities in the U.S.

The War on Drugs and the War on Terror invite us to think about ways law enforcement engages in political repression outside contexts of heightened mobilization.

The War on Drugs and the War on Terror invite us to think about ways law enforcement engages in political repression outside contexts of heightened mobilization. In the 1960s, COINTELPRO (a portmanteau for the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program) targeted activists, organizations, and black communities during a period of widespread collective action. In contrast, the War on Drugs and War on Terror focus on communities primarily defined by vulnerability, not active resistance. The systematic targeting of Muslim communities has generated more fear than mobilization, and the targets of FBI anti-terrorism activities are often poor and socially or emotionally troubled.37 While African American communities have historically experienced recurrent waves of political mobilization and unrest, that had not been their primary condition for many years until the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

While the legal changes described in this article can be traced directly to the War on Drugs, the past 30-40 years have seen an overall pattern of criminalization of the poor justified by the need for order and discipline. The increased use of paramilitary police units like SWAT teams to execute search warrants and other routine procedures has expanded in small towns and rural areas as well as major cities.38 In a process sometimes described as the school-to-prison pipeline, police officers have become part of the normal disciplinary apparatus in public schools, and now arrest students, primarily low-income students of color, for behavior that used to be handled within the school.39 Homelessness has effectively become a crime in many cities, with local laws prohibiting sleeping, lying down, or even sitting for long periods of time in public spaces.40 Criminalization has extended into sexuality and public health, as laws to protect living children are used to prosecute pregnant women for child abuse for, say, delivering children born with drugs in their system or refusing a doctor’s orders,41 and young gay men and trans women of color are charged as sex workers for carrying more than three condoms.42 Simultaneously, the consequences of having a criminal record have expanded in ways that further marginalize the poor, such as limiting access to public housing and a range of social welfare programs, including some forms of student financial aid.43

The distinction between crime control and political repression has eroded, with criminalization used as a method to contain populations that might otherwise be politically problematic.

One lesson of the War on Drugs may well be that the distinction between crime control and political repression has eroded, with criminalization used as a method to contain populations that might otherwise be politically problematic. The War on Drugs and the school-to-prison pipeline have resulted in high levels of incarceration and other forms of legal supervision (such as probation) among young African Americans, which in turn creates other forms of vulnerability such as lack of education, employment, and housing. The stigma of being labeled a criminal compounds the technical disenfranchisement of loss of voting rights, access to social welfare programs, and a wide range of employment opportunities. In addition, mainstream Civil Rights organizations have historically been slow to engage with criminal law,44 and the growing critique of drug law and mass incarceration are a relatively recent phenomenon.

From a political perspective, one advantage of the tactic lies in the stigma and fear associated with criminalization. People accused of stigmatized crimes are difficult to defend, even for Civil Rights advocates, and civil liberties protections can be rolled back under the mantle of crime control and community safety. As a result, a highly developed and refined contemporary system of legal coercion, repression, surveillance, and associated institutional infrastructure remained largely outside of the progressive political vision, even as it was adapted for targeting Muslim communities.

Beyond the officially declared wars on drugs and terror, the expanding circles of criminalization described above have steadily encroached on social justice discourse in multiple arenas, eroding social movement gains through legal assaults on the young, poor, and otherwise vulnerable. The unwillingness of many progressives to challenge the criminal justice system and defend those caught in its net enabled mass incarceration to grow largely unchecked for over 30 years, as low-income Black communities experienced growing devastation. In order to truly roll back the power of right-wing movements in the U.S., progressives will have to challenge the politics of fear and criminalization, and stand in alliance with those pushed outside of society through the legal system. Black Lives Matter activists model this every day by refusing attempts to implicitly justify police violence through criminalizing Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and others. Will other movements follow that path?


About the Author

Naomi Braine is an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at Brooklyn College, CUNY, and a lifelong activist in struggles for social justice. Her political and intellectual work has addressed mass incarceration, the war on drugs/drug policy, HIV and collective action, and, more recently, the war on terror.


