Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism

This article appears in the Summer 2017 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

One September weekend in 1995, a few thousand people met at a convention center in Seattle to prepare for an apocalyptic standoff with the federal government. At the expo, you could sign up to defend yourself from the coming “political and economic collapse,” stock up on beef jerky, learn strategies for tax evasion, and browse titles by writers like Eustace Mullins, whose White nationalist classics include The Secrets of the Federal Reserve, published in 1952, and—from 1967—The Biological Jew.

The sixth annual Preparedness Expo made national papers that year because it served as a clearinghouse for the militia movement, a decentralized right-wing movement of armed, local, anti-government paramilitaries that had recently sparked its most notorious act of terror, the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal courthouse by White nationalists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. A series of speakers told expo attendees the real story: the attack had been perpetrated by the government itself as an excuse to take citizens’ guns away.

Not a lot of Black folks show up at gatherings like the Preparedness Expo, one site in an extensive right-wing counterculture in which White nationalism is a constant, explosive presence. White nationalists argue that Whites are a biologically defined people and that, once the White revolutionary spirit awakens, they will take down the federal government, remove people of color, and build a state (maybe or maybe not still called the United States of America, depending on who you ask) of their own. As a Black man, I am regarded by White nationalists as a subhuman, dangerous beast. In the 1990s, I was the field organizer for the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, a six-state coalition working to reduce hate crimes and violence in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain States region. We did a lot of primary research, often undercover. A cardinal rule of organizing is that you can’t ask people to do anything you haven’t done yourself; so I spent that weekend as I spent many—among people plotting to remove me from their ethnostate.

It helped that, despite its blood-curdling anti-Black racism, at least some factions of the White nationalist movement saw me as a potential ally against their true archenemy. At the expo that year, a guy warily asked me about myself. I told him that I had come on behalf of a few brothers in the city. We needed to resist the federal government and we were there to get educated. I said I hoped he wouldn’t take it personally, but I didn’t shake hands with White people. He smiled; he totally understood. “Brother McLamb,” he concurred, “says we have to start building broad coalitions.” Together we went to hear Jack McLamb, a retired Phoenix cop who ran an organization called Police Against the New World Order, make a case for temporary alliances with “the Blacks, the Mexicans, the Orientals” against the real enemy, the federal government controlled by an international conspiracy. He didn’t have to say who ran this conspiracy because it was obvious to all in attendance. And despite the widespread tendency to dismiss antisemitism, notwithstanding its daily presence across the country and the world, it is obvious to you, too.

The bombing of the Oklahoma City federal courthouse by White nationalists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols was painted as a conspiracy by the government itself as an excuse to take citizens’ guns away.

From the time I documented my first White nationalist rally in 1990 until today, the movement has made its way from the margins of American political life to its center, and I’ve moved from doing antiracist organizing in small northwestern communities to fighting for inclusive democracy on a national level, as the Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice program officer at the Ford Foundation until recently, and now as a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Yet if I had to give a basic definition of the movement—something I’ve often been asked to do, formally and informally, by folks who’ve spent less time hanging out with Nazis than I have—my response today would not be much different than it was when I began to do this work nearly thirty years ago. American White nationalism, which emerged in the wake of the 1960s civil rights struggle and descends from White supremacism, is a revolutionary social movement committed to building a Whites-only nation, and antisemitism forms its theoretical core.

That last part—antisemitism forms the theoretical core of White nationalism— bears repeating. Let me explain.

Antisemitism forms the theoretical core of White nationalism.

The meteoric rise of White nationalism within national discourse over the course of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and freshman administration—through Trump’s barely coded speech at fascist-style rallies, his support from the internet-based “Alt Right,” and his placement of White nationalist popularizers in top positions—has produced a shock of revelation for people across a wide swath of the political spectrum. This shock, in turn, has been a source of frustration within communities of color and leftist circles, where White liberals are often accused of having kept their heads in the sand while more vulnerable populations sounded the alarm about the toll of economic crisis, mass incarceration, police violence, deportation, environmental devastation, and—despite and in reaction to the election of Barack Obama—the unending blare of everyday hate. This is an understandable reaction. It’s one I’ve often shared. But the fact that many of us have long recognized that the country we live in is not the one we are told exists doesn’t mean we always understand the one that does. Within social and economic justice movements committed to equality, we have not yet collectively come to terms with the centrality of antisemitism to White nationalist ideology, and until we do we will fail to understand this virulent form of racism rapidly growing in the U.S. today.

To recognize that antisemitism is not a sideshow to racism within White nationalist thought is important for at least two reasons. First, it allows us to identify the fuel that White nationalist ideology uses to power its anti-Black racism, its contempt for other people of color, and its xenophobia—as well as the misogyny and other forms of hatred it holds dear. White nationalists in the United States perceive the country as having plunged into unending crisis since the social ruptures of the 1960s supposedly dispossessed White people of their very nation. The successes of the civil rights movement created a terrible problem for White supremacist ideology. White supremacism—inscribed de jure by the Jim Crow regime and upheld de facto outside the South—had been the law of the land, and a Black-led social movement had toppled the political regime that supported it. How could a race of inferiors have unseated this power structure through organizing alone? For that matter, how could feminists and LGBTQ people have upended traditional gender relations, leftists mounted a challenge to global capitalism, Muslims won billions of converts to Islam? How do you explain the boundary-crossing allure of hip hop? The election of a Black president? Some secret cabal, some mythological power, must be manipulating the social order behind the scenes. This diabolical evil must control television, banking, entertainment, education, and even Washington, D.C. It must be brainwashing White people, rendering them racially unconscious.

“The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” first circulated by Czarist secret police in Russia in 1903, established the blueprint of antisemitic ideology in its modern form.

What is this arch-nemesis of the White race, whose machinations have prevented the natural and inevitable imposition of white supremacy? It is, of course, the Jews. Jews function for today’s White nationalists as they often have for antisemites through the centuries: as the demons stirring an otherwise changing and heterogeneous pot of lesser evils. At the turn of the twentieth century, “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”—a forgery, first circulated by Czarist secret police in Russia in 1903, that purports to represent the minutes of a meeting of the international Jewish conspiracy—established the blueprint of antisemitic ideology in its modern form. It did this by recasting the shape-shifting, money-grubbing caricature of the Jew from a religious caricature to a racialized one. Upper-class Jews in Europe might have been assimilating and changing their names, but under the new regime of antisemitic thought, even a Jew who converted to Christianity would still be a Jew.

In 1920, Henry Ford brought the “Protocols” to the United States, printing half a million copies of an adaptation called “The International Jew,” and the text has had a presence in American life ever since. (Walmart stocked copies on its shelves and for a time refused calls to take them down—in 2004.) But it is over the past fifty years, not coincidentally the first period in U.S. history in which most American Jews have regarded themselves as White, that antisemitism has become integral to the architecture of American racism. Because modern antisemitic ideology traffics in fantasies of invisible power, it thrives precisely when its target would seem to be least vulnerable. Thus, in places where Jews were most assimilated—France at the time of the Dreyfus affair, Germany before Hitler came to power—they have functioned as a magic bullet to account for unaccountable contradictions at moments of national crisis. White supremacism through the collapse of Jim Crow was a conservative movement centered on a state-sanctioned anti-Blackness that sought to maintain a racist status quo. The White nationalist movement that evolved from it in the 1970s was a revolutionary movement that saw itself as the vanguard of a new, whites-only state. This latter movement, then and now, positions Jews as the absolute other, the driving force of white dispossession—which means the other channels of its hatred cannot be intercepted without directly taking on antisemitism.

This brings me to the second reason that White nationalist antisemitism must not be dismissed: at the bedrock of the movement is an explicit claim that Jews are a race of their own, and that their ostensible position as White folks in the U.S. represents the greatest trick the devil ever played. The bible for generations of White nationalists is The Turner Diaries, a 1978 dystopian novel by the White supremacist leader William Pierce, published under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald. The novel takes place in a near-future in which Jews have unleashed Blacks and other undesirables into the center of American public life, and follows the triumph of a clandestine White supremacist organization that snaps into revolutionary action, blowing up both Israel and New York City. Its narrator, a soldier in the White revolutionary army, insists that “trying to distinguish the ‘good’ Jews from the bad ones” is as absurd as the way “some of our thicker-skulled ‘good ol’ boys’ still insist on trying, separating the ‘good niggers’ from the rest of their race.” Contemporary antisemitism, then, does not just enable racism, it also is racism, for in the White nationalist imaginary Jews are a race—the race—that presents an existential threat to Whiteness. Moreover, if antisemitism exists in glaring form at the extreme edge of political discourse, it does not exist in a vacuum; as with every form of hateful ideology, what is explicit on the margins is implicit in the center, in ways we have not yet begun to unpack. This means the notion that Jews long ago and uncontestably became White folks in the U.S.—became, in effect, post-racial—is a myth that we must dispel.

Antisemitism, I discovered, is a particular and potent form of racism so central to White supremacy that Black people would not win our freedom without tearing it down.

I’ve been terrorized by structural racism and White nationalist activism all my life. Contrary to a popular image of White nationalists living exclusively off the grid, far from people of color—who are imagined to live exclusively on it—White nationalists are our neighbors. As a kid in Southern California and as a young adult in Oregon, deep in a West Coast punk scene that in some ways looked a lot like the U.S. in 2017, they were literally mine. Because I grew up Black in a city and a scene where people of color were under attack by White nationalists, the immediacy of the movement’s threat and its hatred of dark-skinned people like my family and friends is something I have always known. I thought I understood what motivated them, and I thought their motivation always looked like me. What I learned when I got to Oregon, as I began to log untold hours trying to understand White nationalists and their ideas, was that antisemitism was the lynchpin of the White nationalist belief system. That within this ideological matrix, Jews—despite and indeed because of the fact that they often read as White—are a different, unassimilable, enemy race that must be exposed, defeated, and ultimately eliminated. Antisemitism, I discovered, is a particular and potent form of racism so central to White supremacy that Black people would not win our freedom without tearing it down.

. . .

Long Beach, California is planted on the line that locals call the Orange Curtain, the border between the working-class and immigrant neighborhoods of southern Los Angeles County and the White conservative suburbs of Orange County. By the time my mom and I moved down from L.A. in 1976, when I was in sixth grade, this endless sprawl of White flight was increasingly interrupted by people of color looking for affordable housing in safe neighborhoods. The civil rights and radical social movements of the 1960s and early Seventies had already been smashed by the state or self-destructed. White nationalism, on the other hand, was part of the scenery. Just down the street from one of our Long Beach apartments was an outpost of the John Birch Society, the foremost right-wing anticommunist organization during the Cold War—now having a Trump-era revival—which officially disavowed White supremacism and antisemitism but fought the civil rights movement and described the communist menace as an international cabal.

I was bussed to school in middle-class suburbs through the fanciest neighborhoods I’d ever seen, where White people rolled down their car windows to call us monkeys or tell us to go back to Africa. At school, White kids initialed SWP on their desks: Supreme White Power. One of our local celebrities was Wally George, a public access television star whose show, “The Hot Seat,” was a forerunner to the hate radio of shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carson. As teenagers we’d get stoned and watch his show for laughs. But there was fear, too, beneath the laughter. Neonazis, a kid on the bus told us one morning, were marching in a nearby park. I’ve avoided that park to this day.

(Photo courtesy of the author).

The L.A. punk scene of the late 1970s brought me into constant, unavoidable contact with proto-White nationalist youth. The scene was utopian and dystopian, thrilling and violent, gave me friends for life—Black, White, and Filipino, U.S.-born and undocumented—and killed some of them. The scene attracted the brightest minds and the burgeoning sociopaths from across lines of race and class. Chaos broke out at shows and kids formed gangs. There were racist and antiracist skinheads. Someone wearing a swastika armband might be a neonazi or might just be fucking around. The cops stationed outside shows terrorized everyone present. We didn’t expect to make it far into adulthood and we had fun, until the war on drugs intensified and we knew it was a war on us.

When I was twenty-one, working minimum-wage jobs and playing in a garage band called Sloppy 2nds, some friends announced they’d be starting college at the University of Oregon and asked me to come with them. When I imagined anything north of San Francisco and south of Seattle, all I conjured were endless stands of trees. I said no. But working one night shift, pumping gas at the Union 76 station, the Specials song “Do Nothing” came on—“Nothing ever change, oh no/Nothing ever change”—and I knew that if I didn’t leave southern California I would die soon. So I moved with a multiracial group of L.A. punks to the remote college town of Eugene, Oregon and we bunkered down in a house we called Camp Iceberg because we never turned on the heat. Sloppy 2nds disbanded and when it later reformed without me, it became Sublime, the most famous Long Beach band of all time.

(Photos courtesy of the author).

White liberals have long imagined Oregon as a kind of haven. Portland has now largely replaced San Francisco as the destination of choice for White youth with West Coast dreams of alternative living. But it is also where the White liberal imagination becomes a libertarian one: implicitly, it imagines a place free of people of color and therefore pregnant with the possibility of social harmony. But Oregon’s Whiteness—and, particularly, its non-Blackness—was the product of deliberate, violent exclusion; founded by White supremacists before the Civil War, by the 1920s the state boasted the largest Klan membership west of the Mississippi. Klan campaigns often chose Catholics as their immediate targets, because Blacks were not allowed to reside in Oregon until 1926.

The White nationalist movement that emerged in the last decades of the twentieth century grew across the country. But it was Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming that neonazis in the 1980s carved out as the territorial boundaries of their future Whites-only state, a region that self-identified “Aryans” from around the country began to colonize with nothing short of White national sovereignty as their goal. “Ourselves alone willing,” declared White nationalist leader and Aryan Nations organizer Robert Miles, “we shall begin to form the new nation even while in the suffocating embrace of the ZOG.” In White nationalist parlance, the United States is the ZOG, or Zionist Occupied Government. It was in the Northwest that the nascent militia movement—notorious in the 1990s after standoffs between White nationalist compounds and the FBI in Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas—declared war on their country loudly enough they could no longer be ignored.

Ironically, then, if I had moved to Oregon to get away from the unpromising life expectancy for a Black male punk in southern California, the people who had decimated urban life in my home state had gotten there first. In 1978, California’s White conservative voters passed the infamous Proposition 13, which cut taxes and slashed social services, turning the state into a laboratory for the Reagan revolution. Poverty and drug crime increased, and the same White folks who had gutted Californian cities in their flight to the suburbs after World War II now fled up the coast. I arrived in liberal Eugene in 1986, walked into workplace after workplace, and despite my resume, my smile, and my charm—funny, but no one was hiring. I didn’t understand Oregon yet; I thought it was just me.

Meanwhile, the growing clashes between racist and antiracist skinheads in the punk scene that had made life in Long Beach dangerous were a fact of life in Oregon as well, and often took place beyond the reach of the law. As part of their nation-building project in the Pacific Northwest, White supremacists were establishing their own common law courts, their own religions, and their own paramilitaries. They attacked and sometimes killed cops, and the local authorities, cowed, turned a blind eye. So when gangs of neonazi punks terrorized people of color and other vulnerable groups in Portland, it was coalitions of the communities under attack that struck back and eventually beat them off the streets.

