The Radical Right After 9/11

The Radical Right After 9/11

The attacks hardened the resolve of immigrant bashers and anti-Semites.


“Hallelu-Yahweh! May the WAR be started! DEATH to His enemies, may the World Trade Center BURN TO THE GROUND!…We can blame no others than ourselves for our problems due to the fact that we allow…Satan’s children, called jews [sic] today, to have dominion over our lives…. My suggestion to all brethren, if we are left alone, sit back and watch the death throws [sic] of this Babylonian beast system and later we can get involved in clean up operations. If this beast system looks to us to plunder, arrest and fill their detention camps with, then by all means fight force with force and leave not a man standing!”
      — “Pastor” August B. Kries III, Sheriff’s Posse Comitatus

The attacks of September 11 focused the nation’s attention on terrorist threats from abroad, but even as the World Trade Center towers were collapsing, hate groups were scheming about how to turn the situation to their advantage in the United States. “Wonderful news, brothers!!” crowed Hardy Lloyd, the Pittsburgh coordinator of the racist, anti-Semitic World Church of the Creator. Referencing ZOG–the supposed “Zionist Occupied Government” of the United States–Lloyd alerted supporters throughout western Pennsylvania on September 12 that “maybe as many as 10,000 Zoggites are dead.” He also called for vigilante street violence. “The war is upon us all, time to get shooting lone wolves!! [September 11] is a wonderful day for us all…. Let’s kick some Jew ass.”

Lloyd and other militants may have been excited by the suicidal hijackers of Al Qaeda, but like the Oklahoma City bombing six years earlier, the events of 9/11 enraged the American public and undermined those on the radical right devoted to criminal violence. Additionally, fear and resentment over the prospect of heightened government surveillance has prompted numerous rightists to denounce the passage of antiterrorism legislation, while others are mulling over whether to go underground. “The Feds are clamping down with the definition of a domestic terrorist,” warned Christopher Kenney, the “Commander” of the Republic of Texas, a “Christian Patriot” group whose original leaders are serving long prison terms for earlier crimes. “I am sure there will be even more restrictions coming down the pike. We must prepare while we can.”

Although most of the Christian right has avoided the kind of violent antigovernment rhetoric embraced by many neo-Nazis after 9/11, some have not. Militant antiabortion campaigners were quick to take advantage of public fears by mailing hundreds of letters containing fake anthrax to family planning clinics across the nation. And homophobes like the Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas, celebrated 9/11 by gleefully declaring that “the Rod of God hath smitten fag America!” and “the multitudes slain Sept. 11, 2001 are in Hell–forever!” The response was different from Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson and other more mainstream leaders of the religious right, but they also tried to turn the tragedy to their political advantage by attacking Arab immigrants, Islam, liberals, feminists, gays and other enemies both secular and allegedly profane. As for militia and “patriot” groups–whose numbers have been dwindling since the late 1990s–some seized on events to unload their inventory of survivalist paraphernalia left over from the marketing bust of Y2K, while others proclaimed their loyalty to the Republic–or threatened to overthrow it.

Bloodthirsty endorsements of 9/11 won’t win hate groups many recruits. But like the conspiracy theories hatched after Oklahoma City (i.e., that Timothy McVeigh was a government patsy who killed 168 people to give the New World Order a pretext to repress the patriot movement), many of the statements made by right-wing militants have been aimed at hardening the movement faithful, not attracting those on the outside looking in. As others on the radical right have done, Hardy Lloyd both praised and vilified the September 11 hijackers. “My only concern is that we Aryans didn’t do this and that the rag-heads are ahead of us on the Lone Wolf point scale.” Other neo-Nazis called the attackers “towel heads” and worse, yet hailed them as “very brave people [who] were willing to die for whatever they believed in.”

“We may not want them marrying our daughters…. But anyone who is willing to drive a plane into a building to kill Jews is alright by me. I wish our members had half as much testicular fortitude,” observed Billy Roper, deputy membership coordinator of the National Alliance. Notwithstanding such anti-Arab bigotry, some leaders of the radical right believe that 9/11 is a good reason to make common cause with radical Islamic fundamentalists and others who share their visceral hatred of Jews and Israel, though it is unlikely a functional alliance will be formed.

