Thomas Jackson, American Renaissance, July-August, 1997
Danger: Extremism, Alan M. Schwartz, Ed., 1996, 308 pp.
Guidebooks about right-wing extremism are not ordinarily of interest to anyone but the people who write them. However, the third edition of the Anti-Defamation League’s list of miscreants, Danger: Extremism, came to our attention because it includes several pages on American Renaissance. We were curious to see what sort of company we are said to keep, and were intrigued by the psychology of an anti-defamation league that writes unkind things about people who have never given it a thought.
Watchdog is a curious calling. In a 13-page introduction, the authors have a go at explaining what they are up to but appear mainly to have assumed the duty of deciding which opinions are not merely incorrect but despicable. They then go hopelessly wrong by jumbling together violent criminals with people who express these opinions and basically treating them the same. In this way the book implies that disagreement with its positions is or certainly should be criminal.
No one needs the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to tell him that murder and arson are wrong, but which opinions are at the same moral level? The introduction explains: The ultimate threat to American society posed by extremism cannot be measured without first gaining a sense of what defines the American mainstream. The ADL is happy to define the mainstream for us but this is trickier than it lets on. As Danger: Extremism concedes elsewhere, one of its cherished enemies, David Duke, received a majority of the white vote in two state-wide elections in Louisiana. Does this tell us anything about the mainstream ?
The introduction’s central statement of the mainstream is this: The growth of opportunities to realize political freedom can be best seen in the evolution of the U.S. Constitution, which through the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the emancipation of slaves and the enfranchisement of women greatly elaborated at least in theory the document’s original concept of American citizenship.
Whatever this sentence may actually mean, we are to think of the history of the United States as a remarkable flowering of the principles of inclusion and social equality. The evil of right-wing extremism lies in opposing this march of progress.
The sheep and the goats are therefore easily divided; anyone who thinks Washington and Jefferson or even Theodore Roosevelt got it right more often than Edward Kennedy or Janet Reno is a hatemonger. Anyone who finds greater wisdom in some of the social arrangements of the country’s first 180 years than in the last 40 is an enemy of civilization.
The book’s authors would probably not insist that Mr. Kennedy and Miss Reno are actually wiser than the Founders. They would claim only that the march of liberalism is simply carrying forward their good work. Therefore, if the Constitution did not actually mention women in combat, welfare for non-citizens, homosexual marriage, and massive non-white immigration, this was an oversight. Without putting it in so many words, the ADL has decided who are the spiritual heirs to the nation that began in 1776, but in so doing it has disinherited anyone who actually agrees with the Founders on certain matters.
So what is the danger and who are the extremists? Although the authors concede that the days are long gone when the Ku Klux Klan had five million members, there is still much to worry about. First, quite a few people don’t care for the federal government, and now that someone has actually blown up a federal building, it seems that any outspoken opponent of government power can be suspected of plotting violence.
More ominous than this is the rhetorical support these extremists have received from the mainstream. When the National Rifle Association decries the high-handed tactics of federal agents, when G. Gordon Liddy suggests that they should sometimes be dispatched with shots to the head, when Congressmen permit themselves to be interviewed on Radio Free America this is disturbing evidence of the porousness of the line separating the mainstream from the fringe. Not even the mainstream can be trusted!
Another big worry are skinheads. The ADL seems to have counted 3,500 of them, and we learn that their numbers have not increased since 1993, but they are still a threat. The militia movement, of with the ADL counts 15,000 members, is an even bigger threat. Of greatest concern, however, appears to be the World Wide Web. Those who claim to champion the American way might have praised this breakthrough in free speech, but no: wild-eyed, long-discredited, paranoid fantasies pass easily through cyberspace, looking spiffy on the screen. Boobus Americanus might just fall for ideas not pre-digested by higher authority.
Throughout the book, we have the left’s favorite analysis tool: links. A certain ostensibly reputable scholar is linked to a disreputable scholar who is linked to a certifiable nut who is linked to a man who once had lunch with a man who is in jail for throwing a bomb. This way, people can be denounced, not for what they say or do, but for what other people say or do, and tens of thousands of people can be anointed with the odor of fertilizer and jet fuel.
