Monday, December 31, 2007

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Last week I talked about the list of the awards the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) gave to America’s worst bigots in 2007. Several persons commented on the Hatewatch site in response to the awards, including a couple posters claiming to be among the recipients. These comments contain the usual amount of venom one sees when white supremacists comment on the SPLC. As I’ve commented before on this page, some of this animosity seems a bit misplaced. Surely, both sides do have some cause for complaint. Members of racist groups do in fact occasionally commit hate crimes, including acts of violence (although these acts make up a tiny percentage of the total violence that occurs in the US). And the SPLC sometimes files civil suits with the aim of putting white power groups out of business, as well as providing law enforcement agencies with information on the groups they monitor. But when you look at the big picture, you see that extremist groups and the SPLC in fact depend on each other to make their operations possible.

The SPLC is, like most “non-profits”, essentially a for-profit business. The group currently has a treasury bulging with $168,000,000, although its expenditures for its various programs were only $19,000,000 last year. Morris Dees and the Center’s other higher-ups pull in yearly salaries of over $200,000. The only reason the SPLC is able to draw in such huge amounts of money is that they are able to convince wealthy leftists that only large donations to the Center will avert an immanent fascist takeover of America. Their alarmist reporting greatly exaggerates the threat posed by white nationalists in the US, while ignoring more serious threats such as foreign-based terrorism and anarchist violence. If all of the white power groups the SPLC regularly criticizes were to suddenly cease to exist, the Center would be unable to effectively raise funds, and its employees would eventually have to go out and find real jobs. The continued existence of a white nationalist underground is clearly in their interest.

The radical right relies on the SPLC and groups like it for something they value as much (if not more so) than money: Publicity. Consider the chapter of Young Americans for Freedom based at Michigan State University (YAF-MSU). This is a tiny organization, with probably about ten active members at this point. The group has attracted some attention through its sheer obnoxiousness. It has invited neo-fascists like Nick Griffin and Jim Gilchrist to speak at the university, as well as distributed semi-racist flyers around campus. However, the YAF-MSU chapter has never been linked to any acts of violence, and confines it activities to the campus grounds. Despite this, the SPLC made a big deal about adding the organization to its listing of hate groups, and even published a lengthy article on them in their latest Intelligence Report. This has done wonders for the YAF chapter, which went from being a fairly obscure white supremacist group to being nationally known. Keeping in mind that most extremist groups see any publicity as good publicity, you can’t pay for this sort of coverage. So despite all of the white power bitching about the SPLC’s actions, theses organizations actually owe them a debt of thanks for bringing their obscure sects to the public’s attention.

So in the holiday spirit of forgiveness and love, let’s see a truce. Why can’t Bill White and Morris Dees sit down at a table somewhere and have some beers? They could acknowledge their debt to each other and plot on ways to drum up even more money and publicity in the New Year to come.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A List Of Our Favorite Bigots Of 2007

As we get ready to say goodbye to 2007, the Southern Poverty Law Center has complied a somewhat amusing list of the most pathetic right wing extremists of this year. The biggest perv award goes to Kevin Strom, who certainly deserves it, although the recently deceased David Lane comes in a close second (strange how the band Prussian Blue seems to bring out the hidden pedophile in racists). Bill White gets the award for most obnoxious extremist, with Fred Phelps as runner up. (When even white power people can’t stand your presence, you’ve crossed some kind of line). Most unlikely white supremacist award goes to H.K. Edgerton, a KKK supporter from Alabama who is, unusually, black. (Check out this clip from the Dave Chappell Show for his send-up of Edgerton.) Creepiest therapist award goes to Richard Cohen, who “cures” men of their homosexuality by giving them “healing touches” (no comment). And finally, the most surprising hate group award goes to the Alabama Christian Klan, who claims to be against bigotry. My only addition to the list would be the best transition from theocratic preacher to full-on anti-Semitic conspiracy-monger award, which would undoubtedly go to Texe Marrs. Happy holidays, everybody.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Cautionary Tale From Extremist History

