Dylann Roof, the White Right, and Domestic Terrorism in Perspective
by James Scaminaci III
On June 17th Dylann Roof, a young White man, was sitting in a Bible study inside a historic Charleston church. He allegedly stood up, pulled a gun, and shot nine Black people dead, leaving another injured. He is reported to have said: “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.” There was an immediate clamor for more government surveillance of right-wing groups. This is a mistake. The impetus for Dylann Roof’s apparent act of terrorism comes from conspiracy theories spread in right-wing circles. This is a problem of media-driven demonization leading to violence—an issue that our civil society needs to address. This tragic incident should not be used as an excuse for the government to increase surveillance and political repression. I know this from hard experience. I am a former civilian senior military intelligence analyst that worked for the Department of the Army at the U.S. Department of Defense’s European Command (EUCOM). During part of my tenure I was a member of Joint Task Force “Provide Promise” that was tasked with providing humanitarian aid to the Bosniak (Muslim) victims of Bosnian Serb genocide. I also served four years inside Bosnia and Herzegovina as a senior intelligence analyst attached to the Stabilization Force (SFOR) tasked with identifying the networks of political-criminal power structures thwarting implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement. Fundamental to that analytical task is our understanding how words (in policy and public rhetoric) are translated into action, and how words are used to frame, encompass, and mobilize political and social movements. It is established fact that the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina began with the Serbian Academy of Science’s false assertions that Croats and Muslims planned genocide against all Serbs living outside of Serbia. They were joined in this propaganda war by the Orthodox Church, which gave it a religious endorsement. Promoting both of these efforts were state-controlled television, radio, and print media. Of course, this propaganda barrage of Serbs facing an existential threat was the pretext justifying Milosevic’s attempted territorial conquests against Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina which resulted in genocide targeting the Bosniaks. What has this to do with the shootings in Charleston and the apparent motivation of Dylann Roof being his reading of demonizing racist material on the Council of Conservative Citizens, website? Everything.
What distinguishes modern social movements—noted for the lower prevalence of bureaucratic structures and a higher propensity to use multiple types of networks—from previous models of social movements is the idea that what holds these modern movements together is the narrative, the structure of ideas, the core values, and belief in action. Ideas are the structure and the glue of modern social movements. That is the reason why, according to scholar Jennifer Jefferis (Armed For Life), that the federal government could not bring conspiracy charges against the Army of God. Jefferis noted that the “ideological frame of religious belief can act as an intangible alternative to the violence-inducing elements of structure.” Moreover, Jefferis reported that after two years of grand jury investigation that the grand jury “concluded that the individuals were linked by an idea, not an organization. As a result, there was little law enforcement could do, and Army of God members, affiliates, and supporters continue to meet without fear of repercussions.” Eugene Gallagher, in a scholarly article for the journal Terrorism and Political Violence, noted that “Religion…is at the heart of many of the ideologies on the contemporary radical right.” Specifically, he was writing about the range from the Patriot militias to the neo-Nazis, though they do not share the same religion. However, his observation regarding religion is true for the entire movement. One cannot understand the actions of the Republican Party and the Christian Right, often acting in tandem, without considering the religious basis and motivations for their policies and actions, according to former Christian Right operator Frank Schaeffer. And we know from scholarship and field studies that the right-wing exists on two levels: the public or visible level, and, the secret, underground cell level. In many cases, a public entity will also have a secret entity. More than personnel linkages, what holds underground secret cells together is the common narrative and common understandings, combined with military-like discipline. Additionally, these above and below ground entities have evolved a tactic that spans the entire range of the paramilitary right—from the Patriot militias to the neo-Nazis—that allows a member who wants to go “operational” to sever all ties with the group and erase all possible linkages between the group and the member. We know this because strategists of these groups openly discussed developing and using this tactic in the 1990s as they were adapting the core ideas of “leaderless resistance” as an organizational response to law enforcement penetrations. How is violence and terrorism tied to the right-wing? The common narrative structure provides the key to understanding this problem.
