I’ll be a doing a speaking tour in Germany leading up to the US elections, as well as a couple dates in London. There are two different talks I will be giving: one is on the U.S. radical right in the age of Trump, and the other is on U.S. Left/Right crossover movements (which in Germany is recognized as an issue for the Left, more than in the U.S.).Read More »
I started working on this report two months before the Malheur occupation – which threw quite a wrench in the thing. But now it’s finally finished. A joint project from Political Research Associates and the Rural Organizing Project, Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement explains the Patriot movement’s national structure and goals; shows its decades-old history in Oregon; looks in-depth at six Oregon counties where Patriot movement organizing is strongest today; explains why the rural Oregon economy is in bad shape; and offers concrete suggestions—including numerous examples from the last year—of how Oregonians have counter-organized against this movement.
Spencer Sunshine, with Jessica Campbell & Rural Organizing Project, Political Research Associates, Daniel HoSang, Steven Besa, and Chip Berlet, Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement (Somerville, MA: Political Research Associates & Rural Organizing Project, October 2016), 188 pages.
Just as they have been since January 2, an armed, mostly White, mostly male group of radical right-wing paramilitaries are still occupying the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. So far, local and federal authorities in nearby Burns, Oregon, have taken almost no action. At press time, the buildings are not surrounded by law enforcement. They have electricity, heat and Internet access. Members of the press, supporters and FedEx workers can drive right up to the occupied territory.
A nearby restaurant called The Narrows is still open, too. One can walk in and see a number people—mostly a mixture of media and armed occupiers—enjoying the warm food, Wi-Fi and bar. The atmosphere recalls the cantina scene from the first “Star Wars.”
I dish the inside dirt, and our analysis, on the Malheur occupation in an interview with It’s Going Down.
Contrary to the impression you may get from recent media coverage, the occupation of the Oregon Malheur Wildlife Refuge is not led by ranchers who are tired of being pushed around by the federal government. Instead, the armed occupiers are self-selected militants from the Patriot movement’s paramilitary network—known for invading rural communities and staging armed protests that distract from local attempts to fix real economic problems.
These paramilitary groups work by latching onto local events and manipulating them to serve a general political ideology. The case of Dwight and Steven Hammond elicited widespread community support, but there was no local interest in staging an armed resistance to the court’s decision to return them to prison. Nonetheless, Patriot movement activists including the Bundys and members of the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers held an armed march in Burns, Oregon. Then Ammon Bundy and a handful of allies drove to the Malheur Refuge buildings to make their political stand. They used the movement’s usual bait-and-switch strategy: a protest against an unpopular prison sentence turned into a call to privatize federal land.
Read the full article at The Progressive
This is an expanded version of a talk given at the Rural Organizing Project’s Rural Caucus and Strategy Session in Woodburn, Oregon on June 13, 2015.
The Patriot Movement: From Posse Comitatus to the Oath Keepers
In April 2015, armed right-wing paramilitaries converged on a mining claim in the Galice Mining District near Grants Pass in Josephine County, Oregon. Organizationally, it was a combination of different parts of what is called the Patriot movement: militias, 3%ers, Sovereign Citizens, and the Oath Keepers.
The Patriot movement is a form of extreme right politics that exists between the Tea Party end of the Republican Party and the white supremacist movement.* Generally those in the Patriot movement view the current U.S. federal government as an illegitimate, totalitarian state. They see the militias that they are building—and allied county sheriffs—as political-military formations that will eventually replace the current federal government.
Many of their movement’s tactics originate in white supremacist politics, mixed with ideas derived from anti-Communist conspiracy theories of the John Birch Society. According to Daniel Levitas, the group that first espoused many of the basic Patriot concepts was Posse Comitatus, whose founder, William Potter Gale, was a member of the racist Christian Identity religion. In the 1960s, he started to advocate Posse Comitatus (power of the county), based on the idea that the county sheriff is the highest political authority of the land. Gale thought that, in the post-Civil Rights era, the federal government was a totalitarian state run by a cabal of Jews. “County power” would allow people to ignore Supreme Court decisions and federal laws about civil rights and income tax, and allow a return to white supremacy and unfettered capitalism, free from federal regulations. Posse Comitatus also advocated for armed citizens’ militias and crank legal filings, which set the foundation for the formation of militias and Sovereign Citizen ideas, respectively. In 1976, the FBI estimated there were 12,000–50,000 Posse members.
In the not-so-distant past, one had little problem identifying a White separatist. Generally, they came in two styles: white hoods and burning crosses, or oxblood Doc Martens and swastika tattoos. Both were usually shouting vulgar epithets about African-Americans, Jews, and LGBTQ folks. And their relationship with the Left was usually in the form of breaking either bookstore windows or activists’ bones—if not outright murder. Barring them from progressive spaces was an act of physical self-preservation—not a show of political principles in drawing a line against ideological racism and fascism.
Today, White separatists don’t always come in such easily identifiable forms, either in their dress or politics. A part of the White separatist and related Far Right movement has taken some unusual turns. Some fascists seek alliances with ultranationalist people of color—a few of whom, in turn, consider themselves fascists. New types of groups embrace White separatism under a larger banner of decentralization. For many decades, the Far Right has disguised or rebranded its politics by establishing front groups, deploying code words, or using other attempts to fly under the radar. As the years pass by, some of these projects have taken on lives of their own as these forms have been adopted by those with different agendas. Simultaneously, there is a revival of fascist influence within countercultural music scenes. And intertwined with these changes is a renewed attempt on the part of some White separatists to participate in, or cross-recruit from, progressive circles.
This essay was written after a multi-year collaboration with a number of anti-fascist activists; we have struggled to understand this new phenomenon and craft ways to deal with it. I will attempt to: explain why Far Right actors should not be allowed to participate in progressive circles, suggest criteria regarding where the line should be drawn in defining which politics are problematic enough to take action against, and offer suggestions on how to communicate with and encourage individuals who may want to leave those movements.