How Indiana Is Making It Possible to Jail Women for Having Abortions

**This article will appear in the Spring 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine**

On February 3, 2015, an Indiana jury found Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old Indian-American woman, guilty of two crimes, one of which is feticide for attempting a self-abortion. This Monday, March 30, Patel will be sentenced. The prosecution and verdict in this case demonstrate that, despite their claims to the contrary, the real result of the anti-abortion movement—if not the intended goal—is to punish women for terminating pregnancies.

The anti-choice movement’s long-term strategy goes beyond just limiting access to abortion. It also includes passing feticide laws that recognize fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses as having a separate legal status and create special penalties for causing them harm.1

As historian and legal scholar Reva B. Siegel has documented, many anti-choice activists promote anti-abortion measures as “women-protective,” ensuring “women’s informed consent, women’s health, women’s welfare, and women’s freedom.”2 Feticide laws fall into this category: They are presented as a means of protecting both pregnant women and their “unborn” children, and they have overwhelmingly been introduced in the wake of violence against pregnant women. No Indiana law, including its feticide law, has ever been proposed and enacted that claimed it could or should be used as a basis for prosecuting and incarcerating women who have abortions. 3

Yet, as a result of the Patel case, such a law now apparently exists in Indiana.

Purvi Patel is led out of the courtroom in handcuffs after being found guilty of felony neglect and feticide on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. Photo by Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune

Purvi Patel is led out of the courtroom in handcuffs after being found guilty of felony neglect and feticide on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. Photo by Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune

The Patel case began when a 33-year-old-woman went to a Mishawaka, Indiana emergency room in July 2013, bleeding and seeking help. Patel, who helps run her family’s restaurant and cares for her ailing parents and grandparents,4 eventually told health-care workers that she had miscarried. She explained that she had disposed of the fetal remains in a trash bin. After police found the remains they arrested Patel on the charge of “neglect of a dependent.”

About a month later, county prosecutors added the charge of “feticide.” According to a sworn statement in support of the arrest, Patel sent text messages to a friend indicating that she had obtained two drugs from Hong Kong in an attempt to end her pregnancy and that she had taken some amount of those drugs.5 The feticide charge was based on the claim that Patel “did knowingly terminate a human pregnancy, to wit: her own pregnancy, by ingesting medication,” and that this conduct was not a legal abortion performed in accordance with Indiana abortion law.6

To many observers, it was a shocking new application of Indiana’s feticide law, which was intended to criminalize “knowing or intentional termination of another’s pregnancy.”7 Turning this law into one that can be used to punish a woman who herself has an abortion is an extraordinary expansion of the scope and intention of the state’s law. Nevertheless, a jury convicted Patel on both the feticide and neglect charges; she now faces as many as 70 years in prison.  

Even assuming Indiana’s feticide law could somehow become an abortion criminalization law, many people were initially baffled by how Patel could be charged with two seemingly contradictory charges: feticide for ending a pregnancy and also child neglect for giving birth to a baby and then failing to care for it. The state’s explanation took the interpretation of the feticide law to an even further extreme as prosecutor Ken Cotter argued, “a person can be guilty of feticide even if the fetus in question survives, as long as a deliberate attempt was made to ‘terminate’ the pregnancy ‘with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus.’”8

Put another way, Indiana’s feticide law is now an abortion criminalization law that not only can be used to punish a woman who ends her pregnancy, but also can be used to punish a woman who even attempts to end her own pregnancy.

This should raise alarm for numerous reasons. To begin with, attempts to end one’s own pregnancy are not extraordinary. One study of abortion patients found that 2.3 percent reported having used misoprostol or other substances, such as vitamin C or herbs, to attempt to end a pregnancy at some point in their lives. Another study found that the overall percentage to be higher at 4.6 percent, with even greater percentages in Texas, 9 where more than half of all abortion clinics have been forced to close as a result of restrictive abortion legislation.10 (Seven percent of abortion patients in Texas, and 12 percent of such patients near the U.S.-Mexico border, reported having first taken steps in an attempt to terminate their own pregnancies.11)

Another reason for concern is the vagueness of the interpretation of this law.

What constitutes “a deliberate attempt” to terminate a pregnancy? In another Indiana case, 34-year-old Bei Bei Shuai was arrested for attempted feticide because prosecutors construed her attempt to kill herself while pregnant as an attempt to terminate a pregnancy.12 Suicide is not a crime in Indiana or any other state. Nevertheless, Shuai, a Chinese immigrant who survived and gave birth to a baby who lived for several days, was arrested on both feticide and murder charges. Massive public pressure eventually helped get both charges dropped, but not before Shuai spent a full year locked up in state custody and another year under a form of house arrest that required her to wear an electronic monitor for which she had to pay $12 per day.13

There is also the matter of what else might constitute “a deliberate attempt” to end a pregnancy. If a woman suffers an unexplained miscarriage or stillbirth, would the fact that she had previously searched for information about using medications like misoprostol to end a pregnancy14 be used against her? In the Patel case, the state had no physical proof that Patel had actually taken—or even purchased—any medication, apart from text messages allegedly discussing these matters.15 (For the record, the state similarly had no actual proof that the fetus had been born alive, relying instead on a scientifically invalid and widely discredited “float test” to persuade the jury otherwise.16)

What the Patel case demonstrates is that both women who have abortions and those who experience pregnancy loss may now be subject to investigation, arrest, public trial and incarceration. Indeed, Patel has consistently said that she experienced a miscarriage17 that she, like most women in this situation, was unprepared to handle.18 Pregnancy loss is not uncommon: some 15-20 percent of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage;19 one percent of pregnancies—approximately 26,000 each year—result in stillbirth.20 Following the Patel case, however, any miscarriage or stillbirth could be investigated as feticide (an “illegal” self-abortion).

While the scope of Indiana’s feticide law may be vague, the message the Patel case sends is anything but. As an NBC South Bend affiliate summarized it, the verdict broadcast the warning that “there is no room in society today for do-it-yourself abortions.”21

The outcome of this case is noteworthy and alarming for another reason as well. It directly contradicts the repeated claims of anti-abortion leaders that their efforts will not lead to punishing women. Several years ago, 17 anti-choice anti-abortion leaders participated in an on-line symposium hosted by the conservative magazine National Review, addressing the question of whether there should be “jail time for women who seek abortions.”22 Overwhelmingly the writers assured readers that this was not their goal and moreover, that it would never happen.23 One of the contributors, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List, argued that fears of women being prosecuted and jailed were just a pro-choice tactic to malign abortion opponents. 24

“The fact of the matter is that compassion for women before abortion was legal and compassion for them after unborn protections are enforced will drive the law,” said Dannenfelser. “The focus of such laws is on protection, not punishment.”25

Another essay contributor, Anne Hendershott, promised, “No one wants to send a woman who has had an abortion to prison—she will suffer enough from her decision.”26 And Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for the Family Research Council, flatly called the threat of criminalizing abortion under feticide laws “ludicrous.”27

These writers are not alone. Anti-abortion organizations have routinely downplayed or denied the threat. An Ohio Right to Life webpage, “Overturning Roe v. Wade,” assures readers that “no one is interested in sending women to jail.28 Generations for Life, the youth arm of the Pro-Life Action League, likewise insists that “the idea of punishing women who have abortions could not be further from anti-choicers’ minds.”29 And legal advocacy organization Americans United for Life has maintained that, “if Roe is overruled, no woman would be prosecuted for self-abortion.”30

But in Indiana, the prosecution of Purvi Patel for an alleged self-abortion is exactly what happened.

It should come as no surprise that not a single national anti-choice group sounded an objection to the Patel prosecution and its use of Indiana’s criminal laws to punish a woman who allegedly sought to end her own pregnancy.31 A similar, deafening silence was heard when Jennie McCormack, a mother of three in southern Idaho—where there are no longer any abortion providers—was arrested after she used medication obtained online to end a pregnancy.32

The anti-choice movement has not taken any steps to oppose prosecution of pregnant women, in spite of peer-reviewed research that I published with Jeanne Flavin33 establishing that anti-abortion measures, including the feticide laws now in existence in 38 states, are providing the justification for the arrest of pregnant women, including those who have had or who attempted to have abortions.

It is likely that most people in the U.S., whether they identify as “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” don’t want to see any woman locked up for having an abortion34 (including the more than 60 percent of women who have abortions who are already mothers).35 Perhaps this is why anti-abortion organizations work so hard to deny the predictable and inevitable consequences of their efforts: women being locked up.36

The anti-abortion organization Priests for Life insists the “pro-life position has always been that women are victimized by abortion. In fact, we have repeatedly rejected the suggestion that women should be put in jail.”37 On Monday, Purvi Patel will find out at sentencing just how much time she will have to serve in jail or prison. But what the Patel case already demonstrates is that we cannot take Priests for Life and the other anti-choice organizations at their word when they promise protection and not punishment for women.

 

End Notes

1 See Lynn Paltrow, Pregnant Drug Users, Fetal Persons, and the Threat to Roe v. Wade, 62 Albany Law Review 999, 1009-1015 (1999).

2 Reva B. Siegel, Dignity and the Politics of Protection: Abortion Restrictions Under Casey/Carhart Faculty Scholarship Series, Paper 1134 (2008), available at

http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2131&context=fss_papers

3 See Indiana v. Bei Bei Shuai, Defendant’s Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Dismiss, In the Marion Superior Court Criminal Division, Cause No.: 49G03-1103-MR-014478 at 10-14 (March 30, 2011).

4 Amy Gastelum, An Indiana jury says Purvi Patel should go to prison for what she says was a miscarriage, PRI’s The World (March 13, 2015) available at http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-03-13/indiana-jury-says-purvi-patel-should-go-prison-what-she-says-was-miscarriage

5 Indiana v. Patel, Supplemental Affidavit in Support of Probable Cause, In the Stat Joseph Superior Court, Cause No 71 DO8-1307-FA-0000-17 (July 17 2013) available at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1280086-patelpcaffidavit.html

6 Indiana v. Patel, Second Amended Information (In the St. Joseph Superior Court, Cause No., 71D08-13 (Dec 8, 2014).

7 Sandra L. Smith, Fetal Homicide: Woman or Fetus as Victim? A Survey of Current State Approaches and Recommendations for Future State Application. 41 William & Mary Law Review 1845 at 1852-3 (2000) (emphasis added) available at: http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1539&context=wmlr

8 Leon Neyfakh, False Certainty: Why did the pathologist in the Purvi Patel feticide case use the discredited “float test” to show her fetus was born alive?, Slate (Feb 5, 2015). Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2015/02/purvi_patel_feticide_why_did_the_pathologist_use_the_discredited_lung_float.html

9 Rachel K. Jones, How commonly do US abortion patients report attempts to self-induce? 204 Am J Obstet Gynecol 23 (2011) available at: http://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378%2810%2901008-2/pdfSummary

10 RH Reality Check, Tracking Texas Abortion Access, http://rhrealitycheck.org/tracking-texas-abortion-access-map/ (last updated Oct. 15, 2014).

11 Daniel Grossman, et. al., The public health threat of anti-abortion legislation, 89 Contraception 73 (2013)

12 Deepa Lyer and Miriam Yeung. Purvi Patel Isn’t the First Woman of Color to Have Her Pregnancy Put on Trial in Indiana (Updated)!, RH Reality Check (February 2, 2015). Available at: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2015/02/02/purvi-patel-isnt-first-woman-color-pregnancy-put-trial-indiana/

13 National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Thank You! Bei Bei Shuai is Free and More http://advocatesforpregnantwomen.org/blog/2013/08/thank_you_bei_bei_shuai_is_fre.php; Jodi Jacobson, Bei Bei Shuai out on bail but far from free, RH Reality Check (May 22, 2012) available at: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/05/22/bei-bei-shuai-out-jail-out-on-bail-but-far-from-free/; David Cerola, Bei Bei Shuai case ends after plea agreement, Nuvo (August 2 2013), available at http://www.nuvo.net/indianapolis/bei-bei-plea-bargain-met/Content?oid=2649516

14 See e.g., Women on Waves, Using Medications (Pills) to End an Unwanted Pregnancy in the USA https://www.womenonwaves.org/en/page/711/using-medications-pills-to-end-an-unwanted-pregnancy-in-the-usa (last visited March 25, 2015).

15 Indiana v. Patel, Supplemental Affidavit in Support of Probable Cause, St.Joseph Superior Court, Cause No 71 DO8-1307-FA-0000-17 (July 17 2013) available at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1280086-patelpcaffidavit.html

16 Supra note 8.

17 Supra note 4.

18 Jennifer Gunter, Feticide laws force birth and punish women (September 10, 2014) available at: http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2014/09/feticide-laws-force-birth-punish-women.html

19 Raj Rai & Lesley Regan, Recurrent Miscarriage, 368 Lancet 601, 601 (2006).

20 Ruth C. Fretts, Etiology and Prevention of Stillbirth, 193 American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 1923, 1924 (March 2005).

21 WNDU NewsCenter 16 Staff, UPDATE: Purvi Patel found guilty on all counts, WNDU.com (March 26, 2015), video: “Purvi Patel’s Fate In The Hands of a Jury” available at: http://www.wndu.com/home/headlines/Jury-out-in-Purvi-Patel-trial-290718931.html

22 One Untrue Thing, An NRO Symposium, Life After Roe, National Review, Aug. 1, 2007, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/221742/one-untrue-thing-nro-symposium.

23 Id

24 Id.

25 ld.

26Id.

27 Id.

28 Ohio Right to Life, Overturning Roe v. Wade, http://www.ohiolife.org/overturning-roe-v-wade/ (last visited March 25, 2015).

29 Generations for Life, Blog, How Much Jail Time for Women Who Have Abortions?, posted by John, July 31, 2007, at 12:00 p.m., http://generationsforlife.org/2007/0731/how-much-jail-time-for-women-who-have-abortions/.

30 Clarke D. Forsythe, Why the States Did Not Prosecute Women for Abortion Before Roe v. Wade, Americans United for Life, April 23, 2010, http://www.aul.org/2010/04/why-the-states-did-not-prosecute-women-for-abortion-before-roe-v-wade/.

