A group of heavily armed anti-government militia members, having taken over several government buildings, are currently destroying archaeological sites of critical importance and build their own infrastructure in defiance of the laws of the land. They have released video footage the artifacts and sites being removed, and a new road being built in their stead. The road traverses archaeological sites that are significant to the local nations of that area. Is this the handiwork of the Islamic State (IS) fanatical militia group? Actually, it is – the responsibility belongs to Vanilla ISIS, the white anti-government ultra-right militia that has taken over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.
The indigenous nations, the Burns Paiute Tribe, have strongly protested to the federal government, but thus far no action has been taken to preserve the lands and sites that are sacred to that nation. A number of endangered species live in the areas occupied by the ultra-rightist groups, and one of their members addressed concerns about the status of those species by stating on social media that: “You know how many endangered species we’re dealing with on our ranch right now? Zero, because it doesn’t matter any more”.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with ridiculing these ultra-right fanatics, and indeed they deserve derision for their sheer ignorance. In this case of armed rebellion by a group of gun-crazed fanatics, violent suppression by the forces of the state will only result in more bloodshed and suffering, producing martyrs for their distorted ’cause’, and legitimising the use of state violence when attacking the force of the Labour Left, the African American and minority communities. The federal authorities, namely the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) did respond with lethal force in 1993, when suppressing the fundamentalist and apocalyptic-seeking evangelical cult, the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. Memories of that fatal engagement still inform ultra-right groups until today. Currently, there are negotiations between the FBI and the rightist militants of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge to end the standoff.
The reasons for the appeal of such groups, and the spread of their ideology, need to be found in the generalised decay of the capitalist system itself and the rightward trajectory of the mainstream political parties. Ideas such as those advocated by Vanilla ISIS do not spring up out of nowhere – they are both a symptom and a disease. As Eric Ruder explained in his article ‘Patriots versus the State?’ for the Socialist Worker online magazine:
The double standard applied to the Oregon protesters is absolutely a reflection of the racism embedded in U.S. law enforcement at all levels. But perhaps even more crucial to explaining the authorities’ polite and patient treatment of the protesters is not their whiteness, but their “right-ness”–that is, the reactionary political views they share with an influential wing of the Republican Party.
The American ultra-right, a nebulous movement with sometimes conflicting ideas, has grown and flourished in a larger political climate of hysteria and bigotry. The New Yorker magazine published an analysis of the revival of far-right groups and ideologies in its January 2016 issue. Entitled ‘The Far-Right Revival: A Thirty Year War?’ the author, Evan Osnos, traces the support of ultra-rightist groups and racist ideology back to support from the mainstream political parties in the United States. The politics of resentment, the portrayal of minority groups as privileged layers increasing their share of the ‘national pie’, drives this layer of political dissonance. Donald Trump, the bigoted, loud-mouthed presidential candidate, is just the latest figure providing a lightning rod to attract the so-called ‘white nationalist’ groupings into a coherent force.
The major political parties have provided a springboard to take radical right ideas into the mainstream. Donald Trump, the most bombastic and media-savvy of the Republican candidates, has built his political career on racism, targeting Hispanic immigrants, appealing to the most belligerent sentiments when it comes to foreign policy, and in December 2015 announced his intention to shut down all Muslim immigration to the United States. Tapping into a long and deep vein of Islamophobia in the United States, that was only the latest in a long series of semi-fascistic proposals from the rightist candidate. Trump is the loudest, but he is hardly alone in his political proposals. The Socialist Workers magazine published an insightful article regarding the support Trump is receiving, entitled ‘Why does anyone support this racist asshole?’ A perfectly valid question. While Trump is the one that garners the most media attention, his campaign has served as a springboard for racist ideas to gain a wide audience. But he is not so far outside the mainstream. As Elizabeth Schulte, the author of the article explained:
Trump may not be a fascist, but he is providing a space for racist lies and far-right ideas to flourish–and for marginalized individuals to become emboldened to take action on these ideas.
Wildly dangerous and not so far-outside the mainstream
The sub-heading above comes from an article by the always perceptive Glenn Greenwald, who wrote that while Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslim immigration is dangerous and leans towards proto-fascism, it is not so far outside the mainstream of political discourse. Trump’s role is poisonous, not so much because of his candidacy per se, but because his rantings help to normalise the expression of racial hatred. He is definitely not some aberration, but the ugliest, vilest expression of racist and semi-fascistic undercurrents in the US ruling class. Republican candidate Ben Carson, the gentle fanatic, suggested during a Republican presidential candidate debate that no Muslim should ever be allowed to become president of the United States, a proposal that openly defies the US constitution and its prohibition of religious tests for political office. Carson’s opposition to a Muslim assuming political office amounts to a complete rejection of the US constitution’s strict separation of church and state, something that a political candidate should know.
Senator Ted Cruz, no stranger to making fundamentalist statements himself, suggested that only Christian refugees from Syria should be allowed into the United States, because Muslims are more likely to commit terroristic acts. This will come as a surprise to the many victims of terrorism in Ireland, Oklahoma City and Charleston, as well as to the thousands of Iraqi and Syrian Muslim victims of ISIS attacks. In many ways, Cruz is more dangerous than Trump – the latter has no coherent ideology to speak of, except making money and bullying bigotry.