Endnotes

[1] Thomas Cincotta, “Platform for Prejudice: How the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative Invites Racial Profiling, Erodes Civil Liberties, and Undermines Security.” Political Research Associates, March 2010, http://www.politicalresearch.org/resources/reports/full-reports/platform-for-prejudice/

[2] Human Rights Institute, Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions. (New York: Columbia School of Law and Human Rights Watch, 2014); Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the “Homegrown Threat” in the United States. (New York: NYU School of Law, 2011).

[3] All information on the Booker case comes from the formal complaint filed on April 10, 2015: USA v John T. Booker, Jr a.k.a. “Mohammed Abdullah Hassan”, Case Number: 15-mj-5039-KGS, D.C. KS (Topeka Docket).

[4] Michael Levine, “King Rats: Criminal informants are the real winners in then DEA’s drug war,” Utne Reader, May-June 1996, http://www.utne.com/politics/king-rats-criminal-informants-judicial-folly.aspx.

[5] Los Angeles County Grand Jury, “Investigation of the Involvement of Jail House Informants in the Criminal Justice System in Los Angeles County,” June 26, 1990.

[6] Randy Balko, “Guilty before proven innocent.” Reason.com, May 2008, https://reason.com/archives/2008/04/14/guilty-before-proven-innocent.

[7] Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the “Homegrown Threat” in the United States. (New York: NYU School of Law, 2011).

[8] Nancy Campbell, Using Women: Gender, Drug Policy, and Social Justice. (New York: Routledge Press, 2000); David Musto “Opium, Cocaine, and Marijuana in American History.” Scientific American 40, no. 7 (July 1991).

[9] Susan Speaker, “Demons for the Twentieth Century: the Rhetoric of Drug Reform, 1920-40.” in Altering American Consciousness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in the United States, 1800-2000, edited by Sarah Tracy and Caroline Acker, (Univ of Mass Press. 2004).

[10] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. (New York: The New Press, 2010).

[11] Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

[12] Lovvorn v City of Chattanooga, (861 F.2d 1388 (D.C. TN 1986)); Capua v City of Plainfield, (643 F.Supp. 1507 (D.C. NJ 1986)).

[13] Jones v Mckenzie, (833 F.2d 335 (D.C. DC 1986)).

[14] Odenheim v Carlstadt-East Rutherford School District, (510 A.2d 709 (S.C. NJ 1985)).

[15] National Treasury Workers Union v. Von Raab, 489 U.S. 656 (1989).

[16] Vernonia v. Acton, Washington School District, (23 F.3d 1514 (9th Cir. 1995)).

[17] Peter Kraska and Louis Cubellis, “Militarizing Mayberry and Beyond: Making Sense of American Paramilitary Policing.” Justice Quarterly 14 no. 4 (December 1997); American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), War Comes Home: the Excessive Militarization of American Policing. ACLU, 2014, https://www.aclu.org/report/war-comes-home-excessive-militarization-american-police.

[18] ACLU, War Comes Home: the Excessive Militarization of American Policing.

[19] ACLU, War Comes Home: the Excessive Militarization of American Policing.

[20] ACLU, War Comes Home: the Excessive Militarization of American Policing.

[21] Jamie Felner, An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty. Human Rights Watch, December 5, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/12/05/offer-you-cant-refuse/how-us-federal-prosecutors-force-drug-defendants-plead.

[22] Jonathan Simon, Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear. (New York: Oxford Univ Press, 2007).

[23] Felner, An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.

[24] Michael S. Schmidt, “US to Release 6000 Inmates From Prisons,” New York Times, October 6, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/07/us/us-to-release-6000-inmates-under-new-sentencing-guidelines.html?_r=0

[25] Felner, An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.; Alexander Natapoff, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice. (New York: New York University Press, 2009).

[26] Lindsey Devers, Plea and Charge Bargaining: Research Summary. Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Dept of Justice, January 24, 2011.

[27] Felner, An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.

[28] Natapoff, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice.

[29] Natapoff, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice.; Felner, An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.

[30] Natapoff, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice.

[31]Los Angeles County Grand Jury, “Investigation of the Involvement of Jail House Informants in the Criminal Justice System in Los Angeles County.”

