Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Sovereigns and the Posse Comitatus- a Bit of Shared History

With the recent two incidents involving right wing Christian terrorists in this country*, and the total suppression, as usual, of their political affiliations by the mainstream press, I thought it would be beneficial to take a few minutes to consider briefly the history of these two groups, the Sovereign Citizen movement and the Christian Identity "religion."  This is not a complete story- the Christian Identity movement is an outgrowth of the British Israelite movement, which since the 1870's was based on the absurd claim that Northern Europeans were the real descendants of the Jews in the bible.  Various explanations have been given about where today's Jews came from, some going so far as to claim that Jews (and black people too, of course) are actually not human beings at all, but spawns of an affair which Satan supposedly had with Eve, which is why God ejected Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.  Well, enough of this idiocy, on with the story.

First, with Christian Identity, of which the violent cult of Phineas Priesthood, which has always openly advocated anti-government violence is a part.  The absurd British Israelite movement had pretty well collapsed by the 1920's or so, and was moribund until recreated by a man named Wesley A. Smith:

"Wesley A. Swift (1913-1970) was a former Methodist minister from Southern California. In the 1940s, Swift started his own church, later known as the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. 

He was active in far right-wing groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, and developed a close friendship with prominent postwar anti-Semite, Gerald L. K. Smith. Because of the activities of Swift and associates such as Bertrand Comparet and San Jacinto Capt, Christian Identity increasingly became linked with extreme right-wing ideologies. Richard Girnt Butler, founder of the Aryan Nations, was a close California disciple of Swift."

Gerald L. K. Smith was a rabid demagogue who was one of the precursors of the right wing radio talk shows which emerged in the 1960's.  Far more important to our narrative, however, is the second figure mentioned here- Richard Butler.  Butler is probably the most known of these people, having spent his wealth establishing the Hayden Lake, Idaho compound that was the center of American White Supremacy, and whose presence continues to tarnish the name of Hayden Lake as a refuge for haters to this day.  Famous alumni of the compound include Randy Weaver of Ruby Ridge fame, Nazi spree killer Buford Furrow; Oklahoma City bomber Timothy was highly influenced by Butler's book, The Turner Diaries, which approvingly describes a fictional bombing almost exactly like the one McVeigh carried out.  Let me continue with more source material.
Richard F. Butler, in all his glory
"The origin of Aryan Nations is in the teachings of Wesley Swift, a significant figure in the early Christian Identity movement...In 1957, the name of his church was changed to the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian, which is used today by Aryan Nations churches...
There are three main Aryan Nations factions. One is led by August Kreis III and Charles John Juba...In 2005, the Holy Order of the Phineas Priesthood, formerly in association with the faction operated by Kreis, seceded and formed Aryan Nations Revival, based in New York..."
A pleasant day in the sun at the Hayden Lake compound.  Note the similarity
of the jerks in the back row to, oh, say, ISIS guys.

Now, before making any comment on this, I would like to move on to the antecedents of the Sovereign Citizen movement.

"The Christian Patriot movement is a movement of American political commentators and activists. They promote various interpretations of history and law with the common theme that the federal government has turned against the ideas of liberty and individual rights which were behind the American Revolution, and America's Christian heritage
The movement originally referred to the late 1980s' Posse Comitatus group, a militant far right organization. Posse Comitatus followed an ideology based on the teachings of Posse founder and Christian Identity minister William P. Gale...This ideology holds that state and federal governments are agents of an arcane conspiracy to deprive Americans of their rights as "sovereign citizens." It also holds that this conspiracy can be undermined through various legal pleadings from English common law and other sources, such as a motion protesting the way a defendant's name is typeset in a legal complaint. The ideology persists despite numerous court rulings that have declared its theories frivolous."
A book by William Potter Gale.  I think the cover says it all. 

And lest we forget the connections:

"Developing strong ties to the white supremacist Christian identity movement, they believe themselves to be the true Israelites, chosen by God, and they state that the Jews sought to help Satan to destroy civilization, and undermine white citizens' rights by means of the Federal Reserve and the Internal Revenue Service."

And now, back to Richard Butler for a bit, as he is, in a sense, the man who ties it all together:

"While helping to "expose" communist teachers as a member of the California Committee to Combat Communism, Butler met one of his most important influences — William Potter Gale, a retired Army colonel who had served on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. 

In 1961, Butler began attending the church of the Anglo-Saxon Christian Congregation in Lancaster, Calif. The pastor there was Wesley Swift, a Gale acolyte who preached that whites are the true Israelites and Jews are descended directly from a mating of Eve and the devil. A former Klan organizer, Swift formed the virulently anti-Semitic Christian Defense League in 1962. He chose Butler to be its national director, a post Butler held until 1965.  

By 1977, Butler had decided to form the Church of Jesus Christ Christian at the farmhouse. The political arm of the church, where Butler preached the racist Christian Identity creed, would be called Aryan Nations, and its ideology included a large dose of Hitler worship."

William Potter Gale and Wesley Swift.  There they are again.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has this to say about Sovereign Citizens:

"The movement is rooted in racism and anti-Semitism, though most sovereigns, many of whom are African American, are unaware of their beliefs' origins. In the early 1980s, the sovereign citizens movement mostly attracted white supremacists and anti-Semites, mainly because sovereign theories originated in groups that saw Jews as working behind the scenes to manipulate financial institutions and control the government. Most early sovereigns, and some of those who are still on the scene, believed that being white was a prerequisite to becoming a sovereign citizen." 

Now for some conclusions.  You can see from the above material that the Sovereign Citizen and the Christian Identity movement have a common origin, and that is with the most extreme race-hating, Aryan supremacist people this nation has ever seen.  They are not independent political or religious groups, free from any place on the political spectrum, as they are so often portrayed in the mainstream press.  They occupy a political space between the out and out jackbooted thugs that call themselves Skinheads and the (by now) mainstream views of the likes of Michelle Bachmann, Louie Gohmert and Ted Cruz. My purpose here is not to present a litany of the abominations they have perpetrated- the Sovereign Citizens alone have been responsible for over a hundred murders in the last couple of decades- but simply to place them clearly on the political spectrum as  the vicious right wing haters they are.  This is why, when we see the stupid claims of the Christian Identity movement, or the pseudo-legal gobbledygook spouted by Sovereign Citizens, we should not allow ourselves to be lulled into thinking they are harmless eccentrics.  They are hate-filled political killers, no different in their attitudes than ISIS or Al Qaida.  The only difference is that ISIS and Al Qaida are 10,000 miles away, while these guys are right here, killing away, only to be ignored by the press.

Now, I must say that there is at least one hopeful sign in all of this.  Far from the spontaneous uprising of angry citizens which these groups claim to be, they actually have a history in which the same names show up again and again, and owe their origins to a concerted effort of an almost laughably small number of Americans.  Still, they have been good at one thing: convincing the press like many of the right wing fringe groups I document here that they actually represent some real groundswell of anger, and so they find themselves the center of far more attention than they deserve.  Oh, and they have guns and they have demonstrated they are willing to use them.  In any real confrontation with the government they would be slaughtered, but I suspect that they have committed the cardinal political mistake of believing their own propaganda, which makes it almost inevitable that this confrontation will come, sooner or later.

*If you want to learn more about these two acts of antigovernment terror, you can look at previous posts of mine, here and here.

1 comment:

Magpie said...

Interesting as always Mr Eagle.