I began to fight white nationalism because my world, my scene, my friends, and my music were under neonazi attack.

In the end, I began to fight white nationalism because my world, my scene, my friends, and my music were under neonazi attack. The great postpunk band Fugazi was on a national tour, and an unwanted audience of neonazis had begun turning up at their shows. Fugazi would stop playing, give the neonazis five dollars, and refuse to start up again until they left. A venue in Eugene cancelled a scheduled appearance when rumors spread that skinheads were planning to disrupt the show, and the community erupted in anger. By that time, I was a student and an activist. I had stumbled into student of color politics while attending community college and now co-directed the Black Student Union and Students Against Apartheid at the University of Oregon. I spent a semester in France and while I was away, a 28-year-old Ethiopian international student named Mulugeta Seraw was beaten to death by White supremacists on a Portland street. I returned to a community deeply shaken and in mourning. But it was in the wake of the cancelled show that I founded an organization, Communities Against Hate, in the way these things often happen: no one else wanted to do it. We created a zine called The Race Mixer (“Miscegenation At Its Finest”), reporting on the activity of hate groups in the Northwest; during the standoff at Ruby Ridge, we stood outside the Portland City Hall dressed as Klan members to warn against the spread of the militia movement. Two years later, in Eugene, Communities Against Hate got Fugazi to come back and play.

. . .

The Turner Diaries, a 1978 dystopian novel by the White supremacist leader William Pierce, takes place in a near-future in which Jews have unleashed Blacks and other undesirables into the center of American public life.

When folks ask me, skeptically, where the antisemitism in the White nationalist movement lies, it can feel like being asked to point out a large elephant in a small room. From the outset of my research on White nationalism all those years ago, it was clear that antisemitism in the movement is everywhere, and it is not hidden. “Life is uglier and uglier these days, more and more Jewish,” William Pierce wrote in The Turner Diaries. “No matter how long it takes us and no matter to what lengths we must go, we’ll demand a final settlement of the account between our two races,” the narrator promises at the book’s conclusion. “If the Organization survives this contest, no Jew will—anywhere. We’ll go to the uttermost ends of the earth to hunt down the last of Satan’s spawn.” White nationalism is a fractious countercultural social movement, and its factions often disagree with each other about basic questions of theory and practice. The movement does not take a single, unified position on the Jewish question. But antisemitism has been a throughline from the Posse Comitatus, which set itself against “anti-Christ Jewry”; to David Duke’s refurbished Ku Klux Klan, which abandoned anti-Catholicism in the 1970s in order to focus on “Jewish supremacism”; to the neonazi group The Order, inspired by The Turner Diaries, which in the mid-1980s went on a rampage of robberies and synagogue bombings in Washington state and murdered a Jewish radio talk show host in Denver; to evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson who denounced antisemitism but used its popularity among their followers to promote an implicitly White supremacist “Christian nationalism”; to the contemporary Alt Right named by White nationalist Richard Spencer, which has brought antisemitic thought and imagery to new audiences on the internet—and now at White House press conferences.

Doing primary research on hate groups revealed the contours of the movement’s antisemitism in even more intricate detail. At a time when many larger social justice organizations refused to take White nationalism seriously, regional groups like Communities Against Hate, Coalition for Human Dignity, Montana Human Rights Network, Rural Organizing Project, and dozens of others did much of the groundwork documenting its theories, strategies, and warring currents. That’s why in 1990, for instance, antiracist activists were itching to get our hands on a copy of Vigilantes of Christendom, a self-published book by a writer named Richard Kelly Hoskins influential on the Christian Identity circuit. (I scored a copy by marching into a book vending tent at a White supremacist rally and marketing it to passersby as a life-changing volume I had read at the behest of a White friend.) We learned that Hoskins’s book appropriated the Old Testament story of Phineas, a prominent Israelite who marries outside the faith and is punished for his transgression by a rogue member of the tribe who kills him and his bride with a spear. Historically unpopular within the rabbinic tradition for appearing to endorse this lawless act, Hoskins’s work celebrated the tale. To join the Priesthood, he wrote, an Aryan must act as a latter-day Phineas by perpetrating lone-wolf attacks against inferior races and their White apologists.

The Phineas Priesthood does not, in an organizational sense, appear to actually exist. But for decades, domestic terrorists—like Eric Rudolph, a Christian Identity acolyte who killed people in a string of bombing attacks at Southern gay bars, abortion clinics, and the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta—have allegedly seen themselves as Phineas Priests. Like the Phineas Priesthood, one small formation that might stand in for the whole, contemporary White nationalism has no clear center. Yet it does have a deadly commitment to revolutionary violence against racial others, and to the state apparatus perceived to do their bidding. And like the Priesthood, it rests upon a tortuous racial cosmology in which Jews form a monstrous, all-powerful cabal that uses subhuman others, including Blacks and immigrants, as pawns to destroy White nationhood.

Over years of speaking about White nationalism in the 1990s and early 2000s in the Northwest and then the Midwest and South, I found that audiences—whether white or of color, at synagogues or churches, universities or police trainings—generally had a relationship to white nationalism that, at least in one basic sense, was like my own. They knew the scope and seriousness of the movement from personal experience, and—if they didn’t take this for granted to begin with—they were not shocked to discover its antisemitic emphasis. The resistance I have encountered when I address antisemitism has primarily come since I moved to the Northeast seven years ago, and from the most established progressive antiracist leaders, organizations, coalitions, and foundations around the country. It is here that a well-meaning but counterproductive thicket of discourse has grown up insisting that Jews—of Ashkenazi descent, at least—are uncontestably White, and that to challenge this is to deny the workings of White privilege. In other words, when I’m asked, “Where is the antisemitism?,” what I am often really being asked is, “Why should we be talking about antisemitism?”

And indeed—why? Why, when the president of the United States appears bent on removing as many dark-skinned immigrants from the U.S. as he can, and when men who look like me are shot in the street or tortured to death in prison with impunity? Why, when the leadership of some mainstream Jewish communal organizations level false charges of antisemitism in order to silence critique—whether by Jews or non-Jews—of Israeli government policies? Why, after decades of soul-searching by Jewish antiracists has established a seeming consensus that Jews—with Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews posited as an exception—should regard themselves as White allies of people of color, eschewing any identity as a racialized people with their own skins at risk in the fight against White supremacy? Why, when Jews are safe and claims to the contrary serve to justify rather than to challenge racial and other oppressions, like conservative commentator Alan Dershowitz’s cynical recent attempt to discredit antiracist and anticolonial struggles by declaring intersectionality an antisemitic concept? Why, when Jews of European descent are supposedly “White,” have long been, will ever be?

Antisemitism fuels White nationalism, a genocidal movement now enthroned in the highest seats of American power, and fighting antisemitism cuts off that fuel for the sake of all marginalized communities under siege from the Trump regime and the social movement that helped raise it up.

I can answer this question as I have been doing and will continue to do: antisemitism fuels White nationalism, a genocidal movement now enthroned in the highest seats of American power, and fighting antisemitism cuts off that fuel for the sake of all marginalized communities under siege from the Trump regime and the social movement that helped raise it up. To refuse to deal with any ideology of domination, moreover, is to abet it. Contemporary social justice movements are quite clear that to refuse antiracism is an act of racism; to refuse feminism is an act of sexism. To refuse opposition to antisemitism, likewise, is an act of antisemitism. Arguably, not much more should need to be said than that. But I suspect that much more does need to be said. To the hovering question, why should we be talking about antisemitism, I reply, what is it we are afraid we will find out if we do? What historic and contemporary conflicts will be laid bare? And if we recognize that White privilege really is privilege, what will it mean for Jewish antiracists to give up the fantasy that they ever really had it to begin with?

And yet this impasse seems finally to be breaking down. It has long been the case that at moments when the left has suffered another devastating and seemingly inexplicable political loss, my phone rings more often; now that the White nationalist movement has come to national power, it is ringing off the hook. The public and private discussions I’ve had just in the past month suggest a hunger to understand antisemitism—within and outside the Jewish community—the likes of which I have never witnessed before. Certainly many American Jews who regard themselves as White are feeling less so over these recent months as the candidate-turned-president seemed reluctant to disavow his endorsement by David Duke, the most notorious White supremacist in America. Meanwhile, Jewish cemeteries are desecrated even as the administration directs the FBI to double down on the surveillance of Muslims and focus less on the White supremacists who constitute the principal domestic terrorist threat in the United States. Jewish thought leaders and journalists are being harassed on social media. Just last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer caused a furor by favorably comparing Adolph Hitler to Bashar al-Assad of Syria in remarks that, whether intentionally or not, echoed the apologetics of Holocaust deniers.

We do not yet know where Trump’s coalition will land on the question of White nationalism. That Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner is Jewish should not in itself be of comfort; there were Jews who worked with Hitler, too, and Blacks in the Confederate army. But it is important to note that the White nationalist faction of the administration led by Stephen Bannon—now ousted from his position in the National Security Council—is just one of several warring parties and currently appears to be losing ground. In other words, we do not yet have a fully activated White nationalist administration. (If we did, we’d know.) At the same time, the fact that this remains an open question at all likely invites more than a few ostensibly “White” Jews to contemplate the provisional nature of their Whiteness, their privilege. Privilege, after all, is not the same as power. Privilege can be revoked. And this means too that progressive movements and social change organizations must come to understand that all social movements have influence, including those that seek to construct a society based on exclusion and terror.

Privilege, after all, is not the same as power. Privilege can be revoked. And this means too that progressive movements and social change organizations must come to understand that all social movements have influence, including those that seek to construct a society based on exclusion and terror.

Sometimes I wish I had a better story to tell about how I arrived at this analysis—a story more dramatic or more heartwarming, somehow more about me. If I live and work, as I do, in the kind of daily, intimate Black-Jewish coalitions that were a mainstay of the civil rights movement but are now supposed to be fraught with mutual suspicion, I must have experienced a historically uncanny revelation or been drawn to the Jewish community through some mysterious pull of identification. It’s true that back in Long Beach, on days I opted out of middle school, the man at the corner deli would call me over and give me blueberry blintzes. He was the first person I knew was Jewish. I didn’t know what that meant, but the blintzes were good, and when you don’t have a lot of food, they are even better. But I also remember the delicious sushi a local Japanese restaurant gave me. I still love sushi, and blintzes, but neither helped me to understand racism or social change. There was no kumbaya experience, no light bulb, no moment where I became Paul on the road to Damascus. It was just common sense to study my enemy, White nationalism. And like any worthwhile research project, it has taken time.

A central insistence of antiracist thought over the past several decades is that, as with any social category produced by regimes of power, you don’t choose race, power chooses it for you; it names you. This is why all the well-meaning identification in the world does not make a White person Black. Likewise, as much as I draw inspiration from the Jewish community, and as much as I adore my Jewish partner and friends, it was my organizing against antisemitism as a Black antiracist that first pulled me to the Jewish community, not the other way around. I developed an analysis of antisemitism because I wanted to smash White supremacy; because I wanted to be free. If we acknowledge that White nationalism clearly and forcefully names Jews as non-white, and did so in the very fiber of its emergence as a post-civil rights right-wing revolutionary movement, then we are forced to recognize our own ignorance about the country  we thought we lived in. It is time to have that conversation.

 

 

TAKING ON PATRIOT MOVEMENT TALKING POINTS

Click here to read the full report.

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

Militias and Gun Rights

CLAIM: Committees of Safety are governmental structures with decision-making powers.

REPLY: Committees of Safety do not have any legal authority and do not appear anywhere in either the U.S. or Oregon constitutions. They are Patriot movement formations designed to carry out their political views while mimicking governmental forms to convince potential followers that they have legitimacy and power.

Despite claiming to be “democratically elected,” movement groups often appoint or select members of Committees of Safety to provide a local “front” for a national Patriot strategy. These committees take advantage of real frustrations people have with government agencies to make vigilante actions seem respectable. Unlike the justice system, however imperfect it is, there are NO avenues to hold vigilante Committees of Safety accountable to all voters. An accountability process that all can agree on is key to a just democracy.

CLAIM: Self-appointed judges and so-called “common law grand juries” can indict, try, convict, and sentence people, including elected officials, federal employees, and business owners.

REPLY: Like Committees of Safety, “common law grand juries” have no legal standing, having been dreamed up by people who share a common ideology. The real legal system is based on the U.S. and state constitutions, and federal, state, and local statutes passed by elected legislative bodies, with over 200 years of legal precedence. Historically, the legal system has been subject to a lot of abuse and favoritism. “Common law courts” take advantage of the frustrations many feel to engage in harassment and intimidation of individuals these self-appointed groups decide to persecute. On the other hand, many people who have become true believers in the Sovereign Citizen movement have not fared well in the courts when their ideological beliefs run smack into the reality of the real world justice system. Changing the abuses of the current judicial system is the work of democracy, using the democratic tools of education, open debate, and political action.

CLAIM: The occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was a legal and nonviolent occupation by peaceful protestors, just like Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, or the Civil Rights movement.

REPLY: The Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and Civil Rights movements did not vow to “not to be taken alive,” and did not argue their actions were lawful or constitutional. In fact, they planned to be arrested and jailed. Many laws were broken by the occupation; the argument that they were not is based on the Patriot movement’s fantasies that all gun restrictions are illegal and that the federal government cannot legally own the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge land. These arguments do not have any legal backing.

The right to “peacefully assemble and petition the government for redress of grievance”—to protest—is a right of the people that predates the founding of our government. That is why it was included in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As such, peaceful protest is as much a part of governing the United States as is Congress, the courts, or the presidency. Inherent in this right is that peaceful protesters may have to face arrest from unjust authorities, as one way to right an unjust law. Carrying weapons to a protest means it is no longer a protest, but an act of intimidation with a very clear implied threat of violence. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers were armed. Federal employees of the wildlife sanctuary were intimidated from coming to work by these armed occupiers.

CLAIM: Social justice organizers shouldn’t silence the Patriot movement; all events should allow open carry—otherwise they are infringing on people’s rights.

REPLY: Organizers, with all different kinds of politics, have the right to choose whom they are working with. Patriot movement activists who come into progressive circles, but who do not share the larger political values of the movement, do not have a constitutional right to join private events or to defy gun restrictions. This particular argument has been used by Patriot-types to disrupt and derail progressive organizing. We should not allow people who do not share our values to participate if their primary intention is to cause disruptions, or to advance a political agenda which is not part of our already shared values.

Rural Economics

CLAIM: Environmentalists have destroyed rural economies by locking the land up. Opening up public lands to more ranching, logging, and mining will bring back jobs.

REPLY: Rural Oregon has been in a recession for over 30 years. Businesses have shut down, jobs have been lost, and people have lost homes and had to move. Schools and libraries were closed and services cut to the bone. The Great Depression of the 1930s only lasted about a decade. Why has nothing been done to rebuild the rural economy?

