Monday 13 April 2009

Will the rightwing loons try a coup d'etat?

More and more each day, we hear people like Michelle Bachman inciting conservatives to stock up on guns and ammo and launch the revolution against Obama. Will they really do it?

It wouldn’t be the first time. The first rightwing attempt to overthrow the government was driven by an alliance of big business and army veterans. The Liberty League consisted of very rich men in the 1930s who loathed FDR. They included leaders from DuPont, GM, EF Hutton, General Foods, GM, Montgomery Ward, JP Morgan, the Hearst newspapers, Lehigh University, Princeton, Yale, U.S. Steel, Standard Oil (Exxon), Chase National Bank, Goodyear, Birdseye Foods, Colgate, Heinz, Mutual Life...and Prescott Bush. Some Democratic leaders belonged. The group was so powerful that even New York Times gave them dozens of positive front-page stories. Prefiguring today’s rightwingers, they screeched that FDR’s policies betokened "a trend toward Fascist control," and “the end of democracy." Their aim was to use WWI veterans to overthrow FDR so the fatcats could put their own man in. Their first choice to lead the charge was Douglas MacArthur, but the veterans hated him because he had crushed the Bonus Army march a year or two earlier, so they turned instead to another general, Smedley Butler, who (luckily for us all) had the good sense to blow the whistle on these loons in Congress.

The dilemma for any “revolutionary” terror group (or any other criminal enterprise) is how big the group gets. Too small, and they have no chance of setting up a national organization and taking over the country. Too big, and the law can infiltrate it, recruit its members as informants, and track its members to figure out who is connected to whom. Once the FBI has your group on a big wall chart with pictures and lines, you’re toast. Even before Oklahoma and 911, the FBI was watching these people. The Klan was successfully infiltrated under COINTELPRO, and eventually lost the Michael Donald case and the Jordan Gruver case. The Order, modeled on The Turner Diaries (the Bible of the loony right), was broken up under RICO. The neo-Nazis were blocked, in court, from marching in Skokie. Aryan Nations lost the Keenan suit and split up. The White Aryan Resistance lost the Mulugeta Shaw case. The Michigan Militia simply fell apart after Oklahoma, while the Indiana Militia hung on by distancing itself from the real kooks. Some of these guys actually had to get help from the hated ACLU to defend them.

If they want to go small, the ultimate is the group of one, the lone wolf. Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph and the Unabomber fit the profile. This model is difficult for law enforcement to crack for obvious reasons.

One model for solving this problem is found in The Turner Diaries, a novel which tells of governmental gun confiscation leading to rightwing guerrilla attacks, the overthrow of the government, attacks on the media (presumably Lou Dobbs would get a free pass), and the extermination of nonwhites. Reportedly it has sold more than half a million copies. The guy who dragged a black man to death behind his truck was a fan of the book, and so was Timothy McVeigh, who may have modelled the Oklahoma attack on an attack on FBI headquarters depicted in the book. The key is that the book depicts a large national organization, managed by a secret inner cadre – a small secure group inside a large national group.

Another enabler which makes both small groups and large groups dangerous is the internet. The net can help lone wolves set up their own operations and acquire materials, and it can help larger groups organize without as much external scrutiny. A site to watch is Stormfront, owned by a former Klan leader. Stormfront encouraged their followers to join the army to learn military skills, and set up stories for kids, and computer games allowing kids to “kill” blacks and Jews. They skilfully use texts from the U.S. Founding Fathers, the Bible, and even Darwin for their survival-of-the-fittest philosophy. They are a better fit for the new century that the Liberty-League model or the Klan model would have been. In April 2009 one of its members killed three Pittsburgh cops and tried to kill nine more. Even if Stormfront is not the vanguard for an outbreak of violence, it might be the model for whoever does launch the Crazy Season.

There are a number of key stressors that set these people off, mostly based on fear. First, fear of non-whites: years ago they went bonkers over the bussing issue, and now it’s immigration, affirmative action, urban crime, the growing non-white population in big states like California, and the notion that blacks and aliens are somehow to blame for the subprime meltdown. The day after Obama was elected, so many loons tried to hook up to Stormfront that they crashed the website. Second, fear that they will lose their guns: the Brady bill, the assault weapons ban. Third, fear of government: Waco, Ruby Ridge, government surveillance, the phantasm of the New World Order (and no one even knows what that means), some bizarre vision of a world government involving the UN, the Federal Reserve, a global currency, IMF SDR’s etc (they don’t even understand what Special Drawing Rights are, but somehow they know they’re evil). And lastly, moral issues – abortion and gay marriage, although in that case the hate groups may simply be having sympathy pains for their fellow loons in the evangelical movement.