In the early 1970’s the Twin Cities area of Minnesota boasted an impressive leftist scene. A big part of this scene was the network of cooperatively owned businesses (co-ops) that existed in the area at the time. The main thrust of the co-ops was food distribution. They sold bulk foods and health foods at low prices, with the aim of strengthening the sense of neighborhood community and forwarding leftist politics. The Twin Cities even had co-op print shops, hardware stores, and clothing stores. Everything went well until, as so often happens in leftist movements, the Communists showed up. In this case the commies in question were a group known as the “O”, a bizarre and secretive group of Maoists who were led by an enigmatic political con artist named Theo Smith. Smith decided he wanted the food co-ops for his own economic projects and ordered their seizure, thus starting what became later known as “The Co-op Wars”. O members stormed many of the food co-ops in the Twin Cities, expelling the former workers and beating anyone who resisted. Since the co-ops had no official owners, it was difficult for the groups that originally started the collectives to legally force the Communists out. The leftist hippies instead started a consumer boycott of O controlled businesses, which was pretty effective. By the early 80’s, all of the O controlled co-ops were closed. As a result of all of this, the radical potential of the Twin Cities co-op movement was destroyed. The co-ops had to set up a legal structure of ownership to prevent more takeovers, and those who advocated revolutionary politics within the co-ops were discredited by the violent actions of the O. Today, the few co-ops left in the Twin Cities are little different from the mainstream health food stores they compete with. The O continued to exist as a political cult for many years after their setbacks in the 1970’s, sucking in new members and continuing to serve Smith’s megalomaniacal interests. I’ll return to that story later.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Political Cults-Extremism Taken To Its Logical Extreme

I recently came across this interesting piece by a former member of a Trotskyite sect in the UK called the Committee for a Workers’ International. Now in academia, the author argues that in some cases, fringe political organizations such as the one he was part of can become a cult, similar in many ways to the religious cults most people are more familiar with. If you remember my definition of political extremism (a group with a monistic political outlook that seeks to suppress all other viewpoints), then it becomes easy to see how an extremist group could degenerate into a cultish mindset. These political cults extend their rejection of mainstream culture into a rejection of all personal contact with non-members, leading to the group taking complete control of not only their members’ political lives, but their personal lives as well. Adherence to the groups’ doctrines dictates that all communications with corrupted non-members must be cut off as a sign of loyalty. Soon, the members come to rely so strongly on the organization for social and emotional support that they cannot imagine life outside of it. At that point, the organization can make extraordinary demands on their members’ lives that would be rejected by more casual adherents. Most of the groups that could be described as political cults in the US have been Communist sects such as the Weathermen, the Democratic Workers Party, and the mysterious “O” group of Minneapolis (more on them later). There have been a few exceptions to this, such Lyndon LaRouche’s group (which started out as a Communist organization, and later morphed into a semi-fascist outfit). Several persons who were associated with Ayn Rand’s inner circle later described it as cult-like, and today the Ayn Rand Institute displays some distinctly cultish traits. Christian Identity Churches exist as both religious and political cults in many cases. Political cults, rare as they are, represent the logical end for groups who espouse a “sacred truth” and seek to separate themselves from, and in effect destroy, the corrupted mainstream world.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Young Americans For Freedom Live To Piss People Off

Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) was formed in 1960 with the help of National Review publisher William F. Buckley. It was meant to be a youth organization for conservatives on college campuses. Over the years, YAF drifted further and further to the right, embrace a form of ultra-conservatism that alienated it from the Republican Party. By the mid-1990’s, the group had ceased to exist as an organized party, with surviving chapter operating independently. One of these chapters, at Michigan State University (MSU), has been stirring up considerable controversy on campus lately. They have invited speakers such as Chris Simcox (a leader in the anti-illegal immigrant Minutemen Project) and Nick Griffin (leader of the fascist British National Party) to speak on campus. Their website and blog are also designed to provoke, with lots of video clips from speeches by Pat Buchanan and Tom Tancredo, as well as links to the website of the Jewish Task Force, a terrorist organization. All of this has earned the MSU chapter of YAF the dubious distinction of being the only collegiate organization to be named as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. I myself am glad to know that if communism should raise its ugly head in Michigan, the YAF will be there (as the above illustration from their website shows) to smash the symbols of Marxism with big hammers.