Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The dark side of the 'Paul Phenomenon'

-- by Dave

On Saturday, Ron Paul held a campaign rally in Philadelphia. As Atrios noticed, it attracted a large crowd, most of them quite vocal about ending the Iraq war. But if you looked carefully, there was also an element (most them also antiwar) that's become something of a fixture at Ron Paul rallies: skinheads, neo-Nazis, militiamen, and various stripes of right-wing extremists.

The photographer Isis was there and captured some of this, including the shot above. That's Keith Carney of the Keystone State Skinheads on the left, posing with an unidentified Stormfront friend. Meanwhile, over at Stormfront, the event sparked a flurry of posts urging nonstop Paul support. And as One People's Project noticed, even one of the rally's speakers, a woman named Debbie Hopper, has a distinguished background in far-right activism, including having helped organize a tribute to Sam Francis.

Mike Flugennock made a video about it all, featuring a revealing encounter between Darryl of One People's Project and the skinheads, who were all toting Ron Paul signs and wearing his stickers and buttons:

What does this all mean? Does it mean Ron Paul is fronting for fascists? Does it mean he's a racist? Or is it something more complex, but equally disturbing?

Every presidential candidate attracts cranks, racists, kooks, conspiracy theorists, radicals of various stripes, and assorted fringe actors to their campaigns -- some more than others. Generally speaking, it's not worth paying a lot of attention to, because their numbers typically are quite small, and most of those involved are idiosyncratic -- that is, they only coincidentally reflect on the candidate themselves, if at all. They're irrelevant.

But people who track the activities of the far right -- the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Patriots/militiamen, "Freemen"/"constitutionalists", and anti-abortion, anti-tax, and anti-gay radicals -- do pay attention to how they vote: where their money and support goes, and why. It's important to track this because it's about watching who they empower, and who's empowering them, and to what extent this is occurring.

In the 1980s and early '90s, they tended to divide their votes among a menu of various fringe candidates (David Duke, Bo Gritz), mostly under the banner of the Populist Party, and "mainstream" third-party candidates like Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan. A lot of them, however, abandoned third parties altogether after the 2000 election, when Buchanan betrayed them by choosing a black woman as his running mate -- and many of them simply began voting Republican.

Of course, linking Bush -- who has never publicly appeared before, or expressly courted, such groups -- to their hateful activities would indeed be "guilt by association." Yet it's also dishonest to ignore the reality that movement conservativism made itself increasingly more hospitable to these blocs. As I noted in that piece, some of this had to do with gestures George W. Bush made throughout his campaign:
These failures were symptomatic of a campaign that made multiple gestures of conciliation to a variety of extreme right-wing groups. These ranged from the neo-Confederates to whom Bush's campaign made its most obvious appeals in the South Carolina primary to his speaking appearance at Bob Jones University. Bush and his GOP cohorts continued to make a whole host of other gestures to other extremist components: attacking affirmative action, kneecapping the United Nations, and gutting hate-crimes laws.

The result was that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists came to identify politically with George W. Bush more than any other mainstream Republican politician in memory. This was embodied by the endorsement of Bush's candidacy by a range of white supremacists, including David Duke, Don Black and Matthew Hale of the World Church of the Creator.

Of course, this support was so small as to be insignificant numerically speaking, though its influence and reach were another matter entirely. Still, in reality, far-right activists voted for Bush more as a desultory gesture than anything else. Which is why, of course, they have now fled him in large numbers, now that his presidency has proven to be such a manifest catastrophe.

Well, the far right has always been fond of tapping into threads of national discontent -- it's how they've survived all these years, really -- which is why they have made a living the past generation whipping up anti-government sentiment, exploiting the farm crisis, gun control, abortion, education, and a whole menu of other issues along the way. More recently, immigration has been their chief entree to the mainstream, and now they have jumped on the anti-Iraq war bandwagon.

Ron Paul's presidential candidacy has been the focal point for this, and it has been striking, not to mention disturbing, to observe the unanimity with which the far right has been coalescing behind Paul's candidacy. And the support (unlike that for either Buchanan or Perot) has not been merely avid, it's perfervid.

Virtually every far-right entity -- neo-Nazis, white supremacists, militias, constitutionalists, Minutemen, nativists, you name it -- that I've been monitoring for the past decade or more is lining up behind Paul. I've checked with other human-rights observers, and they're seeing the same thing. Ron Paul, rather quietly and under the radar, has managed to unite nearly the entire radical right behind him.