Militant anti-Semites like Roper may be willing to join forces with America’s enemies in the hopes of overthrowing ZOG, but in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks the targets of vigilante violence were not Jews but Arabs and others mistaken for Middle Easterners. In the ten weeks following 9/11, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee reported more than 500 violent incidents, including threats, assaults, arsons, shootings and at least a half-dozen murders. Attacks on South Asian immigrants spiked sharply, with about 250 incidents reported in the last three months of 2001 alone.

Bigotry and intolerance have hardly been limited to criminals, mobs and hate groups. On February 21 Pat Robertson denounced Islam on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s 700 Club, saying it “is not a peaceful religion that wants to coexist. They want to coexist until they can control, dominate and then if need be destroy.” Robertson asserted that US immigration policies are “so skewed to the Middle East and away from Europe that we have introduced these people into our midst and undoubtedly there are terrorist cells all over them.”

Robertson’s remarks came on the heels of criticism of US Attorney General John Ashcroft for statements he made last November disparaging Islam. In a radio interview with Cal Thomas, a conservative pundit and syndicated columnist, Ashcroft reportedly said that “Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you.” Thomas published Ashcroft’s statements on November 9, but it wasn’t until Muslim groups discovered Thomas’s column in early February that the resulting controversy reached the pages of the Washington Post. Ashcroft’s response–that his reported statements “do not accurately reflect what I believe I said”–has done little to allay Arab-American concerns.

Similar anti-Arab sentiments have been voiced by the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group descended from the Citizens’ Council movement, which vigorously opposed integration in the 1950s and ’60s. Praised by former member Trent Lott, now Senate minority leader, the CCC produces literature and a website overflowing with racist rhetoric venerating the Confederacy and railing against “black militants, alien parasites, queer activists…Christ haters” and multiculturalism. Predictably, the council has also taken to spewing anti-Arab and anti-immigrant bigotry, denouncing “Dirty Rotten Arabs and Muslims” and blaming 9/11 on pluralism and the nation’s alleged “open door” immigration policy. “America is now drinking the bitter dregs of multiculturalism and diversity,” declared the council on its website, which also displayed an essay linking 9/11 to Abraham Lincoln and America’s “[sinful] religion of equality and unity.”

Former Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke, who won 607,000 votes when he ran for the US Senate in 1990, trumpeted a similar message in October, saying, “If the demographics of America were still the same as in the 1960s we would be absolutely secure.” Duke was last seen in Moscow hawking his hate-filled autobiography, My Awakening, and he has been raising money to underwrite his next book, Jewish Supremacism. In the post-9/11 issue of his newsletter, Duke explained that “reason should tell us that even if Israeli agents were not the actual provocateurs behind the operation [on 9/11], at the very least they had prior knowledge…. Zionists caused the attack America endured just as surely as if they themselves had piloted those planes. It was caused by the Jewish control of the American media and Congress.”

Although such anti-Semitic canards have been widely endorsed in the foreign Arab press, most Americans have rejected these and other conspiracy theories out of hand. Still, Duke and others aren’t trying to reach a general audience. The anti-Jewish line of the radical right since 9/11 is aimed at the 17 percent of American adults (an estimated 35 million) who, according to a recent survey by Marttila Communications Group and Kiley & Company for the Anti-Defamation League, hold significantly anti-Semitic views–as well as the one out of five people who, as a recent Harris poll reports, blame America’s support for Israel for the attacks.

While it might seem counterintuitive for the radical right to be making both anti-Arab and anti-Semitic appeals, hatred of Jews and Arabs has never been mutually exclusive. After all, there have been many Holocaust deniers and other neo-Nazis who have allied themselves with the Arab cause when it comes to denouncing Jews but who still hold racist views of Arabs. And the radical right stands to gain from denouncing both groups. There are still millions of garden-variety anti-Semites, some of whom will be receptive to the message that 9/11 was a Zionist plot or the result of Jews having “too much power”–or both. Just because some Americans are seething with anti-Arab bigotry doesn’t mean the radical right isn’t also using September 11 to promote anti-Semitism.

