It Takes A Militia
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 11:57:43 PM EST
When president Obama was reelected in 2012, a Texas man named Micah Hurd earned his 15 minutes of fame by launching a petition to the White House to let Texas secede from the Union. The effort might have gone unnoticed -- except that it drew 125,000 signatures and made national news. (The White House rejected the petition.)

Since then, the movement in support of the far right notion that states have the right to "nullify" federal court decisions and legislation as well as the right to secede from the Union, has grown.  Neo-Confederatism is rising.  But this post is not about that.

Columnist Bud Kennedy reports in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram that Hurd, age 24, a Marine Reservist and a member of the Texas State Guard, has dropped out of college, resigned from the Guard, and joined a militia. This is interesting, but what is news are his reasons why.

He said he bases his views in part on his faith as a follower of Christian Reconstructionism and dominionism, a libertarian strain of Christianity.

To Reconstructionists, liberty and human rights are Bible-based and the only righteous government is a theocracy under "God's law."

"Nowhere in God's law does it say I must continue to be subject to a tyranny," Hurd said.

"We can remove ourselves from our fiscally irresponsible government."

He fears the federal government "stepping in and mandating a sweeping change of laws to limit our rights," he said.

"Those rights are God-given."...  Hurd said converting Texas or America to a religious theocracy is a "long-term goal -- it might take 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 years."

He is not the only secessionist thinking that way.

Kennedy's column is important, not only for following-up on a figure who achieved national notoriety, (however briefly) but because it reveals Hurd as a man who is not the exception.  Rather, Hurd epitomizes the growing trend of theocratic dominionism as a dangerous ideological factor in American public life.  While a convergence of related ideas forms the theocratic ideology that informs much of the Christian Right, it also has long informed the anti-abortion and the militia movements as well. And while it is true that the theologians of Christian Reconstruction generally take the very long view, as a matter of practice, some people see the need to fight for God's Law in the here and now.

In 2010, I wrote about how this trend was an underlying factor for anti-abortion violence from such assassins as Paul Hill and Scott Roeder:  

At his sentencing Roeder said that in murdering Dr. Tiller, he believed he was acting to enforce "God's Law." Roeder, as part of his statement to the court, read from the posthumously published book by Rev. Paul Hill, a Christian Reconstructionist who viewed himself as a "Phineas Priest"--a kind of biblical vigilante assassin--who was executed for the [1993] murder of a Florida abortion provider and his security escort. Hill also believed in the need for militias and for a theocratic Christian revolution.

It has also been an underlying ideological factor in the formation of anti-government militias. I wrote in Intelligence Report, the magazine of the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1998:  

Reconstructionism, which arose out of conservative splinters of mainstream Presbyterianism (Orthodox and Reformed), proposes contemporary use of the laws of Old Testament Israel, or "biblical Law," as the basis for "reconstructing" society under an explicitly theocratic government.

High on the list of capital crimes, Reconstructionists say, is abortion, along with homosexuality and the "propagation of false doctrines."

The defining text of Reconstructionism is Institutes of Biblical Law, published in 1973 by Rousas John Rushdoony. In the 800-page explanation of the Ten Commandments and the biblical "case law" deriving from them, Rushdoony declares: "All law is religious in nature, and every non-Biblical law-order represents an anti-Christian religion. Every law-order is a state of war against the enemies of that order, and all law is a form of warfare."

Initially, Reconstructionism provided a theological argument for evangelical Christian involvement in politics. In subtle ways, it has undergirded the ideology of much of the broader Christian Right, influencing such leaders as televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Reconstructionism is the dominant ideological strain of the far-right U.S. Taxpayers Party, headed by Rushdoony disciple Howard Phillips.

The late Francis Schaeffer, a Reformed Presbyterian, also was influenced by Reconstructionism. His widely distributed books and films of the 1970s and early 1980s are generally credited with providing an important catalyst for evangelical involvement in anti-abortion politics.

Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, a charismatic evangelical, was originally inspired by Schaeffer, although within a few years he went beyond him. In 1988, Terry was personally tutored by a leading Reconstructionist thinker, Gary North, according to the recent book Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War, by James Risen and Judy L. Thomas.

'A Time To Kill'

Also in 1988, North wrote a book urging anti-abortion organizations to move beyond Schaefferism and forge a theocratic movement that might eventually force "a political and military" confrontation.

Operation Rescue's "physical interposition" at clinics, he believed, was but the first step "in the philosophical war against political pluralism. ... Christian leaders can see where these protests may be headed, even if their followers cannot: to a total confrontation with the civilization of secular humanism."

There is much more that could -- and should -- be written about all this. (Arguably, it already has been, by me and by many others.) But for now, I will stop here and just say that I write this out of acknowledgment that the depth and breadth of our cultural capacity to say it can't happen here; to deny and pooh pooh the obvious, is more profound than I could ever have imagined.




Display:
Christian Taliban.

by NancyP on Mon Sep 16, 2013 at 02:19:49 PM EST
Forgive me for having to be very blunt, NancyP, but this is precisely the kind of glib, counterproductive name-calling and demonization that so hobbles meaningful discourse on this general subject.  From the earliest days at Talk to Action,we have identified name calling and demonization as part of the problem, not the solution.    

There is much that could be said about this, but I will stick to a few main points,

First, whatever similarities there may be, the differences between the Taliban and any element of the American Christian Right are far greater and more significant than the similarities. (We can say the same about the Nazis.)

Second, it should be obvious -- even by the dubious standards of our overheated public life --  that among the many reasons why it is important not to make such as comparison is that our country is at war with the Taliban.  We went to war with and drove out the Taliban government of Afghanistan because they sheltered and refused to turn over Osama Bin Ladin in the wake of 9/11.  We have sent troops to that country to militarily defeat the Taliban and have killed many thousands. Thousands of civilians as well as American and NATO service members have died as well. Let's not dishonor any of them by making cheap and counterproductive analogies to the horrors of this war and its origins.  And perhaps most importantly:  however misguided we think they may be let's be very clear that we do not want anyone to kill them, as the use of the term Christian Taliban implies.  Now one might 'say wait a minute, that's now what I meant!' But the thing is that this label is loaded language; and the thing about loaded language is that you never know when it may explode.   And that is where this part of the problem begins.  How the meaning of term is given and how it is received may be different. There is a point at which an insult may be taken as a threat.   We have no interest in feeding the fear and paranoia of those drawn to secession and militias.  So let's not.

Third, the members of the Christian Right are often people who live in our communities, serve in our government, and work in our farms, factories and hospitals.  Whatever else they may be as groups and individuals, and whatever we may think about what they believe and what they do and how they do it --  they are us, and we are them.  

Let's not call anyone the Christian Taliban.  Definitely not on this site.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Sep 16, 2013 at 09:35:36 PM EST
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Third, the members of the Christian Right are often people who live in our communities, serve in our government, and work in our farms, factories and hospitals.  Whatever else they may be as groups and individuals, and whatever we may think about what they believe and what they do and how they do it --  they are us, and we are them.  

Yeah, I know ALL about them.  They torched my workshop (a blow that I've never recovered from and never received any sort of justice -like usual- about), poisoned our kitties, prevented decent employment, harassed, stalked, and threated us.  Many walkaways (such as dogemperor and others I know) have received credible death threats.  I did - and it took involving the North Carolina state police to get the person making that threat to back off (after he'd internet stalked me for months).

They are NOT us, and I refuse to recognize any connection to them.  If we were them, they wouldn't do those things.  If "They are us", then this nation deserves to be wiped from the face of the earth... but knowing as many innocent and decent folks as I do (since I left the damned churches and only associate with liberal folks -who aren't perfect but could be considered so in comparison to before), I also refuse to accept the idea that they are us and we are them.  The difference between the good people I know and the dominionists is THAT stark.  They are the enemy within.