Prosperity was a late arrival to rural Oregon. Before World War II, loggers were dehumanized and treated like a disposable workforce, and mill workers were subject to the same bad working conditions that all American factory workers endured. The New Deal helped to create the prosperous Oregon we remember from the 1950s and 1960s. The federal government funded the electrification of rural Oregon. After World War II, it subsidized the housing industry, creating a vast market for timber products cut from national forests. Labor unions were legalized, allowing workers, for the first time, to get a fair wage for their work.

But by 1981, federal deficits due to the Vietnam War and two oil boycotts created a terrible round of inflation in the United States. To bring inflation under control, interest rates were raised to over 18 percent, making loans, including mortgages, more expensive. Home building crashed, along with the entire timber industry. When the economy recovered by the mid-1980s the timber industry was crippled. In the new era of deregulation and easy credit, the timber industry was attacked by corporate raiders who sold off whole production lines, broke the unions, cut wages, eliminated job security, and saddled the companies they bought with debt.

A few years after all this happened, some environmentalists won lawsuits to protect endangered species on public lands. While the damage to the economy had happened years before, the “spotted owl” and “tree huggers” became convenient scapegoats for industry and politicians alike.

Opening up federal lands to cut-and-run logging and other natural resource extraction-based industries will not revive our rural economy. Before the New Deal helped to bring rural Oregon out of the Depression, we had the era of the Robber Barons, King Timber, dust bowls, and permanent poverty. Those are the “good old days” that some people want to bring back. Those who would sell off the remaining national forests for private profit are proposing to do the opposite of what we need to build a prosperous rural Oregon.

It was government assistance and planning that pulled rural Oregon out of the Great Depression. To revive our economy today, we need a new plan and more government support—not less. The new plan should revolve around conservation-based logging, domestic production, clean energy production, and restoring the forests and waterways that everyone depends on, including city people. City prosperity depends on the bounty, the clean water, air, forests, and fields of rural Oregon, and the city must pay its fair share, not turn its back on its rural neighbors.

CLAIM: Muslims are undermining our civilization and bringing Sharia law to the United States.

REPLY: First, we’ve seen these types of arguments before when Roman Catholics and Jews came to this country in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. All of these groups assimilated and became part of the fabric of American society. Second, U.S. Muslims are a small and marginalized minority, and have nowhere sought to impose Sharia law on non-Muslims, although they may be trying to live according to it. As legal scholar Noah Feldman explains, Shariah refers to God’s divine and unchanging blueprint for human life, and Muslims see humans as its flawed interpreter.1)Noah Feldman, “A Lesson for Newt Gingrich: What Shariah Is (and Isn’t),” New York Times, July 15, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/17/opinion/sunday/a-lesson-for-newt-gingrich-what-shariah-is-and-isnt.html

Oregon acted on people’s suspicion of newcomers before in the 1920s, but then it was Roman Catholics; they were the main target of state’s Ku Klux Klan. One persistent conspiracy theory held that Catholics were more loyal to the Pope than to the U.S. government. So under popular pressure, Oregon outlawed Catholic schools, an action that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. This is now recognized as a shameful part of our history, like racial segregation. The campaign against Muslims will eventually be viewed as just as shameful.

CLAIM: Syrian refugees are ISIS sleeper cells and not properly vetted.

REPLY: The United States has very tough immigration screenings compared to other countries. In a one-and-a-half to two year process, they are vetted by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, and the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security. The government takes their fingerprints and life histories; then trained U.S. officials interview each one to verify that they are really refugees. They take another step for refugees from Syria to verify why they fled their homes.2)“4 Things to Know About the Vetting Process for Syrian Refugees,” NPR, November 17, 2015,www.npr.org/2015/11/17/456395388/paris-attacks-ignite-debate-over-u-s-refugee-policy.

These Syrian refugees are fleeing a country devastated, in part, by ISIS—not spreading the group’s ideology. If you are against ISIS, you should be helping its victims, not forcing them to return to Syria where they may be killed by the group.

The Constitution

CLAIM: The county sheriff is the highest elected law enforcement authority. Therefore, sheriffs have the ability to decide which laws are constitutional. They can also tell federal agents to leave their county and/or these agents must have the sheriff’s permission to execute warrants or make arrests in their county.

REPLY: This idea was originally cooked up by White Supremacists who opposed the Civil Rights acts of the 1960s. They wanted to abolish laws that guaranteed social equality, protected the environment, and allowed federal income tax. They thought they could convince county sheriffs to resist implementing these laws. While county sheriffs are not obligated to enforce certain regulations passed by federal agencies, they have no legal right to decide which local, state, and federal laws are constitutional, and thus enforceable. They also have no legal right to prevent federal agents from performing their duties.

CLAIM: Only the “Organic Constitution” should be followed.

REPLY: The “Organic Constitution” ignores all of the amendments of the Constitution after the Bill of Rights, the first ten passed during the Revolutionary era. To refuse to accept the other amendments is to allow slavery (the Thirteenth Amendment abolished it), remove citizenship from freed slaves and their descendants, and other guarantees of birthright citizenship (Fourteenth Amendment), and get rid of guarantees of equal voting rights for citizens (Fifteenth Amendment). It would also get rid of the federal income tax (Sixteenth Amendment), and remove the guarantee of the right to vote for women (Nineteenth Amendment).

CLAIM: The “Tenth Amendment” has been trampled upon.

REPLY: The Tenth Amendment reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” When the Hard Right invokes the Tenth Amendment, it is code for “state’s rights”—especially the idea that most federal government regulations and landholdings are not legal, and should be the province of state governments. This was the rallying cry of the Confederacy and the segregationists.

CLAIM: This is a country of laws, and federal regulations are not laws. The Constitution is a document that was written for the common man and made to be easily understood.

REPLY: Over the last two hundred years, our political system has changed. The Civil War, a life and death struggle to end slavery, came about because of critical flaws in the original Constitution that protected slavery and slave-owners. The Constitution was forced to adapt. Over time, the federal government has taken on a greater role in regulating the economy and protecting the civil rights of all. The courts have ruled that this evolution has been legal, and in fact this change has taken place in governments around the world. When someone claims the Constitution is “written for the common man,” prepare to hear a special Patriot movement version of the Constitution that would roll back civil rights, environmental protections, the rights of union members, and other victories of the movement for greater democracy.

Public Lands

CLAIM: Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution says the federal government can only own “ports, forts, and ten square miles” of Washington, D.C.

REPLY: This clause says that Congress shall have the power “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of Particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings.”

This passage is the mantra for Patriot movement activists who believe the federal government is not allowed to own most public lands, or cannot own them without prior permission of state governments. But the courts have ruled since the late 1800s that the federal government has the right to hold public lands. Despite the claims of the Patriot movement, in the U.S. political system, the Supreme Court—not county sheriffs, self-proclaimed judges, or Hard Right activists—are the ultimate arbiter of what is constitutional and what is not.

CLAIM: Federal land should be transferred to state or county governments.

REPLY: The land transfer movement is a backdoor maneuver to overturn environmental protections. While supporters claim this will revitalize rural economies, it is really a drive to exploit lands that belong to all the people, for private profit. By transferring the costs of maintaining the lands onto smaller local agencies, including police, fire suppression, and maintaining roads, those lands become more vulnerable to corporations whose revenue is often far bigger than local government budgets. As local agencies prove unable to maintain the lands, the call to sell them outright will be inevitable. It is just a disguised land grab.

Conspiracy Theories

CLAIM: Our tyrannical federal government is attempting to ban private gun ownership, after which it will put us in FEMA camps.

REPLY: Various forms of this conspiracy theory have been around for decades: the notion that some shadowy force is about to turn the United States into a tyrannical authoritarian state. If Democratic presidents were going to take our guns away and put us into camps, wouldn’t it have happened by now?

CLAIM: We live in a Socialist country.

REPLY: In Patriot movement lingo, socialism is any kind of regulation of markets. Even mild market regulations, including minimum wage and health and safety laws, as well as civil rights guarantees, such as same-sex marriage, are considered “socialism.” Almost all industrialized countries are “socialist” according to these criteria.

CLAIM: Agenda 21 (and 2030 Agenda) is a plan to take over private land under the ruse of environmentalism and drive rural people into the cities.

REPLY: Agenda 21 is a non-binding United Nations resolution, signed by George W. Bush, that encourages new development to take environmental sustainability into consideration. Instead, right-wing conspiracy theorists say that Agenda 21 is a secret United Nations plan to work through the federal government in the name of environmentalism to seize land from farmers and other rural people so it can control of the country and institute a socialist dictatorship. The real Agenda 21 is now superseded by the new, and also non-binding, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The plan for global domination is sure taking a long time.

The reality is that global temperatures and species’ extinctions are spiking, and environmental regulations lag far behind the destruction of the natural world. In addition, total federal landholdings are actually shrinking—not growing.

CLAIM: The government is seizing private land to exploit the minerals there (like uranium and gold), which will be given to China to pay off debts.

REPLY: This is a common claim, usually tied in with the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory. Some said the government’s conflict with the Hammond family was an attempt to seize their property which contained uranium. Similar claims were heard about the Sugar Pine Mine: the federal government ordered the miners to cease and desist because it wanted their gold. In fact, the Hammonds have kept their property, and there is no uranium on the land (it is in the next county over). Even if there had been, it seems like there must be an easier way for the United States to pay back international debts than illegally seizing private land and then transferring it to a foreign government. This xenophobic conspiracy theory is complete with a foreign villain (China) who is taking away from the patriotic little guy (largely White U.S. miners and ranchers).

References   [ + ]

1. Noah Feldman, “A Lesson for Newt Gingrich: What Shariah Is (and Isn’t),” New York Times, July 15, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/17/opinion/sunday/a-lesson-for-newt-gingrich-what-shariah-is-and-isnt.html
2. “4 Things to Know About the Vetting Process for Syrian Refugees,” NPR, November 17, 2015,www.npr.org/2015/11/17/456395388/paris-attacks-ignite-debate-over-u-s-refugee-policy.

RELEASE: Major Investigation & Toolkit to Aid Oregon Communities Facing Militia Movements

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 3, 2016

Contact: Gabriel Joffe, g.joffe@politicalresearch.org; 617-666-5300; 617-702-2504 (cell)
To download this press release click HERE.

Political Research Associates & Rural Organizing Project Release Major Investigation & Toolkit to Aid Oregon Communities Facing Militia Movements

Somerville, MA—Today Political Research Associates in partnership with Rural Organizing Project released Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement, a groundbreaking report and toolkit designed to support public officials and community activists under siege from armed militias and other Patriot movement groups.

In early 2016, Patriot movement paramilitaries stormed onto the national stage when they seized the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, and occupied it for 41 days. Seven occupiers now face federal charges in a Portland courtroom but Oregon remains a hotbed of Patriot movement activity. Across the state, heavily armed militias and self-anointed “judges and courts” vie for public support, while a handful of county sheriffs and other elected officials actually collude with them.

This guide was developed through extensive research on the right-wing movements and by pooling the local expertise of rural progressive community activists and scholars.  It exposes, explains, and offers alternatives to this movement.

“The Oregon Patriot movement engages in the same political culture of violence as the national movement, including armed occupations, protests, camps, and marches—as well as threats against elected officials, community activists, and critics,” says Spencer Sunshine, a sociologist and associate fellow at Political Research Associates who wrote the study of the movement included in the guide.

“Making matters worse, some local sheriffs and elected officials actually support the movement,” says Sunshine. This includes Grants County’s Sheriff Glenn Palmer and former Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson. Sunshine’s investigation reveals how the movement recruits sheriffs to its beliefs, including ideas of county political supremacy over state and federal governments. He also documents the May 2015 Patriot movement rally against a newly passed gun law in Oregon, where elected officials listened as national Patriot leader Mike Vanderboegh called for the Oregon state government to be overthrown through a civil war.

“The Oregon militias are part of national Patriot movement networks. What currently looks like a rural western phenomenon could easily go national, as it did during the 1990s,” says Tarso Luís Ramos, executive director of Political Research Associates, adding, “The chances of that outcome increase if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency in November.”

New Patriot movement groups formed since 2008 include local affiliates of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, as well as the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. Researchers estimate that dozens of groups have thousands of supporters in the state, including within the state Republican Party. That includes former state GOP treasurer Ken Taylor and Oregon State Representative Dallas Heard, who made a personal pilgrimage to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation. Josephine County Oath Keeper Joseph Rice attended the 2016 Republican Convention as a state party delegate.

“As Oregonians, we have a responsibility to support those who are resisting these movements and struggling for real democratic control of their communities,” says Jessica Campbell, Rural Organizing Project Co-Director and contributing author. “Rural Oregonians want healthy and vibrant communities where everyone can live their lives fully with safety and dignity, and that isn’t possible when those who have the most guns get to intimidate their political opponents into silence.”

Up In Arms also documents how the Patriot movement takes advantage of the collapse of the rural Oregon economy and funding cuts. University of Oregon professors Dan HoSang and Steve Beda describe how local tax revolts cut vital county services such as 911 response and public libraries from rural areas as stable jobs in the logging, ranching, and mining industries —as well as federal subsidies—have evaporated. The Patriot movement steps in to provide its own alternative policing and emergency responses as a means to gain traction in these forgotten communities.

Providing alternatives for communities being targeted for Patriot movement recruitment is extremely important. Jessica Campbell of Rural Organizing Project offers strategies for how community members can break out of a sense of isolation, form a group, and speak out with their own vision of what the community should look like. The toolkit’s case studies of effective community resistance from five Oregon counties show how residents can successfully counter Patriot movement messaging and intimidation, and help build inclusive and egalitarian communities.

Up In Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement is available for free online here. Printed copies are available for $15 plus postage from Rural Organizing Project here.

About Political Research Associates: Massachusetts-based Political Research Associates (PRA) is a 35-year-old think tank that researches and exposes movements, institutions, and ideologies that undermine human rights. PRA is devoted to supporting movements that are building a more just and inclusive democratic society.

About the Rural Organizing Project: The Rural Organizing Project (ROP) is a statewide organization of locally-based groups that work to create communities accountable to a standard of human dignity: the belief in the equal worth of all people, the need for equal access to justice and the right to self-determination. Founded in 1992, ROP’s challenges to the anti-democratic right have earned ROP a national reputation as an effective grassroots organization that takes on the hard issues.

Available for interview:

Spencer Sunshine, Ph.D, PRA associate fellow, is a researcher, writer, and activist who tracks the Patriot movement, fascist and white nationalist organizing, and left/right crossover movements.

Tarso Luís Ramos, executive director of PRA, has been researching the U.S. Right for 25 years. Throughout the 1990s, Ramos worked in multiple western states to counteract anti-environmental, militia, anti-LGBT and other organized threats to social justice.

Jessica Campbell and Cara Shufelt, Co-directors of Rural Organizing Project.