Cruz is the fanatical believer, a Christian first and an American second. Cruz said as much in an interview – one wonders about the reaction of the corporate media if a Muslim had made an equivalent statement regarding their faith. In every debate between the various Republican candidates, each tries to outdo the other in terms of their willingness to carpet-bomb other countries and place America on a war footing. Each candidate attempts to surpass the other in their belligerence and use of force – even though the proposals from the Republican candidates amount to war crimes. Trump, Cruz, Carson, Bush – all the candidates expressed their approval of policies that involve drone strikes, carpet bombing, and waterboarding. So Trump, while being the loudest and most bombastic of the lot, is in good company. Trump is not a fascist, but he is providing a pole of attraction for those with fascistic ideas; he presents himself as the populist outsider, the ‘anti-establishment’ candidate who will stand up for the average American.
Let’s not allow the Democrats an easy-ride – in fact, since 2001, with the ‘war on terror’ and the eruption of American militarism on a global scale, the hysteria regarding Islam and Muslim immigration has reached unprecedented levels, under the tutelage of Democrat politicians. Hillary Clinton made no secret of her intention to ‘obliterate Iran’, and proudly states that the Iranian people regard her as an enemy. The Obama administration escalated and refined the use of lethal drone strikes that started under the Bush-Cheney regime. Obama is responsible for unleashing militarist violence in the Middle East, devastating entire countries and creating an outward surge of refugees. Democrat Mayor of Virginia, David Bowers, spoke approvingly about the mass internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two, and suggesting that this example could be applied to the refugees of today. The unleashing of such racist sentiment is itself an indication of the putrefaction of capitalist society, increasingly based upon financial swindling, asset bubbles, looting public money for private profit, and war drives overseas.
Symptom, not the disease
Hamid Dabashi, Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, wrote a thoughtful column about the Trump issue in Common Dreams magazine. Entitled ‘Trump is a symptom not the disease’, Dabashi makes the point that semi-fascistic egomaniacs like Trump are only the latest symptom of a diseased political culture. As he explains in his article;
Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the US, or his earlier remark to single out and profile Muslims, or his fellow Republican candidate Ben Carson stating point blank that no Muslim should ever become president, are only the most obnoxious versions of a much more deeply rooted bigotry and racism against Muslims that has been dominant in the US for a very long time, but particularly since 9/11.
In a system which originates in the mass murder of indigenous people and the theft of their land, the Islamic and Arab communities, with their South Asian counterparts, are the latest scapegoats in a system of racial discrimination. The incessant demonisation and singling out of the Islamic community as uniquely violent and treacherous, is part of a recycled paranoia that serves the political purpose of generating domestic support for imperial wars of conquest overseas. This toxic rhetoric does not just dissipate into thin air – it has real-life consequences, namely, the explosion of violence directed at the Muslim community inside the United States. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has studiously documented the rise of horrific attacks on mosques, Islamic community places and the Muslim people themselves. Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for CAIR, denounced the atmosphere of hysteria and fear in the immediate aftermath of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, stating “I have never seen it like this, not even after 9/11.” The American Anti-Arab Discrimination Committee reported that their work has increased exponentially, with complaints of harassment and bullying, and discrimination at the workplace for anyone of ‘brown appearance’.
During a drive to war, the ruling class encourages the growth of the most racist and belligerent social sentiments. The war on terror has created a domestic environment where racist appeals are increasingly normalised and regarded as part of the mainstream. As social and economic inequality increases – and it has consistently under Obama – social discontent increases, looking for an outlet. Ultra rightist groups exploit such grievances, and channel that resentment into attacks on ethnic and religious minorities, as well as those aspects of government that serve social needs. There is a constant and increasing flow of money for military purposes, all the while social programmes are being curtailed. While programs such as food stamps and Medicaid face cutbacks, the US military is salivating at the prospect of further increases to its budget, receiving more funding than the rest of the ten largest militaries in the world combined. Meanwhile, homelessness in the United States is reaching epidemic proportions.
Malheur belongs to the indigenous nations
According to the ultra-rightist militia that seized the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, their goal is to restore sovereignty over the land to its rightful owners and oppose federal government tyranny. If that is the case, then we should expect them to relinquish control of that land to the indigenous nation, the Paiute nation, from whom the rapacious US federal government stole the land that now constitutes Oregon back in the 19th century. The post-US civil war administration implemented a policy of encroachment and settler expansion into Paiute territory, and forcibly enslaved the recalcitrant native American peoples.
Indeed, the state of Oregon itself was founded as a white settler utopia, deliberately excluding the indigenous people and people of colour. This is not to single out Oregon as a uniquely racist, segregated state – white America began as a segregated society – but that the land of Oregon has always been regarded as a resource to be exploited, whether it be by logging, mining or agribusiness companies. African Americans were excluded from living and working in Oregon. It is no surprise that the Ku Klux Klan had one of its largest branches in that state.
However, capitalist expansion proceeded apace in the years after the end of the civil war. The role of the federal authorities, while arbitrating between the competing interests and factions of the business community, played its main role of facilitating the rapid expansion of capitalist industry in the hitherto unconquered American West. This meant the ongoing theft of native American land, and the exclusion of indigenous people. Land, water, animal life, forests, mining, railways – everything was open to industrial exploitation. In fact, successive federal governments have been the staunchest allies of the big corporations, opening up public land for privatisation and enabling laws to facilitate profitable expansion.
The ultra-right militia are hardly defending sovereignty, but occupying indigenous American territory. As the Paiute community have stated, the armed militia have no right to the land, or its resource and archaeologically significant artifacts. These lands should be placed under the guardianship of the traditional owners. That is a positive place to start.