The parallels are far greater than you give them credence for.  Those of us who are walkaways see the parallels, and recognize the dire threat they pose.  We were part of them, after all, and most walkaways can testify to the hellish existence that dominionism brings about.

"Being nice" to them is counterproductive at the least.  It's tantamount to denying that they are as much of a threat to the country and to individuals who resist them as they are - and with the brainwashed and programmed mindset of the American public, they won't hear the message (you have to break through the fog with stark and clear language).  The fight against dominionism is far more than an academic exercise... if they keep going, I expect your life and and those of all of the others to be in jeopardy even as ours have been.

I know you don't agree with me on this, but when you look at the damage they do to people and the effect they create, the comparison to the Taliban (or any other extreme fundamentalist group) is pretty accurate.  Denying the parallels is in effect letting them control the language about them.  Maybe I see a different side to them than you do... but our viewpoint needs to be considered just as much as any other - it's just as valid.

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Sep 17, 2013 at 11:08:18 AM EST
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There is no doubt that Clarkson, Berlet, Tabachnick, and others would agree with you that the Christian Right poses a significant threat not only to American democracy (see Eternal Hostility); but also to the social fabric of this country (see Eyes Right!); and, poses an existential threat to persons of color and all other believers, no matter what their belief system, religious or scientific (see Tabachnick on the NAR). But, calling them the "Christian Taliban" is not helpful, as Clarkson pointed out. But, there is a way of making your point. For example, based on my own research, there is no doubt that the Christian Right is engaged in a "cosmic war" against the federal government--a war with real psychological and physical consequences, including destruction and death. There is no doubt that the Christian Right is waging a Fourth Generation War against the federal government to delegitimize the federal government, the Constitution, our history, our science, our national identity, and our beliefs about who is worthy of love and respect. You are certainly correct that progressives and liberals need to understand this significant threat is highly consequential to America and all Americans who disagree with them. It is not an academic exercise, but the analysis and diagnosis has to be within civil norms that foster broader understanding and a way of communicating with them. Reading your comment, I have empathy for your pain. You have been scarred. We need to confront this menace not with harsh words, but incisive insights and a counter-strategy, a counter-strategy aimed at their strategic center of gravity, at their strategic weaknesses, a counter-strategy that peels away their weaker allies and illuminates for the broad mass of Americans who disagree with them what they are really about. Calling them "Christian Taliban" does not serve those purposes.

by James Estrada Scaminaci on Tue Sep 17, 2013 at 12:39:47 PM EST
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that the language we are using understates the gravity of the situation. We do have to be careful with the phrases that we use however. I would prefer to use the phrase "dictatorial religion", awkward as it may sound, and let others infer a connection with Muslim extremists.

By the way, whatever happened to Dogemperor?



by Villabolo on Tue Sep 17, 2013 at 02:52:40 PM EST
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but he is full of baloney on the point in question.    

It is both misguided and potentially self-destructive to employ loaded language to describe things that are already sufficiently emotionally charged matters. (It is also a logical fallacy).

Language has necessary limitations in describing reality, so when we call people things they are not, we may add an emotional kick, but we are retarding thoughtful discourse among ourselves and the reading public, and inviting violent blowback.

If we want to describe "the gravity of the situation," Villabolo, there is nothing to prevent us from doing so.  Fortunately many of us have a sound knowledge base to draw on, an interest in ongoing learning, and a capacity to articulate what we have learned it in a meaningful way and with sufficient gravity so that others can understand.  Amping up the hype persuades no one who is not already persuaded about the seriousness of the subjects we address, and hype causes those who are not on board with us to question the judgement of those who use it.

And by the way, have you noticed that no one here has actually discussed the content of my post and we are off to the races in arguing about bullshit terminology? The announcement that
"we" should call someone this or that is pretty much a conversation stopper, every time.  This has been going on for years, and not just on this site, so folks will have to forgive me for coming on very strong on this. I am tired of seeing productive thought and conversation dead ended in this way.  

In fact, we have all of the vocabulary we need to describe what we are seeing. Any terms that we may discover that we need should be descriptive and not epithets.  Our task is to use the knowledge, language and communications tools such as this site effectively.