###

The Oath Keepers in Oregon

Click here to read the full report.

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

Oath Keepers chapters have been active in Oregon since the national organization was founded in 2009.1)“Active ‘Patriot’ Groups in the United States in 2009,” Southern Poverty Law Center, March 1, 2010, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2010/active-patriot-groups-united-states-2009. However, most chapters seem to have been established since 2014 in the wake of the events at Bundy Ranch. Oregon Oath Keepers came to the December 2014 gun rights rally in Washington state, where then Oregon Oath Keepers Coordinator Jeff Ford spoke.2)“We Will Not Comply – Come and Take Them—Part 4 of 4,” YouTube video, 37:49, posted by “RealEstateinMoto,” December 17, 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGrh7FvKxrg&noredirect=1. They were also involved in both the February and May 2015 anti-SB 941 Salem rallies, and the Josephine County chapter was the main organizer of the Sugar Pine Mine action. However, as of August 2016, the organization seems to be losing its position in Oregon, with the disaffiliation of its most prominent group, the Oath Keepers of Josephine County.

From late 2013 to late 2014, Jeff Ford was the Northern Oregon Coordinator and Tom McKirgan was Southern Oregon Coordinator; Ford then became the sole state coordinator until after the May rally.3)In October 2013, Ford (then described as a “recent transplant from California”) and McKirgan were described as the Northern and Southern Oregon Oath Keepers’ leaders, respectively. See Volubrjotr, “Oath Keepers Unite With P.A.N.D.A. To Stop McCain’s NDAA In Oregon: Rotate Honor Guards To Ensure WWII Veterans’ Access To Memorial,” Political Vel Craft, October 16, 2013, https://politicalvelcraft.org/2013/10/16/oath-keepers-unite-with-p-a-n-d-a-to-stop-mccains-ndaa-in-oregon-rotate-honor-guards-to-ensure-wwii-veterans-access-to-memorial. In April 2015, Ford is referred to as the sole state Coordinator (as well as a member of the Oath Keepers National Board); see “Calling all Oath Keepers to help with Security at the Sugar Pine Mine, April 17, 2015,” Meetup event, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/221921869.Today, McKirgan is part of Oregon III%, and is the leader of Zone 4 (Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Coos, and Curry counties). He is also one of the two national administrators of the “3%ERS” Facebook group, which has over 24,000 members (www.facebook.com/groups/THE3PERCENTERS/admins). Facebook post, August 2016, screenshot in possession of author. (Currently the Oregon coordinator position is listed as “TBA.”)4)“Oath Keepers of Oregon” Oath Keepers, www.oathkeepers.org/Oregon. Brandon Rapolla is the state Community Preparedness Team coordinator. He is also the leader of Oregon Tactical, a founder of Pacific Patriots Network, and was part of the Sugar Pine Mine camps, Bundy Ranch standoff, and was in Burns, Oregon.5)For CPT leader, see Stewart Rhodes, “Historic ‘Militia’ Moment: Pacific Patriot Network (Including Oath Keepers) Calls On FBI,” Oath Keepers, January 10, 2016, www.oathkeepers.org/9435-2; for Sugar Pine Mine and Bundy Ranch, see James Pogue, “The Oath Keepers Are Ready for War with the Federal Government,” VICE, September 14, 2015, www.vice.com/read/miner-threat-0000747-v22n9; for Rapolla at Bundy Ranch with weapons, see “Bundy Ranch, III%, Militia, Independence,” YouTube video, 7:19, posted by “Brandon Rapolla,” July 4, 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vXYAJPrp-I. Rice confirmed with me that Rapolla was a Pacific Patriots Network founder; Joseph Rice, telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016.

The state Oath Keepers took most of its public communications offline around the time of the Sugar Pine Mine encampments; their Facebook group has only been updated once since June 2015, and the sparse website (which went offline in May 2016) does not list staff or even local chapters.6)Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160430205759/http://oroathkeepers.org. The last capture on archive.org was April 30, 2016, and the website is presently offline. There is only one post on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/OathKeepersofOregon, between June 2015 and July 2016. All of this is a rather odd public face for an organization that takes great pains to claim not to be a clandestine paramilitary. With the disaffiliation of the Josephine County chapter  in August 2016, there is only one public website in the state, run by the Baker County chapter.7)See Baker County Solutions, https://bakercountysolutions.wordpress.com.

The Oath Keepers have chapters around state, generally organized by county. Chapters that announced meetings in 2015 or 2016 include Josephine; Central Oregon (including Crook); Douglas; Baker; Linn and Benton; Marion, Polk, and Yamhill; Washington; Columbia; Lane; Malheur; and Klamath. (Chapters that held public meetings in 2014 or earlier include Jackson; Deschutes, Union, Coos, Curry, and Clackamas, and city chapters in Salem and Portland and/or Gresham.)8)For the 2015 and 2016 meetings, see: “Josephine County Oath Keepers General Meeting,” Meetup event for August 11, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/233027958; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Baker County,” MeetUp event for December 15, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/227416404; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Linn and Benton County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for March 6, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/229239175; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Marion, Polk and Yamhill Counties,” MeetUp event for June 16, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/qltlnhyvjbvb; “Oath Keepers of Washington County Monthly Meetings,” MeetUp event for April 28, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/230501466; “Columbia County Oath Keepers Celebrating our 2 year anniversary,” MeetUp event for April 16, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/229980453; “Lane County Oath Keepers General Meeting,” MeetUp event for February 21, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/228741920; Malheur County Oath Keepers Meet and Greet,” MeetUp event, January 9, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/219657841; “Oathkeepers of central Oregon,” MeetUp event for August 25, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/224780403; “Oath Keepers of Klamath County,” MeetUp event for August 20, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/224691943; for Douglas County, see “Sportsman & Outdoor Recreation Show – Feb 13th–15th,” MeetUp event, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/220476710.For chapters that held public meetings in 2014: “Oath Keepers of Oregon Jackson County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for February 17, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/165172592; “ MeetUp event , May 8, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/179696252; “Oregon Oath Keepers Deschutes Chapter Start Up,” MeetUp event for November 13, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/215776232; “Union County Oath Keepers of Oregon – General Meeting – Candidates Forum,” MeetUp event for October 28, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/215983172; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Clackamas County Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for October 15, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/204384772; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Clackamas County Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for April 30, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/176655182; Oath Keepers of Oregon Coos County Chapter Meeting,” MeetUp event for July 26, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/195777552; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Multnomah County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for July 14, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/190826222; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Curry County Chapter Formation,” MeetUp event for January 18, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/160026592; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Portland Chapter (Gresham) General Meeting,” MeetUp event for December 2, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/151832752; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Portland Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for June 3, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/119666982; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Salem Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for November 9, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/147819052.

The Oregon Oath Keepers website listed links to organizations like PANDA (People Against the NDAA), Tenth Amendment Center, Oregon Firearms Federation, American Lands Council, and National Liberty Alliance.9)“Oath Keepers of Oregon Links,” Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160430205759/http://oroathkeepers.org. In Oregon, the Oath Keepers have been building a grassroots movement, partly based on community service work and the creation of emergency-based response teams. The state website said that some of their actions included, “Building wheel chair ramps for the disabled,” “Repairing school playgrounds for disabled access,” and “Community Preparedness Teams to assist in emergencies.”10)“Oath Keepers Oregon,” Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160406033648/http://oroathkeepers.org/action.html.

In August 2015, the national Oath Keepers leadership—who had previously focused on high-profile, media-friendly actions—was promoting the Oregon’s volunteer service approach. According to the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, national founder Stewart Rhodes called on chapters to both promote militias, as well as to join local “volunteer fire departments and churches, neighborhood watch groups, search and rescue and other first responder groups, and VFW groups.”11)Devin Burghart, “Oath Keepers Roll Out Plan to Infiltrate Local Institutions [Video],” Institute For Research & Education On Human Rights, November 3, 2015, www.irehr.org/2015/11/03/oath-keepers-roll-out-plan-to-infiltrate-local-institutions-video. At the same time, many Oregon Oath Keepers—fresh from the conflict at Sugar Pine Mine—also travelled to Lincoln, Montana to help establish armed camps at the White Hope Mine.12)Elias Alias, “Press Release: Operation Big Sky: Lincoln, Montana,” Oath Keepers, August 9, 2015, www.oathkeepers.org/press-release-operation-big-sky-lincoln-montana

In July 2016, Joseph Rice, leader of the Oath Keepers of Josephine County, said that “in the last year or so a lot of the Oregon Oath Keeper chapters have stopped and they’ve disbanded. But it doesn’t mean those individuals are no longer participating in securing and preserving Constitutional rights. They’ve just named themselves something else.” The next month, his organization website announced they were no longer with the national Oath Keepers, and unveiled their new name: the Citizen Patriots of Josephine County.13)Joseph Rice, telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016, and email to author, August 25, 2016; see also Citizen Patriots of Josephine County, www.cpjoco.com.

References   [ + ]

1. “Active ‘Patriot’ Groups in the United States in 2009,” Southern Poverty Law Center, March 1, 2010, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2010/active-patriot-groups-united-states-2009.
2. “We Will Not Comply – Come and Take Them—Part 4 of 4,” YouTube video, 37:49, posted by “RealEstateinMoto,” December 17, 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGrh7FvKxrg&noredirect=1.
3. In October 2013, Ford (then described as a “recent transplant from California”) and McKirgan were described as the Northern and Southern Oregon Oath Keepers’ leaders, respectively. See Volubrjotr, “Oath Keepers Unite With P.A.N.D.A. To Stop McCain’s NDAA In Oregon: Rotate Honor Guards To Ensure WWII Veterans’ Access To Memorial,” Political Vel Craft, October 16, 2013, https://politicalvelcraft.org/2013/10/16/oath-keepers-unite-with-p-a-n-d-a-to-stop-mccains-ndaa-in-oregon-rotate-honor-guards-to-ensure-wwii-veterans-access-to-memorial. In April 2015, Ford is referred to as the sole state Coordinator (as well as a member of the Oath Keepers National Board); see “Calling all Oath Keepers to help with Security at the Sugar Pine Mine, April 17, 2015,” Meetup event, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/221921869.Today, McKirgan is part of Oregon III%, and is the leader of Zone 4 (Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Coos, and Curry counties). He is also one of the two national administrators of the “3%ERS” Facebook group, which has over 24,000 members (www.facebook.com/groups/THE3PERCENTERS/admins). Facebook post, August 2016, screenshot in possession of author.
4. “Oath Keepers of Oregon” Oath Keepers, www.oathkeepers.org/Oregon.
5. For CPT leader, see Stewart Rhodes, “Historic ‘Militia’ Moment: Pacific Patriot Network (Including Oath Keepers) Calls On FBI,” Oath Keepers, January 10, 2016, www.oathkeepers.org/9435-2; for Sugar Pine Mine and Bundy Ranch, see James Pogue, “The Oath Keepers Are Ready for War with the Federal Government,” VICE, September 14, 2015, www.vice.com/read/miner-threat-0000747-v22n9; for Rapolla at Bundy Ranch with weapons, see “Bundy Ranch, III%, Militia, Independence,” YouTube video, 7:19, posted by “Brandon Rapolla,” July 4, 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vXYAJPrp-I. Rice confirmed with me that Rapolla was a Pacific Patriots Network founder; Joseph Rice, telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016.
6. Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160430205759/http://oroathkeepers.org. The last capture on archive.org was April 30, 2016, and the website is presently offline. There is only one post on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/OathKeepersofOregon, between June 2015 and July 2016.
7. See Baker County Solutions, https://bakercountysolutions.wordpress.com.
8. For the 2015 and 2016 meetings, see: “Josephine County Oath Keepers General Meeting,” Meetup event for August 11, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/233027958; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Baker County,” MeetUp event for December 15, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/227416404; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Linn and Benton County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for March 6, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/229239175; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Marion, Polk and Yamhill Counties,” MeetUp event for June 16, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/qltlnhyvjbvb; “Oath Keepers of Washington County Monthly Meetings,” MeetUp event for April 28, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/230501466; “Columbia County Oath Keepers Celebrating our 2 year anniversary,” MeetUp event for April 16, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/229980453; “Lane County Oath Keepers General Meeting,” MeetUp event for February 21, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/228741920; Malheur County Oath Keepers Meet and Greet,” MeetUp event, January 9, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/219657841; “Oathkeepers of central Oregon,” MeetUp event for August 25, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/224780403; “Oath Keepers of Klamath County,” MeetUp event for August 20, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/224691943; for Douglas County, see “Sportsman & Outdoor Recreation Show – Feb 13th–15th,” MeetUp event, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/220476710.For chapters that held public meetings in 2014: “Oath Keepers of Oregon Jackson County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for February 17, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/165172592; “ MeetUp event , May 8, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/179696252; “Oregon Oath Keepers Deschutes Chapter Start Up,” MeetUp event for November 13, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/215776232; “Union County Oath Keepers of Oregon – General Meeting – Candidates Forum,” MeetUp event for October 28, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/215983172; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Clackamas County Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for October 15, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/204384772; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Clackamas County Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for April 30, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/176655182; Oath Keepers of Oregon Coos County Chapter Meeting,” MeetUp event for July 26, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/195777552; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Multnomah County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for July 14, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/190826222; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Curry County Chapter Formation,” MeetUp event for January 18, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/160026592; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Portland Chapter (Gresham) General Meeting,” MeetUp event for December 2, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/151832752; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Portland Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for June 3, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/119666982; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Salem Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for November 9, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/147819052.
9. “Oath Keepers of Oregon Links,” Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160430205759/http://oroathkeepers.org.
10. “Oath Keepers Oregon,” Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160406033648/http://oroathkeepers.org/action.html.
11. Devin Burghart, “Oath Keepers Roll Out Plan to Infiltrate Local Institutions [Video],” Institute For Research & Education On Human Rights, November 3, 2015, www.irehr.org/2015/11/03/oath-keepers-roll-out-plan-to-infiltrate-local-institutions-video.
12. Elias Alias, “Press Release: Operation Big Sky: Lincoln, Montana,” Oath Keepers, August 9, 2015, www.oathkeepers.org/press-release-operation-big-sky-lincoln-montana
13. Joseph Rice, telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016, and email to author, August 25, 2016; see also Citizen Patriots of Josephine County, www.cpjoco.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Races

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

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

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

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

County Races

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profiles on the Right: Three Percenters

The Three Percenters (aka 3%ers, III%ers, or “Threepers”) are a Patriot movement paramilitary group that pledges armed resistance against attempts to restrict private gun ownership.1 Adherents and supporters have been associated with threats and acts of violence. Like other Patriot groups, they depict the federal government as tyrannical. Their name refers to the (disputed) percentage of American colonialists who took up arms against the British during the Revolutionary War.

Image created by a Three Percenter and posted to the conservative blog Skeptical Eye favorably compares the Three Percenters to the Confederacy and the American Revolution.

Image created by a Three Percenter and posted to the conservative blog Skeptical Eye favorably compares the Three Percenters to the Confederacy and the American Revolution.