[32] This summary and the material in the next section, Prosecuting Terrorists, all comes from the following two reports: Human Rights Institute, Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions.; Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the “Homegrown Threat” in the United States.

[33] Stephen Downs, Esq, and Kathy Manley, Esq, Inventing Terrorists: the Lawfare of Preemptive Prosecution. (Albany NY: Project SALAM and the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, May 2014), http://www.projectsalam.org/inventing-terrorists-study.pdf.

[34] Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

[35] Campbell, Using Women: Gender, Drug Policy, and Social Justice.; Musto, “Opium, Cocaine, and Marijuana in American History.”

[36] Schmidt, “US to Release 6000 Inmates From Prisons.”

[37] Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the “Homegrown Threat” in the United States.; Downs, Esq, and Manley, Esq,  Inventing Terrorists: the Lawfare of Preemptive Prosecution.

[38] Kraska and Cubellis, “Militarizing Mayberry and Beyond: Making Sense of American Paramilitary Policing.”

[39] Karen Dolan and Jodi L. Carr, The Poor get Prison: the Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty. Report from the Institute for Policy Studies, DC.

[40] Dolan and Carr, The Poor get Prison: the Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty.

[41] Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin, “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health.” Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 38 no. 2 (January 2013).

[42] Margaret H. Wurth, Rebecca Schleifer, Megan McLemore, Katherine W. Todrys and Joseph J Amon, “Condoms as evidence of prostitution in the United States and the criminalization of sex work,” Journal of International AIDS Society 16, (May 2013).

[43] Dolan and Carr, The Poor get Prison: the Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty.

[44] Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

35 Years of Demonization: The Criminalization of Black Women

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

This article appears in the Winter 2016 issue of The Public Eye magazine.

In December 1990, when Alice Johnson lost her job, she never imagined she would end up in prison. The African-American single mother had been supporting her five children as a manager of a FedEx store in Memphis. She soon found another job, but at one-third the pay. Meanwhile, the bills mounted. When she was offered a quick way to make money—by passing phone messages about where to buy drugs—she took it. Johnson is now serving a life sentence for conspiracy to possess cocaine, attempted possession of cocaine, and money laundering.1

Between 1990 and 2000, the number of people in U.S. prisons and jails increased from 292 per 100,000 to 481 per 100,000.2 But the number of women in prison rose even more sharply, doubling over the ten-year period.

The numbers keep growing. The number of women sent to prison grew by another nearly three percent (or 2,800 people) between 2012 and 2013. The imprisonment rate for Black women is 113 of every 100,000, more than twice that of White women (who are imprisoned at a rate of 51 per 100,000). At the end of 2013, nearly one quarter (or 23,100) of the 104,134 women in state or federal prison were Black.3 In contrast, Black women make up just 13 percent of women in the United States.4 Today, approximately 206,000 women are in jails or prisons nationwide.5 Johnson, who was arrested in 1994 and charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine, attempted possession of cocaine, and money laundering, is one of those women.

In July 2015, hundreds of people marched in Minneapolis to honor Sandra Bland and protest the deaths of Black women who have died in police custody. Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr.

In July 2015, hundreds of people marched in Minneapolis to honor Sandra Bland and protest the deaths of Black women who have died in police custody. Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr.

Johnson’s imprisonment did not happen in a political vacuum. The same policies of mass incarceration and racial policing that have sent disproportionate numbers of Black men to prison have also hit Black women hard.6 In 1996, the year Johnson was convicted, the rate of incarceration for Black women was seven times higher than for White women. The right-wing rhetoric that fueled those policies affecting Black men also reinforced a narrative in which Black women are seen as inherently criminal, a narrative that continues to influence public perception and law enforcement today.7

In 1971, Richard M. Nixon declared a War on Drugs. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan expanded that war. But, as Michelle Alexander notes in her pivotal study of the hyper-incarceration of African Americans, The New Jim Crow, this expansion came at a time when neither media nor most members of the public were particularly concerned about drugs. Reagan’s administration launched a public relations campaign, focusing largely on crack, to build both public and legislative support for his drug war. The war was not race-neutral—images of Black people addicted to crack, whether in the form of “crack whores,” “crack dealers” or “crack babies,” were utilized to strike fear into the public and garner support for harsher laws and more punitive sentences.8

The image of Black women continues to be fueled by the right-wing narrative of Black women as welfare frauds, liars, and cheats.