I'd like more of us to master the language that we have rather than argue about epithets. Now that might be effective.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Sep 17, 2013 at 07:33:38 PM EST
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Point taken. However, people are going to call the Dominionists something. Willful fools? Spoiled crybabies? Does not play or work well with others? New Testament "Pharisees" (with apology to all Jews)? Not all who saith "Lord" - that means you, buster! The logs are still stuck in your eyes?
I don't mean to imply aggressive violence, but I do have the wish to tell them "Get over yourselves, already" .

by NancyP on Tue Sep 17, 2013 at 03:48:56 PM EST
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There are no perfect answers. But I do think we have learned a few lessons about what not to do ;-)

That said, talking about what people do, is different than talking about who people are.  Actions are different than identity.  It is possible to be critical while also being respectful.

There is nothing wrong with being assertive in public. But of course, there is a difference between being assertive and effective, and just being gratuitously offensive.  In order for us, any of us, to rise to the occasion in the arenas in which we work, the communities in which we live, and the institutions of which we are a part, we may have to change --  and changing ourselves to meet the challenges we face, can be the greatest challenge of all.   Indeed, it may be the most important consideration. If changing ourselves, (whether as individuals or groups or institutions) would make the difference between the dominionists taking power or not, would we do it?

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Sep 17, 2013 at 08:16:00 PM EST
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The Christian Reconstructionists (CRs) have advocated the formation of militias since at least 1983, as well as the concept of nullification. North edited a book in 1983 called The Theology of Christian Resistance. On nullification, the CRs advocated using "lesser magistrates" to interpose themselves between the federal government and patriots. These "lesser magistrates" were at the county level and linked this idea back to a 1960s book by Rousas Rushdoony. Included in the 1983 book were key ideas that would resonate in the later Patriot movement and Patriot militias: (1) that Americans should form militias like (a) the Revolutionary War and (b) the Israeli militia; (2) the federal government needed to be resisted defensively; and (3) the Bible and the Constitution provides a duty for a citizen to be fully armed and to resist tyranny. Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America as well as another individual formerly with the Moral Majority carried these key ideas to the 1992 Estes Park meeting where the CRs and the Christian Identity leaders agreed to create a nationwide network of militias. This came to pass. Meanwhile, the Christian Right has fully come onboard in joining the guns rights absolutist movement which supports the militias. The CRs, working through the Constitution Party (CP) and Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty (CFL), have continued to push the development of militias. In fact, at the self-declared 'continental congress' the CFL, the CP, and Robert Schulz's We The People Foundation (WTPF) called for the development of militias under the state legislatures. Ron Paul's informal adviser, Edwin Vieira, has written numerous articles in support of the militia. In fact, Vieira's proposal was agreed to at the 'continental congress.' The Southern Poverty Law Center credited the organizational meeting at Jekyll Island prior to the 'continental congress' as kickstarting the explosive growth of the Patriot movement and associated militias. If one reads through the 'continental congress' Articles of Freedom one finds numerous action items currently being pursued. Right after the 'continental congress' was completed, a move was made to form just such a militia in Oklahoma. The person pushing this in Oklahoma attended the 'continental congress.' I have the proof. Thus, there is an unbroken link of authorities between the Christian Reconstructionists (especially Gary North and Larry Pratt and Edwin Vieira (?)), the Ron Paul network of organizations (which includes Oath Keepers and the National Precinct Alliance, as well as Richard Mack's organizations), WTPF, and the formation and continued development of the Patriot militias, most of which are not linked to Christian Identity or white supremacists. We need to understand the strategy of this movement, its theological underpinnings, its secular counterpart policies, and the way it operates as a vast network. This is a modern social movement employing concepts from John Boyd's epistemological warfare and William S. Lind's Fourth Generation Warfare. This is probably the most sophisticated revolutionary radical strategy--a combination of Christian Reconstructionism and Fourth Generation Warfare--that we have faced as a nation. The central, fundamental objective of this movement is not violence--but undermining the legitimacy of everything we believe to be true about America, the Constitution, who we are as a people, what we believe regarding science, and the nature of reality. I clearly understand the pain of many who were in this movement and who have now left. But, we need to understand this at the strategic level in order to combat it.

by James Estrada Scaminaci on Wed Sep 18, 2013 at 01:35:40 PM EST
This is important stuff.  