The Three Percenters have a loosely defined membership and a decentralized organizational structure. Seemingly anyone can use the label. There are overlapping Three Percenter organizations, including local, state, and regional leadership structures that coordinate actions and decision-making.

A Three Percenter from Idaho provides "security" at the Oregon Standoff, Jan 14, 2015. Photo by Spencer Sunshine.

A Three Percenter from Idaho provides “security” at the Oregon Standoff, Jan 14, 2015. Photo by Spencer Sunshine.

The Three Percenters were co-founded in late 2008 by Mike Vanderboegh, who was active in 1990s Alabama militia groups. Vanderboegh has said, “The Three Percent idea, the movement, the ideal, was designed to be a simple, powerful concept that could not be infiltrated or subjected to agents provocateurs like many organizations that I observed in the constitutional militia movement of the 90s.”2 Along with the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters are part of a new wave of Patriot movement groups that are successors to the militia movement of the 1990s and have had a dramatic rebirth since the 2008 election of Barack Obama to the presidency.3

Ideologically, the Three Percenters are similar to the better-known Oath Keepers, a Patriot movement group of current and former military, law enforcement, and first responders. The Oath Keepers claim to “defend the Constitution,” and interpret this as a commitment to right-wing social and economic views of the kind usually associated with the John Birch Society. The Oath Keepers promote conspiracy theories that claim that the United States is a socialist government intent on disarming the population so that a foreign government can invade. They are committed to a libertarian view of private property that opposes most federal land ownership or restrictions on private use for environmental or other reasons.4

A Three Percenter flag could be seen flying above the Jan. 2015 militia seige of a federal building in rural Oregon.

A Three Percenter flag could be seen flying above the Jan. 2015 militia seige of a federal building in rural Oregon.

Where the Oath Keepers are a formally incorporated group with a board of directors and membership roll, the Three Percenters are more like a loosely organized social movement. The Oath Keepers carefully cultivate a public image of bold but legal resistance against supposed government tyranny. Consistent with their media-ready image, they claim that they can deny membership to felons.5

Those with felony convictions are welcome in the Three Percenters, who work closely with the Oath Keepers. There appears to be substantial membership overlap and their most prominent members appear in public together; for example, Vanderboegh and Oath Keepers President and Founder Stewart Rhodes both spoke at a 2015 Salem, Oregon rally against a law requiring registration of gun sales between private individuals. This arrangement with the Three Percenters may afford the Oath Keepers a measure of insulation from public scrutiny of actions by Three Percenters.

Three Percenter co-founder Vanderboegh is well known for his violent rhetoric. In 2010, he called for breaking the windows of Democratic Party offices, and a slew of such attacks followed. He called for armed resistance to Obamacare and has published personal information about the families of legislators who voted for gun control measures.6 At the 2015 Salem, Oregon rally against state gun control legislation, he threatened “civil war” (as he did at the Bundy Ranch) as a response to the new laws. He also called Oregon Governor Kate Brown and others in the state government “tyrants” and “domestic enemies of the Constitution,” before saying, “this country has long had a remedy for tyrants—a second amendment remedy. So be careful for what you wish for, Madam—you may get it.”7

The Three Percenters have shown up at almost all of the major Patriot movement standoffs and armed camps in recent years, including the Bundy Ranch confrontation with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents in Nevada in April 2014; a Josephine County, Oregon dispute between miners and the BLM in April 2015; and a Lincoln, Montana dispute between miners and the BLM and Forest Service in July 2015. In Idaho, they have mobilized religious hatred and xenophobic hostility, organizing public rallies against Syrian refugee resettlement.8 The Idaho Three Percenters’ organizing has inspired similar actions in California. Supporters also tried to build a “citadel” in rural Benewah County in the Idaho panhandle.9

Numerous arrests of Three Percenters and those who have shown affinity with them have been documented. Allen “Lance” Scarsella, who was arrested in connection with the shooting of five people at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Minneapolis in November 2015, showed an affinity for the Three Percenters.10 So did Jerad Miller, who was at the Bundy Ranch before he and his wife, Amanda, were involved in a June 2014 ambush of police officers and subsequent shootout that left five dead, including the Millers.11 Three Percenter Brad Bartelt threatened to detonate a homemade explosive on Arkansas State University’s campus in December 201512. Bran­don D. Gibbs, who was heavily armed and armored when police arrested him in December 2014 for threatening a city official, also had shown an affinity for the Three Percenters.13 And in 2011, Frederick Thomas was arrested in Georgia as a member of a militia group, which “planned to attack cities including Atlanta with deadly ricin, bomb federal buildings and murder law enforcement officials and others.”14 Thomas was allegedly inspired by Vanderboegh’s online novel Absolved; it describes a future confrontation where activists with Patriot movement views have a shootout with law enforcement and plan to murder government officials.15


CITATIONS

[1] Co-founder Mike Vanderboegh described the concept this way in 2009: “The Three Percent today are gun owners who will not disarm, will not compromise and will no longer back up at the passage of the next gun control act. Three Percenters say quite explicitly that we will not obey any further circumscription of our traditional liberties and will defend ourselves if attacked. We intend to maintain our God-given natural rights to liberty and property, and that means most especially the right to keep and bear arms. Thus, we are committed to the restoration of the Founders’ Republic, and are willing to fight, die and, if forced by any would-be oppressor, to kill in the defense of ourselves and the Constitution that we all took an oath to uphold against enemies foreign and domestic.” Mike Vanderboegh, “What is a ‘Three Percenter’?,” February 17, 2009, http://sipseystreetirregulars.blogspot.com/2009/02/what-is-three-percenter.html.

[2] Mike Vanderboegh, “A Brief Three Percent Catechism — A discipline not for the faint-hearted,” June 29, 2014, http://sipseystreetirregulars.blogspot.com/2014/06/a-brief-three-percent-catechism.html.

[3] Mark Potok, “The ‘Patriot’ Movement Explodes,” March 1, 2012, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2012/patriot-movement-explodes.

[4] Rachel Tabachnick, “Profile on the Right: Oath Keepers,” April 23, 2015, www.politicalresearch.org/2015/04/23/profile-on-the-right-oathkeepers.

[5] See Article VIII, Section 8.01 in the “Bylaws of Oath Keepers,” accessed December 31, 2015, https://www.oathkeepers.org/bylaws.

[6] “Michael Brian Vanderboegh,” accessed December 31, 2015, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/michael-brian-vanderboegh-0; see also David Neiwert, “Antigovernment Speakers Denounce Washington State Gun Law, Threaten Violent Revolt,” December 17, 2014, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2014/12/17/antigovernment-speakers-denounce-washington-state-gun-law-threaten-violent-revolt.

[7] Devin Burghart of Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights pointed this part of the speech out. “We Will Not Comply Rally – Salem, Oregon – May 30, 2015,” uploaded July 3, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDD7GZJLSkE. Vanderboegh’s “civil war” comment is around 57:15, and comments on Brown around 1:04:40; for his Bundy Ranch speech, see Miranda Blue, “Bundy Ranch Speaker Warns Of ‘Civil War On A Vast Scale,’ Promises Harry Reid Will Have His ‘Balls Ripped Off’,” April 30, 2014,
http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/bundy-ranch-speaker-warns-civil-war-vast-scale-promises-harry-reid-will-have-his-balls-rippe.

[8] David Neiwert, “‘III Percenters’ Ride Wave of Islamophobia in Idaho to Lead Anti-Refugee Protests,” November 4, 2015, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/11/04/%E2%80%98iii-percenters%E2%80%99-ride-wave-islamophobia-idaho-lead-anti-refugee-protests.

[9] Bill Morlin, “Behind the Walls,” May 16, 2015, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2013/behind-walls.

[10] Sarah Kaplan, “Minn. man accused in Black Lives Matter shootings reportedly subscribed to ‘sovereign citizen’ subculture,” December 1, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/12/01/minn-man-accused-of-shooting-black-lives-matter-protesters-reportedly-subscribed-to-sovereign-citizen-subculture/.

[11] Mark Potok, “Alleged Las Vegas Cop-Killers in ‘Patriot’ Movement, Warned of ‘Sacrifices’,” June 9, 2014, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2014/06/09/alleged-las-vegas-cop-killers-‘patriot’-movement-warned-‘sacrifices’.

[12] Arturo Garcia, “Alleged Arkansas State gunman was investigated for saying he was ‘suicidal and homicidal’ online,” December 10, 2015,  http://www.rawstory.com/2015/12/alleged-arkansas-state-gunman-was-investigated-for-saying-he-was-suicidal-and-homicidal-online/

[13] “Apparent Extremist Threatens Police Officers and a City Employee,” December 17, 2014, http://blog.adl.org/extremism/apparent-extremist-threatens-police-officers-and-a-city-employee.

[14] Mark Potok, “Georgia Militiamen Arrested in Major Domestic Terror Plot,” November 2, 2011, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2011/11/02/georgia-militiamen-arrested-major-domestic-terror-plot.

[15] “Michael Brian Vanderboegh,” accessed December 31, 2015, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/michael-brian-vanderboegh-0.

 

Terror Network or Lone Wolf?

Disparate Legal Treatment of Muslims and the Radical Right

Click here to see the full issue.

Click the image to see the full issue

This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine.

In April 2014, an armed encampment formed at the Nevada cattle ranch of Cliven Bundy as news spread through militia networks about the confrontation between the 67-year-old rancher and the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM began to impound Bundy’s cows after he’d failed to pay grazing fees for approximately 20 years, claiming the federal government had no right to regulate the public land where he brought his livestock. Confronted with this armed encampment, the federal officials backed down, ultimately returning Bundy’s cows. He was not arrested for the confrontation,1 and as of December, he bragged to reporters, he was continuing to graze his cattle, for free, on federal land.2 Most media accounts treated Bundy as just a cantankerous oddball or, as an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times put it, “a scofflaw with screwy ideas about the Constitution.”3

Michigan Militia members, bearing guns and a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, participate in a statewide militia training event called the WOLF Challenge. Image via Photobucket and courtesy of Southeastern Michigan Volunteer Militia (SMVM).

Michigan Militia members, bearing guns and a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, participate in a statewide militia training event called the WOLF Challenge. Image via Photobucket and courtesy of Southeastern Michigan Volunteer Militia (SMVM).

More attention has been paid to the U.S. Far Right in recent years, but the media and federal representatives rarely use the word “terrorism” to describe their actions. When Larry McQuilliams, who followed the racist Phineas Priesthood ideology, shot more than 100 rounds at the Austin, TX, police station, federal courthouse, and Mexican Consulate, Austin police used the label, calling him an “extremist” and “American terrorist,” but media reports shied away from such terms, emphasizing his personal struggles.4 At the recent White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, the focus was primarily on the threat of global jihad,5 and the 2014 Congressional Research Service report on countering violent extremists discussed only Muslims (although it claimed the material applied to all forms of extremist thought).6 This February, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did release a report on the sovereign citizen movement, one element of the Far Right, but it amounted to barely three pages of substantive text and offered few recommendations for action.7

In the nearly 14 years since 9/11, more people have died in the U.S. from politically-motivated violence perpetrated by right-wing militants than by Muslim militants.8 As in the McQuilliams episode, the majority of these assaults target people who work for the government, particularly law enforcement,9 but perpetrators rarely receive harsh penalties unless they kill or severely injure someone. The disparity between treatment of Muslims and right-wing militants highlights the centrality of political power and vulnerability as factors shaping law enforcement anti-terrorism measures. The “War on Terror” creates tremendous political and social vulnerability for Muslims in the U.S. by associating U.S. Muslims with global jihad.

Right-wing militants, in contrast, benefit from the power of mainstream conservatives. For example, in 2009, the domestic terrorism unit of the DHS released a report10 indicating that right-wing activity posed the most significant terrorism threat in the United States, and that such activity was likely to increase during the Obama administration. Conservative bloggers declared the report was politically motivated and painted all conservative activists as potential terrorists, and conservative politicians reacted negatively as well.11, 12 As a result, the report was taken out of circulation, but the report’s analysis and predictions have since proven accurate.13

The ways in which federal law enforcement agencies describe and classify “terrorism” obscures the extent of violence 
by, and even local policing of, right-wing and Christian mili
tants. To begin with, there is 
some inconsistency in how different types of incidents are labeled in practice by different federal offices, even within DHS, which complicates internal communication.14 The Department of Justice (DoJ) is the lead agency for domestic law enforcement, and they classify “international terrorism” and “domestic terrorism” separately15 (see diagram). The distinction, however, lies more in motivation or organizational affiliation than in geography; for example, a terrorist incident in the U.S. will be characterized as international if the perpetrator is seen as motivated by Islamist beliefs, and domestic if motivated by militant right-wing beliefs. (It’s also a difference that becomes clear when reading the lists of official “terrorism” cases—a list that does not include, for instance, the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.)

Figure 1. FBI/DoJ Classifications of Terrorism

Figure 1. FBI/DoJ Classifications of Terrorism

“Terrorism,” unmodified, is used to refer to international terrorism, involving people or plans that include a demonstrated or attributed link to an international entity. Cases involving Muslims that clearly originate in the U.S. are classified as “homegrown” international terrorism, even though any links to international networks or entities may exist only in the eyes of law enforcement.

The Congressional Research Service defines “domestic terrorists” as “people who commit crimes within the homeland and draw inspiration from U.S.-based militant ideologies and movements.”16 This somewhat confusing FBI and DoJ distinction between “homegrown” and “domestic” terrorism produces interesting contradictions: in domestic cases involving Christian militants, antisemitism is cast as a U.S.-based ideology, but in “homegrown” cases, it’s evidence of global jihad among Muslims.

The DoJ lists 403 cases of (international) terrorism from September 2001 through March 201017: 11 percent non-Islamist (mostly FARC or Tamil Tigers), 45 percent Islamist, and 44 percent undetermined (mostly cases of fraud or financial misconduct involving someone with an “Arab-sounding” name). The Islamist category includes 30 cases considered to be “homegrown.”

The FBI and DoJ do not provide publicly accessible lists of domestic terrorism cases, which complicates direct comparisons between domestic and homegrown cases. The data that do exist on domestic terrorism, or politically motivated violence, result from examining local, state, and federal law enforcement activity to identify relevant cases. A few nonprofit institutes track domestic political violence and terrorism cases, although their definitions and exact lists vary. For the purposes of this report, I have drawn upon the two most extensive and widely cited.

The Southern Poverty Law Center focuses primarily on right-wing activity, and has the most detailed and comprehensive list.18 The period from September 2001 through December 2010 lists 50 cases, almost double the number of “homegrown” Islamist cases in a similar period, and 21 of the 50 took place in 2009 and 2010, following President Obama’s inauguration. All 50 domestic cases involve elements of the Far Right, from Christian Identity to various militia movements to the KKK and other white supremacist groups. Terrorist acts often involved significant caches of weapons and explosives, with targets ranging from the murder of government representatives to assaults on synagogues or mosques and other Islamic centers.