31 Indeed, the response from the group St. Joseph County Right to Life suggests clear support for such arrests. Right to Life Program Director Jeanette Burdell released a statement regarding Patel’s conviction, writing, “We agree the prosecutor should have pursued this because it involves an innocent human life. Unfortunately, this case shows that our culture and our society have devalued human life to the point where this mother might not have been fully aware of the gravity of her actions. This is the impact of legalized abortion.” See Fox28, Pro Life Group Reacts to Purvi Patel Conviction, Feb. 4, 2015, http://www.fox28.com/story/28029167/2015/02/04/pro-life-group-reacts-to-purvi-patel-conviction.

32 Jessica Robinson, Idaho Woman Arrested For Abortion Is Uneasy Case For Both Sides, NPR, April 9, 2012, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=150312812.

33 Lynn M. 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 Healthhttp://jhppl.dukejournals.org/content/38/2/299.full.pdf+html?sid=b0811f36-d4e4-4b51-a830-e175e6eee40c.

34 See Anna Quindlen, How Much Jail Time for Women Who Have Abortions?, Newsweek, Aug. 5, 2007, http://www.newsweek.com/quindlen-how-much-jail-time-women-who-have-abortions-99537.

35 Guttmacher Institute, Fact Sheet: Induced Abortion in the United States, July 2014, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html.

36 See Lynn M. Paltrow, Roe v. Wade and the New Jane Crow: Reproductive Rights in the Age of Mass Incarceration, American Journal of Public Health (2013).

37 Priests for Life, Letter 263, http://www.priestsforlife.org/lte/lte26.html (last visited March 25, 2015).

Print Friendly

My On-Again, Off-Again Romance With Liberalism

In honor of PRA’s late founder Jean Hardisty, please enjoy this article originally published by the Women’s Theological Center (now known as Women Transforming Communities) in March 1996, as part of The Brown Paper series. Republished with permission.

Jean hardisty SLIDE

PRA founder Jean Hardisty

As I sit at my desk working my way through a stack of requests for donations and entreaties to renew my membership in various organizations, I am torn about when to write a check and when to save my money. At the moment, the pressing question for me is whether to support the larger, liberal organizations that do what I think of as “mainstream” liberal work—organizations such as The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, The National Organization for Women, and People for the American Way.

For years I have written these checks, almost as an act of dutiful citizenship. After all, I am glad the organizations are there. I want them to continue to exist. That means I have to do my part to keep them alive. But this seems a rather lazy way to make a decision.

I feel I should decide what I really think about liberalism and its prospects in the 1990s. It is clear that in 1996 liberalism is in eclipse—or at least adrift and demoralized. Meanwhile, the Right is in its glory. It dominates the political arena, with an apparent lock on the new ideas, the money, the organization, and the attention that used to belong to liberalism.

Liberalism is nearly an orphan. It has a bad name in many circles. For the Left, it represents a compromised reformism. For the Right, it is socialism in disguise. For the center, it is a label associated with fuzzy thinking and do-gooder incompetence.

Liberals are divided and seem to have lost confidence in their own ideology. The vicious attacks mounted by the Right have scored points with the public by caricaturing liberal programs, their adherents, and their recipients. After fifteen years of such attacks there is now a proven formula: seize on an example of abuse of a liberal program, market an image of the program’s undeserving recipient (preferably a poor person of color) to the taxpaying public, then sit back and wait for the impact. The “welfare queen,” the Black rapist on furlough, the unqualified affirmative action hire—all have assumed powerful symbolic significance.

In the face of these attacks, liberals themselves seem to know on some level that their programs have not worked as planned. Even in defending them, they are forced to appeal to the spirit in which the programs were based, or the benefits they have delivered to their most deserving beneficiaries. Liberals seem unable to mount a vigorous defense of these programs—on their own terms, across the board, without regard to the worthiness of the recipients. By mounting a weak defense, liberals tacitly concede to their Republican attackers that the programs are at least flawed, perhaps even indefensible.

The Swinging Door

I have seen liberalism’s programs and ideology up close for over thirty years. At fifty, I have reached some clarity about liberalism, especially since I have the advantage of a Left perspective—a set of glasses, if you will, that helps to bring the shortcomings of both liberalism and conservatism into focus. Further, I learned my politics during the Vietnam War, a war waged by liberals as well as conservatives.

I know that domestic social programs are intended as amelioration, not real change. I know that the same men who voted for public housing programs voted for aid to the Guatemalan military. I understand liberalism’s self-serving tendency to preserve the status quo, why big business often has found it a useful ally, why its redistributive measures never really disturb the sleep of the rich. I understand why it tolerates police brutality, a rogue FBI, why NAFTA, why GATT. I know all that.

Yet as the Right picks off liberal programs one by one, I mourn each one as if it were the product of a golden age of liberty, equality, and fraternity. My understanding of liberalism’s shortcomings and its history of opportunism is gone. Liberal programs are bathed with a glow of benevolence, set off by a stark contrast with the anti-social and avaricious agenda of the Right.

Take public housing as an example. As it is defunded by the Right and its real estate sold off, I am torn by two conflicting images. In the back of my mind are the towers of Cabrini Green, a massive, notoriously rundown, and dangerous housing project in Chicago. Here the ultimate effect of a liberal program is to segregate poor Black people in a high-rise ghetto. In fact, the numerous high-rise federal housing projects in Chicago form a “wall” that cordons off poor people from the rest of the city. It is difficult to see the result of this liberal housing effort on behalf of low-income families without assuming a malicious intent behind the program.

But in the front of my mind are other images: a broken-down, substandard house in rural Mississippi transformed into a prefab house with indoor water, electricity, and walls that are tight against the weather. Or a range of housing such as scattered rent-subsidized low-income units, low-rise complexes, and rent-controlled apartments that allow people to live in decent conditions even though they have very little money. It is these images that draw me. Perhaps it is sentimental, but I am compelled by the notion of a society that will not tolerate extreme poverty and that responds with redistributive programs—even though the programs are often flawed and sometimes cynical.

This softness toward liberalism is not easy to admit. It can be especially embarrassing to defend liberalism when I am speaking to progressives. It feels like admitting a weakness in my political commitment to Left, progressive values, the values that demand fundamental systemic change and redistribution of power. But this soft-on-liberalism instinct is grounded in my progressive politics. I see the two in relation to each other. I understand the role that liberalism plays in facilitating the work that progressives do. The Left needs liberals to create the breathing room necessary for us to do our work. Liberals, in turn, are given direction and held to some minimal standard of honesty by the Left.

As a progressive feminist, I want to live in a country that understands that some people cannot manage and that is willing to take responsibility for them. I want a government I can believe in; one that is willing to defy the often malicious intent of local power structures and defend the rights of all its citizens with determination. And I am convinced that only the federal government can deliver that protection. That often means that liberal social programs, administered by the federal government, are the only workable answer to social needs. This doesn’t mean I will get the government I want, but it does mean I cannot afford to throw away the idea of government as an important arbiter of justice.

The Right’s current promotion of states’ rights, which argues that power should be decentralized because only state governments provide for the real needs of local folks, ignores the history of states’ rights as a defense of brutal racial segregation and reactionary social policies. Transferring programs like public housing to the states is a sly method of defunding them. Progressives must be careful, when raising pointed criticisms and mounting protests regarding government programs, that we do not let our anti-government rhetoric feed the anti-government campaign of the Right.

I admit that when looking at liberal programs, I have a tendency to accept liberalism’s most appealing face as reality. I am drawn, for instance, by the 1960s social plan called The War on Poverty. I find a certain poetry, idealism, solidarity, and respect in the words themselves. Even when they turn out to be just words (that stand in ironic contrast to the Vietnam War, which was waged simultaneously) they nevertheless represent a glimpse of ideas and programs propelled by humanity and mutual concern. Perhaps two stories from my own experience will help to explain both my attraction to liberalism as we know it and my ambivalence about it.

In Chicago’s 1982 mayoral race, Harold Washington, a progressive African-American Congressman from the South Side, ran against the machine candidate, Jane Byrne, in the Democratic primary. Washington won. The white machine was stunned, and scrambled to find a candidate to run against Washington in the general election. Since Washington would be the Democratic Party candidate, they would have to find a Republican, but they were hard-pressed to locate one, since Chicago is a one-party town. They did find a rather pathetic man named Bernie Epton, who visibly struggled with emotional instability and barely made it through Election Day. Despite the stark difference in the two candidates’ qualifications, most white voters in Chicago voted for Epton. They preferred the unstable white man with no political experience to the charismatic, experienced, progressive, anti-machine African American. Again, however, Washington won.

Harold Washington (left) and Bernie Epton (right)

Harold Washington (left) and Bernie Epton (right)

There were several reasons for his victory. First, Chicago at that time had a minority population of 45%—a voting block large enough to create a plurality of votes. Second, Washington put together a rare coalition that drew over 90 percent of the African-American vote and most of the Latino vote. And finally, “lakefront liberals”—primarily white, often professional, definitely higher-income residents who lived close to the Lake Michigan waterfront—delivered the balance needed to put him narrowly over the top. Among white voters, only the lakefront liberals defied their race allegiance and voted for the Black man.

For me, the Washington election captured a clear irony about life in Chicago. I was proud that Chicago was no ordinary racist northern industrial city. Chicago is organized. It is perhaps the most organized city in the country—the birthplace of the community organizing style of Saul Alinsky. All of Chicago’s neighborhoods—especially the White neighborhoods—are organized with the goal of empowering working people, and much of this organizing has been done by liberals.

Yet when those organized citizens were called on to vote for a more progressive future, they were not able to make the connections. The community organizing so conscientiously mounted by liberals did not touch the racism of Chicago’s White voters. Unable to address the basic social problems, especially racism, liberalism came up short in an actual test of its effectiveness in creating change.

But liberalism was not a complete failure in Chicago. The lakefront liberals did the right thing. Faint-hearted, arrogant, complicit, and often self-serving, they nevertheless served as the swinging door against which social change could push. Without them, there was no space, no breathing room, no recourse.

Perhaps the lakefront liberals stood to gain under a Washington Administration that would create more space for their business interests than the locked-down machine offered. Perhaps the communities of color that voted so overwhelmingly for Washington were mostly voting against Chicago’s White political machine. But the reality remains. It was the vote of White liberals that put the progressive Mayor Washington over the top.

Another story comes to mind. In the early 1980s the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), a coalition of Leftist political groupings in El Salvador, mounted a credible attempt to overthrow the Salvadoran political establishment. The context for this effort was El Salvador’s history of economic exploitation by an oligarchy of landowners supported by a military trained and armed by the U.S., and a complicit Catholic church hierarchy. El Salvador’s social and economic system was injustice and oppression itself.

The FMLN was explicitly revolutionary. However, it had an arm that operated above ground, in the electoral arena. Always at risk from death squads, some brave people were willing to put themselves at risk by being affiliated publicly with this above-ground group, the Democratic Revolutionary Front, or FDR. The president of the FDR, the late Guillermo Ungo, was well-known in the United States.

In the early 1980s, I was part of a delegation of U.S. foundation staff and donors, led by the director of The Philadelphia Foundation, that went to Central America to meet with humanitarian aid organizations, human rights organizations, and others centrally involved in the conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. J. Roderick MacArthur, the son of the billionaire donor of the MacArthur Foundation, John D. MacArthur, was part of the delegation. Roderick MacArthur had his own foundation, known as “little MacArthur,” that had been involved in funding organizations opposing government abuses and repression against progressives. Rod MacArthur’s politics were liberal, unusually so for a businessman.

MacArthur met Ungo on that trip and they bonded as prominent businessmen with political concerns. MacArthur was both compelled by Ungo’s story and convinced that there were opportunities for U.S. business in a post-revolutionary El Salvador. When he returned to the U.S., MacArthur arranged to have Ungo come north to tour several cities, meeting with U.S. businessmen. When Ungo reached the Chicago stop on the tour, MacArthur held a reception for him in his Chicago suburban home. It was an opportunity for Ungo to speak to prominent Chicago businessmen. As a courtesy, he invited everyone who had been on the Central America trip to attend.

The meeting was predictably awkward. Ungo was not a charismatic man. The businessmen weren’t sure what the point was, and MacArthur didn’t seem able to sway them to his view. Out of courtesy to MacArthur, the businessmen were politely attentive, but they were not at all open to the revolutionary message of the FMLN, and certainly not able to sign onto MacArthur’s vision of a reformed El Salvador exporting its fabulous beer in profitable quantity to the U.S. The meeting fell rather flat.

Well, I thought, this just illustrates that you can’t promote revolution as a business opportunity. Even to want to do so is so exquisitely liberal! The incident provided more support for my sense of liberalism as complicit and ineffective. Nevertheless, as a result of that meeting, those businessmen were undoubtedly less likely to support a U.S. invasion of El Salvador. They were certainly better informed about the reality of life there, and the unbelievable maldistribution of wealth and the extent of repression. They would no longer give knee-jerk support to U.S. policy toward Central America. Rod MacArthur had made a contribution. He had influenced a sector that is completely inaccessible to progressives. He had begun to create a swinging door against which solidarity work could push.

That Compelling, Illusive Coalition

In June 1982, there was an enormous march in New York City to protest the triumph of the Right Wing of the Republican Party with the election of Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s administration had succeeded in making major changes in the tax structure, lowering the tax rate of the wealthy as one of its first acts in office. The march was so vast that miles of central Manhattan’s streets were filled with people. There were huge puppets, many more than 15 feet high, that eloquently mocked the Republicans and made tongue-in-cheek pleas for decency. A gigantic inflatable whale, emblazoned with the slogan “Save the Humans,” swayed down the packed streets.

Hundreds of thousands protest in New York City on June 12, 1982

Hundreds of thousands protest in New York City on June 12, 1982

There is no accurate count of how many people participated. As usual, the estimate by city officials was absurdly low. Perhaps more important, we don’t have an official record of which sectors of the liberal coalition were represented. But emotionally, I know exactly who was there. Everybody.

Or more accurately, all the White middle class reform movements that dominated and controlled the liberal coalition. The feminists, the gay and lesbian rights movement, the environmentalists, the disability rights movement, the reproductive rights defenders, the liberal unions. The civil rights movement was represented, but in small numbers, reflecting its position within the coalition as just another partner. That march seemed to me the last public display of the united front known as the liberal coalition.

That coalition was the lion that roared. It was a voting block that could propel a liberal to the Supreme Court, stop a war, prevent an invasion, impose curbs on corporate rapacity, force integration, forbid the death penalty, ensure voting rights.

