While US counter-terrorism efforts remain locked on Islamist extremism, the growing threat from homegrown, rightwing extremists is even more pressing
the “Patriot” movement, a spectrum of groups who believe the US government has become a totalitarian and repressive force.
.. Although the Trump administration is reportedly planning to restructure the Department of Homeland Security’s countering violent extremism (CVE) program to focus exclusively on radical Islam, a 2014 national survey of 175 law enforcement agencies ranked sovereign citizens, not Islamic terrorists, as the most pressing terrorist threat.
The survey ranked Islamic terrorists a close second, with the following top three threats all domestic in origin and sometimes overlapping: the militia movement, racist skinheads, and the neo-Nazi movement.
Though the federal CVE program already devotes almost the entirety of its resources to organizations combatting jihadism, the White House feels that the current name is “needlessly ‘politically correct’”, an anonymous government source told CNN.
.. “Many of [the people attracted to such movements] are guys my age, middle-aged white guys. They’re seeing profound change and seeing that they have been left behind by the economic success of others and they want to return to a never-existent idyllic age when everyone was happy and everyone was white and everyone was self-sufficient.”
.. Today’s sovereign citizen movement can be traced in part to two popular Patriot ideologies:
- the Posse Comitatus movement, built around the theory that elected county sheriffs are the highest legitimate law officers, and the
- Freemen-on-the-Land movement, a fringe ideology whose adherents believe themselves subject only to their own convoluted, conspiratorial, and selective interpretation of common law.
.. One of the movement’s foundational texts was The Turner Diaries, a 1978 novel by the white supremacist William Luther Pierce that describes a near future in which a small group of patriots fighting the extinction of the white race work to bring about a race war and the eventual genocide of non-white peoples.
The rise of sovereign citizens is linked to home foreclosures
not all sovereign citizens are white: Gavin Long, a black sovereign citizen, killed three law enforcement officers in Louisiana last year. An increasing number of black Americans are coming to the sovereign movement from the Moorish Science Temple, a black Muslim church that believes African Americans are the descendants of ancient Moors.
.. “There is still racism and bigotry,” she said. “Some of this is situational. If there are two members of your 12-person militia who are black, who are conservatives, military veterans, whatever – they are your brothers. You would kill for them and you would die for them. But two black guys in Ferguson, on the other side of the political spectrum – if there is a hierarchy of hatred, they are as low as you can get, lower than animals.”
.. “Their only agenda is they are anti-government.” Paudert believes that in some ways, sovereign citizens are better understood as an extreme left or anarchist movement than an extreme right movement.
.. “I call them rightwing anarchists … So perhaps it is almost a full circle, if you have that continuum.”
.. “The sovereign citizens really got big in the late 2000s because people were losing their houses to foreclosure.” Many are house-squatters
.. Financial crime is rampant among sovereign citizens, who are also well-known for harassing their enemies with fraudulent liens. “There are a lot of people scamming each other.”
.. Many come from a cluster of amorphous internet communities, MacNab noted, including far-right trolls, the hacking collective Anonymous, and Copwatch, whose supporters upload critical videos of police on YouTube.
.. Younger and older sovereigns get an overwhelming share of their news from Infowars, the media channel of the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and RT, the propaganda network known for pushing negative stories about the American government.
.. Among some of the anti-government groups MacNab tracks, Trump has enjoyed something of a honeymoon since the election, she said. But she believes that it won’t last: when they realize Trump is not the panacea they thought he was, they will feel used, and turn against him.
Steve Bannon’s Departure Won’t Change Donald Trump
The president’s prejudices predate his relationship with the former Breitbart News chief.
.. It would be nice to believe that Steve Bannon’s departure from the White House will end, or least diminish, Donald Trump’s flirtations with bigotry. Alas, that’s almost certainly not the case.
As Trump himself likes to note, Bannon joined his campaign late, in August 2016. By that time, Trump had
- already called Mexican immigrants “rapists,”
- falsely accused American Muslims in New Jersey of celebrating the 9/11 attacks,
- said “Islam hates us,” and
- declared that Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not fairly judge the case against Trump University because was Mexican American.
Bannon’s hiring was not a cause of the Trump campaign’s dalliance with Islamophobia, nativism, and white nationalism. It was a result.
In 1989, when four African American and one Hispanic teenagers (the “Central Park Five”) were arrested for rape, Trump took out newspaper ads declaring that the accused should be executed and “forced to suffer.” When DNA evidence exonerated the young men in 2012, Trump denounced New York City’s decision to compensate them, saying “I think people are tired of politically correct.”
.. Steve Bannon was not advising Donald Trump when Trump demanded to see Barack Obama’s college transcripts and launched a crusade to prove that he was not an American citizen.
.. Bannon was not advising Trump in 2013, when the real estate tycoon tweeted that, “I’m much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz—I mean Jon Stewart” or told Republican Jews that, “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.”
.. his Thursday tweet suggesting the United States should look to a false story of U.S. Army General John Pershing’s supposed war crimes in the Philippines as the right model for how to treat suspected Muslim terrorists, all occurred while he was reportedly weighing Bannon’s firing.