According to the New America Foundation,19 which tracks cases explicitly classified as terrorism within the U.S., only 41 percent of jihadist plots in the U.S. since 9/11 involved weapons, and in almost one-third of those cases, the weapons were supplied by U.S. government agents. By contrast, 89 percent of domestic terrorism cases involved weapons, and in 92 percent of these cases the arms were acquired without assistance from government agents.

Based on the statistics and analysis of available cases, there are significant differences in the procedures, charges, and penalties in domestic (non-Islamist) and homegrown (usually Islamist) cases. Despite the greater prevalence of incidents and deaths resulting from right-wing violence, U.S. Muslims experience more aggressive surveillance, greater use of informants, more severe charges, and greater use of restrictive confinement once incarcerated.

The differential treatment of right-wing and Muslim cases draws attention to the political contexts surrounding terrorism-related law enforcement, as these disparities only make sense within politically-driven calculations. Mainstream conservative politicians and media personalities protest depictions of right-wing militants as anything more than troubled but patriotic Americans, while Muslim men—particularly young men— are constantly monitored as intrinsic security risks. In the process, Muslims lose Constitutional protections for belief, speech, and association—forced to inhabit an ambiguous territory as “un-American” and presumptively foreign.

SURVEILLANCE AND INFORMANTS

The disparate treatment of the two groups of alleged terrorists begins before charges are ever filed, with how the two are investigated. Covert surveillance is, by definition, difficult to prove unless specific prosecutions or other evidence bring it into public view. A report by the New York University School of Law20 describes systematic surveillance of Muslim communities by the NYPD, FBI, and other law enforcement entities in the U.S. The widespread use of informants in homegrown terrorism cases also indicates an ongoing undercover presence. No evidence exists of similar routine surveillance of communities with significant right-wing activity, and reports and other materials about the Right produced by the FBI, DHS, and Congressional Research Service all emphasize the right to freedom of speech and expression, including the importance of differentiating beliefs from actions. Based on available case summaries, the majority of domestic terrorism prosecutions occur after the perpetrator has taken concrete action or as a consequence of other law enforcement contact, which suggests a low level of ongoing surveillance of right-wing movements.

The New America Foundation data indicate that 46.8 percent of Islamic terrorism cases involve use of an informant but only 27.5 percent of non-Islamic cases do.21 According to a report by Columbia University Law School and Human Rights Watch, 50 percent of federal counterterrorism convictions resulted from informant-based cases, and almost 30 percent were stings.22 (A “sting” refers to a case in which an informant or undercover agent actively developed the case, leading defendants to escalate their activity and often providing explosives or other materials.) The Columbia Law School report found that all but four of the high-profile homegrown terrorism plots of the last 10 years were FBI sting operations. While informants play a role in domestic cases, there is little recent evidence of right-wing cases being built through stings (although there is some history of FBI stings with environmental activists in the early 2000s).

A 2009 case in Newburgh, NY, that became known as the Newburgh Four23, 24 provides an example of an FBI sting operation. Newburgh is a small, formerly industrial city about 60 miles north of New York City, with a substantial African-American population and relatively high poverty rate. In 2011, the city was declared the murder capital of New York state. In the winter of 2009, an FBI informant developed a relationship with an openly antisemitic Muslim man who had a history of drug addiction. The informant offered him $250,000 plus additional luxuries if he would gather a group of Muslims to carry out a terrorist attack.

The man recruited three friends, each of whom had significant financial needs. Each received small amounts of cash during the time the informant guided them in developing a plan to attack Stewart Air National Guard Base and bomb a local synagogue, using explosives and a vehicle provided by the informant. The men were arrested after the informant delivered the men and the explosives to cars provided by the FBI. All four were charged with conspiracy, attempt to use weapons of mass destruction, and plotting to kill U.S. government employees, and were sentenced to 25 years in prison. A judge rejected an appeal based on entrapment, accepting the government’s rationale that the men would have eventually committed terrorism on their own—a theory called “radicalization” that has been used in multiple prosecutions of accused Muslim terrorists.

In contrast, the participation of informants and undercover agents in right-wing cases has been much more limited, and does not involve either initiating a plot or being the only source of weapons or explosive materials. In 2002, Larry Raugust, an anti-government militant well known to law enforcement, gave an explosive device to an undercover agent; he ended up pleading guilty to 15 counts of making bombs, and served just over five years in a federal prison.25 Similarly, in 2005, Gabriel Carafa, a man with ties to the neonazi World Church of the Creator and a racist organization called The Hated, was arrested after he and another man asked an informant to build them a bomb. They were charged with selling 11 guns illegally to police informants and providing 60 pounds of urea for use in building a bomb; Carafa was sentenced to seven years and his accomplice to 10.26 In both of these cases, not only did the defendants acquire their own weapons and explosive materials, but the men had extensive histories of right-wing activism.

The Internet plays an increasingly central role in the development and communication of beliefs, as well as law enforcement monitoring of potentially violent activity. However, the consequences of posting beliefs that signal the potential for violence varies considerably by religion. Adel Daoud was a socially isolated 17-year-old Muslim boy in suburban Chicago who found refuge online. In 2012, he began to post on message boards and write emails relating to violent jihad, at which point the FBI drew him into planning an attack with an undercover agent. In 2013, the agent drove Daoud to a jeep filled with fake explosives, and he was arrested after he tried to trigger the explosives outside a bar they had agreed to target. He was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, and the case is still in court.27

Compare that to the 2010 case of 26-year-old Justin Carl Moose, who described himself as the “Christian counterpart to Osama bin Laden” and posted threats of violence against abortion providers along with information about the use of explosives on his Facebook page. The FBI were tipped off, and Moose pled guilty to distributing information on the manufacture and use of explosives. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and was released early, despite having demonstrated knowledge of explosives and his alignment with a movement that has an extensive track record of murders and destruction of medical facilities.28

SEVERITY OF CHARGES

As the five cases described above suggest, the charges and prison sentences faced by defendants in right-wing terrorism cases are significantly lower than those in homegrown cases. The key difference is usually in the specific charges brought. Many right-wing acts of violence are simply never prosecuted as “terrorism,” which has significant consequences due to terrorism “adjustments” to sentencing guidelines that increase the penalty for any given offense.29 Domestic cases largely involve charges of weapons possession (including explosives and/or assault weapons), murder, or attempted murder; most of these are filed and prosecuted at the state and local level.

While weapons possession may sound like a minor offense, and often results in sentences of less than 10 years, the actual quantity of weapons involved can be considerable. David Burgert, the leader of a militia-style group called Project 7 who was wanted for assaulting police officers, was found with 25,000 rounds of ammunition and multiple pipe bombs; he was sentenced to seven years.30 In a separate case, a series of raids on militia members in rural Pennsylvania netted 16 bombs and at least 73 other weapons, but none of the militia members served more than three years in prison.31 The quantity of armaments involved in many of the right-wing terrorism cases calls for a response of a corresponding order of magnitude, especially in light of the sentences given to Muslims who never independently obtained a weapon of any kind.

Marchers with the Project SALAM Journey for Justice protest the incarceration of Mohammed Hossain and Yassin Aref, Muslim men convicted of providing material support for terrorism as part of an FBI sting. Photo via Flickr, courtesy of Vanessa Lynch, orangeinkeducation.wordpress.com.

Marchers with the Project SALAM Journey for Justice protest the incarceration of Mohammed Hossain and Yassin Aref, Muslim men convicted of providing material support for terrorism as part of an FBI sting. Photo via Flickr, courtesy of Vanessa Lynch, orangeinkeducation.wordpress.com.

Homegrown terrorism cases, on the other hand, are prosecuted using a wider and more severe array of charges. Sixteen of the 30 homegrown cases listed by the DoJ included conspiracy charges, which can carry high sentences even in the absence of a completed criminal act.

Prosecutors may combine both “conspiracy” and “attempt to commit” charges in cases in which no actual violence took place, including sting cases where the only weapons involved were provided by FBI agents or informants. Domestic terrorism cases that include charges of attempt to assault or murder almost always base the charge on the active use of a weapon—usually shooting at a law enforcement officer but sometimes activating an explosive device.

The issue of conspiracy charges throws into stark relief the demonization and excessive surveillance of American Muslims. In 2008, five men were convicted of conspiracy to murder members of the U.S. military, and four of the five were convicted of possession of firearms. Four of the men were sentenced to life and the other to 33 years, even though no actual assault or violence took place. The case of the Fort Dix Five, as it came to be known, was primarily built through the use of an informant who actively guided the youngest of the five men—then just 19 years old—to collect videos depicting jihad-oriented violence, develop a hazy “plot” to attack Fort Dix, and recruit his friends to participate. The evidence at trial included a map of Fort Dix that one of the defendants had used to deliver pizza, and the claim that paintball games and camping trips were “jihadi training.”32 However absurd this may sound, this interpretation of both paintball and camping while Muslim has been used in other trials, and notes from the NYPD’s surveillance of the Brooklyn College Islamic Society include references to “militant paintball trips.”33

The 2010 Hutaree militia case provides a very interesting contrast to this treatment of Muslims. In 2008, the FBI planted an informant with the Hutaree militia group in Michigan, and followed their activities for two years before initiating an arrest with charges of seditious conspiracy and attempt to use weapons of mass destruction based on the group’s plan to kill police officers and plant bombs at their funerals. A judge dismissed the conspiracy charges and dropped all charges against six of the nine defendants on the grounds that their hatred of law enforcement was not evidence of a conspiracy.34 Three men in the group pled guilty to weapons possession, and two of them were released on just two years’ supervision.35 While the informant taped conversations with the militia members, he does not appear to have conducted a sting operation. When Muslims express hostility towards the U.S. government or law enforcement, this has been treated as evidence of radicalization and intent to engage in acts of terrorism, but, at least in this case, a U.S. judge heard these same sentiments much differently when uttered by right-wing activists.

The majority of cases of homegrown terrorism analyzed in the report by Columbia, and a significant percentage of international cases, involve charges of material support for terrorism.36 The original statute on material support for terrorism,37 passed in 1994 after the first World Trade Center bombing, criminalized the provision of weapons, physical goods, money, or training to terrorists and terrorist organizations, but included specific free speech protections and exemptions for humanitarian aid.38 Subsequent versions of the law removed the free speech protection, narrowed the humanitarian aid exception, broadened the scope of what counts as “material support,” and increased the penalties for conspiracies and attempts to provide support. The material support statute applies to “designated terrorist organizations,” but the FBI’s list of designated terrorist organizations, available on its website, includes no domestic organizations of any ideological 
bent. As a result, material support charges have no analog among domestic terrorism cases, despite 
the existence of longstanding right-wing organizations associated with political violence.39 In
 blunt terms, if a person gives money to the KKK, they will not be prosecuted for material support to terrorists. Although it might technically be possible to bring such charges, in practice, it simply doesn’t happen.

But the material support statute has become central to the prosecution of Muslims accused of terrorism. One of the more prominent prosecutions on material support concerned the Holy Land Foundation, a large Muslim charity in the U.S. that provided aid to zakat (charitable) committees in the West Bank and Gaza. The zakat committees were not involved in violent activities but supported the social services instituted by Hamas, which was designated a terrorist organization in 1997. This secondhand connection to the social services arm of Hamas resulted in the use of material support charges to close down the Holy Land Foundation and convict the senior administrators on terrorism-related charges in 2009, with sentences from 15 to 65 years.40

The Holy Land Foundation case is not an outlier or an isolated example. In fact, 65 percent of the homegrown cases analyzed in detail by Columbia included charges of conspiracy and/or attempt to provide material support to terrorists, resulting in sentences ranging from five to 30 years in prison. The Columbia analysis of all terrorism prosecutions conducted by the DoJ from 2001 to 2011 found that more than 25 percent involved charges of material support or conspiracy, indicating that these charges are more common among homegrown cases than genuinely international ones.

Beyond individual cases, the surveillance of Muslim communities, the use of informants, and the question of material support create a fear that limits development of community support for those caught in terrorism prosecutions, effectively isolating family members of accused or convicted “terrorists.”

While the discourse of terrorism situates Muslims accused of violence as part of a worldwide terror network, their right-wing counterparts are usually depicted as “Lone Wolves,” acting alone.

CONDITIONS OF INCARCERATION

The limited data available on domestic cases makes a direct comparison of the conditions of incarceration difficult, although some inferences can be made. The U.S. penal system has developed stringent conditions of confinement and management that can be applied under a variety of circumstances, especially at the federal level. The federal system includes the Administrative Maximum Penitentiary (ADX) Florence supermax prison in Colorado, where almost all prisoners are held in solitary confinement for 23 hours of every day. According to the Bureau of Prisons, in 2013 the ADX was holding 41 prisoners designated as “terrorists,” the majority of whom are of Muslim background. The UN Committee Against Torture has raised the question as to whether the extensive use of solitary confinement in the U.S. constitutes a form of torture.41 (See sidebar: Brutality Made Visible)

While virtually all U.S. prisons have the structural capacity for solitary confinement, the federal system has the additional ability to impose two highly restrictive forms of communication control. Communication Management Units (CMUs) were created in 2006 to isolate certain prisoners from contact with the outside world; all forms of communication with family, friends, and other prisoners are limited, and physical contact with family and friends is completely banned. Muslims make up over two-thirds of prisoners in CMUs, even though they account for only six percent of the total federal prison population.42 Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) also restrict a prisoner’s communication and contact with others in ways that vary from case to case, and have become routine in terrorism cases, including during pre-trial detention.43 Since the vast majority of cases formally designated as “terrorism” in the U.S. are “homegrown,” these extreme forms of control and confinement overwhelmingly affect Muslims. Almost 50 percent of the homegrown cases reviewed by the Columbia Law School report involved significant pre-trial solitary and/or restricted communication, which had a negative effect on the development of a legal defense. These high levels of isolation and control of communication are justified by the portrayal of Muslims living in America as representatives of global terrorist networks.

While there are no comparable reports on the conditions in which right-wing terrorists are held in U.S. prisons, the disproportionate use of pre-trial solitary, SAMs, CMUs, ADX, and other highly restrictive settings with Muslims indicates differential treatment, as does the extent of organized community support for incarcerated right-wing activists.

For prisoners who are not subject to isolation and restrictions on communication, contact with the outside world can be a vital source of affirmation, in addition to mundane assistance like commissary credits or care packages. Organizations on the Right openly provide support for and maintain contact with incarcerated individuals who share their political perspective, even those convicted of murder, such as Scott Roeder44, 45 and Timothy McVeigh.46 The anti-abortion movement, in particular, generally does not sever ties to those who have been incarcerated for violence against abortion providers. This level of organization reflects how much right-wing violence is grounded in social movements, even if individual perpetrators appear to be lone actors.