Today it is a fractured remnant of its days of power. The larger, mainstream organizations are bloated, bureaucratic, and riddles with compromise. In order to maintain their programs, they have bowed to donors and corporate sponsors and cleansed themselves of radical voices, excusing their own moderation by pointing to the need to keep themselves alive in a hostile political climate. This applies even to some civil rights organizations. The vigor is gone, the vision is muddled, and the membership is down.

The less-compromised, small organizations are fighting over funds, plagued by professional jealousies and rivalries, and jockeying for position in a context of political defeat and defunding. The leadership is tired and aging and is not being replaced with another generation of dedicated activists.

Perhaps the coalition was doomed from the start. After all, it was frankly reformist, which means that it could take change only so far before it ran into its own contradictions. Nowhere was this more true than on the issue of race. The White-dominated liberal coalition was not about to give up its dearly-held issues because they were not well-suited to the needs of African Americans. Reproductive rights are a perfect example. The demand of African American women for the reproductive rights movement to broaden its agenda to include the concerns of women of color (e.g. that women be assured of the right to have children, as well as not have children) were heard by only a handful of reproductive rights organizations.

But this is just one of the man reasons for the decline of the coalition. Larger events conspired to weaken it and diminish its vision. I don’t pretend to know the exact profile of these forces. Certainly the increased concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations and individuals under late capitalism has both elevated the individualism so basic to capitalism and defeated the notion of the common good. The attack by the organized and well-funded Right has been successful in undermining the popularity of the liberal vision. And, in any case, it is harder to hold a coalition together when it is undergoing defeat after defeat. By contrast, the Right’s coalition is enjoying victory after victory, and thus finds that continued cooperation and collaboration is visibly rewarded.

With so few victories and so little satisfaction to be had, each member of the liberal coalition now hangs onto whatever pale reformist policies or benefits can be saved. The sectors of the coalition that cannot survive on these remnants, especially working class wage-earners, have been left to make the best of it. The gutting of The Labor Relations Board, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and The U.S. Civil Rights Commission are just three examples of liberal programs now unable to deliver anything resembling social justice. Is it any wonder that so many working people are seduced by the Right’s vilification of liberalism when liberalism has proved unable to defend them and hasn’t appeared to try very hard?

So, the liberal coalition is fractured, aging, compromised, and lacking in vigor or new ideas. It remains White-dominated and predominantly middle-class. Why, then, do I mourn its passing from the center stage of power? Didn’t it deserve to fade?

Something makes me say: “Yes, but…” A part of me clings to a vision of the liberal coalition as it could have been. Also, frankly, I miss the power. Progressives are used to working at the margins, pushing liberals to redress the heinous injustices created by capitalism, and, when liberals create reformist programs, pushing the envelope to open an opportunity for real change. But without a powerful and effective liberal coalition to pressure, there are very few places for progressive policies to exert influence.

It is true that liberalism plays its own role as an aid to reactionary politics, acting as a buffer for capitalism by protecting it from the wrath of the people it exploits. By providing a veneer of caring and accommodation to human needs as well as profits, liberal programs cloud people’s political consciousness. No doubt about that.

But liberalism also serves as a buffer against fascism. In the 1970s we had the luxury of holding liberalism in disdain because it was a sop that prevented revolutionary social change. In the 1990s, liberalism looks more like a line of defense against the final triumph of the Right.

Come Back, Jimmy

By the end of Jimmy Carter’s administration in the late 1970s, Carter was an easy man to scorn. The populist liberalism of his Presidential campaign had been thoroughly compromised as he “got it” about the Soviet threat. His wobbling political leadership became increasingly neoconservative. It was hard for progressives to find much to like about Carter.

Yet throughout the Reagan administration my mantra was: “Come back, Jimmy. All is forgiven.” What I missed wasn’t a hard-headed political analysis, a shrewd ability to work the system in behalf of social justice goals, an uncompromising commitment to the poor. These we had never had from Carter. What I missed, and had taken for granted, was that the man supported the Bill of Rights.

Carter was a typical liberal in that respect. He understood the role of the Bill of Rights in assuring that in addition to stable democratic institutions, people in the U.S. also have certain concrete rights. Take Article I of the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment. It reads in part: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble…” It is meant to protect the individual’s right to protest government actions. In the United States, freedom of speech is a civil liberty.

This guarantee has always been applied selectively. The free speech of racists has always been better protected than the free speech of campus war protesters. In the recent past, it was often necessary for the courts to intervene to protect Leftists from the violations of their First Amendment rights by law enforcement officers, the FBI, or exceptionally hostile Justice Departments, such as those of the Nixon and Reagan administrations.

Free speech is particularly important to progressives because in my attempt to change the status quo there must be room to unmask and debunk it. Censorship imposed by legal means, or self-censorship in the context of repression, means that the Left’s effectiveness is dramatically limited.

Progressives, therefore, are dependent on liberals’ commitment to the First Amendment. Liberals serve as a buffer protecting us from the Right and its history of attacking First Amendment freedoms. For instance, it is liberal legislators who stand in the way of laws banning the burning of the flag. It is liberals who defend “sacrilegious” art. It is liberal lawyers and judges who defend the rights of “communist sympathizers” and anti-war demonstrators, and keep the airwaves open for the likes of Angela Davis and Allen Ginsberg. Without that liberal commitment to the Bill of Rights, the voice of the Left could and would be silenced.

That is not to say that liberals won’t cut and run. If the accused is too politically unpopular or the cause too radical, liberals will hide behind the justification that these defendants or causes threaten national security, and they’ll allow the Bill of Rights to go. Sometimes they’ll cave in under threats by the Right to tar them with the brush of radicalism. In these cases, only progressives will stand up and fight for our guaranteed rights.

Nevertheless, right now we need liberal lawyers, judges, journalists, curators, abortion providers, legislators, teachers, unionists, affirmative action officers, and day care advocates. We need the breathing room and protection they provide for progressives. So each time one of them is won over by the Right’s prejudice, myth, irrational belief, inaccurate information, pseudo-science, and outright lies, or each time a liberal resigns from office or retires from the bench (to be replaced by a credentialed Rightist, of course), I worry a bit more. It doesn’t matter whether I particularly like, respect, or admire liberals. I care about them because they are endangered, and I care about what that means for me and for our society.

But is it a Relationship?

Liberalism will raise your hopes and ultimately break your heart. Does that mean that it commands no loyalty? Should it be trashed because it is spineless and flawed? My answer is an unequivocal “maybe.”

It won’t do to say that liberalism could be a useful framework for a late capitalist society if only it wouldn’t act so much like liberalism. It is what it is. Nevertheless, it can be more or less effective according to the principles to which it holds.

The principle of “maximum feasible participation” is an example of the boundaries of liberalism’s potential as an open, humane, and egalitarian ideology. Maximum feasible participation calls for the people who are the recipients of liberal programs to also design, control, and implement the programs. It moves “good works” a step further toward actual power sharing.

Maximum feasible participation was an idea that was barely tried, then abandoned by liberals as unworkable. It is at exactly this juncture that liberalism reveals its intrinsic limitations. There is a crucially important distinction between addressing grievances and inequities with humanitarian aid on one hand, and in solving them through redistributing power on the other. All those who are dispossessed, whatever race, class, or gender, will be given only relief by liberal programs. They will not obtain true justice.

But when true justice is not available—in this country, for lack of the ability of progressives to compete effectively in the struggle for power—humanitarian aid makes a difference. It is this difference that the Right is killing off, program by program. The Right knows that without liberalism’s programs, there is less chance for even the myth of social change, not to mention its reality, to thrive. If they can eliminate the swinging door, then it will be even easier to redistribute power upward. This is one of the reasons that right-wing strategists spend so much time demonizing liberals, especially feminists, environmentalists, gay and lesbian rights activists, and supporters of multiculturalism.

Liberalism has not proved able to stand up to the reactionary onslaught by the Right. Is that surprising? Should progressive people put time and energy into defending liberalism and its programs? Yes – we must. As a strategic response to the current assault by the Right on every democratic principle, it is an important place to put time and energy.

At the same time, it is crucial that progressives continue to work for a more radical vision of social justice and redistribution of power and wealth. Liberalism is in retreat in part because it is not receiving the sort of pressure from progressives that forced it to pursue reform aggressively in the 1970s. Progressives often set the agenda for liberals, by taking direct confrontational action against unjust laws and policies. It is progressives whose public education truly unmasks the structural and individual racism, repression, and other forms of injustice within the U.S. system.

At the moment, the progressive vision lacks the clarity and certainty of the 1930s or the 1960s. But there is an important distinction between our current muddled state, when clarity and unity are diminished, and the death of the vision altogether. We must not confuse the two. To say that the Left is struggling to find its way in a dramatically restructured political environment is accurate. But the fundamental principles around which the Left organizes its radical critique—liberty, equality and fraternity in the service of justice for those whose voices are not heard—are as alive and needed as ever.

Progressives must analyze how the Left became such a weak force. This promises to be a difficult process of self-criticism. Further, more and more people will have to come to the table to help to refine the progressive vision and correct its flaws and omissions. Meanwhile, liberal reforms have to be defended and pressure has to be applied to the few liberals still standing to keep them from waffling or quitting. This is not best done by disdaining or ignoring them.

Like it or not, progressives now must work with liberals, as well as with any other left-leaning sectors such as the Greens, to form a united front against the agenda of the Right. Pat Buchanan’s demonstrated ability to draw 30 percent of the vote in state after state in the recent presidential primaries is just one indicator of how important such a front is.

So, progressives, if you are angry and bitter over the loss of another liberal program killed off without even so much as a debate, don’t apologize. Don’t assume you have become soft on liberalism. This is a natural reaction – a product of this moment in history. And try not to dwell on those years past when there was more certainty, more idealism, and more hope; when working for real change was like moving downstream riding a current of historical inevitability. Now we are swimming against a tide that is thick with peril. The voice in the bubble of this cartoon is no longer saying “Follow that dream!” Now it is saying, “Time is running out. Focus. Get it together. Unite!”

Thanks to Rosario Morales, Dick Levins, Clarissa Atkinson, Denise Bergman, Pat Rathbone, Ruth Hubbard, and Francine Almash for their comments.

 

Print Friendly

The Religious Right Operative Who Helped Write Utah’s Nondiscrimination Law

Was the non-discrimination/religious freedom law in Utah really the “historic compromise” it’s being touted as, or a Trojan Horse for the Religious Right’s agenda? There now seems to be little doubt with the discovery that one of the law’s authors has spent years working with the country’s most prominent Religious Right leaders and groups to advance right-to-discriminate laws across the country.

After my article last week asserted that the much-hailed Utah LGBTQ rights law was really an attempt by the national Religious Right to gain legitimacy for their agenda to redefine religious liberty as a religious license to legally discriminate, many have begun looking into how the bill actually came into existence.

As Queer Nation recently pointed out, Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois, has a long history of seeking to develop loopholes in civil rights laws. In 2014, as the proposed RFRA in Arizona was causing national headlines for its provisions allowing both private and government individuals to opt-out of civil rights and public accommodation laws if done so for religious beliefs, Wilson and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) teamed up to send a letter to Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer, claiming the law was being “egregiously misrepresented.” ADF (formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund back when it was working as part of the legal team defending California’s Prop 8, which stripped marriage rights from same-sex couples), was one of the authors of the Arizona bill. Following massive protests and national outcry, that bill was eventually vetoed by Governor Brewer, but less than a month later a nearly identical bill became law in Mississippi and ADF has worked to pass similar legislation in over a dozen states since.

Robin Fretwell Wilson

Robin Fretwell Wilson

In 2008, Wilson teamed up with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty—the group behind the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case—to co-edit their book Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts, where she claimed states must proactively pass “conscience clauses” for religious freedom—the right for individuals, business owners, and government employees to use their religious opinions to legally discriminate against others.[1]

Wilson was more explicit in an op-ed to The New York Times, following the state legislature’s passage of same-sex marriage in 2011. “Without such [individual religious exemptions],” Wilson argues, “groups that hew to their religious beliefs about marriage would be at risk of losing government contracts and benefits and would be subject to lawsuits from private citizens.” She goes on to claim that organizations receiving government funding should never be in danger of losing those tax dollars just because they discriminate against LGBTQ people.

In 2010, Wilson authored a paper in the Northwestern Journal of Law & Social Policy titled Insubstantial Burdens: The Case for Government Employee Exemptions to Same-Sex Marriage Laws, in which she lamented that (at that point) “not a single state has shielded the government employee at the front line of same-sex marriage, such as the marriage registrar who, if she has a religious objection to same-sex marriage, will almost certainly face a test of conscience.” She concludes with what she believes to be a fair scenario: “Same-sex marriage applications comprise a miniscule part of the overall workload in the local marriage registrar’s office. If that office is staffed by three clerks, Faith, Hope, and Charity, and only Faith has a religious objection to assisting with same-sex marriage applications, allowing Faith to step aside when no hardship will result for same-sex couples is costless.” This, of course, ignores the vast implications of allowing a publicly-funded government employee to deny civil rights to citizens—not to mention the real threat of “Hope” and “Charity” following “Faith’s” lead. Wilson also took it a step further in her 2014 paper, Marriage of Necessity: Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty Protections, where she advocates for the Religious Right to focus on inserting its corrupted view of religious freedom into state laws.

Wilson is also famous for co-writing an op-ed in The Washington Post in 2014 with Bradford Wilcox, claiming that if women want to stop being sexually abused, they should just get married. Co-author Bradford Wilcox is currently the head of the Religious Right’s “National Marriage Project.” But until 2012 he was a director at the Witherspoon Institute, where he played an integral role in the creation of the thoroughly-debunked study by Mark Regnerus, which claimed that children of same-sex parents turn out much worse than children of opposite-sex parents. Wilcox not only acted as an advisor on the project, but was a paid consultant.

And speaking specifically about the Utah law she helped write, Wilson went so far as to lay out that “if the religious right does not believe that they are going to have those [religious exemption] protections, it cannot push forward the other rights.”

Wilson’s true motives in writing Utah’s “compromise” SB296 law are clear.

LGBTQ supporters of the law are arguing that the religious exemptions in SB296 do not undermine the workplace/housing protections for LGBTQ people. But that misses the entire point of the critique of the bill. It didn’t matter what legalese actually went into the law. In fact, it behooved Wilson, the Mormon Church, ADF, and the other Religious Right actors to make the bill appear favorable to LGBTQ people who desperately need workplace and housing protections.