The greater part of Danger: Extremism is given over to short chapters on 57 individuals and 28 organizations. Among them are the names one would expect Tom Metzger, David Duke, Willis Carto, William Pierce but most are unknown to anyone but specialists. Who is Richard Scutari or Oren Potito, Joseph Dilys, Shawn Slater or Margos Margoian? These chapters are boring. Who cares about the leadership struggles of Klan factions or about the odd views of people one is never likely to hear of again?
The most lasting impression this section leaves is that the people it parades as terrifying hate-mongers are, for the most part, utterly ineffectual. Of the 57 the ADL would have us be on the lookout for, three are dead, three are in jail, four are solitary pamphleteers, three are with the Klan (which the ADL concedes is essentially moribund), and three appear to have retired from whatever it was the watchdogs were watching them do. Of the rest, aside from the names one recognizes, it is nearly impossible to judge their influence. What sort of damage do Dan Gayman, Gordon Winrod or Kim Badynski, to pick names almost at random, really do?
Then there are the exotics. Robert Brock, is the only known African-American participant in the white supremacist movement. This is the book’s silly conclusion from the fact that Mr. Brock has apparently talked to Kluxers about the creation of a black American homeland. There is also Harold Von Braunhut who, if the book got the facts right, is a pretty unusual fellow. He is a Jewish businessman originally from New York City, holder of more than 167 patents, and an official in the Aryan Nations, which militantly advocates anti-Semitism. No doubt he, too, is a fearful disturbance of the peace.
Part of the time, the ADL itself seems to be laughing at the boobishness of the people we are supposed to fear. The authors love to write sic all over the misspellings and bad grammar they quote, and here is an important message from an important hatemonger: “The moment I am seen to go out with a bag, the Jewish poisoners employ thousands . . . to guard subway stations, bus stops, and all U.S. mail boxes so that the Jews can know where I go and, specifically, into which U.S. mail boxes I mail my letters containing this document, which the Jews instantly steal.” This person is a nut, not a menace to democracy.
The 28 organizations the book profiles are likewise very mixed. Seven are defunct, either because their leaders are all in jail or because they have disbanded. Three apparently petered out back in the 1980s, and one wonders why the ADL still worries about them. Of the rest, once again it is hard to judge their level of menace or effectiveness. The Jubilee, Common Law Courts, Christian Defense League, Committee to Restore the Constitution, American Promise Ministries; are they really a danger to anyone? There is no way to tell from this book.
After all, American Renaissance, great force for evil that it is, gets four hand-wringing pages more than the National Alliance or Liberty Lobby. Why? AR is a publication that uses pseudo-science to justify racism. It gathers racists together in the guise of academic seminars. It calls Arthur Jensen a pioneer despite the fact that Prof. Jensen has received money from the wicked Pioneer Fund. One of its key contributors is the wicked Samuel Francis, and such wicked people as Michael Levin and Philippe Rushton have spoken at its conferences. And that wicked Jared Taylor has been heard to say that Israel will change in countless, unacceptable ways if it ceases to be Jewish just as America will change in countless, unacceptable ways if it ceases to be white. Is this what one expects to find in a book the ADL advertises with a flyer whose blood-red headline screams: Who Are The Most Violent Extremists In America Today?
Threats to Jews
It is easy to mock Danger: Extremism’s alarmism, but in all fairness it has unearthed some hair-raising threats to Jews. One Identity Christian leader has reportedly claimed, “My Bible says that the Jews are the people of Satan . . . And our God has commanded us to exterminate them.” One of the watchwords of something called SS-Action Group is reported to be “Six million more.” One group is said to have distributed literature reading: “When you’ve had enough and you’re ready to kill Jews call . . .” The tiny number of people who really carry on this way probably do bear watching, but by the police.
But of the 20,000 murders and 1,000,000 aggravated assaults committed in this country every year, how many are the work of right-wing extremists ? This book frets about middle-aged whites tramping through the woods with rifles but ignores young blacks shooting up cities with pistols. They are more afraid of men with ideas than of thugs with guns. That can be the only reason to have included AR in this uneven mix of eccentrics, felons, skeptics, dissenters, skinheads, and Kluxers.
And this leads to what must be the real purpose of Danger: Extremism to blur the line between thought and crime. People who are sure of their ground do not defame their opponents or treat them like criminals. Only people who fear debate, who lack conviction, who dread the exposure of their own shabby prejudices are driven to make bogeymen out of cranks and to treat disagreement as if it were a crime.