AMERICAN MILITIAS: Rebellion, Racism & Religion by Richard Abanes, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996, 296 pages.
Dennis L. Feucht*
14554 Maplewood Road
Townville, PA 16360-3404
From Perspectiver on Science and Christian Faith 50 (June 1997): 116-118.
Many evangelical Christians are rightly concerned about the degradation of moral values in America and direct their political efforts against secular or pagan liberalism. But to complicate matters, enemies of truth and goodness come in a multiplicity of forms. With growing discontent over increasing government influence and control in most aspects of life, conservative Christians sometimes find it easy to side with quasi-Christians who share a common liberal enemy and who even use Christian terminology. The Constitution of America, not God in Christ, is their highest priority. For others more extreme, it is white supremacist doctrine and an obsession with hate. Abanes has been studying religion and cults as founder and director of the Religious Information Center of Southern California. He provides the results of copious research on the rise of the patriot movement in this book.
The patriots are by no means a unified movement. While commonly opposed to socialism, communism, and liberal politics, their common thread is a growing dissatisfaction with and alienation from government, the willingness to use military force to defend their rights, and a conspiratorial eschatology. Abanes describes the various patriot factions and their relationships to each other, and patriot-related events of national significance such as Waco, Ruby Ridge, and the Oklahoma City bombing. He also contrasts the movement with Christian attitudes, beliefs, and behavior.
Patriots can be unorganized militia members, tax protesters, sovereign or state citizens, white supremacists, quasi-Christian apocalypticists, or any combination. Abanes uses a funnel analogy to describe the movement. At the wide end is general complaint about gun control, taxes, declining economic opportunity, government control, and environmentalism. The sovereign citizen movement is near this end. State citizens argue that there are two classes of citizens in America, the original citizens of the states and U.S. citizens. I find Abanes's description of state-citizen claims to be in accord with sovereign-citizen leader Richard McDonald's material. McDonald has established State Citizen Service Centers around the country. Fourteenth Amendment (U.S.) citizens have civil rights, legislated to give the freed black slaves after the Civil War rights comparable to the unalienable constitutional rights of white state citizens. The benefits of U.S. citizenship are received by consent in exchange for freedom. State citizens consequently take steps to revoke and rescind their U.S. citizenship and reassert their de jure common-law state citizen status. This involves removing one's self from federal jurisdiction and relinquishing any evidence of consent to U.S. citizenship, such as a social-security number, driver's license, car registration, use of zip codes, marriage license, voter registration, and birth certificate. Also included is refusal to pay state and federal income taxes because citizens not under U.S. jurisdiction are not required to pay them. Only residents (resident aliens) of the states, not its citizens, are income-taxable, state citizens argue. And as a state citizen land owner, one can bring forward the original land patent and file it with the county for absolute or allodial property rights. Such allodial ownership is held "without recognizing any superior to whom any duty is due on account thereof" (Black's Law Dictionary). Superiors include those who levy property taxes or who hold mortgages or liens against the property.
My recent discussion with one of McDonald's state-citizen leaders suggests that the courts, while at first at a loss on how to respond to the detailed legal arguments of these pro se citizens, are beginning to develop formidable counter arguments. State citizenship now requires keeping a legal step or two ahead of the courts. Abanes suggests that state-citizen legal arguments, while superficially impressive, are like biblical proof-texting by Christian fundamentalists; they fail to sufficiently examine the context of the case laws from which they cite, and ignore adverse evidence, such as The Federalist Papers (No. 15), in which Alexander Hamilton expressed that the Constitution placed everyone personally under federal authority. The key to the sovereign-citizen approach appears to be in the exploitation of legal tumult after the Civil War and the questionable constitutionality of ratification of the fourteenth amendment.
Further into the funnel, theories are encountered that explain societal woes in terms of a singular enemy (such as international bankers) working through a conspiracy of disparate and troubling events. A typical apocalyptic belief about the immanent end of the world targets takeover of the U.S. by U.N. forces under a one-world government run by the Antichrist, probably in A.D. 2000. Hal Lindsey's books, especially The Late, Great Planet Earth, have had a major influence on these patriots, such as Randy Weaver of Ruby Ridge.