And it's not likely, even, that this is so much by design as by nature. It's a natural outgrowth of who Ron Paul is. Yet the scope of this coalescence of the far right is unprecedented. Certainly no other presidential candidate in my memory -- except perhaps the early George Wallace -- has energized and drawn the ardent support from the far right the way Ron Paui has.

Certainly, the Philadelphia event was far from unique. White supremacists from a variety of organizations -- the NSM, Stormfront, National Vanguard, WAR, Hammerskins -- have been outspoken and unapologetic supporters of Paul, and have come out to rally for him at a number of different campaign appearances. For example, at a Paul rally in August in New Jersey, a sizeable number of Stormfronters showed up. Indeed, a quick Google of Stormfront's site for "Ron Paul" gives you a clear idea just how involved they are: 789,000 links.

If you do a video Google for "Ron Paul" and "New World Order", you get 309 hits, including this one:

Carl Klang was a fixture on the militia K-ration-dinner circuit in the 1990s, being the guy who would come out onstage and sing a few "patriotic" songs like "Watch Out for Martial Law" and "Seventeen Little Children". Considering that Paul was once a fixture on the same circuit, they have even shared the stage back then.

And that, of course, is a large part of the reasons why talking about the radical-right bloc's support for Ron Paul's candidacy isn't "guilt by association," which by definition entails an irrelevant association.

Let's use the new neo-Nazi affinity for the antiwar movement as an illustrative example here. Smearing one by linking them to the other is in fact "guilt by association," because the association is irrelevant.

The skins' reasons for opposing the war are, in fact, wholly different from those of the much larger antiwar left, who are opposed largely on humanitarian grounds; the far right, however, opposes the war because it's perceived to be fought on behalf of Israel and the Jews -- which is why, when you hear them talk about "neocons", you know that they are in fact using it as a code word for "Jew." So the association, such as it is (it seems largely to occur at Paul events) is purely coincidental, accidental, a nonsequitur, and largely irrelevant (though it hopefully gives antiwar liberals pause about the way they talk about Israeli influence in the matter).

However, the fact that they do so in the name of supporting Ron Paul is neither merely accidental nor irrelevant. After all, Paul himself is inclined to rail against "the Israel lobby" and "the neocons". But that's only scratching the surface of his appeal to this sector. Unlike the antiwar left, there's more than an abundance of common ground between Ron Paul and the far right.

Paul's associations with the radical right, in fact, are fully relevant, on three levels:

1) He has a fully documented history of actively seeking their support.

2) His ideological framework -- fighting "the New World Order," eliminating the Fed, the IRS, and most federal agencies, getting us out of the U.N., ending all gun controls, reinstating the gold standard -- meshes neatly with theirs.

3) The organizations with whom he's associated are not benign, nor merely even "controversial", but are truly noxious elements that no responsible politician should be seen endorsing: racists, xenophobes, conspiracists, and frauds. This isn't the Rose Garden Society we're talking about here, or even the NRA.

As I recently pointed out:
[I]if you run through the broad array of kooky theories about the federal government promoted on the far right, you can find any number of Ron Paul's positions -- particularly regarding the gold standard, the Federal Reserve, the IRS, and the United Nations -- floating about there. Notably, Paul also played a significant role in Congress' ongoing failure to confront the growing problem of conspiracy-driven tax protests by diverting the blame to the IRS itself.

But that's who Ron Paul is -- a "constitutionalist" who deals in conspiracy theories and extremist anti-government beliefs. It's who he always has been, and who he is now. It isn't just an accident that Paul very recently spoke to a group with troubling racial ties, or that he attended a Patriot Network banquet in his honor in 2004, or that he gave an interview to a conspiracist magazine the same year. Hell, he's been operating within those same circles since 1985.

Here's a prime example of this:

These are the first two pages of a 35-page mini-book that Ron Paul published in 1988 titled "World Money, World Banking, and World Government: A Special Report from the Ron Paul Investment Letter". It looks at the "threat" of the Trilateral Commission and the "European Currency Unit", which happened to be the far right's big bogeyman of the time. (Ever notice how their dire warnings of imminent doom never quite pan out? Of course, Ron Paul also has a long history of associating with one of the preeminent promoters of the most spectacular case of right-conspiracy failure, namely, the Y2K hysteria: Gary North.)