Right-Wing Violence Takes Many Forms
Professor Michael Barkun in his seminal book, A Culture of Conspiracy, noted that the “New World Order theory came to constitute a common ground for religious and secular conspiracy theorists” once the bipolar structure of the international system underwent a significant shift in the late 1980s with the demise of the Soviet Union.” What makes this New World Order conspiracy theory and narrative so powerful is that it comes in religious and secular versions, as well as versions that can cater to anti-Semites and racists. Pat Robertson took the racist, anti-Semitic version and with minor revisions in 1991 published his book, The New World Order, for the Christian Right’s adherents to absorb. Robertson’s revisions obscured the anti-Semitic nature of the conspiracy text for most readers, while still sounding a dog whistle to already indoctrinated white supremacists for whom anti-Semitic conspiracy theories trace back many decades. By the mid-1990s, Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, was at the time, the Christian Right’s premier political mobilization vehicle. The Christian Coalition was partnered with the Free Congress Foundation’s National Empowerment Television (NET), a “nation-wide, interactive, 24-hour television network” for spreading right-wing messaging and enabling grassroots mobilization. Some of the conservative and libertarian organizations affiliated with Weyrich’s NET, such as the Cato Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, appear unaware of the strategy being implemented by Weyrich; and they have not trafficked in lurid conspiracy theories. Other NET partners, however, included the National Rifle Association, Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, Accuracy in Media, and Borderline from John Tanton’s white nationalist Federation for American Immigration Reform. Borderline featured white nationalists such as Sam Francis who joined the racist Council of Conservative Citizens and Jared Taylor, founder of racist American Renaissance. These groups and individuals were already deeply embedded in apocalyptic conspiracy theories about liberal and leftist subversion and treason—a trope used by many contemporary right-wing attacks on President Obama and the federal government from demagogues such as Glenn Beck and his ilk. They have created and continuously feed a huge audience that believes there is a literal sinister “New World Order” plot; or that “Cultural Marxism” is an actual plan of sedition originated by a cabal of leftist Jews decades ago.
Conspiracy Theories on the Right Demonize Target Groups
These conspiracy theories span the entire right-wing from the Christian Right, to the Tea Party movement, Patriot movement and militias; and further out to organized white supremacists, the KKK, neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, and others where violence is more common. The New World Order conspiracy theory posits that domestic secular liberal elites have conspired with, take your pick—globalists, internationalists, insiders, Jews, international Jewry, banksters—to exploit and enslave, take your pick—Christians, the white middle class, the white race. According to the conspiracy theory, the domestic secular liberals work to undermine traditional Judeo-Christian values by promoting the rights of African-Americans, women (feminism and reproductive rights), and LGBTQ rights. Thus, all domestic secular liberals pose an existential threat to Christians, the white middle class, and the white race. Moreover, the Free Congress Foundation was instrumental in spreading William S. Lind’s writings on “cultural Marxism” (which they call the force behind “political correctness”) not only into the Republican Party throughout the Christian Right, but into the Hard Right via Patrick Buchanan’s campaign rhetoric, the anti-Semitic Barnes Review, and the racist Council of Conservative Citizens. Lind’s “cultural Marxism” thesis was also instrumental in forming the worldview of Norway’s Christian terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik. It is important to note that in the Free Congress Foundation’s writings claiming the existence of a conspiratorial subversive campaign of “cultural Marxism” or “political correctness;” and that it is implicit in this concept that that wealthy, white, conservative Christian males maintain their dominance of the political, economic, and social hierarchical pyramids. In the Free Congress Foundation’s initial 1987 book, Cultural Conservatism, by William S. Lind and William H. Marshner, the authors suggested that a “grand synthesis of anti-Western foreign policy with welfare rights, gay rights, and feminist rights threatens to become the next ‘conscience’ of the Democratic party.” They claimed that through “several decades of cultural drift” that America was at a “crossroads of the spirit” and must choose between cultural conservatism and a “unified agenda of cultural radicalism.” In their view, “cultural radicalism” aims to “eliminate ‘sexism’ and ‘homophobia’…elimination of male aggressiveness…and elimination of dogmatic religion.” “Cultural radicalism” promotes “abortion on demand.” The Christian Right’s existential threat rhetoric is visible in the current Christian Right propaganda barrage regarding the Obama administration’s so-called assault on “religious liberty,” the “persecution” of Christians, and the future imprisonment and disarmament of Christians for their beliefs. This existential threat is being met in three fundamental ways, based on Lind’s and Marshner’s theories.
