I have a new peer-reviewed journal article (my first!), which I co-authored with Chip Berlet: “Rural Rage: The Roots of Right-Wing Populism in the United States.” This analysis of the U.S. Patriot movement is part of the “Forum on Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World” published by the Journal of Peasant Studies. It includes 243 endnotes, if that’s your kinda thing.
Two things set Independent Trumpism apart from usual right-wing politics. First, the group’s rallies are in support of the president, but are organized outside of the Republican Party structure. Second, mainstream Republicans are appearing alongside open White supremacists, especially at events billed as “Free Speech” marches.
Independent Trumpists will hit the streets tomorrow (June 10) for a national March Against Sharia, organized by the large anti-Islam group ACT America. Saturday’s events are expected to draw thousands of people in 28 cities, in 20 states. Here is a six-month chronology of major Independent Trumpist moments that led to this one:
January 20, 2017: Alt-Right Violence at the University of Washington in Seattle
A University of Washington talk by Milo Yiannopoulos—the notorious Twitter troll, ardent Trump supporter and former Breitbart editor credited with mainstreaming the alt-right—draws a large protest. A married couple, Marc and Elizabeth Hokoana, come to the event armed with pepper spray and a handgun to antagonize opponents. After protester Joshua Dukes confronts Marc about using the pepper spray, Elizabeth allegedly fires a single round into his stomach.”
Read the rest at Colorlines
“As the far right becomes more vocal around the country, the Trump administration is not the only arm of government serving its interests. Some members of Congress are closer to fringe right-wing groups than they might care to admit. In February, Oregon Representative Greg Walden introduced a new, vaguely titled bill, “Resource Management Practices Protection Act of 2017” (H.R.983). This bill might look benign at first glance, but in fact, it is a codification of structural racism, a political gift to right-wing paramilitaries, and a double standard in favor of the radical right.
The bill would exempt fires set in the course of agricultural work from a federal arson charge that can trigger enhanced sentences under a draconian terrorism act. It is the delivery of a promise that Walden first made on the floor of Congress just three days after the start of the armed occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in January 2016. With this bill, Walden is trying to make a “carve-out” for a group that is largely white and right wing from unfair mandatory minimums that affect many people, especially people of color and Muslims. The bill entrenches the notion that certain groups of people can be sentenced under a wide-ranging “terrorism” act that subjects them to brutal heightened sentences — while exempting others, who are white and firmly installed on the far right end of the political spectrum.”
Read the rest at Truthout
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.
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.
Originally published at US Uncut (http://usuncut.com/news/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-oregon-militia-takeover/). As of March 2017, their website is down, so I am reposting the article here. It received almost 90,000 social media shares and was viewed three-quarters of a million times.
“I Studied Oregon’s Militia Movement. Here’s 5 Things You Need to Know”
January 3, 2016
‘Patriot’ groups are a spinoff cult of white supremacists.
While the news of the Bundy gang forcefully taking over a federal building in Oregon may come as a surprise to some, the occupation is part of a larger pattern for those who have studied far-right political movements. Here are five points that provide a greater context for why this is happening, who the occupiers are, and who actually supports their radical viewpoints.
1. It’s actually a land grab — with guns
Despite the talk about supporting the Hammond family in Burns, Oregon, the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters is actually part of a long-standing campaign by radical right-wingers to dismantle federal land ownership in the West. Some elected officials are working through mainstream channels to get lands transferred to state or county governments, or to allow them equal say over their use. But the Malheur takeover seems to be an attempt to spread a tactic of armed federal land takeovers. These armed groups are part of the “Patriot movement”—the successor to the 1990s militia movement—which has seen a rebirth since the election of Barack Obama in 2008.
