Militias: Rooted in White Supremacy

Militias: Rooted in White Supremacy


by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART)

from Turning The Tide, Volume 8 #2, Summer 1995

The Oklahoma City bombing, a bloody atrocity on the anniversary of the deadly events in Waco, thrust the militia movement onto the front pages and to the top of the hour on TV news. But the spate of belated coverage and sensationalism, already abating as we go to press, has done little to enlighten people about the true nature of the phenomenon.

The militia movement is a genuine mass upsurge, around its stated issues of opposition to gun control, to environmental protections and to abortion; and of mistrust bordering on hatred of the federal government. As a mass movement with a reactionary character, there are many different explicit ideologies and personalities contending with each other for influence and dominance within the movement, and the militias have even exerted some appeal on leftists and libertarians. Therefore, it’s vital to be aware of the connections between white supremacy and the militias.

First of all, conscious white supremacists and neo-Nazis, open and hidden, have been instrumental both in getting the militia movement going in many states and in pushing other elements within that movement towards an embrace of their racist politics and strategy. The Trochmanns, founders of the Militia of Montana, had been associated with the Aryan Nations. Jeff Baker, a U.S. Taxpayer Party leader promoting anti-abortion militias, has espoused anti-Semitic doctrines. “Bo” Gritz, who boasts of providing Green Beret counter-insurgency military training to the “Patriots,” and called the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building “a Rembrandt,” has longstanding ties to the racist, anti-Semitic Christian Identity sect.

The bombing itself bore a striking resemblance to one in the book “The Turner Diaries” by neo-Nazi William Pierce, a fictional call to arms for racists after “the Cohen Act” outlaws guns. But it’s more than a matter of particular, individual militia leaders or the violent actions of a few adherents.

Much of the national impetus to build the militias as a “direct action” formation in defense of Second Amendment gun rights grew out of a meeting held in Estes Park, Colorado, in October 1992, following the stand-off in Idaho between Federal agents and white separatist Randy Weaver and his family.

The gathering was convened by Christian Identity pastor Pete Peters (whose followers also helped birth the white supremacist paramilitary underground, the Order, almost a decade earlier), and by Larry Pratt, (head of the Gun Owners of America, a fringe outfit that found the NRA too moderate). Pratt is not coincidentally a former right-wing Virginia state legislator, and previously had led national efforts of the English Only movement as part of an anti-immigrant campaign. Pratt is an officer of the Committee on Inter-American Security (CIS), an outfit whose board included paleo-conservative Pat Buchanan, Adolfo Calera of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the World Anti-Communist League’s John Singlaub (ex-General in the US Army and former arms supplier to the Contras). The CIS helped write Reagan and Bush’s policy on Latin America. Pratt is also the author of Armed People Victorious, a book praising the death squads of Guatemala and the Philippines; these may have been his model in promoting the militias.

The infrastructure and communications network Peters and Pratt promoted took off in the succeeding months, perhaps beyond their wildest hopes, as the Clinton presidency, the events in Waco, and the passage of the Brady Bill and of a federal ban on assault weapons made opposition to gun control a hot-button organizing issue with a built-in mass base. The numbers attracted to the militias, and into action around these themes, exceeded the anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-immigrant movements in which neo-Nazis had been trolling for recruits and seeking to advance their strategy of ‘leaderless resistance’ and racist terror. Adding to this, some militias in fact focused on the abortion question. Others, particularly in the northwest, took up the anti-environmentalist themes of the corporate-sponsored “Wise Use” movement, further adding to the base of support.

Furthermore, by targeting the federal government itself, the militia mentality was wide open to key elements of the white supremacist campaign, including notions of the illegitimacy of the so-called “Zionist Occupational Government,” and the need for countervailing white state citizenship and sovereignty.