- First, the Liberals and the Left must be accused of starting a “Culture War” against traditional values. Meanwhile concerns over equality and calls for the use of more inclusive language must be labelled “political correctness.” This was done.
- Second, a parallel right-wing organizational and civil infrastructure must be built. These are being built simultaneously and independently in the different sectors of the Right. The goal in this stage is to contest the legitimacy of the federal government. An Oath Keepers’ strategic document explaines this in detail.
- The third and final stage is to encourage the use of the strategies and tactics of what is called Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW).
Fourth Generation Warfare
4GW was originally developed by the Free Congress Foundation’s William S. Lind in two articles published in the Marines Corps Gazette (1989 and 1994). 4GW posits that modern conflicts are between a central state actor (the federal government) and a non-state actor (such as the the Christian Right and other right-wing movements). The central objective of 4GW is to undermine the legitimacy of the federal government, and, at the appropriate time of one or more concurrent systemic crises [see On War #300], to contest the territorial control of the federal government (nullification and secession). Gary North, arguably one of the most important strategic thinkers of the Christian Right and informal advisor to Ron Paul (Tea Party movement) and Stewart Rhodes (Oath Keepers), wrote: “Precinct by precinct, town by town, county by county, a decentralized political movement could begin to undermine the legitimacy the existing political structure. It can do so politely, helpfully, and sympathetically. The central issue is legitimacy. The supreme goal is to undermine the legitimacy enjoyed by the prevailing central state. This task is doable. We have the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve System working for us: a debt disaster to be funded by fiat money. When the dollar dies, political legitimacy dies with it. This is the central premise of my recommended strategy.” We know about 4GW from several sources linked to the late Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation. Weyrich is the architect of the Christian Right and employed William S. Lind, the originator of 4GW. In 2001, Katherine Yurica of The Yurica Report discovered a key strategy document produced by Weyrich’s organization called “The Integration of Theory and Practice.” In this document, the FCF stated: “Our strategy will be to bleed this corrupt culture dry. We will pick off the most intelligent and creative individuals in our society, the individuals who help give credibility to the current regime….Our movement will be entirely destructive, and entirely constructive. We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them….We will maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the Left. We will attack the very legitimacy of the Left….We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime.” Terrorist attacks, therefore, should not be unexpected, though the time, place, and target are impossible to predict. A ’lone wolf’ does not even have to be a member or a former member of a group. A ’lone wolf’ need only absorb deeply the ideology and resolve to act true to the ideology—whether motivated by his need to fulfill his own dying wish, to spur others to action, or to spark a racial civil war. Whether or not ’mental illness’ is the intervening variable between ideology and action, is actually irrelevant because the movement counts on individuals who are not so well grounded to nonetheless act out the ideology. Meanwhile, Patriot militia and other paramilitary groups integrated into the movement’s as yet unknown command-and-control structures, probably multiple political or religious entities or networks, train and wait for their time, an estimate consistent with William S. Lind’s 4GW strategic assessments. More laws, more surveillance, and more erosion of civil liberties are not the viable effective solutions…even though following the gruesome Charleston shooting many pundits and officials have urged these paths. Terrorism sparked by this ongoing Culture War against modern progress envisioned by shrewd Right-Wing ideologues is not going to be stopped by government law enforcement, but by an open political struggle in democratic civil society. This should begin with calls to reject the demonization of and spreading conspiracy theories about our political opponents. I also see this as a struggle between those who want to defend “traditional” and unfair elitist social, political, and cultural hierarchies—and those of us who believe the great arc of progress (and history) are bent through collective agreement toward more democracy, equality, and freedom.
Copyright 2015, James Scaminaci III. All rights reserved. Posting this essay elsewhere is forbidden without written permission. Links to this article are welcome. Thanks to Chauncey Devaga for granting us permission to use the original essay which first appeared on his website. Graphic copyright 1982 Political Research Associates, with design by Ann Tyler.