No, the real agenda was to obtain the endorsement of LGBTQ groups. The Religious Freedom Restoration Acts currently being pushed through state legislatures, particularly in the South, are vulnerable to court challenges. But now that the Religious Right has high-profile endorsements of their false framework of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights being opposed to each other, unfortunately, the ability of LGBTQ activists and organizations to oppose RFRAs and other efforts to codify discrimination—all dressed up in the language of “religious freedom”—has been curtailed.

[1] Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2008.

Print Friendly

Utah LGBTQ Rights Bill a Trojan Horse for Religious Right’s Agenda

There were both cheers and tears as many in the Utah LGBTQ community celebrated the passage of a workplace and housing nondiscrimination law in the conservative Utah legislature. But behind closed doors, I suspect it’s actually the leaders of the Religious Right who are cheering the hardest.

As someone who began as an activist in the Utah LGBTQ community, and fought for years alongside countless others for full workplace and housing protections, I was overjoyed at the possibility that 2015 might finally be the year we stepped closer to equality. Too many LGBTQ Utahns, myself included, have faced that discrimination firsthand. But once the legislation was unveiled, my heart sank. While there is much to be happy with in the legislation, and the protections it offers to some of the most vulnerable citizens in the Beehive State, the law also contains a tiny Trojan Horse individual religious exemptions clause.

The Utah bill is being called a “model” to be used in states around the nation, but we must be forewarned. The individual religious exemption in the law, as small and seemingly noninvasive as it is, could put the civil liberties of everyone at stake for decades to come.

Religious freedom is important, and as a principle has existed since before the writing of the U.S. Constitution. The 13 original colonies were a fractured bunch of near-theocracies, with various Christian sects dominating different colonies—to the detriment of anyone not a member of the particular sect in power locally. Thanks to the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the principle of religious freedom in the Constitution set in motion of the disestablishment of the state churches, and the advantages they held in the public sphere. Jefferson’s famous Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which predated the Constitution and was the first such law to be enacted in the world, said one’s beliefs or non-beliefs cannot “enhance, diminish, or impact” one’s “civil capacity.” Individuals were shielded from the tyranny of churches who had previously sought to force them to adhere to their beliefs, and religions were shielded from governments elevating one religion over another.

It has taken us a long time to make it work and, in truth, we are still working on it.

But the Religious Right has launched a campaign to redefine the meaning of religious liberty, stripping away those protections and once again giving religions the power to circumscribe the rights of individual conscience.

This coalition, led by right-wing groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly known as Alliance Defense Fund), the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and Liberty Counsel, is systematically working the courts and state legislatures to enact religious exemptions—essentially a right of religious institutions and individuals to decide which laws they will or will not follow.

In practical terms, this could play out as a business owner invoking faith to deny service to a LGBTQ couple, or refusing to hire Jewish employees. Or a man refusing to promote women to managerial positions because he doesn’t believe men should be subservient to women. We cannot allow such freedom of conscience to become a legal sanction for these and other forms of discrimination.

Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks (right) receives the Becket Fund's "Canterbury Medal"

Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks (right) receives the Becket Fund’s “Canterbury Medal”

One of the Religious Right leaders heavily involved in this campaign is Dallin H. Oaks, one of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ (Mormon) senior leaders and member of their Quorum of 12 Apostles. The Mormon church frequently finds itself at odds with members of other faiths who don’t believe it to be a true Christian religion. However, unlike some of his brethren in the all-male leadership, Oaks is deeply involved in the work with the Religious Right. He sits on the board of the international culture warring organization World Congress of Families. He received the 2013 “Canterbury Medal” for his “defense of religious liberty from the Becket Fund. In speeches before conservative groups, Oaks frequently extols the benefits of individuals being able to use their faith as an excuse to dodge pesky civil rights laws.

That’s why, when just a few weeks ago Oaks held a press conference to announce that he and the Mormon church were ready to endorse a statewide nondiscrimination law for LGBTQ people if only the leaders of the local LGBTQ community would sit down and negotiate a “compromise,” many were suspicious.

Oaks was up front about what he was looking for. He and other leaders of the Mormon church enumerated the religious exemptions they wanted included with a nondiscrimination law, including a right for government and health care workers to deny service to LGBTQ people.

SB296, the bill that resulted from those negotiations, was hailed by equality groups and the Mormon church as a “historic compromise” of nondiscrimination and religious freedom. The bill does indeed ban workplace and housing discrimination against LGBTQ people in Utah. But buried underneath those important protections, is a small clause guaranteeing the right of individuals to express faith-based anti-LGBTQ views at work.

It’s a small exemption. Seemingly inconsequential in comparison to the benefits the new law could bring. Viewed purely as a standalone piece of legislation, SB296 does a lot more good than bad and it’s unsurprising to see so many social justice-minded people supporting it.

But the equality movement cannot survive if we view legislation through a short-term and narrow lens. To do so is to ignore the context of the long-term consequences of the Religious Right’s national agenda—which only needs to get a foot in the door to get the ball rolling.

Oaks’ goal with the nondiscrimination law was not to pass full individual religious exemptions all at once. To use the analogy of the unfortunate amphibian, the frog will jump out of the pot if put directly into boiling water. But turn the heat up slowly, and the frog cooked to death. For the LGBTQ community to endorse the Religious Right’s corrupt redefined version of religious freedom, even in this one seemingly minor way, opens the door for the expansion of religious exemptions in both breadth and number.

And as if to confirm this suspicion as quickly as possible, within two hours of the “compromise” SB296 passing the Utah legislature, conservatives in the Utah House of Representatives had also passed two other bills that had not been part of the negotiations: one granting county clerks the right to refuse to perform any marriage they opposed on religious grounds, and the other paving the way for full individual religious exemptions in the public marketplace.

It’s a victory for the Right not only in the success of imposing their agenda into law, but in winning the larger PR battle at a critical moment in time.

As I discussed in Resisting the Rainbow: Right-Wing Responses to LGBTQ Gains, the Mormon church has only ever given in to pressure by the LGBTQ community when its back is against the wall in a public relations battle. After months of heavy protesting over their involvement in California’s Prop 8, they endorsed a municipal nondiscrimination law in Salt Lake City in 2009. In 2010, after 2nd-in-command Mormon leader Boyd K. Packer claimed that there was no way God would allow people to be born gay, protests around the church’s headquarters garnered international attention and prompted Packer’s comments to be officially stricken from the church’s records.

So why did the Mormon church unexpectedly come to the table? Could it be a delayed response to their highly-publicized excommunication of faithful feminist members for asking for a public discussion about why the patriarchal church does not allow female leadership? Unlikely, that was months ago and the discussion has largely died down.

A more plausible explanation is the forthcoming World Congress of Families (WCF) event scheduled for Salt Lake City in October. The international coalition of U.S. culture warriors held a conference last year in Moscow—their name was removed just before the conference started to prevent negative publicity over the situation in Ukraine—where attendees unanimously voted to urge their home countries—like the United States—to pass laws modeled on the Russian anti-LGBTQ law. (That law criminalizes any positive speech about LGBTQ people under the guise of protecting children from “propaganda.”)

WCF attendees and other U.S. conservatives, such as Rick Warren, Sharon Slater, Brian Brown and others, are known around the world for their work in exporting the culture wars abroad, which has resulted in outcomes like the “kill the gays” bill in Uganda.

Dallin H. Oaks is a member of the WCF board of directors.

Thanks to Oaks’ work in helping to pass the “compromise” legislation, the WCF and the Religious Right’s goal of codifying their redefined version of religious freedom into law has taken a giant step forward. Once Pandora’s Box is opened, there’s no shutting it.

Print Friendly

The Religious Right Has Been Pushing Anti-Union Right to Work Laws for A Century

“I have enjoyed seeing the unions shrink,” crowed Christian Reconstructionist Gary North on his blog, “Tea Party Economist,” on February 27. The following week, the Wisconsin state legislature rammed through a bill that weakens unions by allowing workers to benefit from union-bargained wages and working conditions without being required to pay any dues or agency fees. A triumphant Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed the new law March 9. The Wisconsin law is not unique, but part of a long-term trend of Religious Right support for Corporate Right actors and robber barons like the Koch Brothers.

 

Wisconsin Teamsters protest the "right to work" law

Wisconsin Teamsters protest the “right to work” law

Such laws, dubbed “right to work” laws in the 1940s by anti-unionists within the Christian Right, were passed long ago in states throughout the anti-union South and West. Now, we are witnessing their resurgence in formerly union-friendly states such as Michigan and Wisconsin. As even North admits, the spin is a ruse: “There is no right to work…But the phrase, “right to work,” has been a political winner for a generation.”

In a New York Times op-ed this last week, scholar and observer of the Right Kevin Kruse shared a bit of history on how Christian Right leaders have long helped business leaders whittle away at the economic freedoms granted to working Americans since the New Deal. Kruse mentioned Billy Graham, who in 1952 listed “union dues” and “labor leaders” among the ills that could not have existed in the Garden of Eden. Graham was throwing fuel on the flames of business leaders’ angst over the profits they were losing to their workers in union collective bargaining agreements. By then, too, the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 had opened the way for states to begin passing legislation designed to weaken unions. All that was needed was the right pitch to sell these new bills.

Enter the label “right to work”, which cynically refers to state bills that remove the requirement for workers in a given workplace to actually pay for the representation and benefits the union provides for them. It is a label that has nothing to do with the right to work or the right to a job (as the name seems to imply).  The likely origin of the label can be seen in a research document from 1962 on the National Right to Work Committee, dug up by our friends at the Center for Media and Democracy, suggesting that the term “right to work” was coined by Vance Muse, a Christian Right activist who “was a protégé of John Henry Kirby, oil and lumberman and one-time President of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).” The business leaders of the day recognized the public relations value of the term, and the pitch worked in Florida, Arkansas, North Carolina, and so on. “By 1954,” writes historian Bethany Moreton in her 2010 book, To Serve God and Wal-Mart, “the entire South had enacted such legislation.”

On CMD’s blog, PRWatch, Jonas Persson also notes that the ultra-conservative, anti-communist Christian Right group the John Birch Society has been involved with the National Right to Work Committee almost since the inception of both groups. “The leadership of the two groups overlapped heavily,” writes Persson, citing the same 1962 research document that shows the NRTWC was part of a coalition with Birchers—including Fred Koch–and segregationist preachers. The connection with segregationists, Moreton notes, is significant: “segregationist Democrats broke the back of the labor and civil rights Left in the years immediately following the war,” she writes.  Just as industrial unions emphasized organizing across racial lines and unifying blacks and whites in a class struggle, right-to-work was a big part of the Southern business leaders’ political strategy to keep these unions out. (Watch for a forthcoming article by Peter Montgomery in The Public Eye magazine that shows how Christian evangelists such as Billy Graham, and later Jerry Falwell, helped to achieve this.)

Now, with nearly unlimited funding available from the Koch brothers (and other billionaires, such as Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner) for political campaigns focused on finishing unions off, new states are in play on the right to work map. As before, part of the battle is still being fought on religious grounds. As Josh Harkinson reported in Mother Jones in 2011, groups such as Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council have been dutifully rallying the evangelical base to side over and over again with business leaders over unions. Already, this public relations war has paid dividends for Walker in Wisconsin, where state employees who once could rely on strong unions to give them a voice with which to bargain find themselves adrift.

But it is not over yet. While Walker cites scripture to rationalize his pre-emptive strikes against organized labor in Wisconsin, at least one Catholic group (the Wisconsin Catholic Conference) testified on the other side in Madison during the debate over right to work, citing scripture in favor of unions. And while that effort ultimately failed, in Missouri the results have been quite different. There, last March, the Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis brought the state’s labor leaders a letter saying that the coalition of religious leaders does not support right to work and would help labor fight it. To the embarrassment of Missouri Republicans, right to work failed in 2014, and though it was re-introduced in February 2015, the state GOP does not have the votes to override the promised veto by Gov. Jay Nixon (D).

Given Walker’s popularity among evangelicals, though, coupled with the Corporate Right’s commitment to bringing down unions, we are likely to see more battles over right to work in the next two years. One need only look at long-term right to work states such as Florida and North Carolina to see what happens when the gains made by unions and collective bargaining are eroded: depressed wages, longer work hours, unchecked racial and anti-LGBTQ discrimination and sexual harassment, and failure to follow health and safety protocols. Yet the Religious Right leaders who are shilling for anti-union policies—the same ones who also say that hardworking Americans deserve government assistance—have never taken any responsibility for such consequences.

Print Friendly

The Passing of our Dear Friend Jean Hardisty

Jean V. Hardisty, 1945 – 2015

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news that PRA’s founder and President Emerita, Jean V. Hardisty, passed away early Monday morning. A cancer survivor, Jean was contending with a recurrence of lymphoma that proved surprisingly aggressive. She was home and surrounded by family at the time of her death.

Jean was a force in the lives of all who knew her. A visionary, she anticipated many of the political and economic shifts the country has endured over the past several decades. Undaunted by the implications of her insights, she dedicated herself tirelessly–and with uncommon skill, humor, and compassion–to the cause of social justice. She was a friend, mentor, colleague, and inspiration to us, and to countless people and organizations.

In an interview given a few years ago on the occasion of Political Research Associates’ 30th anniversary, Jean said:

I am grateful to live in “challenging times” and glad that I did not spend my life on the sidelines as the country has been ravaged by right-wing ideology, the Right’s devious tactics, and the mobilization of religion for political purposes.

We are deeply saddened by Jean’s passing. PRA will be honoring her life and work in the coming weeks and months.

Print Friendly

Right-Wing Pastors Defy Law, Endorse Candidates

The Religious Right’s Campaign to Deregulate Campaign Finance Law

Five years ago, the Corporate Right struck a major blow to the integrity of the American electoral system. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashed an unprecedented amount of money from private corporations into national, state, and municipal elections. Now, the Religious Right is seeking to make their own breakthrough—a free-flow of campaign dollars to public candidates through tax-exempt churches.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an event organized by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a right-wing Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona. The event—which takes place annually during the lead up to Election Day—is part of the Right’s ongoing opposition to campaign finance laws that reduce the exorbitant influence of money in politics, and a significant threat to the maintenance of fair elections.

Beginning in 2008, ADF began recruiting pastors to defy the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations (including religious institutions claiming such status) from endorsing or opposing political candidates. ADF encourages pastors to protest these restrictions, assuring them that participating churches will be provided with free legal defense should the IRS threaten to revoke their tax-exempt status. Last year, over 1,500 pastors from across the country joined in.

