Sunday, September 4, 2011

radical right - book - 1987 - Armed and Dangerous: The Rise of the Survivalist Right

Armed and Dangerous: The Rise of the Survivalist Right
James Coates
Hill and Wang
1987
294 pages

Armed and Dangerous: The Rise of the Survivalist Right is one of the earliest books to investigate the contemporary white nationalist and patriot movements in the United States.  This book is somewhat uneven, as it discusses what author James Coates describes as the ‘survivalist right’ which is an assortment of groups or individuals who are of disparate backgrounds and ideological bent (albeit within the sphere of right-wing radicalism), many of whom are not necessarily survivalist.   The author’s title phrase, likely conceived as an attempt to provide an appropriate umbrella term to evoke an emerging socio-cultural phenomena, is pressed into use by the author even if its not always appropriate.  Many of the groups the author discusses are white power organizations, some of whom are survivalist.  Some groups discussed are anti-government in the “paranoid style” and fit into a tradition that extends into the past and continues to this day with groups such as the Oath Keepers and the American Resistance Movement.  

James Coates is currently a retired investigative journalist who worked for decades at the Chicago Tribune.  He worked as a Pentagon correspondent and the Tribune’s White House reporter during the late-1970s to mid-1980s.  He was also an early adopter of personal computer technology and from 1993 to 2008 Coates wrote a computer advice column for his newspaper.  His interest in network communications and computer technologies are apparent in Armed and Dangerous as he discussed the use of bulletin board systems as a means for white nationalists and anti-government “patriots” to stay connected.  Coates even included a sampling of some of the menus and text that was featured on an anti-Semitic system called Chicago Liberty Net, creating a sense that these fringe groups were on the cutting edge in the use of consumer communications technologies.  Towards a similar horizon, Coates also discussed the survivalist right’s use of other media to disseminate their message, including the distribution of a popular tabloid published by the Liberty Lobby called Spotlight, and a public-access cable TV show titled Race and Reason produced by neo-nazi group White Aryan Resistance leader Tom Metzger.

Coates investigations into the political fringe came at a time when there appeared to be a turn towards greater violence by the adherents of the ‘survivalist right’.  The publication of this book, however, predates a number of significant developments in the ‘survivalist right’, including the rise of the citizen’s militia movement, Timothy McVeh, the Unabomber -Theodore Kaczynski (who began mailing bombs before 1986 but did not cause serious injury to a target person before 1985), and the emergence of the internet (designed as a tool to maintain communications in a nuclear war scenario) to build upon the communications networks already established via BBS systems.  The far-right groups and individuals of the 1990s were even more fringe and dramatic than those of 1980s, and what Coates describes are the predecessors of some of the most extreme pre-Millennium survivalist-right adherents.  Coates discussed The Order, a radical and violent vanguard for the white nationalist movement.  The Order, lead by Robert Matthews (a man who, according to Kevin Flynn in his book The Silent Brotherhood, was alleged to have joined the far-right John Birch Society at the age of twelve) provided funds for a number of white nationalist groups through a series of armed robberies and counterfeiting ventures.  The Order also planned assignations against anti-racist enemies including lawyer Morris Dees (founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center) and caustic liberal Denver area radio personality Alan Berg, whom The Order murdered in 1984.  

Operating over a brief two-year period, The Order provided some of the most dramatic material in Coates book.  Robert Matthews perished in a fire that began during a gunfight with the FBI.  Coates also discusses other dramatic episodes of the ‘Survival Right’ however, including Gordon Kahl, a Posse Comitatus leader who in 1983 died in a shootout with law enforcement after he was already being hunted for the murder of two Federal Marshals.  The Posse Comitatus is a loosely connected social movement that refuses to recognize any form of authority above the county level.  They consider the US federal government to infiltrated by Jewish agents, the federal income tax as illegal and, according to Coates, their leaders gave seminars to instruct failing farmers to refuse to repay their federal loans.  

In addition to the Gordon Kahl episode, Coates described other dramatic scenarios with the survivalist right including the murder-house survivalist compound inhabited by serial killer Charles Ng.  Ng’s inclusion is a partial deviation from the theme of the book, which is to identify emerging trends in a crossing of far-right ideologies with a violence-driven survival instinct in anticipation of a (racial/political/nuclear) catastrophe.  Ng was an ex-Marine survivalist, but his status as a sadistic serial killer does not fit into any model of far-right behavior or organization.  Of course, Coates was attempting to identify a new form of cultural activity that appeared to be emerging at the time of his writing, and perhaps the inclusion of Ng appeared appropriate as him and a number of other survivalists were individualist “trust no one” paranoid types.  Ng was a hypermacho sadist survivalist, and he resembles, in attitude, the fictional Holnists of David Brin’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel The Postman

The only real pushback against these groups that is detailed in Armed and Dangerous comes in the form of law enforcement shootouts or IRS investigations.  The year after Coates text was published, in 1988, the Southern Poverty Law Center successfully sued Tom Metzger into near-inactivity.  In 2000 the Southern Poverty Law Center sued Aryan Nations (a white nationalist religious group) for over six million dollars.  The SPLC strategy of seeking financial damages against white power groups has proved very successful in undermining the strength of what Coates has called the survivalist right.
 
Books that survey the ultrafar-right groups often show difficulty in interpreting those groups along more than one axis of understanding. Coates text is likely one of the closest (that I’ve read) in achieving such a synthesis.  Not all of the groups Coates discussed are intrinsically survivalist, but most of them are, and they do all preach violence and most preach racialized hate.  Morris Dee’s mid-90s book, Gathering Storm, about the citizens militia movement, attempted to portray all such organizations as racist, which was not entirely true.  Meanwhile, Richard G. Mitchell’s 2002 book Dancing at Armageddon: Survivalism and Chaos in Modern Times hardly acknowledges the racist aspect of these movements (although there is a brief discussion of Aryan Nations), even though Robert Matthews’ widow, Zillah Craig, appears in the text.  Mitchell rather emphasizes the millenarian aspect of the groups, which is also featured in Coates analysis of his subject.  Finally, Coates describes numerous elements of mainstream culture that appear to touch upon the virulent attitudes expressed by the right-wing’s radical edge 

1 comment:

  1. You'll be culturally enriched and like it, White America! Whites not going silently into the night angers and infuriates me!

    ReplyDelete

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