.. reporting suggests that the thing that really bothered Trump about Bannon was his penchant for stealing the spotlight. Not his religious and racial views.
Democrats, Start Aiming for the Gut
Donald Trump has swollen.
Every character flaw he had before taking office — from his serial lying to his intellectual laziness to his loyalty just to himself and his needs — has grown only larger and more toxic as he has been president. He seems not to have grown a whit in the job. He has surprised only on the downside — never once challenging his own base with new thinking or appearing to be remotely interested in being president of all the people, not just his base.
What strikes me most about Trump, though, is how easily he still could become more popular — fast — if he just behaved like a normal leader for a month: if he reached out to Democrats on health care, taxes or infrastructure; stopped insulting every newsperson who writes critically about him; stopped lying; stopped tweeting inanities; and actually apologized for some of his most egregious actions and asked for forgiveness. Americans are a forgiving people.
.. Trump connects with these gut issues and takes them in a destructive direction. It’s vital for Democrats to connect with them and take them in a constructive direction.
What issues? Here’s my list:
- We can’t take in every immigrant who wants to come here; we need, metaphorically speaking, a high wall that assures Americans we can control our border with a big gate that lets as many people in legally as we can effectively absorb as citizens.
- The Muslim world does have a problem with pluralism — gender pluralism, religious pluralism and intellectual pluralism — and suggesting that terrorism has nothing to do with that fact is naïve; countering violent extremism means constructively engaging with Muslim leaders on this issue.
- Americans want a president focused on growing the economic pie, not just redistributing it. We do have a trade problem with China, which has reformed and closed instead of reformed and opened. We have an even bigger problem with automation wiping out middle-skilled work and we need to generate more blue-collar jobs to anchor communities.
- Political correctness on college campuses has run ridiculously riot. Americans want leaders to be comfortable expressing patriotism and love of country when globalization is erasing national identities. America is not perfect, but it is, more often than not, a force for good in the world.
If You Like Art, Don’t Take the Bechdel Test
Suppose your favorite film critic started sprinkling his reviews with references to the “Cowboy Test” and made it clear that he was factoring into his appraisal of a work of art whether it contained cowboys. La La Land? Manchester by the Sea? Moonlight? All problematic, as these benighted films contain no cowboys. On the other hand, Cowboys and Aliens, Armageddon, and the Village People movie Can’t Stop the Music, each of which contains cowboy characters, would easily pass the Cowboy Test and receive a hearty blessing.
You would think this approach to movies a bit odd. It is. But no odder than the Bechdel Test, a feminist litmus test that is currently being thrown around by movie critics as an important way to assess the quality or at least the political correctness of a film.
.. In the past few years, the Bechdel Test has begun popping up casually in reviews like a feminist Good Housekeeping Seal of approval.
.. Neither of these two tests gives you any hint as to the worth of a film, and furthermore neither of them tells you anything about a film’s general feminist wokeness. It doesn’t even tell you whether the film is entirely about a woman. Lots of films that have female protagonists fail the Bechdel Test — notably Alien 3; Run, Lola, Run; Breakfast at Tiffany’s (there is actual heated debate on this one, but if it passes it barely does so); and Gravity. The Princess Bride fails the Bechdel Test
.. Lots of blockbusters with beloved female characters fail the Bechdel Test, including the original Star Wars trilogy, Avatar, and all of the Lord of the Rings films.
.. Showgirls, on the other hand, passes the test. Do feminists look at Showgirls and chalk that one up as a big win?
.. To give you some inkling of how little the Bechdel Test matters when it comes to filmmaking, consider that Sofia Coppola had never heard of it when asked about it in a recent interview. Coppola is one of today’s most accomplished and acclaimed female directors, and all of her seven films prominently feature women, usually in the main roles. Yet her latest movie, The Beguiled, passes only incidentally.
.. a strategy for drawing attention to the general way women are sidelined in Hollywood. But movies aren’t intended to be a proper demographic cross-section of America. Movies (at least Hollywood movies) are about people on the extremes of society — cops, criminals, superheroes. These extreme characters tend to be men, and men tend to be the ones who create them.
.. Women enjoy much more prominence in the milieu of low-budget independent movies, where the stories are more focused on ordinary people with real-world problems, but those movies usually attract small audiences.
.. It might be true that there would be more women prominently featured in movies if more women were writing and directing more movies. But it might also be true that the reason there aren’t as many women making films is that women’s movie ideas aren’t commercial enough for Hollywood studios.
.. To be slightly less reductionist than the Bechdel Test, women tend to write movies about relationships, and men tend to write movies about aliens and shootouts.
.. Have a wander through the sci-fi and fantasy section of your local bookstore: How many of these books’ authors are female? Yet these are where the big movie ideas come from. If a woman wants the next Lord of the Rings–style franchise to pass the Bechdel Test, then a woman should come up with a story with as much earning potential as J. R. R. Tolkien’s.