The explicit goal of Pulpit Freedom Sunday is to have the 1954 Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional.

Rev. Steven Baines of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, explains why this is problematic and risky for the maintenance of church/state separations: “Basically what you’re doing when you endorse a candidate from the pulpit is you’re flowing thousands of dollars of non-taxed money to political parties. … They are turning houses of worship into political action committees without risking that taxable income.”

It’s an effective strategy, and one that is gaining popularity. In a September 2014 report, Pew Research revealed that “a growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in US politics … [and that] churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues.” According to Pew, between 2012 and 2014, the percentage of Americans subscribing to this view increased from 40 to 49 percent.

Building on the Christian persecution narrative, ADF argues that churches are “being silenced across America.” They warn that “pastors are being censored, the proclamation of God’s Truth is being blocked, and churches are being discriminated against and threatened with punishment. … [O]ur most fundamental freedoms—freedom to exercise religious beliefs, freedom of speech, and freedom of access—are being stripped away at an alarming rate.”

Participating in the annual event in 2012, Bishop Harry Jackson declared to his 3,000-member church in Beltsville, Maryland, “Today we violate our IRS regulations because we believe we need a free pulpit.” He then went on to outline the myriad reasons he would not be voting for Barack Obama on Election Day.

The IRS, however, has yet to take the bait. According to ADF, “[T]he IRS has not punished or censored any pastor or church who has participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”

Christian BewareBut not all churches have evaded prosecution. In 1995, the constitutionality of the Johnson Amendment was put to the test in the case of Branch Ministries Inc. versus Rossotti. During the 1992 presidential campaign season, the Church at Pierce Creek (essentially a subsidiary of Branch Ministries) took out an ad in a few national papers saying, “Christian Beware: Do not put the economy ahead of the Ten Commandments.” It asserted that Governor Clinton supported abortion on demand, homosexuality, and the distribution of condoms to teenagers in public schools. The advertisement stated, “Bill Clinton is promoting policies that are in rebellion to God’s laws,” and concluded with the question: “How then can we vote for Bill Clinton?”

In the fine print at the bottom of the ad it also said, “Tax deductible donations for this advertisement gladly accepted. Make donations to: The Church at Pierce Creek.” 

American United protested this blatant misuse of the church’s non-profit tax-exempt status, and in 1995 the IRS revoked their permit. The American Center for Law & Justice—a right-wing legal advocacy group—filed suit, but Judge Paul Friedman ultimately upheld the IRS’s ruling, rejecting the plaintiff church’s allegations that it was being selectively prosecuted because of its conservative views and that its First Amendment right to free speech was being infringed.

RELATED: See Political Research Associates’ full profile on the American Center for Law & Justice”

The court wrote: “The government has a compelling interest in maintaining the integrity of the tax system and in not subsidizing partisan political activity, and Section 501(c)(3) is the least restrictive means of accomplishing that purpose.”

But Christian conservatives maintain that their rights—rather than the integrity of the tax and electoral systems—are under attack, and in addition to goading the IRS with their Pulpit Freedom Sunday antics, they are attempting new strategies to eliminate the “threat” of the Johnson Amendment. In January 2015, Rep. Walter Jones (R, North Carolina) introduced legislation that aims to “restore the Free Speech and First Amendment rights of churches and exempt organizations by repealing the 1954 Johnson Amendment.”

When Jones introduced the same legislation in 2013, the editorial board of the LA Times responded with an op-ed astutely saying, “Far from needing to be repealed, the ban on politics in the pulpit ought to be enforced more aggressively.” Jones’ legislation, they argue, is misleading. “Churches may have a 1st Amendment right to endorse candidates, but there is no constitutional right to a tax exemption.”

Should ADF, Rep. Jones, and other proponents of the unrestricted use of untaxed money succeed, like with the Citizens United decision—which eliminated campaign spending restrictions for private corporations—repealing the Johnson Amendment would open the campaign funding floodgates. And once again, the tidal wave of new money into our public electoral system would be inscrutable by voters.

Among other things, churches would be free to function as illicit funnels for political giving. As Matthew Bulger of the American Humanist Association explains, “If a donor gives to a church, with an understanding that the donated funds will go to a specific political candidate, that original donor can receive a tax deduction for giving money to a church and keep his political donations anonymous. Meanwhile, if this donor gave money directly to the candidate those funds wouldn’t be tax-deductible, and the donor would be noted in public records as a supporter of that candidate.”

Restricting the political uses of tax-exempt money doesn’t persecute Christians—it helps preserve democracy.

**To learn more about the Religious Right’s efforts to deregulate campaign finance reform, check out the new report published this week by Common Cause—Unlimited and Undisclosed: The Religious Right’s Crusade to Deregulate Political Spending.

 Share on Twitter Button  Share on Facebook Button

 

Print Friendly

Drawing Lines Against Racism and Fascism

Crypto-fascists and pro-White separatists are entering and recruiting from progressive circles. This essay offers some guidelines for identifying and dealing with this growing problem.

For a printable brochure version, see bottom.

In the not-so-distant past, one had little problem identifying a White separatist. Generally, they came in two styles: white hoods and burning crosses, or oxblood Doc Martens and swastika tattoos. Both were usually shouting vulgar epithets about African-Americans, Jews, and LGBTQ folks. And their relationship with the Left was usually in the form of breaking either bookstore windows or activists’ bones—if not outright murder.1 Barring them from progressive spaces was an act of physical self-preservation—not a show of political principles in drawing a line against ideological racism and fascism.

Today, White separatists don’t always come in such easily identifiable forms, either in their dress or politics. A part of the White separatist and related Far Right movement has taken some unusual turns.2 Some fascists seek alliances with ultranationalist people of color—a few of whom, in turn, consider themselves fascists. New types of groups embrace White separatism under a larger banner of decentralization. For many decades, the Far Right has disguised or rebranded its politics by establishing front groups, deploying code words, or using other attempts to fly under the radar.3 As the years pass by, some of these projects have taken on lives of their own as these forms have been adopted by those with different agendas. Simultaneously, there is a revival of fascist influence within countercultural music scenes. And intertwined with these changes is a renewed attempt on the part of some White separatists to participate in, or cross-recruit from, progressive circles.

This essay was written after a multi-year collaboration with a number of anti-fascist activists; we have struggled to understand this new phenomenon and craft ways to deal with it. I will attempt to: explain why Far Right actors should not be allowed to participate in progressive circles, suggest criteria regarding where the line should be drawn in defining which politics are problematic enough to take action against, and offer suggestions on how to communicate with and encourage individuals who may want to leave those movements.

The Impact of the Far Right’s Presence on Progressive Circles 

It can be tempting for progressive activists to ignore the presence of Far Right political and cultural actors in progressive spaces, particularly if they are not actively engaged in explicitly hateful and/or openly political organizing. This argument is heard almost every time a call for exclusion is made. Additionally, some people may ask why it is not adequate for organizations to simply declare that they are opposed to racism and fascism. Yet these are mistaken approaches; they underestimate the effect of Far Right groups and their ideologies, misunderstand how these groups often portray themselves, and don’t acknowledge that ideologies are propagandized and spread by real people.

Tolerating the Far Right’s presence allows its followers to engage in a number of damaging actions, including: cross-recruiting (either openly, or by promoting Far Right ideas that are packaged as left-wing ideas to convince people that their ideas are ours), spreading Far Right talking points among progressive activists, compromising progressive groups’ security or privacy, and engaging in cultural work that spreads fascist ideas, especially within counter-cultural scenes.

Fascists have targeted animal rights/animal liberation political groups for infiltration and cross-recruitment for many years, much to the ire of anti-racist and other intersectional activists in these circles.

Fascists have targeted animal rights/animal liberation political groups for infiltration and cross-recruitment for many years, much to the ire of anti-racist and other intersectional activists in these circles.

Far Right cross-recruiting from the Left has long been a problem, and some Far Right groups are now in a renewed period of doing it—while intentionally disguising and/or soft-selling their real aims. In recent years, this has been observed in anti-war, progressive populist, radical Left, anarchist, environmental, animal rights, anti-Zionist, counter-cultural, and religious­ (especially esoteric, occult, and neopagan Heathen) circles.4 Some begin by repeating a sophisticated left-wing critique of problems with contemporary society, draw upon Leftist symbols and cultural orientation, and then offer racial separatism (along with the rest of the Far Right package) as the answer to these problems. European New Right ideologue Alain de Benoist—who promotes ecology and denounces capitalism, the consumer society, and imperialism—is a prime example.5

Others pick up on specific issues closely associated with the cultural Left and hitch them to the Far Right. For example, in Germany there is what Rolling Stone describes as an online “Nazi vegan cooking show.” As one of the show’s hosts states, “The left-wing doesn’t have a prior claim to veganism,” and “industrial meat production is incompatible with our nationalist and socialist world views.” Simone Rafael, editor of a German blog that monitors the extreme Right, describes this new “nipster” (Nazi hipster) milieu: “They use subjects like globalization and animal protection as entry points, and then offer a very simple worldview that makes complex subjects very easy to understand.” But, he continues, “In the end, it’s always about racism and anti-Semitism and nationalism.”6

Open political participation by the Far Right in progressive circles allows Far Right actors to teach their talking points to non-fascist activists. Over the years, the Far Right organization around Lyndon LaRouche has duped a variety of progressives into adopting their talking points, especially during the Iran-Contra affair in the late 1980s. More recently, right-wing critiques of the Federal Reserve gained traction within the Occupy Wall Street movement. The most benign of these ideas were grounded in Libertarian economics, but they quickly slid into (non-bigoted) conspiracy theories, and from there into thinly veiled—or even openly—antisemitic arguments. And for decades, environmentalists have struggled against fascist and other xenophobic interpretations of environmentalism.7

Others on the Far Right take a more subtle approach, often by claiming not to be political at all. For example, some try to sell White separatism as an individual choice as opposed to a political stance. This is actually a ruse. If some White people have the personal desire to be physically separate from people of color, they can move to the countryside and form racially exclusive communes. Instead, this argument has been heard in urban, left-wing settings as a form of propaganda arguing for the compatibility of White separatist and fascist politics with progressive ones under the banner of “autonomy.”

In a related fashion, certain skinhead concerts are promoted using the phrase “No Politics,” which signals that the bands playing may actually hold views sympathetic to fascism, and that Far Right activists and music fans are welcome—while simultaneously mollifying venue owners who may have concerns about the show. These ostensibly apolitical stances act as an entryway for, and protection of, Far Right ideas and spaces.8

Allowing Far Right participation can also pose a security risk. Far Right actors may use such opportunities to collect personal information on progressive activists and information about their organizations. This has been an ongoing problem, in particular for antifascist and other groups that monitor the Far Right.

Counter-Culture Fascism

Historically, fascism has had a strong cultural orientation, and since the 1970s, a prime location for fascist activism has been in the counter-cultures. (I am referring here to the more self-consciously political, post-WWII subcultures, including punk, skinhead, hippie, metal, neo-folk, industrial, and techno). The most famous success has been the creation of the Nazi skinhead milieu, but racist activism continues today among different musical scenes. Fascists tried to achieve political dominance in the counter-culture, and have occasionally been successful.  During the height of the Nazi skinhead movement, for example, they dominated the punk scene in certain cities.9

The circulation of obscure fascist imagery and themes by a number of neo-folk and goth bands has encountered resistance from anti-fascist fans, who regard it as a form of crypto-fascism. Tours by the band Death in June, in particular, have been met with boycott calls.

The circulation of obscure fascist imagery and themes by a number of neo-folk and goth bands has encountered resistance from anti-fascist fans, who regard it as a form of crypto-fascism. Tours by the band Death in June, in particular, have been met with boycott calls.

In the past, counter-cultures have been carrier groups and social bases for anti-capitalism, anti-racism, feminism, ecology, queer politics, and a variety of other progressive political movements. Counter-cultures are inherently “radical” in the sense that they seek to negate the current social reality and try to create an alternative. Politically, though, they are not intrinsically Left or Right. Fascism—as distinct from most other types of right-wing politics—seeks a radical transformation of the current Western social order (based on liberal­ism and democracy) and as such can appeal to counter-culturalists just as much as Marxism or anarchism can.

Therefore, the presence of Far Right attitudes in these counter-cultural scenes—even when they do not directly translate into fascist organizing—also has negative effects. Instead of a progressive, pro-queer, and feminist milieu, an atmosphere filled with reactionary social attitudes can become dominant. Even when the bands aren’t committed Nazis, a Far Right-leaning scene further repels the participation of those targeted by the Right. To give two concrete examples: few women may wish to attend concerts glorifying rape, and few Jews want to be entertained by bands playing neo-Nazi cover songs.

Four Lines of Exclusion

In recent years, antifascist activists in different cities have confronted the problem of crypto-fascists and pro-White separatists by calling for these individuals and groups to be excluded from progressive political circles, including conferences, organizing and cultural spaces, music venues, book fairs, and demonstrations.10 Such calls have not always been well-received; frequently other progressive activists, unfamiliar with these forms of Far Right politics, want to know how and where the line may be drawn against these groups.

When bringing up exclusions, the question of “free speech” inevitably comes up. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the protection of speech from interference by the government. To call for excluding a group, individual, or band is not to be mistaken for a call for the government to ban or otherwise violate the Constitutional rights of fascist and related groups. (Even from a realpolitik perspective, these kinds of restrictions often end up being used against progressives in rather short order.) But it is legal—and always has been under the First Amendment—for non-governmental political groups to decide who may attend private gatherings or be published in their media; free speech does not guarantee your right to crash anyone’s party, join their organization, or attend their meetings. Likewise, media are under no obligation to publish articles representing everyone’s viewpoints. Freedom of speech means that the government cannot suppress individuals from holding their own meetings or expressing political opinions publicly—it does not dictate that Far Right activists must be given open access to progressive events.

In addition, when identifying whom to exclude, simplistic rhetorical disavowals cannot be taken at face value; today it is nearly impossible to find almost anyone who will accept the label “racist” or “fascist.” Even hooded Klan members will publicly declare that they are not “racists” and do not “hate” others.11

These following four points of exclusion have differing levels of complexity. The adoption of White separatism as consistent with a political program is the most concrete and clear-cut. While antisemitic and related narratives are relatively easy to identify even when coded, not everyone is familiar with them, and some activists unknowingly use them. The use of fascist symbolism and imagery is complicated and has to be judged on a case-by-case basis. And last, the question of dealing with left-wing media, which promote problematic writers and speakers, can be the most complicated question when deciding about taking action.