In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, mandating a five-year sentence for a five-gram sale of crack cocaine; in contrast, the same sentence only took effect for 500 grams of powder cocaine. Although Whites and Blacks used drugs at similar rates, enforcement of the Act targeted Black people, drastically increasing the number of Black people sent to prison—in 1980, African Americans made up 12 percent of the country’s population, but 23 percent of all people arrested on drug charges. By 1990, however, they made up more than 40 percent of those arrested for drugs and over 60 percent of those convicted.9 The Act also took its toll on women, particularly Black women. Under the Act, police and prosecutors were able to arrest and charge spouses and lovers with drug trafficking “conspiracy” for everyday actions such as taking a phone message or sharing finances. This is what happened to North Carolina mother Phyllis Hardy, whose ordeal I have described elsewhere.10 In 1991, Hardy’s husband was arrested for conspiracy to import and sell cocaine. He told me that prosecutors asked him if he had ever given money to his wife. “She’s my wife. Of course I gave her money,” he told them.

Andrea Ritchie, co-author of the "Say Her Name" report speaks at the 2015 New York City #SayHerName vigil in remembrance of Black women and girls killed by the police. Photo by The All-Nite Images via Flickr.

Andrea Ritchie, co-author of the “Say Her Name” report speaks at the 2015 New York City #SayHerName vigil
in remembrance of Black women and girls killed by the police. Photo by The All-Nite Images via Flickr.

But, under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, sharing money with a spouse—even for household expenses like groceries or the mortgage—ropes him or her into the conspiracy. Phyllis Hardy was arrested and charged with conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine as well as money laundering. Believing that justice would prevail, she went to trial. She lost and was sentenced to 30-and-a-half years in federal prison. Her husband, who accepted a plea bargain, served 15 years.

Reagan’s War on Drugs coincided with a less-trumpeted right-wing war on women. Invoking images of Black welfare mothers driving Cadillacs and having children solely to collect more taxpayer dollars, Reagan and his acolytes whipped up public furor against welfare recipients and the idea that society should support those most in need. The frenzy continued past his presidency; in 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) was introduced as part of the Republican Contract with America and heavily pushed by House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other Republicans, as well as right-wing think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, home of Charles Murray, whose racist writings formed the foundation for welfare reform. In 1996, Clinton signed it into law. The bill, popularly known as “welfare reform,” placed a five-year lifetime limit on welfare, excluded benefits to children born to mothers already on welfare, required recipients to work after two years, and enacted a lifetime ban on welfare benefits for people with drug felonies or who had violated probation or parole.11

The demonization of Black women extended beyond welfare and, even 35 years later, continues to inform police interactions. In 2013, of all women stopped by New York City police, over 53 percent were Black although Black people make up only 27 percent of the city’s residents.12

“The image of Black women continues to be fueled by the right-wing narrative of Black women as welfare frauds, liars and cheats,” Andrea Ritchie, a Soros Justice Fellow examining police violence against women and LGBT people of color, told The Public Eye. “These images drive interactions from whether to write someone a traffic ticket or arrest them for not putting their cigarette out to what to charge someone.” Ritchie pointed to the example of Charlena Michele Cooks, a Black mother in Barstow, California, who was eight months pregnant when she was brutally arrested in January 2015. While dropping her second-grade daughter off at school, Cooks had a driving dispute with another mother. The other mother, who is White, called the police. According to his body cam footage, the officer, after listening to the White mother’s statement, said, “I don’t see a crime that’s been committed,” but offered to speak with Cooks. The officer approached Cooks and, when she refused to give her full name and began to walk away, the officer twisted her hands behind her, forced her against a fence and arrested her as she screamed in pain and fear. She was charged with resisting arrest. A court later dismissed the charge; the ACLU of Southern California confirms that Cooks did indeed have the right to refuse to give her name.13

Whenever interactions like this occur, the underlying justification demonizes Black women, noted Ritchie. “Every police interaction is informed by the perception that they’re lying, cheating and not worthy of protection.” The brutal 2015 arrest of Sandra Bland, who died in police custody in Texas following a questionable traffic stop, illustrates the way in which these ingrained perceptions can be deadly.