2. The paramilitaries are powered by conspiracy theories
“Agenda 21” was denounced in at least one sign at the march in Burns that preceded the takeover. Agenda 21 is a non-binding UN resolution recommending sustainable ecological development. But it’s been turned into a conspiracy theory by the right, which sees a sinister global socialist agenda in things as small as building a local park. Patriot movement activists don’t see what’s happening to Dwight and Steven Hammond as an unusual-but-unfair legal case. Instead, they are portraying it as part of a socialist agenda to seize rural private land and drive predominantly white farmers into the cities. There, they believe the government will detain right-wing activists, seize privately held guns, turn the cities into concentration camps, and allow the UN (or China) to invade.
3. The ‘Patriot’ movement is a child of the White Power movement
Many of the tactics and talking points being used were popularized in the 1970s by the white supremacist group Posse Comitatus. This group promoted the “Christian Patriot” movement, advocated the formation of “Citizens Militias,” helped forge an idiosyncratic reading of the Constitution, said the county sheriff was the highest elected official that should be obeyed, and opposed federal environmental restrictions.
Over the years, these ideas took on a life of their own, even though few of the activists using these ideas today are ideological white supremacists. For example, they still try to recruit county sheriffs; the sheriff in Harney County (where Burns is located) was asked to provide sanctuary for the Hammonds from the federal government. He refused.
Activists such as Cliven Bundy’s son, Ammon Bundy (who is leading the Malheur occupation), claim that what is happening to the Hammonds is unconstitutional. This view of the Constitution is based on a position promoted by Posse Comitatus. They held that the Constitution could be interpreted by individual right-wing activists in a way that allowed them to have more jurisdiction than federal courts do. The Sovereign Citizens are the best-known movement that promotes these crank legal theories today. For example, Pete Santilli, who livestreamed the Burns march and went to the Malheur takeover, promotes these ideas.
4. Federal government policies have allowed this situation to happen
Although there is no written federal rule that is publicly known, those who study the radical right largely believe that the federal government has a policy not to directly confront armed right-wing groups. The disastrous handling of the Waco and Ruby Ridge sieges in the early 1990s apparently convinced the feds to take a softer approach. This seemed to have paid off when the Sovereign Citizens at the “Justus Township” surrendered peacefully in 1996. But after 9/11, even as the feds have cracked down hard on all kinds of radical political activity (for example, many eco-saboteurs who never killed or injured anyone were sentenced under terrorism laws), the radical right has received almost a complete pass.
The April 2014 standoff at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch—when Patriot movement activists came to the aid of a radical right-wing rancher who refused to pay his fees for grazing on public land and trained rifles on federal agents—was taken as a green light for similar actions. The federal government has not prosecuted Cliven Bundy or his allies for anything that happened there. This has apparently convinced the Bundy family (three of whom reportedly are at Malheur) that the feds will acquiesce to armed takeovers.
5. There is widespread opposition to the Malheur takeover
The takeover attempt is not popular with many in Oregon. When a convoy of Patriot movement activists heading to Burns left from Bend, Oregon on Saturday, they were met with counter-protesters from the community. In Burns, many in the town have objected to the presence of the “Bundy militia.”
The Patriot movement groups are aware of this. A number of Patriot movement activists denounced any support of the Hammonds beforehand. The Oath Keepers, a national group, refused to come to the march, saying the Hammonds had not asked for help. Furthermore, the group said that Oregon members who helped organize the protest would be reprimanded. And, although details are not known, it appears that the vast majority of activists who are taking over Malheur are largely out-of-staters from Nevada and Arizona. While they hope to rally widespread support, that doesn’t seem to be happening.
Black Lives Matter protests have electrified the country—mobilizing a wide and multiracial grassroots movement challenging the killing of often unarmed Black Americans by police and the pervasive, systemic racism that continues to fundamentally shape American society. This marks the first time since the 1992 Los Angeles riots—ignited by the acquittal of four LAPD officers after they were videotaped beating Black motorist Rodney King—that the United States has seen a national movement challenging the most lethal outcropping of the many-headed hydra of structural racism: local police departments.
The Right has responded with its usual bag of tricks, as it tries to ensure that the U.S. racial hierarchy remains intact.