Enter William Pierce, founder of the neo-Nazi National Alliance and author of the racist novel The Turner Diaries. In a September 22, 2001, Internet radio broadcast, the former assistant professor of physics claimed that America was attacked “because we have been letting ourselves be used to do all of Israel’s dirty work in the Middle East.” The National Alliance distilled this message into a flier that pictured the disintegrating towers and asked the rhetorical question, “Is Our Involvement in the Security of the Jewish State Worth This?” Beyond 9/11, Pierce is investing heavily in the skinhead music business. Although the aging neo-Nazi would much prefer listening to Wagner, he paid $250,000 in 1999 for Resistance Records, a “white power” music label that now generates about $1 million a year for his hard-core National Alliance. According to Justin Massa of the Chicago-based Center for New Community, which has launched a nationwide campaign to counter neo-Nazi bands and hate music (, “White power music has become the number one recruitment tool for organized bigots hoping to turn healthy youth rebellion into white supremacy.”

In the minds of most Americans, Osama bin Laden was responsible for 9/11, but leaders of the Christian right tried to put their own self-serving spin on events. In addition to joining the conservative chorus assailing Arabs and immigration, Pat Robertson argued that the attacks occurred because America had insulted God “at the highest levels of our government” through “rampant secularism,” pornography and abortion. As punishment, “God Almighty…lift[ed] his protection from us,” declared Robertson on The 700 Club on September 13. His guest that day, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, agreed: The ACLU and other godless secularists clearly were to blame. “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle…all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'”

“Well, I totally concur,” said Robertson. Both men spent the next two months trying to undo the damage to their reputations incurred by these remarks. Among other factors, the embarassment contributed to Robertson’s December 5 resignation as director of the Christian Coalition.

Robertson and others on the Christian right have also rushed to the defense of Israel–though such support is strongly rooted in the perverse theological notion that Israel must be supported to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ, when Jews will either convert or be destroyed [see Deanne Stillman, “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” June 3].

If the hijackers of 9/11 believed they would be rewarded in heaven, so, too, did the antiabortion zealot who sent fake anthrax through the mail. The first round of hoax letters–more than 280 of them–began arriving at family planning and abortion clinics in seventeen states in the second week of October 2001 (coincidentally, the same week that staffers in the office of Senate majority leader Tom Daschle unleashed a plume of real anthrax spores when they opened an envelope sent from a fictitious fourth-grade class in Franklin Park, New Jersey). The envelopes, containing harmless white powder, were marked “Time Sensitive” and “Urgent Security Notice Enclosed,” bore the return address of the US Marshals Service or the Secret Service, and included threatening messages signed by the Army of God, a well-known militant antiabortion group. Still, it took two more weeks for the FBI to open a national investigation. And despite demands from abortion advocates and healthcare providers, Attorney General Ashcroft has yet to designate the Army of God a domestic terrorist group.

A few weeks later another round of threats was delivered to clinics via Federal Express using account numbers stolen from abortion rights groups. The man now under federal indictment for these crimes is Clayton Lee Waagner, a self-described “antiabortion warrior” and federal fugitive who had escaped from an Illinois jail eight months earlier while he was awaiting sentencing on federal weapons (and stolen vehicle) charges. The father of nine children, Waagner, 45, once testified that God told him to kill abortion doctors. Waagner was arrested in early December after an alert employee at a Kinko’s copy shop in suburban Cincinnati recognized him. It was a lucky break for the FBI, which missed the chance to nab Waagner a week earlier when he showed up on the doorstep of Neal Horsley, a Georgia man who posts detailed personal information on the Internet about anyone he deems responsible for abortion. Using different typefaces, Horsley indicates whether the “criminals” have been killed (crossed out), wounded (gray) or remain unscathed (plain black type). Given the severity of the violence carried out by the antiabortion movement, as well as the government resources that have been consumed in responding to anthrax hoaxes, it’s odd that the FBI did not have avowed militants like Horsley under closer surveillance. Then again, one should not be too surprised that Ashcroft’s Justice Department has ordered the interrogation of thousands of Arabs and Arab-Americans yet failed to quiz those who endorse the murder of abortion providers.