National Day Of Action to end State violence against Black girls and women. Photo by The All-Nite Images via Flickr

National Day Of Action to end State violence against Black girls and women. Photo by The All-Nite Images via Flickr

Even when they are not deadly, the narrative informs who police choose to target—and arrest. In the 1990s, New York City, under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his police commissioner Bill Bratton, instituted a policy of “stop, question and frisk,” soon shortened to “stop and frisk,” in which police stop and search people whom they perceive to be acting suspiciously. Not surprisingly, most of the stops involved people of color. In 2011, nearly 90 percent of these stops involved Black or Latina/o people.14 But stop and frisk is not limited to New York; other cities also employ the tactic and, as in New York, people of color are often the targets.

Those stopped and frisked can be arrested not only for weapons or drugs, but also for carrying legal items such as condoms. Until recently in New York, police could—and would—seize condoms as evidence of sex work. But this policy didn’t just affect people engaged in sex work. Trans and gender non-conforming people, particularly people of color, also felt the brunt in a phenomenon known as “walking while trans.”15 Nearly 60 percent of trans and gender non-conforming people of color living in Jackson Heights, one of New York City’s most diverse neighborhoods, reported being stopped by police, who profiled them as sex workers solely because of their race and gender identity. None were actually sex workers, but they were charged with prostitution-related offenses if they were carrying condoms.16 Considering that the city’s Department of Health distributes over 35 million condoms each year, the practice of using condoms as evidence seems particularly absurd. But not absurd enough to abolish the practice. In May 2014, Bratton (once again New York’s police commissioner) announced that police will no longer use condoms as evidence—unless they suspect people of sex trafficking or promotion of prostitution.17 

Nearly 60 percent of trans and gender nonconforming people of color living in Jackson Heights reported being stopped by police, who profiled them as sex workers solely because of their race and gender identity.

Undoing 35 years of demonization requires approaches on several different levels. Andrea Ritchie is the co-author of Say Her Name, a July 2015 report examining police violence against Black women and girls, which includes some examples of policy demands that address Black women’s particular experiences of policing, such as a ban on using Tasers and excessive force on pregnant women or children and the passage of the End Racial Profiling Act of 2015, which prohibits any agency from engaging in racial profiling.18 In New Orleans, years of organizing and attention to the city’s racist policing practices ended in a 2012 consent decree in which the New Orleans Police Department was ordered to implement bias-free policing.19

At the same time, the underlying narrative that promotes these policies and interactions needs to change. The popular hashtag and associated movement #BlackLivesMatter have helped challenge this script, calling attention to the racism and violence against Black people. While #BlackLivesMatter, started by three Black women, does not focus exclusively on the violence against Black men, activists and media makers made sure that the call was expanded to ensure that Black women and Black trans people were not forgotten with calls for Black Trans Lives Matter and Black Girls Matter. Activists, media makers and members of the general public need to continue challenging the stereotypes of Black women and rewrite the script so that gender and gendered violence remain integral in the struggle to transform the criminal justice system.


About the Author

Victoria Law is a freelance writer focusing on the intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance. She is also the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women.


Endnotes

[1] Victoria Law, “Mothers Serving Long-Term Drug Sentences Call for Clemency,” Truthout, September 11, 2015, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32745-mothers-serving-long-term-drug-sentences-call-for-clemency.

[2] Allen J. Beck and Jennifer C. Karberg, Prisons and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2000, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice, March 2001, 3, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/pjim00.pdf.

[3] E. Ann Carson, Prisoners in 2013, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, September 30, 2014, 9, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p13.pdf.

[4] Maria Guerra, Fact Sheet: The State of African American Women in the United States, Center for American Progress, November 7, 2013, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/report/2013/11/07/79165/fact-sheet-the-state-of-african-american-women-in-the-united-states/.