There are some groups which do not seem to be linked to all this, but could potentially link up later on: criminal groups (particularly the rural meth-lab crowd), survivalists, the Minuteman Project (due to the immigration issue), and even biker gangs. The spring 2009 “tea party” effort doesn’t really fit into this pattern for a number of reasons: it is a tax revolt, not one of the far right’s usual scare issues (and it came right after an Obama tax cut anyway); it is very open and public; and they seemed to be refusing to use the tea parties as recruiting tools for extremists, for fear of infiltration. One thing which the tax revolt nonsense does do for the really dangerous extremists, is lay the groundwork for recruiting later on, by spinning up as much mindless anger as they can.

Also, secessionists: last year 22 percent of Americans believed that a state has a right to secede from the United States. In 2006 and 2007 secession groups from across the country held two national conventions. Sarah Palin supported an Alaskan secession group, and Mike Huckabee’s most valued supporters include secessionists as well. Some militia groups have been involved.

Watch the northwest in particular: when white separatists start mooning about setting up their own all-white utopia somewhere, separate from the United States, the talk usually revolves around any state within shouting distance of Montana. Also, obviously, watch the South, particularly the We-Hate-Obama Belt running from West Virginia through Tennessee and down toward Texas. For a while there, some New England liberals were talking secession, but a lot of that was a reaction to Bush and Iraq, and now that the Iraq issue is resolving itself, such tree-hugging folk are unlikely to get in bed with the Obama-haters of the loony right.

One thing to watch on the map: spikes in unemployment. When you have a small army of poor white trash sitting at home with no jobs and lots of guns, the recruiters for the nut-fudge groups roar into action. Look for one-factory towns that are losing their factories, and obvious places like the Auto Belt in Michigan and throughout the Midwest.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a map showing where the crazy groups are, which would also be a good indicator of where to look for trouble.

Also, watch the gun shows. They are not known (yet) as hotbeds of extremist activity but they have been known to sell the Turner Diaries and they are linked to criminal activity as well. Easy networking tool.

The key thing to watch for, is the potential convergence of many or all of these elements: the rich, army veterans, lone wolves (who by definition are hard to monitor), existing extremist groups or survivors thereof, the websites, seemingly innocuous public protests, secessionists, gun shows, and outliers like the survivalists and Minutemen. The internet would be found near the center of the whole thing. When you see these groups starting to bump into each other in the news or on the net, stock up on canned goods.

Normally I would also watch for stressor events, but right now Obama himself is the stressor, like FDR before him: essentially the entire Obama administration is clearly going to set off gongs at Tin Foil HQ until the day he leaves office. He’s a black guy who is being forced by economic circumstances to expand the scope of government, and he’s pro-choice and sympathetic to gays; although Obama (and his AG, also black) have repeatedly affirmed his support for the Second Amendment, and have tiptoed away from Obama’s earlier rhetoric on assault weapons, the loons simply don’t believe them, and are already collapsing into hysterics and stocking up on guns and ammo.

One thing working against the extremists, is that they may have waited too long. The popularity of Reagan’s mix of snake oil – tax cuts for the fatcats, holy wars for the anti-abortion and anti-gay forces, brain-dead militarism and gun worship, contempt for the government – began its arc across the sky in 1980 and crashed to earth in 2008. The exact mid-point – the high-point – of that parabolic arc was 1994, when they conquered Congress. At that point they should have launched the revolution. Instead, they launched Oklahoma, which backfired badly, and ensured Clinton’s landslide reelection. Now it’s a bit late in the day. The paradox of revolution is that when your ideas are in the ascendant, whipping up the anger among your hard-core adherents is difficult, but once your ideas are exposed as fallacious, everyone but the hard-core abandons you – and the revolution won’t go anywhere unless a million Joe Blows buy into it.
**UPDATE** -- The Governor of Texas has now opened the door to secession.
Rick Perry fired up an anti-tax "tea party" Wednesday with his stance against the federal government and for states' rights as some in his U.S. flag-waving audience shouted, "Secede!"
...Perry suggested Texans might at some point get so fed up they would want to secede from the union, though he said he sees no reason why Texas should do that. "There's a lot of different scenarios," Perry said. "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."


Rev.Paperboy said...

Welcome to the blogosphere -- that's a hell of a debut.

HelloDollyLlama said...

Thanks -- got plenty more to come.