The concept of state citizenship, in contradistinction to so-called “l4th Amendment citizenship,” has been widely if not always formally embraced by the militias. This is typified in the professions by Samuel Sherwood of Idaho’s United States Militia Association of support for the so-called “Organic Constitution,” the original constitution plus the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights. A moment’s thought exposes the white supremacist, sexist and elitist basis of this position, which has been formalized by the Christian Identity “Jubilee” grouping, and by the militia-affiliated “Refounding Amendment,” a proposed “eleventh amendment” to the Constitution which would reformulate the U.S. as a confederacy. While focusing on getting rid of the income tax and the IRS, the militias would also contentedly eliminate the abolition of slavery, women’s right to vote, and equal citizenship rights for all, along with popular election of senators and the application of the guarantees of freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly onto the sovereign state governments they would like to control.

(Application to the states of the guarantees in the Bill of Rights was only accomplished by the militia-opposed 14th amendment; the Bill of Rights itself only enjoined the federal Congress and government from violating those rights). The anti-democratic nature of this thrust makes the reactionary nature of the militia response to “government tyranny” apparent.

But we should not let our analysis stop there. To fully understand the militia movement and its propensity for violence, we need to truly understand our history and our society. The media’s reluctance to deal honestly with the militia phenomenon stems from its role in obscuring actual power relationships. The militias, just as they claim, are deeply rooted in U.S. history and society.

In facing this real past and present, we start to struggle honestly for a better future. Liberals like to pretend that the democratic state apparatus enjoys a monopoly on the use of armed power, subject to representative civilian controls, and traditional Marxist analysis has it that the state apparatus is expressed in and relies on “special bodies of armed men.” But the re-birth of the militias makes it clear that the U.S., as a settler-colonial society, has in fact depended on the armed organization of masses of the settler populace to establish and maintain itself, not merely on the armed state apparatus.

This theme is visibly evident in the Declaration of Independence, which lamented the British Crown’s unwillingness to properly protect the settlers from the “merciless savages”; in the Constitution, which is concerned with ensuring “domestic tranquility” against unruly, unpropertied elements; and in the Bill of Rights, which does link generalized gun ownership to the need for a militia.

The militias of today are the descendants of the armed settlers who banded together to take land from the indigenous people. They are descendants of the slave posses that enforced the slave codes before there was any law enforcement apparatus. The white supremacist Arizona Rangers who plotted to bomb federal buildings in the ’80s are descendants of the 19th century Arizona, Texas and California Rangers, which developed from rancher-supported lynch mobs terrorizing the conquered Mexican population in the late 1840’s into the rudimentary apparatus of law enforcement by the Euro-American state in those territories conquered from Mexico and Native Americans.

The militias in Idaho and Montana of today are descendants of the original “vigilance organizations,” the vigilantes based in the Masonic order that established “law and order” in the territories between the 1860s and 1880s by clandestine violence. The militias are the descendants of the hooded “Bald Knobber” vigilantes of the 1880’s in Missouri, who took up arms to defend private property and enforce cultural norms.

Growing out of this history, it is not necessary for every militia member to be an individual racist or supremacist for us to recognize the white supremacist foundation and thrust of the militia movement.

The “patriot” militias of today are descended from another mass reactionary movement, the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, which also was not exclusively white supremacist, but enforced Protestant “Americanism,” patriarchal ‘family values,’ anti-immigrant hysteria, and Prohibition.

It is the reactionary nature of mass armed settler colonialism which gives the lie to the militia’s opposition to “government tyranny.” By denominating themselves as militias, they acknowledge honestly that they are in fact a part of or adjunct to the state, a key force in the ability of the settlers to sustain and expand their colonizing project. And thereby they render themselves incapable of transcending that project in any truly liberatory way. Because the ‘colonization’ of the secessionist south and of the freed slaves [by Northern financiers and industrialists] was the outgrowth and unavoidable consequence of that colonial project. The militias cannot turn back the clock to some pre-Civil War state of grace.