Twenty years ago, the self-described Christian Patriot movement spread across rural America, recruiting thousands of bankrupt farmers with bogus rhetoric about an “International Jewish Banking Conspiracy.” Those were hard times, and fearmongering speeches about the Trilateral Commission and the Federal Reserve fell on receptive ears. While organizations like the Posse Comitatus were trying to build a mass movement, racist militants associated with the underground group the Order deluded themselves into believing they could instigate a race war by robbing banks, counterfeiting money and assassinating their enemies. But right-wing criminality has always cut both ways. On the one hand, it has been used to inspire followers to take action, it has helped finance the movement and it has resulted in plenty of publicity, which these groups often crave. On the other hand, the movement’s crimes often mobilize its opposition, lead to public disgust and can prompt more aggressive government surveillance and prosecution. While the violence of the Order in the 1980s inspired a generation of militant skinheads and others, the crackdown that followed pushed some hate-group leaders to explore different options, especially in the electoral arena. Organizations like the Populist Party–an offshoot of the far-right Liberty Lobby, based in Washington, DC–canvassed the radical right for contributions and candidates. Among the latter was David Duke, who ran a lackluster third-party presidential campaign as a Populist in 1988. But Duke was elected to the Louisiana State House a year later, and in 1990 he won the support of 60 percent of Louisiana’s white voters in his Senate bid.

The militia movement of the early 1990s was fed not by hard times but by hard-core ideological opposition to gun control, “big government” and globalization. It was easy to parody the paranoid rants about invasions by black helicopters and blue-helmeted UN troops, but the same nationalist fears about America’s waning stature in an increasingly global world were shared by millions of mainstream Americans who had nothing to do with the militias. The deaths of Branch Davidians in Waco–and of family members of hardened white supremacist Randy Weaver in Idaho–also helped fuel the militia movement at the same time as they inspired Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to commit mass murder. But regardless of how many hard-core militiamen bought one or more of the myriad conspiracy theories about who was really behind the Oklahoma City bombing, the sight of nine stories of the Alfred P. Murrah building reduced to rubble, juxtaposed with regular news reports about the escapades of militia groups, doomed any hope the paramilitary right might have had for translating antigovernment sentiment into popular support. The approaching millennium and fears of Y2K offered doomsday-preaching patriots a temporary reprieve, but when nothing happened after midnight on December 31, 1999, the movement again lost recruits.

Although the radical right never reached a consensus about supporting Pat Buchanan in the 2000 presidential race, his message of white Christian nationalism was well received by many militants. Buchanan managed to seize the Reform Party and $12.6 million in federal matching funds, even as he fared dismally on Election Day. Buchanan’s recent book, The Death of the West, which laments the demise of white Anglo-Saxon culture (and its accompanying gene pool), enjoyed twelve weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

Long before September 11, large numbers of Americans held negative views of Arabs and immigrants. One ABC News poll, conducted in 1991, found that majorities of Americans saw Arabs as “terrorists” (59 percent), “violent” (58 percent) and “religious fanatics” (56 percent). And a Gallup poll conducted two years later found that two-thirds of Americans believed that there were “too many” Arab immigrants in the United States. A Newsweek poll conducted immediately in the wake of 9/11 revealed that 32 percent of Americans favored putting Arabs under special surveillance like that of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Sixty-two percent of Americans disagreed, but the fact that nearly one-third supported the idea indicates the untapped potential of anti-immigrant and right-wing groups. Anti-Arab attitudes have not softened much since.

True, the radical right suffers from a lack of stable, well-funded organizations as well as a shortage of leaders, finances and organizational vehicles capable of penetrating very far into the political mainstream. But in the wake of 9/11 there are plenty of highly charged racial issues for the far right to inflame and exploit, especially when it comes to questions of immigration, racial profiling and national security. Be on the lookout, then, for more hardened underground activity as well as a concerted effort to recruit and mobilize new supporters based on fear and distrust of Arabs, immigrants, Israel and American Jews.

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