And it's not as though he's changed a lot. Just three years ago, he gave a long, rambling interview to Conspiracy Planet discussing the "New World Order," which included (among many gems) the following exchange at the open:
First question: do you believe there are secret forces at work that are attempting to dismantle the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?

Ron Paul: I don't know what the best word is, but secret is pretty good. They're certainly not known to a lot of people; it's actually what their doing. But then again, it's not absolute secrecy. If you look around you can usually get the information. There was a time when nobody even knew who was a member of the CFR or the Trilateral Commission. I think it's a bad sign that they're not as secret as they used to be. They're bolder now. But there is an agenda.

It's also worth remembering, of course, that the bulk of the rest of much of Paul's radical agenda, such as dismantling the Federal Reserve, is similarly founded in old-fashioned right-wing bunkum.

This is why, as Bruce Miller elegantly explains, anyone who's been exposed to these folks for any length of time understand clearly just who Ron Paul is and where he's coming from. His "libertarianism" is more of a malleable veneer over old-style Bircherite conservatism than anything genuine.

So this is why it's not only relevant, but important, to talk about the kind of supporters Ron Paul is gathering behind him. Andrew Sullivan gets this half right when he notes, "I tend to place greater emphasis on loons and hate-mongers that candidates actively seek out." But because he neglects to dig deeper and find out just to what extent Paul has in fact sought out the "loons and hate-mongers," he then blithely assumes that only example of this is Paul's refusal to return a $500 donation from Stormfront's Don Black and dismisses it as "guilt by association" and a "smear." (For a nastier take on all this, you can also check out Justin Raimondo's attack on me today.)

But even that example is more relevant than Sullivan and Paul's apologists will admit. As Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates put it when I chatted with him about this today: "Those neo-Nazis have a First Amendment right to endorse Ron Paul, but Ron Paul has a moral obligation to disavow that donation."

He added: "There's two issues: Why would anyone have to ask Ron Paul to disassociate himself from the endorsement of neo-Nazis? And the second is that when they did ask him, his silence spoke volumes about his values. You know, 'I don't enjoy the endorsement of neo-Nazis' -- how hard is that to say? And why hasn't he refunded it? It's not like this is a gray area."

So I can't help largely agreeing, but wondering if there isn't a certain naivete involved, when Glenn Greenwald writes, in defense of Paul:
As the debates of 2002 should have proved rather conclusively, the arguments that are deemed to be the province of the weirdos and losers may actually be the ideas that are right. They at least deserve an honest airing, especially in a presidential campaign with as much at stake as this one.

That's all very good and very true, but I think some well-informed discretion about what arguments we engage is also needed. There is, after all, a reason that the arguments from such sectors as the radical right are (fortunately) held by only a small number of people: They are either founded on false information and bizarre distortions, or they're simply hateful and vicious, and often both.

Otherwise, what you'll often find being woven into the national conversation -- besides truly fringe ideas like eliminating the Fed and abolishing the IRS, as well as "New World Order" theories -- is the kind of ideology that spews from the fringe of Ron Paul's more rabid right-wing followers. This happens not only in public view, but also on the ground.

Take, for example, the Stormfront thread discussing the Philly rally, wherein a poster named "CassandraAdams" discussed meeting a woman who fled the Brown Peril in Arizona and was at the Paul rally, but who apparently fled when Cassandra started talking about defending the white race. She concluded:
The reason I've written this is that I am actually despairing, this morning, over the Fate of my Race. How can we survive, when the millions of victims of other Races refuse to acknowledge the FACT of the onslaught against us?

A charmer named "Wolfsnarl" responded:
If we can get them to defend their race without them actively thinking they are doing so in those terms-through mainstream anti-immigration groups like NumbersUSA or Ron Paul activism for example. After all, how many foot soldiers of the jewish/communist takeover actively thought of themselves as communists or whatever?

This is why they're out in large numbers for Ron Paul: they see his candidacy as a real opportunity to advance their agenda -- and they have very good reasons for believing that. It's a fertile ground for them, and they know it.

Which should be reason for the rest of us -- even those who appreciate Paul's ardent antiwar position, or who see him as potentially a GOP stalking horse -- to pause before applauding his rise.

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