Nor do the militias represent a real alternative to the entrenched power of the national security state apparatus that has grown up parallel with the global imperial ambitions of the U.S., because the global empire is also only the logical outgrowth of the continental empire the militias defend. This explains the willingness of many Republican politicians to embrace the militias, and the unwillingness of the state to seriously oppose them.

This fatal flaw, this reactionary essence of the militia movement, is repeatedly evident. The militia-influenced “county sovereignty” movement in Nevada, for example, proclaims that the constituent counties of the state of Nevada have a precedent claim over the federal government to the public lands that form the bulk of that state’s land mass. But what the two sides are fighting over, of course, is the land that was taken in an act of war from Mexico and the Mexican people and from the indigenous peoples of the region.

Similarly, in the northwest, the militias denounce “globalism” and the threat of a U.N. takeover, while taking up arms against the Forest Service to prevent the enforcement of any environmental regulations–thereby dovetailing neatly with the actual globalist strategy of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to end all environmental and labor codes that restrict untrammeled exploitation.

This unity of interest is why the big extractive industries bankroll the “wise use” movement, and why the privatization of public lands that the militias seek is perfectly consistent with the global strategy of privatization of public- and state-owned resources and enterprises being pursued by the multinationals. It’s why the militias claim to oppose NAFTA, but would never support the Zapatistas in Chiapas and Mexico, who are the leading force in opposing and overturning the neo-liberalism which created NAFTA. As Larry Pratt would probably proudly acknowledge, the militias are the brethren of the land-owner death squads that have killed and expropriated indigenous campesinos in Guatemala and Mexico.

Similarly, while claiming to oppose the “jack-booted thugs” of the FBI and the ATF, the militias have never spoken out against the frame-up and illegal extradition and imprisonment of Leonard Peltier. PART opposed the government killings at Waco and at the Weaver homestead in Ruby Ridge (while also condemning Weaver and Koresh); but our opposition is consistent with our condemnation of the bombing of the MOVE organization in Philadelphia, consistent with our denunciation of the FBI-led COINTELPRO war on the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. It’s consistent with our exposure of the role of the FBI in promoting the Ku Klux Klan as a means to block the civil rights movement, and of the participation of the FBI and the ATF in promoting and arming the “United Racist Front” of Klansmen and Nazis in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1979, who shot and killed five anti-KKK organizers.

We oppose the use by the U.S. government of well-honed psychological warfare techniques against Tim McVeigh and the Nichols brothers, just as we opposed the sensory deprivation techniques used against Puerto Rican P.O.W.’s and North American women political prisoners. But we would never support Tim McVeigh as a political prisoner or “prisoner of war,” because McVeigh is fighting a racist and reactionary war against the people, not the state. Left analysts and activists like Alexander Cockburn who are attracted to one or another point put forward by militia-led groups about “freedom,” such as the Fully Informed Jury Association put forward by Red Beckman, need to be aware of the poison pill of racism and anti-Semitism covered by that sugar coating.

Are the militias white supremacist? Ask the next militia members you meet whether they support John Brown’s militia, which attacked the federal arms depository in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in an insurrectionary effort to arm the slaves and end slavery. Do they support the so-called “negro militias” (actually New Afrikan ex-slaves and their white allies) that sought to reconstitute the post-Civil War south on a democratic basis and to uproot the ex-Confederate underground that resisted every radical democratic reform? Do they support Malcolm X’s call for all “Negroes” to form rifle clubs? Do they support the armed NAACP led by Robert Williams or the armed Deacons of Defense who took on the task of fighting off Klan attacks on the Black freedom struggle? Do they support the worker militias that beat back strike-breaking attacks by goons and Klansmen in the ’20s and ’30s, and laid the basis for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the “premature anti-fascists” who took up arms against Franco, Mussolini and Hitler? It is this standard of principled and democratic internationalist and anti-racist armed action by which we must judge the militia movement; and by that standard, we must oppose it as a racist and reactionary phenomenon.