A lot of people have misinterpreted this decline as indicating the demise of these groups. If only.
The reality is that the extremist right has always been with us and probably always will be; it just morphs into new faces and shapes, the Patriot movement being the most recent. It also rises and falls in nearly predictable cycles, and the recent down cycle is typical.
What down cycles disguise is the reality that in some ways, the far right becomes more dangerous in these periods. Their remaining True Believers typically become more radical, more prone to violence, and more determined to take action, much of which doesn't manifest itself until later, often during an upward swing. The far right also tends to reinvent itself during these periods, ultimately re-energizing itself with fresh strategies (the "militia movement" itself being simply one of these).
A new report from the Anti-Defamation League documents how the Patriot movement has been working its way back into business, gradually, using a low-profile approach that tends to attract more hard-core believers:
- Thought by many to have been in decline, right-wing militia groups in the United States have experienced a growth in activity in recent months that indicates a quiet attempt to revive the anti-government movement. These "new" militia groups operate more quietly and train more intensely than their 1990s counterparts, and have new, post-September 11 versions of the "New World Order" conspiracy theories that motivated their predecessors.
The section on "Renewed Activity" provides some detail:
- The more recent resurgence of activity has attracted little attention, in part because militia activists generally keep a much lower profile then they did in the 1990s, when militia-related Web sites and public meetings were more common. Militia activists still use the Internet, but tend to prefer the lower-profile arenas of online discussion forums and mailing lists over Web sites.
Using these technologies, militia activists have increasingly begun to connect with each other and seek recruits. In June 2004, for example, the East Central Mississippi Militia, based near Meridian, Mississippi, posted a message asking for "like minded folks to be part of a mutual aid group, and possibly join our unit." The group would meet for training, shooting, and "to build the group's trust/cohesiveness."
This lack of trust -- because of fear of federal informants as well as fear of nongovernmental "watchdog" groups -- governs many modern-day militia interactions.
The ADL report doesn't mention Montana (though Washington is mentioned in the section on "Recruitment"), but the report's essence is corroborated by a recent report out of the Bigfork Eagle, the local weekly on the eastern side of the Flathead Valley:
One aspect of this report that stands out is the clear association between white supremacists and "militia" activities, which is unmistakable in western Montana. According to the report, the presence of militiamen in the valley has been steadily increasing in recent years, spurred almost certainly by the region's reputation for being congenial to such activities. The most notorious of the groups around which many of these "Patriots" circulate is one that formed in the wake of the demise of the Aryan Nations (more on that in a moment) calling itself the Church of True Israel. The CTI is unabashedly Christian Identity, which is to say, its members subscribe to the belief that white people are the true children of Israel, while Jews are the spawn of Satan and blacks and other nonwhites are soulless "mud people":
- According to the CTI Web site, "We expect you to be a race-loyal Aryan of mature judgment, and adherent to the Doctrine of Dual Seedline Identity. But foremost in importance, you must be a person who can be trusted with the life of our Race (True Israel)."
The spokesman said, "We as a white race have our God. The Muslims have their God. The Islamics have their God. The Jews have their God. A lot of the lesser cultures or classes of people have their Gods. In a lot of these other countries, if you marry out of race you are cast out by law," the spokesman said.
... The CTI spokesman said he does not like the term racist; instead he calls it "a racialist church."
"I prefer my own race, but I don't go out in public and call blacks derogatory names. I don't need to do that. That would be counterproductive," he said.
In Montana, there are an estimated 400 members of CTI, more than 80 of whom reside in the Flathead Valley. The group began in 1995 when a confederation of several families "wished to carry out the word and expand from the home Bible study unit. We all shared the same beliefs, and did not choose to go with other churches that were militant in nature." Some Church of True Israel founders had previous links to the Aryan Nations in North Idaho.
Regular readers will recall that I paid a visit to the Flathead Valley two years ago as part of a community response to a rash of attacks on liberals inspired by a right-wing radio host whose Patriot sympathies are clear and unmistakable.
But it's worth remembering, of course, that this resurgence threatens not only to tear apart communities where Patriots manifest themselves, but it almost certainly will lead to a real resurgence of far-right domestic terrorism to accompany it. In a post-9/11 environment, that's a significant threat.
Ah, I know. Silly me. How could I have forgotten that domestic terrorists are no longer considered real terrorists anymore anyway.