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Politics of Christian Identity

Remaking America Along Fascist Lines

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Unfortunately, Christian Identity isn't a small, isolated ideology with no political or social consequences for the rest of society. The fact of the matter is, CI adherents have big plans for society - plans which the rest of us would probably not be happy about seeing enacted. Understanding the Identity movement cannot be limited to simply learning about their history and current ideological position. In addition, people need to be aware of what sorts of political and social goals they have.

There are six general political and social aims of the Christian Identity movement: two within the law, two outside the law and two which are more ambiguous.

Legal Goals

The two activities are the effort to bring the American legal system into accord with the basic legalisms in the Bible and to campaign for support of political candidates who advocate Identity positions. The hope of biblicizing American law is not unique to Christian Identity - they share it with the Christian Reconstructionists, an ideology which is related but not identical. The general idea is that all human law should be subordinate to divine law, and Christian Identity followers look forward to the day when human law ceases to exist

A problem arises, however, when human law comes into conflict with divine law. If they do, then a person who feels only beholden to divine law may no longer regard human law as legitimate or binding - thus leading to overt disobedience. If human law has no claim on the obedience of these Christians, then there exists the risk of their engaging in violence in an effort to avoid punishment.

Fortunately, few Christian Identity politicians manage to get anywhere and achieve anything beyond the most local arenas. There have, however, been a couple of notable exceptions, including the infamous David Duke, who won a seat in the Louisiana state legislature running as a Republican. Although he has never been clearly identified as an Identity believer, he has long maintained very strong connections with prominent Identity figures. In addition, as many people know, he was a leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan - and Klan religious politics typically run closely with Identity and sometimes are identical.

Grey Areas

Two other aims which lie in a legal grey area are the development of survivalist communities insulated from the rest of the world and the establishment of far-right organizations which express the view that only the most local political organizations are actually legitimate. Although local governments certainly are legitimate, the idea that state and federal governments are not legitimate carries with it the possibility of resistance against governmental actions, even violent resistance.

The concept of survivalism encompasses a wide range of beliefs and ideologies - the Christian Identity brand includes anticipation of immanent catastrophe and, as the new Israel, they need to withdraw from the rest of the world until the danger finally passes. In theory, they have no immediate quarrel with civil authorities. The idea is, if they are left alone, they will leave others alone. Unfortunately, it isn't always possible to leave such communities alone - they potentially run afoul of all sorts of laws and regulations, from environment to child welfare.

In addition, radical withdrawal from the outside world into an insular community can easily engender a siege mentality - regarding everything outside their narrow system as the realm of Satan, not worthy of either respect or legitimacy. Their very preparations for Armageddon can bring them into direct confrontation with civil authorities, as we saw with the fiasco with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. Self-fulfilling prophecies tend to be the worst kind.

The radical localism advocated by Identity supporters is not unique to them - indeed it is common theme we can find among a wide variety of far-right groups. In fact, this particular theme is a common one which provides an entry point for many people into Identity politics. People who share CI ideals of localism and taxes may, over time, be brought to adopt other Identity ideologies.

Posse Comitatus is a movement of many loosely associated groups and means, literally, "power of the country." Technically it refers to the individual citizens called in by a local sheriff to aid in dealing with lawbreakers. As interpreted by the movement, the Posse and the local sheriff are the only legitimate political and legal authorities in existence - anything above county level is flatly rejected. Although Posse Comitatus is not a part of Christian Identity, the same people are often prominent in both.

With an independent group of citizens in each county acting as a law unto itself, interpreting what it saw as "God's Law" on its own in any particular time and place, we all enter a dangerous area. Heavily armed vigilantes answerable to no one but themselves are exactly what a legal system is designed to prevent. Although the radical localism of Identity followers might take on a purely rhetorical form with no serious content, it might also be something which some extremists will attempt to enforce. In an armed confrontation, there will be no real winners.

Beyond the Law

The final two aims which clearly lie beyond the limits of the law are the planning, organizing and actual efforts to overthrown our current government and the attempt to effect territorial secession, typically of states located in the northwest. The point, of course, would be to establish a real "Aryan Nation" which would be racially, religiously, and ideologically pure, just waiting for Christ's Second Coming and their key role in the Tribulation.

Both of these ideas, oddly enough, have roots in a work of fiction which isn't even Identity oriented: The Turner Diaries. It is circulated widely in Identity circles and cited with great approval - and it may in fact have been the inspiration for the bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building, since it mirrored so closely the events in the book.

Other similarly violent activities include those of The Order, which appears to have been consciously modeled after a similar organization in The Turner Diaries.

In 1984, members of The Order stole $3.8 million from an armored car, most of which has never been recovered. Large contributions were made to extremist and Identity organizations. That same year they were responsible for the assassination of Alan Berg, a Jewish radio talk show host in Denver who engaged in harsh criticism of neo-nazis and Identity ideology. Most of the members were eventually killed or imprisoned.

As to separatism, there are many conflicting ideas as to how it should a separate nation should be created. Some believe in the use of violence, but it is unlikely that that would really work. The numbers of those who advocate violence are few, probably a sensible reaction to the failure of violence to be effective for other groups. Others think that only minimal force should be used, and that political persuasion be the principal tool. Unfortunately, no feasible political arguments are forthcoming. The only similar project in American history was an abysmal failure and resulted in a tremendous amount of death, destruction and misery.

For Identity believer, the Last Days are at hand and they are called upon by God to take an active role. This has consequences for the rest of us, so we should take notice of what they believe and what they intend to do. Aggressive tactics from law enforcement has not yet had a serious impact upon either the message or the popularity of Identity ideology.

The chances of violent actions from Christian Identity has perhaps lessened - but only due to an increase in prudence, not because of any genuine political changes. The potential for violence perhaps lies most in the hands of the civil authorities and their choices of reactions to Identity acts. Miscalculations by authorities will make violence much more likely, if not inevitable - just as was the case with the Branch Davidian fiasco. Although the Davidians were certainly not Identity believers, their social dynamics and relations with authorities were very similar.

We have a lot to learn from what happened in Waco, Texas - and we'd better learn it sooner rather than later.

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