When the Tucson shooter, Jared Loughner, was publicly identified, I immediately googled his name and found his now infamous video on YouTube. I was hit number 304 at the time, but soon after at least 1.3 million people had viewed his video. Perhaps attracting the world to his message was a central reason for his terrorist attack.
The first part of Loughner's video consisted of text about dreaming and consciousness, easily dismissed as rantings from a mentally disturbed individual. But the last part focused on currency, federal conspiracies, government brainwashing, and other tenets of far-right populist movements and armed anti-government militias. Loughner mixed these conspiracy theories with millenarian prophecies that the world is ending in 2012 for an extra toxic brew of paranoia and chaos.
Like many others who have worked against fascist movements, I quickly recognized Loughner as a constitutionalist fascist, cut from the cloth of the Posse Comitatus ("Power of the County"), a Wisconsin-based survivalist militia founded in the 1970s. The Posse threatened judges, killed a number of people, and outgunned SWAT teams at the time. It has since spun off into a variety of "plenipotentiary judges" (affiliated with the Sovereign Citizens Movement and other "common-law" groups) that issue their own liens and refuse to pay taxes or apply for identification. Like Loughner, they deny the worth of U.S. currency as not backed by gold or silver, which they claim the Constitution requires.
The motivations of constitutionalist fascist movements are quite different than the current Tea Party conservative populists. They tend not to follow Christian fundamentalism, but to promote their own brand of "christian identity," heavily racialized and driven by global conspiracy theories dominated by Jews (or euphemisms thereof, such as bankers or the Federal Reserve System). They may be mentally unbalanced, but somewhat rational in how they emulate and follow the example of earlier far-right militants such as Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh.
Much like McVeigh or the followers of Lyndon LaRouche, they do not defend the capitalist status quo, but pose themselves as a right-wing revolutionary alternative to it. They're often against the same things as leftists—such as military interventions, trade deals, corporate power, and government surveillance—but for entirely different reasons. Their goals are to "protect U.S. sovereignty," cut off contact with foreign peoples and the United Nations, and attack the global financial conspiracy.
Sarah Palin's rhetoric, including her gunsights on Gabrielle Giffords's district, certainly helps to legitimize violence and set the stage for the attack. But that does not mean that she would necessarily be the ideological inspiration for the likes of Jared Loughner. A far-right revolutionary would no more respect a Republican Party vice-presidential nominee than a left-wing revolutionary respects a Democratic Party vice president. Glenn Beck, on the other hand, has served as a key ideological connection between conservative populists and the far-right conspiracists, a role once played by Pat Buchanan.
Loughner repeated another hallmark of many fascists by declaring in his video that the government is practicing "mind control" and brainwashing citizens through the educational system—even through the structure of English grammar itself. Some of these views are promoted in American Renaissance, a magazine that describes itself as "America's premier publication of racial-realist thought."
The New York Times noted on January 10 that Loughner's views on grammar closely reflect those of David Wynn Miller, a Milwaukee-based far-right activist, and founder of the Sovereign Citizens Movement. Miller admitted that Loughner's "argument sounded familiar," and "He's probably been on my website, which has been up for about 11 years. The government does control the schools, and the schools determine the grammar and language we use. And then it is all reinforced by newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, and everything we do in society."
Unlike earlier incarnations of the Klan or Nazis, the far-right militia movement no longer relies on centralized organizations or personality cults, but on the concept of "leaderless resistance." Based on the 1970s Nazi classic The Turner Diaries, ideologues such as Miller (like William Pierce and Tom Metzger before him) inspire others to commit acts of violence through media or the Internet.
This same concept of "leaderless resistance" has been taken up by other militant groups around the world, such as the loose Islamist network sometimes called Al Qaeda. In that case, the U.S. government accuses a U.S.-born cleric in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, of inspiring young Islamist militants to commit acts of terror around the world. Al-Awlaki, through his websites, has been assigned ideological responsibility for acts from the Fort Hood shooting to the so-called "underwear bomber" and the FedEx package plot. The Obama administration has targeted him for assassination and works with the Yemeni military to bomb and launch missiles at Islamist insurgents that may or may not sympathize with Al Qaeda.
Treatment Double Standard
It speaks volumes to see how the U.S. government has treated the threat of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen differently than the threat of David Wynn Miller in Wisconsin. Although some young Islamist militants may themselves be psychologically unstable and have done poorly in school, they are presented as ideologically influenced by al-Awlaki's websites. Jared Loughner, on the other hand, is depicted as a mentally ill loner, even though David Wynn Miller admits that Loughner's far-right perspectives closely match his website.
If the Tucson shooter had been a Muslim, the media would have demonized the local Muslim community and mosque, investigated his ties to global groups, and probably launched raids, missiles, or bombs in some Muslim country. But President Obama is not going to order the assassination of David Wynn Miller, nor is he going to bomb Wisconsin in retaliation for the Tucson attack.
Tim McVeigh's hometown of Lockport, New York was not raided or bombed after the Oklahoma City bombing. But when the culprit comes from Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia, military action follows against the terrorist's home community.
This double standard shows the skewed priorities in the so-called Global War on Terror. Why is it so easy to accept that a website in Yemen can influence someone in Texas to commit violence, but not that a website in Wisconsin can inspire someone in Arizona? By defining Islamist militants as committed "terrorists," but white Christianist militants as merely "lone wolves," we are ignoring the underlying political motivations for violence in our country. In scouring the world for so-called "Islamofascists," the government is ignoring the real fascists in our midst.
Zoltan Grossman is professor of geography at Evergreen State College and a civilian member of the board of GI Voice, an antiwar veterans group that runs the Coffee Strong resource center for soldiers (www.coffeestrong.org).