The delegitimation of, as you say, everything we understand about history, the Constitution, government and so on is indeed central to the strategy. And they are acutely aware of just how revolutionary all this is.  

I do think though, that violence is a likely, even if not an intended outcome of the strategy.  The CR leaders have not been able to control what other people do with their ideas, hence the dispute between Paul Hill and Gary North.  (For those who don't know what I am referring to, CR theorist North wrote a scathing critique of the views and actions of Paul Hill, the CR minister and militia advocate who assassinated a doctor in Florida.)  Larger scale confrontations are just a matter of time and circumstances.

I very much agree with you that the personal pain of those who have had horrific experiences, as bad as they may have been, can't be determinative in how we discuss this movement.  

 

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 10:07:59 PM EST
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I agree that violence is a likely byproduct. Michael Barkun noted in his book that their withdrawal from society by paramilitary Christian Identity folks almost inevitably resulted in violence because they did not recognize the legitimacy of laws and law enforcement. And the dispute between Hill and North (see Lone Gunners for Jesus) is, indeed, heated. But, as you and others pointed out, and scholarship on political violence in America has documented, anti-abortion violence (I consider it terrorism) is a significant portion of all violence, and, almost of all of it fit the pattern of "leaderless resistance." But, as a student of 4GW, violence is not the intended outcome. Violence could certainly arise. Mike Vanderboegh, a leading proponent, popularizer, and explainer of 4GW for the Patriot movement/militia has written about "no more free Wacos." In other words, another similar violent clash could or might trigger very unintended consequences--from both sides. As I dig deeper into the problem of the militias and 4GW, and, as a former military intelligence analyst, I am always intrigued by and looking for the command-and-control element. My own personal suspicion/hypothesis is that for a significant part of the militia movement, the non-violence (or lack of terrorist plots) comes from or is derived somehow from the influence of the Christian Reconstructionist Constitution Party. The Christian Right essentially controls the political temperature for the right-wing in this country. There is far more violent and revolutionary rhetoric coming from the Christian Right (see Right Wing Watch on a daily basis, or Talk to Action) than comes from David Duke and Christian Identity folks--whom no one really cares about anymore. What spews out from the Christian Right is terminologically tame compared to rhetoric from the KKK or the neo-Nazis, but it is essentially the same stuff, as Tabachnick and Barkun point out with the similarity of construction and narrative of the religious and secular versions of the New World Order conspiracy theory attest. The Constitution Party has from the start been involved in the creation of the militia. My own research suggests that what is considered the "constitutional" militias are largely militias that share key ideas from the Second Amendment insurrectionary absolutists (NRA, GOA, JPFO) and the Christian Right. The NRA/GOA are very, very closely aligned with the Christian Right and the Council for National Policy--which through the Council on Revival/National Coordinating Committee called for the establishment of militias in 1990. Of course, in a very large movement a political party cannot control everything. Even the PRA could not control all of the IRA. But, we need a far more fine-grained analysis. And, we need to put Christian Right rhetoric into a strategic perspective--they are warning us that they feel very aggrieved, persecuted, and their rhetoric that they feel that they are going to be the victims of mass purges from societal institutions and genocidal extermination is very dangerous; that kind of "cosmic war" rhetoric could lead to violence, even inadvertent violence with unintended consequences. I hope that more researchers begin to entertain the hypothesis that there are much stronger, enduring, and long-held ideational relationships between the Christian Right, the Second Amendment insurrectionary absolutists, the Patriot movement, and their armed militia wing than we have previously believed (or ignored).

by James Estrada Scaminaci on Sat Sep 21, 2013 at 03:14:04 PM EST
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