SIDEBAR: Brutality Made Visible

Terrorism trials have drawn some attention to the use of harsh pre-trial detention as a method for extracting guilty pleas, and of solitary confinement for prisoners convicted of terrorism. However, extended pre-trial confinement has become the norm for low-income Americans who cannot afford bail, and solitary confinement is used extensively throughout U.S. jails and prisons, including for people awaiting trial.

In 2010, 76 percent of defendants in federal district courts were detained pre-trial, up from 59 percent in 1995.1 The Center for Constitutional Rights currently has a class action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at a California prison who are serving indeterminate sentences in SHU (Security Housing Unit, a form of solitary confinement), usually on the basis of their alleged gang membership or affiliation. Five hundred men in the CCR lawsuit have been in SHU for at least 10 years.2

Incarceration practices based on extreme methods of control and isolation also predate the “War on Terror”: the federal supermax prison ADX Florence opened in Colorado in 1994, and special administrative measures (SAMs) to control communication and contact began in 1996. Over the last 10 years, the process of resource adaptation has become bidirectional, as institutional architecture designed for the War on Terror has been used for other purposes. The use of military vehicles on the streets of Ferguson was a nationally visible example of militarized policing, but it’s not the only one. Away from the public eye, “intelligence fusion centers,” which bring together multiple levels of law enforcement, were originally intended to monitor terrorism threats but have instead focused the majority of their activity on drug and immigration cases.3

As these examples demonstrate, repressive measures and violations of civil or human rights spread outward from their original context, whether the example is solitary confinement for alleged gang members or expanded intelligence gathering systems brought to local police. Similarly, the procedures and processes permitted in federal terrorism trials also create precedents that could be drawn upon in other circumstances.

INDIVIDUALIZATION OF RIGHT-WING VIOLENCE

While the discourse of terrorism situates Muslims accused of violence as part of a worldwide terror network, their right-wing counterparts are usually depicted as “Lone Wolves,” acting alone. As a result, the social and organizational contexts for right-wing violence are systematically erased.

When the authors of the April 2009 DHS report on right-wing extremism put out a draft version for review, the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties argued for a narrow definition of “right-wing extremist” that would be limited to persons known to have committed violence themselves and exclude those who were members of or who donated money to organizations with well-known histories of violence, such as the KKK.47 The DHS report maintained a broader definition that included groups and social movements, but the overall trend has been toward viewing perpetrators of right-wing violence as isolated actors. The February 2015 DHS report on right-wing extremists, for example, focused exclusively on the sovereign citizen movement, which was described as engaging in low levels of often spontaneous violence that take a highly individualized and non-symbolic form, such as a threat or assault towards a specific individual law enforcement officer or government representative.48 For example, the DHS report describes an incident in which a sovereign citizen in Alaska conspired to murder an Internal Revenue Service officer and a judge who oversaw legal proceedings against him.

The individualized “Lone Wolf ” model of viewing right-wing violence reflects an intentional change in strategy by right-wing militant groups. In 1987, the government indicted a core group of 14 visible national leaders within right-wing militant movements, all associated with the 1983 Aryan World Congress, on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government. They were acquitted at trial, but the experience led one of the men, Louis Beam, to republish an essay he had written calling for “leaderless resistance” as a way to evade infiltration and surveillance.49 Over the past 10-15 years, most incidents of right-wing violence have been carried out by individuals or small groups, in keeping with the philosophy of leaderless resistance and Lone Wolf action. However, a decision to act alone does not mean acting outside of social movement frameworks, philosophies, and networks.

Research has shown that, at the time they engage in political violence, the majority of so-called Lone Wolves are over 30 years old. A comparison of case descriptions shows that many have had significant histories of participation in Hard Right movements.50 Preliminary findings from a study of individual radicalization point to the importance of social ties with other militants as a key element of the radicalization process, again casting doubt on the model of the isolated actor.51 Another study found that organizations whose members commit violence have higher levels of interconnection with other movement organizations than groups not associated with violence.52 The findings from these two studies fit with the age and movement experience of Lone Wolves while challenging the model of the isolated actor. Scott Roeder, Dr. Tiller’s assassin, saw himself as acting as part of a movement even if he was not representing a specific organization.

Scott Roeder, Dr. Tiller’s assassin, saw himself as acting as part of a movement even if he was not representing a specific organization.

Politically, the organizational and national contexts for right-wing activists disappear in the focus on the individual, while the individuality and immediate social context for the actions of Muslims are rendered invisible by the focus on the global.

SEPARATE LAW ENFORCEMENT RULES FOR MUSLIMS?

Law enforcement action shows two substantially different patterns in relation to Muslims and right-wing activists. The (appropriate) concern for protecting free speech and association expressed in law enforcement materials on right-wing organizations and activists stands in stark contrast to the criminalization of both speech and association among Muslims. Reports by the Columbia and NYU schools of law describe the targeting of vulnerable individuals and communities, with informants building relationships with men who have expressed certain political or religious beliefs but who have not independently voiced an intent to commit violence. The cases of the Newburgh Four and the Fort Dix Five illustrate the centrality of informants and the lack of evidence of independent violent action—or the necessary resources for such—in the prosecution of these cases. These cases stand in sharp contrast to the large weapons caches and self-organization of right-wing activists, who, like Larry Raugust, are more likely to give explosives to an informant than to acquire them from one.

The prosecution of Muslims in the absence of independent action has been justified by using a theory of radicalization that argues defendants would have eventually committed terrorism without the assistance of informants. Multiple theories of radicalization exist within the study of militant movements, including some that examine processes across diverse political or religious movements. In law enforcement, models of radicalization have been part of larger frameworks that heighten the fear of hidden dangers.53 For example, the theory of radicalization used in prosecutions of Muslims caught by sting operations derives from a 2007 NYPD report that described a “religious conveyor belt” from belief to action.54 This theory has no support in social science research and situates constitutionally protected beliefs as evidence of the probability to commit violence. The core constitutional principles of freedom of religion and freedom of speech and association are repeatedly violated in relation to Muslims in arguments made in the courts as well as in surveillance practices, recruitment of informants, and day-to-day law enforcement.

POLITICS, RISK, AND LAW ENFORCEMENT

Data on militant violence in the U.S. suggest that the primary factors directing federal attention involve political calculations and Islamophobia, not any danger posed by their communities. Speaking anonymously, a former DHS agent compared the FBI’s sting operations in Muslim communities to the practice of police leaving an expensive car unlocked in a poor urban neighborhood: if law enforcement provides a large enough incentive, he suggested, then eventually someone will make criminal use of it.

While it’s politically useful for federal authorities to demonstrate progress on prosecuting terrorism—even if it often involves trumped-up cases—the flip side of that political reality is the conservative politicians and writers who see discussions of right-wing political violence as a threat to their own constituency, downplaying the severity of the threat from the Far Right. A July 2014 study found that law enforcement rated sovereign extremists the number one terrorist threat in the U.S.,55 and the February 2015 DHS report on right-wing extremism documented the extent of assaults on law enforcement and other government personnel.56 But saying this publicly has consistently led to hostile responses from conservative media. The DoJ Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee was re-launched in June 201457 but, as of February 2015, had not yet held a meeting, according to a former DHS analyst. It’s worth noting that right-wing violence has also increased in Europe58 and Israel59 over the past several years, but this trend is similarly invisible across the Western political discourse of terror- ism. In Europe, it was the Charlie Hebdo attacks that became emblematic of terrorism, not the Anders Breivik massacre in Norway, even though Breivik’s attacks were six times deadlier.

Many Muslims convicted of terrorism can only be understood as dangerous if their actual life circumstances are subsumed by a narrative of global jihad.

The differential treatment of Islamic and far-right terrorism cases only becomes explicable through the lens of political calculation. The Right Wing is an entrenched element of the U.S. cultural and political power structure, raising the costs of high profile law enforcement action. The primary targets of federal anti-terrorism investigations have been Muslim men defined by their vulnerability rather than their power. In late February, the latest case to hit the news involved a young man who wanted to go to Syria to fight for ISIS, but his FBI handler had to procure his travel documents, because his mother wouldn’t give him his passport.60

This 19-year-old can only be understood as dangerous if his actual life circumstances are subsumed by a narrative of global jihad. This pattern of systemic targeting and differential prosecution is fully in keeping with well-documented law enforcement practices of racial/ethnic profiling of African Americans and with the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. The suppression of information about right-wing movements creates a double-erasure in which Muslims can only be seen through the lens of the global “War on Terror,” while right-wing militants continue to be depicted as isolated and troubled individuals instead of social movement actors. This combination may serve a range of political and economic interests, but it does little for the health and safety of the U.S. population.

The FBI and DoJ distinction between “homegrown” and “domestic” terrorism is a political creation and should be ended. The “homegrown” classification locates Muslims as foreign agents operating in the U.S., not as part of the social fabric of this country. The portrayal of U.S. Muslims as potential or actual representatives of global jihad is used to justify the denial of constitutional protections and leads to representing ordinary men—asking religious questions, criticizing the U.S. government, or even going camping with their friends—as a threat to society. It is past time to apply the same constitutional protections to everyone, and develop a response to terrorism based in analysis of patterns of violence instead of political costs and benefits.