1) Anyone who actively promotes or endorses the idea of White separatism should be treated as a Far Right activist. This includes those who accept the promotion of White separatism as a stance compatible with their political worldview.

Today, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan are no longer the only groups that endorse White separatism. This is partly due to the secessionist fever that has spread across the U.S. Right, uniting Right Libertarians, conspiracy theorists, Christian theocrats, Sovereign Citizens, neo-Confederates, and traditional White separatists. New groups advocate “pan-secessionist” ideology, and seek to unite the right-wing secessionists with those traditionally closer to the Left, like (bio)regional separatism in Vermont and Cascadia, former Leftist Kirkpatrick Sale’s decentralist Middlebury Institute, and nationalist organizing by those who, in the old anti-imperialist terminology, are “oppressed nations” (Native Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, and other people of color).12

However, the most contentious question today is the direct participation of people of color in groups that espouse White separatism as part of their ideology.13 Loosely organized groups like National-Anarchists, Attack the System, and New Resistance, which actively embrace White separatism as part of their decentralized schema, should be excluded from progressive circles—including people of color who are members of these groups.14 This also includes members of groups that are multi-racial, but which promote this political view.

In addition to these groups, some people of color are involved in openly fascist circles. Neo-Nazi groups are active in countries such as Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Mongolia, and Malaysia; and members of these movements reportedly have ties in the United States.15

A Malaysian skinhead's t-shirt advertises Combat-18 -- a notoriously violent neo-Nazi skinhead organization which originated in Britain.

A Malaysian skinhead’s t-shirt advertises Combat-18 — a notoriously violent neo-Nazi skinhead organization which originated in Britain.

In the past, Leftists excluded White people affiliated with groups that espoused White separatism, such as White Aryan Resistance (WAR) and Aryan Nations. But this new secessionism is more complicated; for example, it has led to the spectacle of people of color advocating for the legitimacy of White separatism—by claiming either that all separatism is good separatism, or that a program of complete reciprocal racial separatism requires that all groups have their own geographical enclave.

Cooperation between racial separatists of differing backgrounds is a long-standing tradition. In the 1930s, when Mississippi’s arch-racist Senator Theodore Bilbo publicly called for the expulsion of African-Americans to Africa, members of Marcus Garvey’s movement (themselves proponents of African-American emigration to Africa) approached Bilbo as a potential collaborator. The Nation of Islam (NOI) also has a history of associating with White nationalists, including the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party; Malcolm X cited these associations as one of the reasons he became disgruntled with NOI. WAR’s Tom Metzger has supported and donated money to NOI and has addressed the New Black Panther Party (NBPP). In Florida, one Black separatist organization even held joint demonstrations with a local Klan group.16

However, calling for the exclusion of all supporters of White separatism should not be mistaken for a call for progressives to exclude activists who endorse nationalist forms of separatism for people of color, including Black, Native American, or Latino nationalists. It is only the advocacy of White racial separatism that is at issue. While the acceptance of what is called the “right to national self-determination” of racial and ethnic minorities as congruent with larger left-wing goals is not without its critics (including myself), it has a long-established history on the U.S. Left, and its advocates have included the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, and the Young Lords. However, irrespective of the debates around it, national self-determination by an oppressed group of people is completely different from the “right” of White separatism. However, White separatism has never had a place in the Left, and its structural function is to reinforce—and not attempt to escape (regardless of whether this would work in practice or not)—existing social hierarchies. In the United States, White people as a group are firmly in control of the majority of economic resources and social power. White separatism is comparable to espousing gated communities for the rich: its purpose is to physically express existing hierarchical social and economic structures.17

2) Ideological antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other demonizations of minority groups—whether explicit or coded—should not be tolerated.

Antisemitism is a main theoretical plank for fascists and other Far Right actors, and Holocaust denial has always been a tactic with the goal of re-legitimizing fascism in the eyes of the public. Those who deny the Holocaust—one of the best-documented events of the last century—have no place in progressive political circles. The same goes for those who repeat traditional Nazi-era antisemitic conspiracies, such as that Jews control the government, banking system, or the mass media. This includes the propaganda group If Americans Knew or the American Free Press newspaper, which, while repeating classical antisemitic narratives, deploy code words such as “Zionists,” “Jewish neocons,” or the “Frankfurt School”—instead of “the Jews.”18 

Those who demonize other racial, ethnic, and religious minorities—in particular, those who blame Muslims for attempting to “destroy the West” (a claim more common in Europe) or call undocumented Latin American migrants “disease-carrying gang members”—should also be excluded.

However, excluding people based on this stance should be reserved for those who have been documented as having intentionally and repeatedly used these slanders, and who have been confronted about them. Some activists unwittingly use these demonizing narratives and are ignorant of their origins. Activists should not be excluded for actions and statements that might be considered antisemitic, Islamophobic, transphobic, racist, patriarchal, or otherwise but that fall short of clear-cut, intentional, repeated, and ideologically motivated demonization (i.e., as part of the deployment of a thought-out political philosophy). Many real progressives have made statements that others have, at one time or another, believed to be biased; discussions are needed about what constitutes racism, sexism, etc. not just for collective self-clarification, but also so that activists have an opportunity to change their own beliefs when necessary. 

3) Social and cultural groups (including bands and artists) that traffic in sustained fascist references should be excluded from progressive circles.

Many cultural actors in particular deny being openly fascist or racist, but on investigation promote a sustained amount of imagery, references, and concepts based on and derived from fascism and other forms of ideological racism, and are deploying them in order to disseminate this ideology. This must be separated from passing or ignorant references: usage of historical examples, non-ideologically motivated attempts to shock, or ironic usage.

In one recent example, an activist, who had recently been released from prison for environmentally motivated property destruction, ran a blog concerned with spiritual and cultural matters. The blog was also filled with fascist imagery such as swastikas, as well as black suns and runes used by the Nazis—alongside quotes from mystical fascist philosophers. The activist was also alleged to have made statements denouncing “forced multi-culturalism” and endorsing White separatism. This is an example of a person who should be excluded from progressive circles.19

However, the main focus of this problematic cultural work concerns bands and other musical projects. Sometimes, these are crypto-fascist projects engaging in conscious attempts to create a Far Right cultural milieu, as some neo-folk and black metal bands are alleged to be doing. Others are part of the “Rock Against Communism” (RAC) format. In the 1980s, RAC was promoted as a front group by explicitly Nazi musicians but has more recently been adopted by a variety of actors, including some people of color. (This is similar to the Sovereign Citizen movement, which also originated in White supremacist circles but which today has many people of color as adherents.20)

However, the question of how to determine whether a band should be excluded is a complicated affair; it has been debated for decades without a clear consensus arising. Because of the complexity of the subject, this will be dealt with separately in a forthcoming essay.

4) Any groups that provide an active platform for Nazi, fascist, and related speakers should be treated in a similar fashion as those sympathetic to White separatism.

This includes those who hold events for these speakers. For example, members of the Eugene, Oregon-based Pacifica Forum—which started as a progressive anti-war speaker series but later came to host antisemites and, eventually, outright neo-Nazis—should be treated as a Far Right organization. (Pacifica Forum members attended Occupy events in Eugene and Portland, Oregon, attempted to use a left-wing bookstore in Portland to host an antisemitic speaker, and one was a board member at an annual co-operative conference.)21

This question can be far trickier when it comes to periodicals, book presses, and online media. For example, many left-wing media have published antisemitic and crypto-antisemitic authors such as Alison Weir, Israel Shamir, and Gilad Atzmon; a well-known left-wing press even published Atzmon’s book.22 However, to what extent it is feasible to hold these publications and presses accountable is up for debate. 

Renunciation and Reintegration 

Antifascist activists sometimes have a “search and destroy” mentality about their opponents; they want to document their target, locate and confront it, and create a situation where it will go away. But this, too, can turn into its own problem: people don’t disappear, and once politicized, they tend to remain so. An organizer from Portland, Oregon’s Coalition for Human Dignity told me that antifascists’ inability to provide an alternative for young White youth attracted to the Nazi skinhead movement was one of his group’s greatest failings in confronting the surge of Nazi organizing in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Organized racist and fascist groups have long been involved in pagan, and in particular Heathen, religious circles. This in turn has helped galvanize Heathen circles to consciously resist racist elements, and to analyze structural racism more generally.

Organized racist and fascist groups have long been involved in pagan, and in particular, Heathen, religious circles. This in turn has helped galvanize Heathen circles to consciously resist racist elements, and to analyze structural racism more generally.

It is not infrequent for Far Right activists to become disenchanted with and wish to exit their political milieu, which can have negative social and professional effects on their lives. Sometimes, young people experiment with different identities and views without a serious commitment to them. Other times, progressive activists have been drawn into these Far Right groups and, once confronted, are willing to abandon them. Therefore, it is important to allow people to return to (or enter) progressive circles. If their Far Right affiliations are revealed, and they abandon these politics but are prevented from being allowed into non/anti-racist circles, there is a higher likelihood they will return to their prior beliefs—if for no other reason than simply because it will be a familiar social circle.

Progressive groups should come up with their own criteria for people who want to move away from Far Right politics and toward progressive political communities. Recommendations for this include: 1) requiring the person make a public statement disavowing Far Right views, and posting it in their former group’s media; 2) turning over all Far Right books, t-shirts, buttons, etc. to antifascists—especially patches or other insignia of any organizations they were members of; 3) removing all Far Right contacts on social media, and not attending events (either social, cultural, or political) hosted by these individuals or groups; 4) making a sincere statement of why their former views were problematic, with apologies made to anyone hurt by their actions. (The letter written by former White nationalist Derek Black, son of Stormfront founder Don Black, is exemplary.23) If they want to become actively involved as progressive political organizers, they should also 5) be required to go through a debrief to provide information about their former Rightist group’s structures, membership, recruiting tactics, and beliefs.

The same approach should be applied to organizations and media with a history of providing a platform for Far Right and related (antisemitic, Islamophobic, etc.) figures. They should also be able to change policy, apologize for their past, and be treated as a regular publication or platform again.

The evidence shows that Far Right cross-recruiting and participation in progressive circles will not go away, and progressives should adopt policies—and have plans ready—to deal with anyone who falls under the above four categories who wants to enter, attend, or participate in any progressive organizations, physical spaces, events, or demonstrations.

 Share on Twitter Button  Share on Facebook Button

print friendly image

download brochure

 endNOTES

1. For such a small political movement, White nationalists are fantastically violent, although exact numbers are difficult to come by. A 2012 Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) report lists “100 plots, conspiracies and racist rampages since 1995.” The SPLC’s Heidi Beirich calculated that users of the White nationalist Stormfront website “have murdered close to 100 people” between 2009 and 2014. See SPLC, Terror on the Right, 2012, http://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/downloads/publication/terror_from_the_right_2012_web_0.pdf; Heidi Beirich, “White Homicide Worldwide,” 2014, http://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/downloads/publication/white-homicide-worldwide.pdf.

The victims of these White nationalist and neo-Nazi attacks have varied, and include government workers, unsuspecting members of the public, and their own family members—but also political opponents, whether progressive or merely anti-racist. The most famous attack on Leftists was the 1979 Greensboro massacre, a joint operation of Klansmen and neo-Nazis, in which five participants at a Communist Workers Party-organized anti-racist march in Greensboro, North Carolina were killed. (One of the participants in the massacre, Frazier Glenn Miller, was arrested in 2014 for murdering three people at Jewish community centers in Kansas.) In 1998, two anti-racist skinheads were murdered in Las Vegas by Nazi skinheads. And in 2011 in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik murdered sixty-nine people at a socialist youth group’s retreat.

On the Greensboro Massacre, see Jill Williams, “Truth and Reconciliation Comes to the South: Lessons from Greensboro,” Public Eye, Spring 2007, vol. 22, no. 2, http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v21n2/reconciliation.html; on Miller, see Spencer Sunshine, “Frazier Glenn Miller & The Ongoing Trend of Former-Military Neo-Nazi Murders,” April 17, 2014, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/04/17/frazier-glenn-miller-the-ongoing-trend-of-former-military-neo-nazi-murders/; on the Las Vegas murders, see Lynda Edwards, “Death in the Desert,” Orlando Weekly, June 17, 1999, http://www.orlandoweekly.com/orlando/death-in-the-desert/Content?oid=2263332; on Breivik, see John Nichols, “Glenn Beck’s ‘Hitler Youth’ Slur on Norway Victims Confuses WWII Sides,” July 26, 2011, Nation blogs, http://www.thenation.com/blog/162287/glenn-becks-hitler-youth-slur-norway-victims-confuses-wwii-sides#.

2. A note on the terminology used in this essay: “progressive” refers to the whole spectrum of political actors, from liberal Democrats to radical Leftists, who have a social justice approach that is critical of capitalism, and who oppose systems of oppression based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, etc. “Far Right” includes all right-wing elements which have a racial component to their ideology; therefore even libertarians, who usually would not fall under this term, will be included here if they embrace White separatism as congruent with their politics.

3. Code words are discussed in an interview with Martin Lee and former PRA senior analyst Chip Berlet; see “Transcript: #26-98 When ‘Populism’ Has a Right-Wing Agenda,” Making Contact, July 1, 1998, http://www.radioproject.org/transcript/1998/9826.html.

4. For the anti-war movement, see “The Gulf War” section of Chip Berlet, Right Woos Left, February 27, 1999, http://www.politicalresearch.org/1999/02/27/right-woos-left; for progressive populists, see Spencer Sunshine, “The Right Hand of Occupy Wall Street: From Libertarians to Nazis, the Fact and Fiction of Right-Wing Involvement,” Public Eye, Winter 2014, 9–14, 18, February 23, 2014, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/02/23/the-right-hand-of-occupy-wall-street-from-libertarians-to-nazis-the-fact-and-fiction-of-right-wing-involvement/; for the radical Left, see “What is the Third Position?,” http://www.publiceye.org/fascist/third_position.html; for anarchists, see Spencer Sunshine, “Rebranding Fascism: National-Anarchists,” Public Eye, Winter 2008, vol. 23, no. 4, 1, 12­–19 (posted online January 28, 2008), http://www.politicalresearch.org/2008/01/28/rebranding-fascism-national-anarchists/; for environmentalism, see  Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier, Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience (Edinburgh: AK Press, 1995), http://www.spunk.org/texts/places/germany/sp001630/ecofasc.html; for animal rights, see Panthères Enragées, “International Animal Rights Gathering,” August 22, 2013, http://pantheresenragees.noblogs.org/post/2013/08/22/international; for anti-zionism, see Center for New Community, “Neo-Nazi Infiltration of Anti-Globalization Protests” (press release, dated June 21, 2002), June 28, 2002, http://interactivist.autonomedia.org/node/1039; for counter-cultures, see Graham D. Macklin, “Co-opting the Counter Culture: Troy Southgate and the National Revolutionary Faction,” Patterns of Prejudice, vol. 39, no. 3, September 2005, http://slackbastard.anarchobase.com/?p=2439; for esoteric and occult tendencies, as well as Heathens, see Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity (New York: New York University Press, 2002).