[5] Aleks Kajstura and Russ Immarigeon, States of Women’s Incarceration: The Global Context, Prison Policy Initiative, http://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/women/ .

[6] Department of Justice, “State and Federal Prisons Report Record Growth During Last 12 Months,” December 3, 1995, 4, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/pam95.pdf.

[7] This past summer, Texas district attorney called Sandra Bland “it” and re-directed the blame for Bland’s brutal arrest and subsequent death on her own behavior, stating, “It was not a model traffic stop … and it was not a model person that was stopped on a traffic stop. I think the public can make its own determinations as to the behaviors that are seen in the video.” Michael Gracezyk, “Texas Prosecutor Says Too Soon to Say How Woman Died in Cell,” Associated Press, July 21, 2015, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/00ba536ef2c24db1bb1609e9bcb6df1d/texas-officials-release-video-jail-sandra-bland-case.

[8] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010), 5.

[9] Jonathan Rothwell, “How the War on Drugs Damages Black Social Mobility,” Brookings, September 30, 2014, http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/social-mobility-memos/posts/2014/09/30-war-on-drugs-black-social-mobility-rothwell.

[10] Victoria Law, “Will Obama’s Commutation Allow Grandma Hardy and Thousands of Drug War Prisoners to Finally Go Home?” Truthout, August 20, 2014, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/25497-will-obamas-commutation-allow-grandma-hardy-and-thousands-of-drug-war-prisoners-to-finally-go-home; Victoria Law, “Phyllis ‘Grandma’ Hardy is Home! But Over 98,000 People Remain Prisoners of the Drug War,” Truthout, April 7, 2015, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/29973-phyllis-grandma-hardy-is-home-but-over-98-000-people-remain-prisoners-of-the-drug-war.

[11] Bryce Covert, “Clinton Touts Welfare Reform. Here’s How It Failed,” The Nation, September 6, 2012, http://www.thenation.com/blog/169788/clinton-touts-welfare-reform-heres-how-it-failed.

[12] Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and Andrea J. Ritchie, Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women, (New York: African American Policy Forum, 2015). 7, http://static1.squarespace.com/static/53f20d90e4b0b80451158d8c/t/55a810d7e4b058f342f55873
/1437077719984/AAPF_SMN_Brief_full_singles.compressed.pdf
.

[13] Michael Martinez and Kyung Lah, “Police Video Shows ‘Horrifying’ Arrest of Pregnant Woman, ACLU Says,” CNN, May 29, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/28/us/barstow-california-police-video-pregnant-woman-arrest/.

[14] New York Civil Liberties Union, Stop‐and‐Frisk 2011 Report 8 (2012). 5.

[15] People’s Law Office, “Criminalization of LGBTQ People,” n.p., n.d., http://peopleslawoffice.com/issues-and-cases/criminalization-of-glbt-people-in-the-us/.

[16] Make the Road New York, Transgressive Policing: Police Abuse of LGBTQ Communities of Color in Jackson Heights, October 2012, 4, 15, http://www.maketheroad.org/pix_reports/MRNY_Transgressive_Policing_Full_Report_10.23.12B.pdf.

[17] Emma Caterine, “Condoms as Evidence: Terrible for Sex Workers, Terrible for Public Health,” RH Reality Check, March 8, 2013, http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/03/08/condoms-as-evidence-terrible-for-sex-workers-terrible-for-public-health/.

[18] Crenshaw and Ritchie, “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women,” African American Policy Forum, July 2015, 33 (See also: Cassandra Osei, “Reports in Review,” The Public Eye, Fall 2015, 20); End Racial Profiling Act of 2015, H.R. 1933, 114th Congress (2015), https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1933.

[19] New Orleans Police Department, “NOPD Consent Decree,” City of New Orleans Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu, n.d., http://www.nola.gov/nopd/nopd-consent-decree/. It should be noted that, three years later, “the pace of reform continues in many areas to be slower than desired.” Ken Daley, “Third Year in Consent Decree ‘Critical’ for New Orleans Police,” The Times-Picayune, October 5, 2015, http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2015/10/federal_monitors_warn_nopds_th.html.