Deep in the funnel, Abanes traces conspiracy theory to a five-volume work of 1797 written by French Jesuit Abbè Barruel. He claimed that the cause of the French Revolution could be traced to the Middle Ages, blaming the Order of Templars, who were officially disbanded by Pope Clement V in 1312. A remnant went underground, Barruel claims, and infiltrated the Freemasons (formed in 1717) and the Illuminati (founded in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt). These secret organizations, Barruel claims, contributed to the ascent of political figures who were instrumental in the overthrow of the French monarchy. Later, Barruel's theory merged with a long-lasting European anti-Semitism to form the most influential story about Jews conspiring to achieve world domination, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. This work was shown in 1921 by English journalist Philip Graves of the London Times to be a fraud, with sections taken verbatim from a previous French satire by Maurice Joly in 1864, Dialogues in Hell, aimed at Napoleon III. Protocols was first published by the Russian secret police to influence Tsar Nicholas into blaming the Jews for Russia's turmoil.
By 1880, belief in a Jewish world conspiracy began to gain ground among the extreme Right in France, Germany, and Russia. It was after the Russian Revolution that the forgery became popular in Europe, and fell into Adolph Hitler's hands. By 1933, 28 editions were circulating throughout Germany. During the 1920s, a well-known American figure first popularized the anti-Semitic book in America and published another such book, The International Jew, which won Hitler's admiration. The Fuehrer once said, "I regard Heinrich Ford as my inspiration." Henry Ford received favorable mention in Mein Kampf, and his picture hung in Hitler's Munich office. Today, the Protocols are a best-seller throughout the Arab Muslim world. Major American anti-Semites today are the Aryan Nation and Christian Identity.
The patriot movement differs from evangelical Christianity in its epistemology. Patriots fail to distinguish between theories and facts, and whole-heartedly believe in their powerlessness before the imminent domination of the world by overwhelming evil. They get their information largely from each other, with little independent means of verification. Observation of events, such as tanks on railroad cars or "black U.N. helicopters," are interpreted to fit their conspiracy theory instead of simpler, more plausible explanations based on investigation. Many are convinced that implanted biochips will replace money and lock individuals out of the world economic system. Ranches and small towns of patriots are forming, largely in the mountain West, to go it alone.
In the latter part of the book, Abanes traces the "tangled web" of connections between the militias and racist strands of the patriot movement, and evangelical Christianity. He argues that most militia leaders, while downplaying racism, are in sympathy with it. Named are Militia of Montana leader John Trochmann, former Green Beret James "Bo" Gritz, who ran on the David Duke presidential ticket in 1988, and his ally Jack McLamb. Some evangelical leaders have not been careful to avoid basing their apocalyptic views on the same anti-Semitic literature used by white supremacists. Pat Robertson's 1991 book, The New World Order, introduced the distinctive conspiracy theories of the militias to a wide audience. The book often appears in patriot circles. Typical of patriot theories, scant and often unsupported (or unverifiable) evidence is offered as a sufficient basis upon which to make bold assertions. Robertson had to go to significant lengths to demonstrate that he was not anti-Semitic. Others named as having patriot connections include Chuck Missler, Don McAlvany, Texe Marrs; and even Beverly LaHaye (leader of Concerned Women of America) and Pastor Chuck Smith (founder of the well-respected Calvary Chapel system of churches) have promoted works that rely on white supremacist propaganda (p. 218). Abanes does not accuse them of racism but implies a lack of discernment. Before the book ends, conservative talk radio is discussed and even Rush Limbaugh is criticized by the author. In view of what the book presents, it appears that President Clinton's criticism after the Oklahoma City bombing of talk radio hosts was aimed at the patriot movement. Bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh was heavily involved in the patriot movement and the bombing was modeled after one of the missions in a white supremacist novel, The Turner Diaries, a terrorist Bible by William Pierce, and one of McVeigh's favorite books.
Abanes has done a remarkable job of amassing a comprehensive and researched account of the patriot movement. The text is heavily supported, with 60 pages of references. The book is well-suited for a wide audience, including non-Christians; minimal knowledge of Christianity is assumed and the necessary background is well presented. While the book paints the patriot movement in dark colors of hate and ignorance, degrees of extremism are recognized and the black/white picture typical within the movement is avoided in its description. The book was motivated in part by a need for Christian youth to be informed about American militias and their often Christianesque seduction into a world incompatible with Christian belief or practice.