5. See Sunshine, “Rebranding Fascism.”

6. Thomas Rogers, “Heil Hipster: The Young Neo-Nazis Trying to Put a Stylish Face on Hate,” Rolling Stone, June 23, 2014, http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/heil-hipster-the-young-neo-nazis-trying-to-put-a-stylish-face-on-hate-20140623.

7. For an extensive discussion of LaRouchite influence on progressive politics, see Berlet, Right Woos Left; for Edward Flaherty’s critique of ten myths about the Federal Reserve, see http://www.publiceye.org/conspire/flaherty/Federal_Reserve.html; for fascism and the environmental movement in general, see Biehl and Staudenmaier, Ecofascism; and for one high-profile fight over xenophobic interpretations of environmentalism, see Michelle Nijhuis, “Immigration controversy engulfs Sierra Club board election,” Grist, March 2, 2004, http://grist.org/article/nijhuis-sierra/.

8. Roddy Moreno, singer for the antifascist Oi! band The Oppressed, said: “I find most people who talk about no politics mean left-wing politics but seem to have no problem with right wing politics. Fuck the government and fuck the police are political statements but no one says a word when bands sing about these things but as soon as a band says fuck the Nazis and fuck the racists you get accusations of “POLITICS”. At the end of the day life is political and it’s hard to ignore life.” See “An interview with Roddy Moreno,” January 14, 2012, http://torontosharp.blogspot.com/2012/01/interview-with-roddy-moreno.html.

The blog No Condemned 84 in Toronto described their opposition to the “no politics” approach this way: “This isn’t about being ‘PC,’ and this isn’t just about one dodgy band either—it’s about a disturbing agenda being pushed by the fence-sitters and closet-fascists who, under the deceptive banner of ‘no politics’ want to make our scene a safe zone for nazi bullshit. This isn’t a coincidence—it’s been a conscious strategy of the nazis after being forced underground in previous decades: infiltrate the ‘apolitical’ fold and recruit amongst the fence-sitters; after all, if you already listening to nazi bands and claim ‘anti-antifa,’ how much farther do you have to go?  The fascists smell easy pickings.” In another post they are more blunt: “All ‘no politics’ means for these lowlifes is: boneheads welcome.” (“Fence-sitters” are skinheads and others who associate with both racists and anti-racists, either refusing to make their own stance clear on the matter or alternating their views; “boneheads” are Nazi skinheads.) See “Sleeping With the Enemy: Condemned 84’s Affair with the Extreme Right,” May 23, 2013, https://condemned84.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/sleeping-with-the-enemy-condemned-84s-affair-with-the-extreme-right/; “Légitime Violence Interview with Russian neo-Nazi,” June 11, 2013, https://condemned84.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/legitime-violence-in-their-own-words/.

9. For an overview of the Nazi skinhead movement, see “Racist Skinheads: Understanding the Threat,” http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/skinheads-in-america-racists-on-the-rampage.

10. For examples, see, respectively: Rose City Antifa facebook post on the Cascadia Rising Bioregional Confluence, April 9, 2014, https://www.facebook.com/rose.cityantifa.3/posts/1484366921779755; Sasha, “The New Face of the Radical Right?,” April 29, 2014, http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2014/04/29/the-new-face-of-the-radical-right/; One Peoples Project, “Brooklyn Show Next Weekend Sparking Concerns,” August 24, 2014, http://www.onepeoplesproject.com/index.php/arts-culture/hate-music/1449-brooklyn-show-next-weekend-sparking-concerns; “NATA Unwanted at Anarchist Bookfair, 4/20 Conference, or seemingly anywhere else,” April 8, 2013, http://nycantifa.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/nata-unwanted-at-anarchist-bookfair-420-conference-or-seemingly-anywhere-else/; @ndy, “When White nationalists attack! New Right @ Gaza solidarity rally, Sydney, November 24,” December 7, 2012, http://slackbastard.anarchobase.com/?p=33191.

11. See for example, Tiffany Willis, “This Biracial Woman Confronts A Klansman. He Tells Her ‘I’m Not Racist’ (VIDEO),” June 23, 2014, http://www.liberalamerica.org/2014/06/23/this-biracial-woman-confronts-a-klansman-he-tells-her-im-not-racist-video/.

12. Rachel Tabachnick and Frank L. Cocozzelli, “Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right,” Public Eye, Fall 2013, 2–8, posted online November 22, 2013, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/11/22/nullification-neo-confederates-and-the-revenge-of-the-old-right/.

13. Many scholars consider “White separatism” to be either synonymous with or a subset of “White supremacy.” However, a return to White supremacy—as practiced by Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa, or the Jim Crow South—was abandoned by many hardline U.S. racist groups, even self-proclaimed Nazis, decades ago; for most of them, their new goal is racial separatism (although the exact details vary). During the 1980s and 1990s, when openly racist groups like White Aryan Nations (WAR) and the Aryan Nations called for a separate White state, referring to them as White supremacist was less complicated, partly because of their vicious, derogatory views of people of color and Jews, and open Nazi references. However, the concept of White separatism has continued to evolve and expand out of the traditional racist White Right, and now groups are endorsing the notion for others without necessarily promoting it as their own central political goal. Using the term “White supremacist” to label a multi-racial group that endorses White separatism is a complicated affair—and one not likely to be easily understood by progressive activists who are unfamiliar with the more recent twists-and-turns of the Far Right. Therefore, it is time to reexamine the simple conflation of White supremacy and White separatism.

For the transition from White supremacy to White separatism, see Betty A. Dobratz and Stephanie L. Shanks-Meile “White Power, White Pride!” The White Separatist Movement in the United States (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997). See also

Mattias Gardell, Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).

14. For National Anarchism, see Sunshine, “Rebranding Fascism”; for Attack the System, see Matthew N. Lyons,  “Rising Above the Herd: Keith Preston’s Authoritarian Anti-Statism,” New Politics, April 29, 2011, http://newpol.org/content/rising-above-herd-keith-prestons-authoritarian-anti-statism; for New Resistance, see “Neo-Nazi Leader James Porrazzo Mixes Racism with Leftist Ideology,” Intelligence Report,  no. 148, Winter 2012, http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2012/winter/the-fourth-position.

15. While this may seem like an oxymoron to many readers, it should be remembered that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party was mostly fixated on killing and persecuting other Europeans (such as Ashkenazi Jews, Romani and Sinti, and Slavs), in addition to leftists, disabled people, and queer folks—many of the latter sharing the same Aryan background as their perpetrators. In sharp contrast to the positions of U.S. neo-Nazis, Black people did not loom large in the original German Nazis’ imagination.

In fact, the Nazis sought alliances in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. One otherwise traditional U.S. neo-Nazi group, Rocky J. Suhayda’s American Nazi Party, uses this fact to actively solicit the financial support of sympathetic people of color; see Southside Chicago Anti-Racist Action, “Infiltrated: The American Nazi Party In Illinois,” April 20, 2013, http://southsideantifa.blogspot.com/2013/04/infiltrated-american-nazi-party-in.html.

There is growing documentation regarding the profusion of neo-Nazi groups in Latin America and Asia. For Brazil, see Cnaan Liphshiz, “Brazil thwarts neo-Nazi bomb plot,” May 24, 2009, Haaretz, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/brazil-thwarts-neo-nazi-bomb-plot-1.276586; for Chile, Colombia, and elsewhere in Central and South America, see Javier Duque, “Neo-Nazism in Latin America,” June 24, 2012, http://www.theprisma.co.uk/2012/06/24/the-nazi-shadow-in-latin-america/; for Mexico, see Elizabeth Rosales, “Youth Neo-Nazi Group in Mexico,” June 30 2014, http://www.sandiegored.com/noticias/54669/Youth-Neo-Nazi-Group-in-Mexico/; for Mongolia, see Tania Branigan, “Mongolian neo-Nazis: Anti-Chinese sentiment fuels rise of ultra-nationalism,” Guardian, August 2, 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/aug/02/mongolia-far-right; for Malaysia, see Nick Chester, “Meet the Malaysian Neo-Nazis Fighting for a Pure Malay Race,” Vice, May 18, 2013, http://www.vice.com/read/the-malaysian-nazis-fighting-for-a-pure-race.

One Center for New Community article describes two New York City bands associated with the RAC scene as “nationalist supporters of the Colombian death squads. They also have strong ties with a variety of neo-Nazi groups both in the United States and in Latin America, including Tercera Fuerza in Columbia, a neo-Nazi paramilitary organization.” See MJ Olahafa, “Neo Nazi Show Cancelled in NYC,” October 8, 2010, http://imagine2050.newcomm.org/2010/10/08/neo-nazi-show-cancelled-in-nyc/.

Like all philosophies, National Socialism can be reinterpreted and appropriated by people of different backgrounds. Therefore the mere fact that activists are not White does not mean that they cannot be Nazis: after all, racist ultra-nationalists come in all backgrounds, whether or not they appropriate Nazi aesthetics and narratives.

16. On NOI’s connection to the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party, and Tom Metzger, see Martin A. Lee, “American Black Muslims, Neo-Nazis, Foreign Muslim Extremists Join Forces,” Intelligence Report, no. 105, Spring 2002, http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2002/spring/the-swastika-and-the-crescent/strange; on Malcolm X, see his 1965 speech “There’s a worldwide revolution going on,” in Bruce Perry, ed., Malcolm X: The Last Speeches (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1989), 119­­–26.

Metzger attended a NBPP rally in 1993, and an undated online video shows him giving a speech to the group, in which he recounts the history of cooperation between Black and White racial separatists. See “The New Black Panther Party is Unlike its Namesake of the 1960s,” Intelligence Report, no. 100, Fall 2000, http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2000/fall/snarling-at-the-white-man, and “Tom Metzger Addresses The New Black Panther Party,” uploaded July 4, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZ5OHDJ_9FQ.

The Florida groups were the Pan-Afrikan International (PAIN) and John Baumgardner’s local Klan outfit. See Kirsten Gallagher, “2 Opposites Attract To Seek ‘Separatism,’” Orlando Sentinel, March 30, 1992, http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1992-03-30/news/9203300164_1_ku-klux-klan-descendants-of-african; see also Gardell, Gods of the Blood, 115–17.

17. One recent example shows how complex this situation sometimes is: a Native American man who is a member of Attack the System (a pro-White separatist pan-secessionist group) was uninvited from speaking at a bioregionalism conference in Portland, Oregon. However, this disinvitation only happened after an antifascist group—that had been asked to present at the same conference about (White) White separatists attempting to participate in bioregionalist movements—refused to speak alongside him. (His support for Native American self-determination was not at issue; his support for White separatist views was.) See Rose City Antifa, Facebook post.

Similarly, a handful of people of color also belong to National-Anarchist groups—a movement which was created as an explicitly “entryist” tactic to spread a fascist, White separatist ideology inside progressive circles, but which has recently has been moving closer to a pan-secessionist position. (Entryism is the strategy of entering other political groups in order to either take them over or break off with a part of their membership. There can be a fine line, however, between intentional entryism and an existing member of group being converted to a new ideology.) All together, the result is that today we are confronted with people of color trying to inject into progressive circles the same core values that 1980s and 1990s U.S. neo-Nazis held: a commitment to White racial separatism and antisemitic narratives, including Holocaust Denial.

Ideas that uphold systemic oppression and racial privilege should be rejected, no matter the identity of the person espousing them. Advocates of oppression can be found among all groups of people.

18. It should be noted that many contemporary conspiracy theories—such as some about the Federal Reserve and the Bilderbergs—have origins mixed up in antisemitic theories, but no longer identify either Jews or a subset of Jews as the active agents of the conspiracy. Therefore, care must be taken in distinguishing between a coded antisemitic theory and one that has moved far enough away from this thinking to be no longer considered as such—even though it may still be legitimately criticized on political grounds as flawed. For permutations of antisemitic conspiracy theories, see Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (New York: Guilford Press, 2000), 192-96.

19. “Former ELF/Green Scare Prisoner ‘Exile’ Now a Fascist,” August 5, 2014, http://nycantifa.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/exile-is-a-fascist/.

20.  See Kevin Carey, “Too Weird for The Wire: How black Baltimore drug dealers are using white supremacist legal theories to confound the Feds,” Washington Monthly, May/June/July 2008, http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2008/0805.carey.html.

21. For background on the Pacifica Forum, see CJ Ciaramella, “University to address Pacifica controversy,” Daily Emerald, January 8, 2010, http://dailyemerald.com/2010/01/08/university-to-address-pacifica-controversy/; for its involvement in the Occupy movement, see Spencer Sunshine, “20 On the Right in Occupy,” February 13, 2014, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/02/13/20-on-the-right-in-occupy/; for the bookstore incident, see “Rose City Antifa: Statement on Anti-Semites and their Collaborators,” June 25, 2009, http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2009/06/392268.shtml; for the co-op board, see “Confronting Bigotry in Our Movement: A Call for Reflection and Support,” https://www.scribd.com/doc/109889899/Confronting-Bigotry-in-Our-Movement.

22. Alison Weir, see Spencer Sunshine, “Campus Profile—Alison Weir: If Americans Knew,” http://www.politicalresearch.org/campus-profile-alison-weir-if-americans-knew/; this is a section from Chip Berlet, Debra Cash, and Maria Planansky, eds., Constructing Campus Conflict: Antisemitism and Islamophobia on U.S. College Campuses 2007–2011 (Boston: Political Research Associates, 2014), http://www.politicalresearch.org/resources/reports/; on Shamir, see Will Yakowicz, “His Jewish Problem,” Tablet, May 16, 2011, http://tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/67305/his-jewish-problem; on Atzmon, see “Not Quite ‘Ordinary Human Beings’—Anti-imperialism and the anti-humanist rhetoric of Gilad Atzmon,” http://threewayfight.blogspot.com/p/atzmon-critique_09.html; on the Left-wing press, see “Zero Authors’ Statement on Gilad Atzmon,” Lenin’s Tomb, September 26, 2011, http://www.leninology.co.uk/2011/09/zero-authors-statement-on-gilad-atzmon.html.