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

Endnotes

  1. Jaime Fuller, “Everything You Need to Know about the Long Fight between Cliven Bundy and the Federal Government.” Washington Post, April 5, 2014. Online at http:// www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ the-fix/wp/2014/04/15/everything- you-need-to-know-about-the-long- fight-between-cliven-bundy-and-the- federal-government/.
  2. Valerie Richardson, “Cliven Bundy Taunts Feds by Enjoying the ‘freedoms’ to Graze His Cattle on Disputed Land.” Washington Times, December 29, 2014. Online at http://www.washingtontimes.com/ news/2014/dec/29/rancher-cliven- bundy-still-grazing-his-cattle-on- d/?page=all.
  3. David Horsey, “Cliven Bundy’s Militamen Are Neither Terrorists nor Patriots.” Los Angeles Times. April 22, 2014. Online at http://www. latimes.com/opinion/topoftheticket/ la-na-tt-cliven-bundys-militiamen- 20140421-story.html.
  4. Chase Hoffberger and Michael King, “Shooter Had ‘Hate in His Heart.’” Austin Chronicle, December 5, 2014. Online at http://www. austinchronicle.com/news/2014-12- 05/shooter-had-hate-in-his-heart/.
  5. Paul Shinkman, “Obama Continues Push to Separate Islam, Extremists.” US News & World Report, February 19, 2015. Online at http://www.usnews.com/news/ articles/2015/02/19/amid-criticism- obama-continues-push-to-separate- islam-extremists.
  6. Congressional Research Service. Countering Violent Extremism in the United States. By Jerome P. Bjelopera, February 19, 2014.
  7. Office of Intelligence and Analysis. Sovereign Citizen Extremist Ideology Will Drive Violence at Home, During Travel, and at Government Facilities. Dept. of Homeland Security, February 5, 2015.
  8. “Deadly Attacks Since 9/11.” New America Foundation. Online at http://securitydata.newamerica.net/ extremists/deadly-attacks.html.
  9. Southern Poverty Law Center. Terror From the Right: Plots, Conspiracies and Racist Rampages SinceOklahomaCity.January1,2012. Online at http://www.splcenter.org/ get-informed/publications/terror- from-the-right.
  10. Office of Intelligence and Analysis Right Wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment. Dept. of Homeland Security, April 7, 2009.
  11. “DHS’ Domestic Terror Warning Angers GOP.” CBSNews. April 16, 2009. Online at http://www. cbsnews.com/news/dhs-domestic- terror-warning-angers-gop/.
  12. Heidi Beirich. Southern Poverty Law Center. Inside the DHS: Former Top Analyst Says Agency Bowed to Political Pressure. January 1, 2011. Online at http://www.splcenter.org/ get-informed/intelligence-report/ browse-all-issues/2011/summer/ inside-the-dhs-former-top-analyst- says-agency-bowed.
  13. Heidi Beirich. Southern Poverty Law Center. Inside the DHS: Former Top Analyst Says Agency Bowed to Political Pressure. January 1, 2011. Online at http://www.splcenter.org/ get-informed/intelligence-report/ browse-all-issues/2011/summer/ inside-the-dhs-former-top-analyst- says-agency-bowed.
  14. Personal Communication with former DHS Agent.
  15. The FBI’s official definitions of terrorism differentiate only between “international terrorism” and “domestic terrorism,” however the list of “terrorism” cases formerly available on the DoJ website includes 28 cases considered “homegrown” and no cases involving the radical right. Online at http://www.fbi.gov/about- us/investigate/terrorism/terrorism- definition.
  16. Congressional Research Service. The Domestic Terror Threat: Background and Issues for Congress. By Jerome P. Bjelopera, January 27, 2013.
  17. Department of Justice. Introduction to National Security Division Statistics on Unsealed International Terrorism and Terrorism-Related Convictions. 2010. Online at https://fas.org/irp/agency/ doj/doj032610-stats.pdf.
  18. Southern Poverty Law Center. Terror From the Right: Plots, Conspiracies and Racist Rampages Since Oklahoma City. January 1, 2012. Online at http:// www.splcenter.org/get-informed/ publications/terror-from-the-right.
  19. “Homegrown Extremism 2001- 2015.” New America Foundation. Online at http://securitydata. newamerica.net/extremists/analysis. html.
  20. NYU School of Law Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the “Homegrown Threat” in the United States. 2011. Online at http://www. nlg-npap.org/sites/default/files/ targetedandentrapped.pdf.
  21. “Homegrown Extremism 2001- 2015.” New America Foundation. Online at http://securitydata. newamerica.net/extremists/analysis. html.
  22. Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in U.S. Terrorism Prosecutions. July 2014. Online at http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/ files/reports/usterrorism0714_ ForUpload_0_0_0.pdf.
  23. NYU School of Law Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the “Homegrown Threat” in the United States. 2011. Online at http://www. nlg-npap.org/sites/default/files/ targetedandentrapped.pdf.
  24. Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in U.S. Terrorism Prosecutions. July 2014. Online at http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/ files/reports/usterrorism0714_ ForUpload_0_0_0.pdf.
  25. Southern Poverty Law Center. Terror From the Right: Plots, Conspiracies and Racist Rampages Since Oklahoma City. January 1, 2012. Online at http:// www.splcenter.org/get-informed/ publications/terror-from-the-right.
  26. Southern Poverty Law Center. Terror From the Right: Plots, Conspiracies and Racist Rampages Since Oklahoma City. January 1, 2012. Online at http:// www.splcenter.org/get-informed/ publications/terror-from-the-right.
  27. Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in U.S. Terrorism Prosecutions. July 2014. Online at http://www.hrw.org/sites/ default/files/reports/usterrorism0714_ForUpload_0_0_0.pdf.
  28. Southern Poverty Law Center. Terror From the Right: Plots, Conspiracies and Racist Rampages Since Oklahoma City. January 1, 2012. Online at http:// www.splcenter.org/get-informed/ publications/terror-from-the-right.
  29. Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in U.S. Terrorism Prosecutions. July 2014. Online at http://www.hrw.org/sites/ default/files/reports/usterrorism0714_ ForUpload_0_0_0.pdf.
  30. Southern Poverty Law Center. Terror From the Right: Plots, Conspiracies and Racist Rampages Since Oklahoma City. January 1, 2012. Online at http:// www.splcenter.org/get-informed/ publications/terror-from-the-right.
  31. Southern Poverty Law Center. Terror From the Right: Plots, Conspiracies and Racist Rampages Since Oklahoma City. January 1, 2012. Online at http:// www.splcenter.org/get-informed/ publications/terror-from-the-right.
  32. Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in U.S. Terrorism Prosecutions. July 2014. Online at http://www.hrw.org/sites/ default/files/reports/usterrorism0714_ ForUpload_0_0_0.pdf.
  33. Chris Hawley and Matt Apuzzo, “NYPD Infiltration of Colleges Raises Privacy Fears.” October 11, 2011. Online at http://www.ap.org/Content/AP-In- The-News/2011/NYPD-infiltration-of- colleges-raises-privacy-fears.
  34. Julia Greenberg, “Michigan Militia Members Acquitted of Conspiracy; Leader Faces Lesser Charges.” CNN. March 28, 2012. Online at http:// www.cnn.com/2012/03/28/justice/ michigan-militia-trial/.
  35. Southern Poverty Law Center. Terror From the Right: Plots, Conspiracies and Racist Rampages Since Oklahoma City. January 1, 2012. Online at http:// www.splcenter.org/get-informed/ publications/terror-from-the-right.
  36. Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in U.S. Terrorism Prosecutions. July 2014. Online at http://www.hrw.org/sites/ default/files/reports/usterrorism0714_ ForUpload_0_0_0.pdf.
  37. Congressional Research Service. Terrorist Material Support: An Overview of 18 U.S.C. 2339A and 2339B. By Charles Doyle, July 19, 2010.
  38. Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in U.S. Terrorism Prosecutions. July 2014. Online at http://www.hrw.org/sites/ default/files/reports/usterrorism0714_ ForUpload_0_0_0.pdf.
  39. Steven Chermak, Joshua Freilich, and Michael Suttmoeller, “The Organizational Dynamics of Far-Right Hate Groups in the United States: Comparing Violent to Nonviolent Organizations,” in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. Routledge, 2013.
  40. Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in U.S. Terrorism Prosecutions. July 2014. Online at http://www.hrw.org/sites/ default/files/reports/usterrorism0714_ ForUpload_0_0_0.pdf.
  41. “Submission to the United Nations Committee against Torture.” Human Rights Watch. October 20, 2014. Online at http://www.hrw.org/ news/2014/10/20/submission-united- nations-committee-against-torture.
  42. “CMUs: The Federal Prison System’s Experiment in Social Isolation.” Center for Constitutional Rights. March 1, 2013. Online at http://ccrjustice.org/ cmu-factsheet.
  43. Andrew Dalack, “Special Administrative Measures and the War on Terror: When do Extreme Pretrial Detention Measures Offend the Constitution?” in Michigan Journal on Race and Law, vol 19(2). 2014.
  44. Amanda Robb, “Not A Lone Wolf.” Ms. Magazine. January 1, 2010. Online at http://www.msmagazine.com/ spring2010/lonewolf.asp.
  45. Robin Marty, “Meet Joe Scheidler, Patriarch of the Anti-Abortion Movement.” Political Research Associates. January 23, 2015. Online at http://www.politicalresearch. org/2015/01/23/meet-joe-scheidler- patriarch-of-the-anti-abortion- movement/.
  46. Prior to McVeigh’s execution, there were multiple websites that facilitated communication between McVeigh and his supporters.
  47. Heidi Beirich. Southern Poverty Law Center. Inside the DHS: Former Top Analyst Says Agency Bowed to Political Pressure. January 1, 2011. Online at http://www.splcenter.org/ get-informed/intelligence-report/ browse-all-issues/2011/summer/ inside-the-dhs-former-top-analyst-says- agency-bowed.
  48. Office of Intelligence and Analysis. Sovereign Citizen Extremist Ideology Will Drive Violence at Home, During Travel, and at Government Facilities. Dept. of Homeland Security, February 5, 2015.
  49. Ryan Lenz, “The Age of the Wolf.” Southern Poverty Law Center. February 12, 2015. Online at http://www. splcenter.org/lone-wolf.
  50. Ryan Lenz, “The Age of the Wolf.” Southern Poverty Law Center. February 12, 2015. Online at http://www. splcenter.org/lone-wolf.
  51. Jensen, Michael, Patrick James, and Herbert Tinsley, “Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States: Preliminary Findings.” National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. January 2015. Online at https://www. start.umd.edu/pubs/PIRUS%20 Research%20Brief_Jan%202015.pdf.
  52. Steven Chermak, Joshua Freilich, and Michael Suttmoeller, “The Organizational Dynamics of Far-Right Hate Groups in the United States: Comparing Violent to Nonviolent Organizations,” in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. Routledge, 2013.
  53. Jeffrey Monaghan, “Security Traps and Discourses of Radicalization: Examining Surveillance Practices Targeting Muslims in Canada.” Surveillance and Society, vol 12(4). 2014.
  54. NYU School of Law Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the “Homegrown Threat” in the United States. 2011. Online at http://www. nlg-npap.org/sites/default/files/ targetedandentrapped.pdf.
  55. David Carter, Steve Chermak, Jeremy Carter, and Jack Drew, Understanding Law Enforcement Intelligence Processes: Report to the Office of University Programs, Science and Technology Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. July 2014.
  1. Office of Intelligence and Analysis. Sovereign Citizen Extremist Ideology Will Drive Violence at Home, During Travel, and at Government Facilities. Dept. of Homeland Security, February 5, 2015.
  2. “Reestablishment of Committee on Domestic Terrorism: Statement of Atty. Gen. Eric Holder.” Main Justice. June 3, 2014. Online at http:// www.mainjustice.com/2014/06/03/ reestablishment-of-committee-on- domestic-terrorism-statement-of-atty- gen-eric-holder/.
  3. Vidhya Ramalingam, “The European Far Right Is on the Rise, Again.” The Guardian. February 13, 2014. Online at http://www.theguardian. com/commentisfree/2014/feb/13/ european-far-right-on-the-rise-how-to- tackle.
  4. Inna Lazareva, “Far-Right Extremism on the Rise in Israel as Gaza Conflict Continues.” The Telegraph. July 26, 2014. Online at http://www. telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/ middleeast/israel/10992623/Far- Right-extremism-on-the-rise-in-Israel- as-Gaza-conflict-continues.html.
  5. Marc Santora and Nate Schweber, “In Brooklyn, Eager to Join ISIS, If Only His Mother Would Return His Passport.” The New York Times. February 26, 2015. Online at http://www.nytimes. com/2015/02/27/nyregion/isis-plot- brooklyn-men.html?ref=nyregion&_ r=0.

Sidebar Endnotes:

  1. U.S. Department of Justice. Pretrial Detention and Misconduct in Federal District Courts, 1995-2010. By Thomas H. Cohen. February 2013. Online at http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ pdmfdc9510.pdf.
  2. “Torture: The Use of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons.” Center for Constitutional Rights. Online at http://ccrjustice.org/solitary-factsheet.
  3. U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Federal Support for and Involvement in State and Local Fusion Centers. October 3, 2012.

Profile on the Right: Oath Keepers

Oath Keepers Logo

Oath Keepers is one of the largest anti-government “patriot” groups in the nation.  The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) includes the organization in its list of Hate and Extremist Groups and its Patriot Movement Timeline.1 Oath Keepers differs from the 1990s wave of patriot movements in that “full members” of the organization are former and current military and police.

Oath Keepers was registered as a nonprofit in Nevada in 2009.2  Stewart Rhodes, founder and president of the organization, is a Yale graduate and former Congressional staffer for Ron Paul. Founding directors included Richard Mack, who continues as a director and the organization’s most prominent
spokesperson.3 4

The stated purpose of the Oath Keepers is to organize and train current and former military, police, and first responders to refuse to “obey unconstitutional orders.” 5  New members make an oath affirming “ten orders we will not obey” and liken their mission to resisting the tyranny of Nazi Germany. In 2014, the organization claimed 40,000 members in chapters in all fifty states,6 up from 30,000 reported in a 2011 interview with Rhodes in the libertarian Reason Magazine. 7 8  Full membership is available for current and former members of the military, National Guard, Reserves, police, firefighters, and first responders.  Other are eligible for associate membership.

The “Friends of Oath Keepers,” listed on the organization’s website, include the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), Gun Owners of America (GOA), the Tenth Amendment Center, and S.W.A.T. Magazine.

CSPOA9, an organization for “oathkeeper sheriffs,” was founded in 2011 by Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff who is known for challenging the Brady Bill in Mack and Printz v. United States. Mack has also been a lobbyist for GOA and co-authored a book with Randy Weaver about Ruby Ridge, the 1992 incident which has served as a rallying cry for Patriot and militia groups.  CSPOA is specifically for sheriffs who would “be willing to interpose on behalf of the people to protect their freedom.”10   The mission is to “train and vet them all [county sheriffs], state by state, to understand and enforce the constitutionally protected Rights of the people they serve, with an emphasis on State Sovereignty and local autonomy.”11  The mission statement continues, “In short, the CSPOA will be the army that sets our country free.”

For both the Oath Keepers and the CSPOA, the enemy keeping the country from being free is the federal government. Both groups promote and train for resistance to “unconstitutional” actions of federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, Environmental Protection Agency, and Food and Drug Administration.  They prioritize fighting any type of gun control.

Rhodes has written that he got the idea for organizing Oath Keepers while volunteering for Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, and first started a blog in which he warned about threats to gun rights in a new administration.  He reposted an article he had written for S.W.A.T. Magazine warning that after being sworn in as president, Hillary Clinton (“Herr Hitlery”) would sign a “total ban on private possession of firearms.”12  Rhodes continued, claiming that the “dominatrix-in-chief” would declare “the entire militia movement” to be enemy combatants, and order resisters of gun confiscation to be shot. The article was accompanied by photographs of Nazi atrocities.13  Oath Keeper media products feature former Congressman Paul, GOA’s Larry Pratt, and “New World Order” or one-world government conspiracists including G. Edward Griffin and Alex Jones.

The Oath Keepers capitalized on the emerging Tea Party movement and the “Ron Paul Revolution” to build its membership.14  As noted in a Mother Jones article on the Oath Keepers, Rhodes sent speakers to administer the organization’s oath at 30 Tea Party rallies in the early days of the movement.15  Association with the Tea Party, and the willingness of local authorities to participate, has enabled Oath Keepers and CSPOA to gain more access to the mainstream than many in the patriot movement of the 1990s.

Photo: Stewart Rhodes, Sheriff Brad Rogers<a href=

Stewart Rhodes,  Sheriff Brad Rogers18 (CSPOA member) and Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore speak at the Bundy ranch in April 2014.19

On April 10, 2014, Oath Keepers posted an announcement about their participation with CSPOA in the Cliven Bundy standoff with the federal Bureau of Land Management. “[We must] stand vigil at the Bundy ranch to prevent the Federal Government provocation of violence resulting in another Ruby Ridge or Waco type incident.” 16  Oath Keepers paid for the Elkhart Indiana sheriff to make the trip to participate.17

 

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End Notes

1 http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2010/summer/meet-the-patriots/the-patriot-movemen

2 http://nvsos.gov/sosentitysearch/CorpDetails.aspx?lx8nvq=s8EtUq7rLzqNBvRDF%252b%252fglQ%253d%253d&nt7=0

3 Other directors listed on the Nevada registration are Jeff Ford, James Hanna, Michele Imburgia, Sharon M. Manery, John Shirley, L. Franklin Shook III, and Jay Stang.  Jay Stang is head of Texas Oath Keepers and the son of the late Alan Stang.

4 Stewart Rhodes continues as president and Richard Mack is on the current board of directors.  Other current directors are Michele Imburgia, L. Franklin Shook III, John D. Shirley, Jay Stang, David Helms, Jeff W. Ford, and Jim Ayala.  http://oathkeepers.org/oktester/board-of-directors/

5 http://oathkeepers.org/oktester/about/

6 https://web.archive.org/web/20140414202439/http://oathkeepers.org/oath/2014/04/10/coalition-of-western-state-legislators-sheriffs-and-veterans-stand-vigil-in-support-of-embattled-nevada-rancher-cliven-bundy-%E2%80%98to-prevent-another-ruby-ridge-or-waco%E2%80%9D/

7 http://reason.com/archives/2011/02/07/an-interview-with-stewart-rhod

8 http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/03/oath-keepers

9 http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/11/22/profiles-on-the-right-constitutional-sheriffs-and-peace-officers-association/

10 http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2012/winter/resurrection

11 http://cspoa.org/about/message-from-mack/

12 http://oath-keepers.blogspot.com/2009/05/keeping-your-oath-not-just-following.html

13 http://oath-keepers.blogspot.com/2009/05/keeping-your-oath-not-just-following.html

14 For more on the ideology of the Ron Paul Revolution and the promotion of nullification of federal law, see “Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right” beginning on page 2 of the Fall 2014 Public Eye. http://www.politicalresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/12/PEfall2013_finalpdf_onserver.pdf

15 http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/03/oath-keepers?page=2

16 Archive of http://oathkeepers.org/oath/2014/04/10/coalition-of-western-state-legislators-sheriffs-and-veterans-stand-vigil-in-support-of-embattled-nevada-rancher-cliven-bundy-%E2%80%98to-prevent-another-ruby-ridge-or-waco%E2%80%9D/

17 http://www.elkharttruth.com/news/politics/Indiana-Buzz/2014/04/29/Elkhart-County-Sheriff-Brad-Rogers-defends-trip-to-Cliven-Bundy-ranch.html

18 http://www.elkhartcountysheriff.com/sheriff.html

19 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVLJnqwIezs

The Patriot and Armed Militia Movements

Groups that have consciously and unconsciously adopted the countersubversion model promoted by centrist/extremist theory were quick to call for increased government power to fend off the perceived threat to law and order posed by the armed militia movement. Calls to unleash the FBI were especially strident following the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

A typical example was a Wall Street Journal column by Max Boot who reached back to the countersubversion scapegoating of earlier times. Boot suggested that a wave of serious anarchist terrorism began with opposition to US participation in World War One. According to Boot, “From 1914 to 1917, anarchists set off a number of blasts in New York and Boston. Most didn’t cause any major injuries, but a 1917 explosion in Milwaukee killed 10 policemen,”101 Boot then implied that the widespread government repression of the post-WWI period was at least mitigated by what Boot sees as the successful crushing of the dangerous subversive anarchist terror movement. He then draws parallels to right-wing militias of today and suggests their potential for terror can best be handled by granting the government sweeping powers of surveillance and infiltration. But reliable accounts of the period after WWI differ with Boot’s description of events. He is using a popular countersubversion myth to justify new state repression.102 Read More