23. “Derek Black Email to Mark Potok, July 15, 2013,” http://www.splcenter.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Derek-Black-letter-to-Mark-Potok-Hatewtach.pdf. His letter is worth quoting:

“I acknowledge that things I have said as well as my actions have been harmful to people of color, people of Jewish descent, activists striving for opportunity and fairness for all, and others affected. It was not my intention then, and I will not contribute to any cause that perpetuates this harm in the future. Advocating for redress of the supposed oppression of whites in the West is by its nature damaging to all others because of the privileged position of white people in these societies. … It is impossible to argue rationally that in our society, with its overwhelming disparity between white power and that of everyone else, racial equity programs intended to affect the deep-rooted situation represent oppression of whites. … I do not believe advocacy against ‘oppression of whites’ exists in any form but an entrenched desire to preserve white power at the expense of others. I am sorry for the damage done by my actions and my past endorsement of white nationalism.”

Print Friendly

Religious Right Rolls Out the Red Carpet for Netanyahu

The night before addressing a joint session of Congress—a controversial event that has garnered a great deal of attention from both the Left and the Right—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to an estimated crowd of 16,000 people at the annual policy conference of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) declaring, “For 2,000 years, my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, defenseless, voiceless… [T]oday, we are no longer silent; today, we have a voice. And tomorrow, as prime minister of the one and only Jewish state, I plan to use that voice.”

With U.S. foreign aid to Israel surpassing $3 billion last year (more aid than any other country in the world receives), it should be obvious that many of the key players invested in protecting and expanding Israel’s statehood are here in the United States. What might be surprising is that the majority of pro-Israel Americans aren’t Jewish. In fact, many of them could even be described as anti-Jewish.

Christian Zionism flags

A Pew Research Center study published in October 2013 revealed that the Christian Zionist perspective has especially widespread acceptance among American evangelicals, with roughly 82% of White evangelicals subscribing to the belief that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people. By contrast, only 40% of American Jews believe the same. How and why did this come to be?

AIPAC has long been seen as the primary voice for Israeli interests on Capitol Hill, but they are not alone. In 2006, John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church—a megachurch based in San Antonio, Texas, founded Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which now claims to be the largest pro-Israel organization in the country. CUFI has been described as the “Gentile arm” of AIPAC, but many argue that Christian Zionists like Hagee actually function as the more powerful element of the pro-Israel lobby. (Following Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge“ offensive against Gaza last summer,, which claimed the lives of over 2,100 Palestinians and approximately 75 Israelis, Netanyahu said, “I consider CUFI to be a vital part of Israel’s national security.”)

Hagee’s commitment to Israel began in 1978, when he first visited there as a tourist. As he explains it, “I went to Israel as a tourist and came back a Zionist.” This conversion experience catalyzed the launch of the first “Night to Honor Israel” event in San Antonio in 1982. On average, CUFI currently stages 40 “Night to Honor Israel” events every month in cities across the country. While CUFI’s financials are exempt from public disclosure due to the organization’s classification as a church, it’s reported that since 1981 these events have raised almost $80 million for the express purpose of supporting Israel.

Evangelical support for Israel has a long history, but Israel’s link to the U.S. Religious Right can be traced back to 1978, when then Prime Minister Menachem Begin began cultivating a relationship with famed U.S. conservative evangelist Jerry Falwell, who made his first official trip to Israel at Begin’s invitation. The following year, in 1979, Begin’s government gifted Falwell with a Learjet to assist in his advocacy efforts on behalf of Israel. That same year, Falwell launched the Moral Majority, an organization that would finally succeed in asserting the Christian Right as a dominant voice in U.S. politics, forever altering the political landscape of America.

Seeking to expand Israel’s ties to this emerging hub of political power, in the early 1980s, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism began recruiting U.S. evangelical religious leaders for free “familiarization” tours (something like a birthright trip for Christians). These trips essentially functioned like a pro-Israel phone tree; participants on the familiarization tours were equipped with the knowledge and tools to later lead their own tours, thus creating opportunities for more and more Christians to visit—and become supporters of—Israel. The result was an increase in tourism dollars and, more importantly, a growing corps of non-Jewish Israel supporters in the United States.

This form of pro-Israel evangelism continues:

  • Last summer, the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) initiated a “Christians in Solidarity with Israel” trip to “stand in support of the nation’s right to defend itself from those who would deny their right to exist.”
  • In August 2014, CUFI coordinated a group of 51 pastors—one from each state and the District of Columbia—on a tour of Israel, during which they met with senior Israeli officials and donated blood to “help the wounded.”
  • Last month, the American Family Association—classified a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center—hosted an all-expense paid trip for members of the Republican National Committee.
  • Later this year, the right-wing Family Research Council is coordinating its first trip to Israel. Participants—who will be joined by FRC President Tony Perkins, former Senator Rick Santorum, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal—will have the opportunity to “build strategic relationships with political and spiritual leaders in Israel” and “gain a better understanding of Israel’s important role in today’s geopolitical affairs.”
  • Liberty Counsel—a legal organization dedicated to “advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and the family”—merged with Christians in Defense of Israel last year, and will be facilitating its own tour of Israel in May, which will include “briefings by Israeli government, military, business, and academic leaders.”

Leaders of these trips largely subscribe to a version of Christian Zionism that promotes activism attempting to hasten the second coming of Jesus, and helping Jews along with the role they are supposed to play in the drama of the End Times. As PRA fellow Rachel Tabachnick recently explained:

“In recent decades, leaders embracing Dominion Theology have often rejected Christian Zionism, but some Charismatic Christians have embraced a different form of dominionism that couples aggressive Christian triumphalism with “pro-Israel” activism. In this hybrid narrative, Jews must be converted (particularly in Israel) to bring about Jesus’ kingdom on earth.”

Despite its antisemitic undertones, Israel’s government recognizes that it benefits greatly from right-wing evangelical ties to American political leadership (the vast majority of whom are Christian). Additionally, Israel wants to protect its multibillion dollar tourism industry—a large portion of which is provided by Christian pilgrimages facilitated by American Right Wing leaders.

Those same leaders are celebrating Netanyahu’s visit this week, and threatening against any resistance to their agenda. Last month, John Hagee issued this warning: “I am a student of world history, and you can wrap up world history in 25 words or less and here it is: the nations that blessed Israel prospered and the nations that cursed Israel were destroyed by the hand of God. … If America turns its back on Israel, God will turn his back on America.”

 Share on Twitter Button  Share on Facebook Button

 

Print Friendly

The Myth of Christian Persecution

Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelical Billy Graham and current president of both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and Samaritan’s Purse, is increasingly taking center stage in the Right Wing’s dramatization of “Christianity under siege”—part of a growing manipulation of religious liberty arguments (e.g. Hobby Lobby’s claim that the Affordable Care Act violates their “deeply held religious convictions”) to further blur the division between church and state.

Franklin Graham

Franklin Graham

Addressing the crowd at the Oklahoma State Evangelism Conference earlier this month, Graham claimed that secularists—whom he refers to as “antichrists”—have taken control of America.

“There are storms that are coming,” Graham warned. “The only hope for this country is for men and women of God to stand up and take a stand. We’ve got to take a stand. We cannot back up. We cannot run. We cannot retreat. We need Christians running for school boards. … We need men and women of God who take local elections serious.”

Emphasizing this point, Graham continued, “Who says we can’t be in politics? The gays and lesbians are in politics, I can tell you that. All the anti-God people are in politics. They’re there. Why shouldn’t the church be there? Who says we can’t speak up? Who says our voice can’t be heard?”

Graham’s call for Christians to “take a stand” echoes the demands of last November’s “I Stand Sunday.” The event, which was simulcast around the country, was organized by a coalition of local churches and national right-wing organizations in Houston, Texas as a response to the City of Houston subpoenaing the sermons of five conservative local pastors who were suspected of engaging in political activities beyond the purview of what is allowed for a church to maintain its tax-exempt status. Sponsors of the event included some of the leading right-wing parachurch organizations in the country, including the Family Research Council (FRC) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Liberty Counsel and the National Organization for Marriage also signed on as partners.

Reporting on the event (which took place two days before the 2014 midterm elections), FRC’s President Tony Perkins wrote, “Last night, with thousands of people packing the pews of Grace Community Church—and tens of thousands more at nearly 800 churches from all 50 states—Houston sent a message to the nation: ‘Don’t mess with the pulpits of America.’… We pray that our nation, which this event proved is ripe for spiritual awakening, will use I Stand Sunday as a launching off point for greater cultural engagement.”

The subpoenas came as part of the prolonged fight over the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), the city’s first housing and workplace nondiscrimination bill protecting LGBTQ people, as well as other targeted classifications, including race, sex, and religion.

Previously one of the only large cities in the U.S. without a nondiscrimination policy, the Houston City Council approved HERO in May 2014 with a vote of 11-6. The ordinance did not pass without a fight, however—groups like Texas Values (an affiliate of Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink network), the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the Family Research Council attacked the ordinance with anti-transgender claims that it would somehow protect predators and sex offenders. There were also threats to recall Mayor Parker and any city council member who voted in favor of the bill.

Following HERO’s passage, an anti-LGBTQ coalition called “No Unequal Rights” led by local and national church groups like the Baptist Ministers Association of Houston and Samuel Rodriguez’s National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference began collecting signatures to challenge HERO with a referendum. When the petition effort failed, opponents of the law filed a lawsuit against the city, demanding the referendum be placed on the ballot.

As part of the discovery process of the Religious Right’s lawsuit against them, the city’s outside counsel issued subpoenas to five pastors in Houston who were suspected of overreaching their tax-exempt restrictions, to collect information related to how the pastors communicated with their congregations about the petition process. Backed by a team of ADF lawyers, the pastors (dubbed the “Houston 5”) claimed their rights were being violated. On both the Left and the Right, many critics (including the ACLU) agreed that the subpoenas were too broad, and they were ultimately withdrawn, but I Stand Sunday—organized to “stand with pastors and churches to focus on the freedom to live out our faith free of government intrusion or monitoring”—went ahead as planned, and the Houston 5 seem likely to the join the cast of bakers and wedding photographers cited by the Christian Right as evidence of allegedly widespread and growing persecution.

I Stand Sunday speakers included FRC’s Tony Perkins; former Governor of Arkansas and then Fox News personality Mike Huckabee; Eric Stanley from the ADF; and Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Local Houston pastors Magda Hermida, a Cuban immigrant, and Khanh Huynh, a Vietnamese immigrant, also spoke, comparing their experiences of Communist violence and oppression to Mayor Parker’s “marching boots of tyranny.”

Despite the fact that the majority of Americans—and an even greater majority of elected officials—identify as Christian (a recent study by the Pew Forum found that 73% of Americans identify as Christian, and that 92% of current Congressional members identify as such), this mantra of “Christian persecution” is gaining traction around the country.

The City of Charlotte, NC—Franklin Graham’s hometown—is currently considering an expansion to its own nondiscrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity. A statement released by BGEA echoed the same anti-transgender claims that were used in Houston, claiming that such protections would give “sexual predators access to children.”

Another Charlotte resident, David Benham, is also working to prevent the expansion of equal rights protections for LGBTQ people there (the vote is scheduled for March 2). Benham has become a leading spokesperson for the “Christian persecution” camp since the HGTV television series that he and his twin brother, Jason, were scheduled to host was canceled after reports emerged of David Benham making anti-gay statements at a prayer rally in 2012 outside of the Democratic National Convention. (Right Wing Watch posted a recording of Benham discussing “homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation.” HGTV also took fire from their viewers over an interview with anti-LGBTQ activist Michael Brown, where David Benham claimed that LGBTQ people were possessed by “demonic forces” and that once he succeeds in recriminalizing abortion, he will next defeat the “homosexual agenda” and Islam.)

Defending his comments, Benham reasserted the theme of persecution, arguing, “[T]here is an agenda that is seeking to silence the voices of men and women of faith.”

In BGEA’s statement about the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance in Charlotte, Benham declared, “What’s going to end up happening, with the result of the language (of the ordinance) is our religious liberties are going to come under attack. … Not only do Christians need to stand up for what’s right, but America needs to protect our children and our children’s children.”

David and Jason Benham also spoke at the I Stand Sunday event in Houston.

Earlier this week, the American Family Association—another I Stand Sunday sponsor—released its new “Anti-Christian Bigotry Map,” which features groups and organizations that “are deeply intolerant towards the Christian religion. … [groups whose objectives are] to silence Christians and to remove all public displays of Christian heritage and faith in America.”

In a press release, AFA’s President Don Wildmon warned, “Across our nation there is a concerted effort to silence Christians who believe in the time-honored definition of marriage and who believe that imposing dangerous and harmful sexual behaviors such as homosexuality or transgenderism on the public and, particularly, on young children is not something that society should encourage.”

Will U.S. prisons soon be overflowing with leaders of the Christian Right? PRA senior fellow Frederick Clarkson reports that any leaders of the Christian Right, from megachurch pastors like Rick Warren to the top prelates in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have repeatedly threatened civil disobedience (and worse) over marriage equality, reproductive rights, and nondiscrimination laws:

“The notion that freedom is obedience to their particular notion of God’s order … reveals their theocratic world view and sheds light on their preposterous claim that Christianity is ‘unanimous’ with regard to marriage.

“Christian denominations, notably United Church of Christ, Alliance of Baptists, and increasingly others (not to mention other religious traditions) recognize and celebrate same-sex marriages all the time.”

If there is a “concerted effort” to be wary of, it is the Christian Right’s attempt to co-opt the language of religious liberty and the advancement of their myth of persecution, which ultimately serves as a strategy to trump the rights of others and justify discrimination.

UPDATE: Thanks in large part to the support of Franklin Graham and the Benham Brothers, the Charlotte City Council rejected the proposed non-discrimination ordinance on Monday, March 2. Writing from his missionary travels in South Sudan, Graham encouraged his supporters to resist the non-discrimination ordinance, which he referred to as “dangerous” and “preposterous.”

 Share on Twitter Button  Share on Facebook Button

 

Print Friendly