#4 . AANEWS .4/8/96 AANEWS is a service of AMERICAN ATHEISTS, a nationwide movement founde
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A Special Report...
HIGH PLAINS WEIRDNESS: 'CHRISTIAN IDENTITY' AND THE FREEMEN STANDOFF
(Part One )
by Conrad Goeringer
The standoff betwen a group of self-proclaimed "Freemen" and the
government entered its third week today; and with the passing of Easter, hope
for a quick settlement in the dispute has faded. Over two-dozen members of
the group remained barricaded and armed on their ranch about 30 miles from
Jordan, Montana. Stationed at the settlement's perimeter are over 100 FBI
agents and other law enforcement officials. So far, there are no indications
that the government intends to repeat the debacle it made in Waco, Texas
three years ago when agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
(BATF) and the FBI stormed the Branch Davidian compound; that action, which
resulted in over 80 deaths, resulted in widespread criticism of Attorney
General Janet Reno, and a re-shuffling of federal officials.
The Freemen standoff began on March 25 when the FBI arrested Leroy
Schweitzer and Daniel Petersen. The two were leaders of the right-wing
group; and third man, Richard Clark, later surrendered. Over the past three
years, the Freemen had sought to establish their own country which they
called "Justus Township." They also offered bounties and issued summonses
for several local citizens, and had written several million dollars worth
of fraudulent checks.
But the Freemen group is just part of a wider movement which has been
gaining support in much of western America for the past decade. Economic and
social dislocations have been causing a "High Plains Weirdness" ranging from
social panics over satanic cults, UFO and cattle mutilation to bizarre
religious ideologies like Christian Identity. Mainstream media is only
beginning to catch on. And while abortions clinics and the World Trade
Center have become targets for urban social terrorists, there is a distinctly
American Gothic style of terror incubating west of the Mississippi...
The Freemen adhere to a racialist-religious doctrine known as Christian
Identity. For them, the Bible is not only to be interpreted as a literal
document, but as prophetic literature which foretells events in America.
Armageddon -- the battle preceeding the Final Judgement and the return of
the Christian messiah -- will be contested in the wheat fields and plains of
America, as white males fight to carve out a racialist "homeland" free of
blacks, Jews and other non-Aryan elements.
Christian Identity becomes a common link in tracing the course of
right-wing religious violence through the American heartland. Timothy
McVeigh, a suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murragh Federal
Building, had read "The Turner Diaries," an apocalyptic novel which described
such a racialist civil war, including the deaths of millions of Jews and
blacks. Written by an "Andrew Macdonald" (a pseudonym for William Pierce)
and distributed by National Vanguard Books, the "Diaries" have become
literary fodder for right-wing christian militia types, and the Identity
Then there's Randy Weaver; government agents attacked his redoubt at Ruby
Ridge, Idaho killing his wife and son in 1992. During better times, of
course, she was regularly banished to a "menstruation shed" during her
fertile cycle, in keeping the biblical prohibition that women in such a
condition were unclean. That, and other tenets of Identity teaching, shaped
not only Weaver, but tens of thousands of other survivalists and
racist-nationalists who migrated to the Pacific northwest in anticipation of
a new civil war.
Identity believers also populate the militia movement, groups of
gun-toting weekend warrior types who have a wide range of gripes with the
Federal government. The ideological complexion of the militias varies from
state to state; most are anti-tax, anti-gun control. About the only thing
which can be said about the various militias is that they share a diffuse
mistrust and discontent over Washington. Identity adherents believe that the
government is run by a secret cabal of Jewish internalists referred to as
"ZOG' or the "Zionist Occupation Government."
But where did Identity originate? Answering that question takes you back
into the early 19th century, and the convoluted realm of biblical exergisis
and criticism beginning with the the Book of Revelation.
It is in Revelation that John laid out for the early Christians a scenario
of the second coming of the messiah and the end of the world. The verses are
repleat with colorful metaphors; trumpets sound , prophetic scrolls are
opened to reveal the future, Jesus Chris returns and defeats the Antichrist,
and Satan is banished. Most scholars agree that John was describing in
Revelation the persecution of the early church, especially at the hands of
Roman imperial despots like Nero and, possibly, Domitian; there was also the
promise that good (in the form of the church) would triump over the evil that
was Rome, personified by the allegory of the Beast.
It is in Revelation that John identified this "beast", saying "his number
is Six hundred threescore, and six." Mystics of John's time practiced
"gematria", a mystical system which assigned letters in the Greek and Hebrew
alphabets specific numerical values. The leading candidate for the title of
Beast seems to be Nero, and indeed the name Neron (Greek) Caesar produces the
number 666. Variants of Nero's name produce "616", and indeed early
translations of Revelation use this as the number of the Beast.
The fascination with 666 lives on today, and is of vital concern to many
fundamentalists and new age mystics. As the "Mark of the Beast", it has been
used throughout history to identify a long list of candidates for the post of
Antichrist, including Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Henry Kissinger, Mikhail
Gorbachev and even Pat Robertson.
As we will soon see, the fascination with numbers as some kind of "deep
text" revealing history and the intentions of god, pervades other aspects of
Christian Identity theology.
It is the vagueness and the metaphorical richness of writings like
Revelation which gave birth to a numberous eschatological "camps" which have
argued about just how this book was to be interpreted. Millennialists,
Pre-Millenialists, Post-Millenialists, Tribulationalists, Dominionists -- all
argue over the prophesized series of events supposedly predicted by John.
Would the Second Coming take place before or after the battle of Armageddon?
Would believers, the 144,000 "righteous" fly off to heaven during the
Rapture before the AntiChrist set up his false utopia? Or would they endure
generations of persecutions and be forced to wear the "mark of the Beast"?
Today, fundamentalists worry whether or not "signs" such as supermarket bar
codes, tattoos, or the formation of the European Economic Union (EEU) fulfill
prophetic requirements leading to the Second Coming and Armageddon.
Ironically, one source of Identity theory came from a distinctly pagan,
polytheistic artifact -- the Great Pyramid in Egypt. "Pyramid Science"
became the attempt to divine not only the origin of this immense structure,
but through an examination of its dimensions to arrive at a prediction of
the future. In 1859, a man named John Taylor theorized that the pyramid was
built by Noah based on architectural plans by god -- a tale not too far from
the whole Genesis flood account. Charles Piazzi Smyth, the Astronomer Royal
of Scotland was fascinated by this theory, and ground out elaborate
calculations including the "pyramid inch" which he said was the architectural
basis for the Ark and the present-day measurement. John Sladek in his "New
Aporcrypha; A Guide to Strange Science and Occult Beliefs" (1973, Stein &
Day) noted: "Smyth -- and many pyramidologists following him -- have laboured
long to produce calculations relating the dimensions of the Pyramid to
natural quantities such as the circumference and mass of the earth. These
calculations provide an object lesson in pseudo-mathematics, or tailoring
reality to fit a pet theory..."
Pyramidology became an artifact in modern day occultism-pseudo-science,
and lingers today in many new age-style philosophies, writings and beliefs.
But it was also an important part of nineteenth century (and even
early-to-mid twentieth century) christian beliefs. Some theorized after the
discovery of the dead sea scrolls that Jesus Chris was an Essene mystic, who
might have travelled to Egypt for indoctrination in the "mystery schools" of
that part of the world, including the revelatory teachings inherent in the
Great Pyramid. There is no good evidence for much of this, but the fact
remains that the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh (established as being Khufu, or
in the Greek, Cheops) became, in modern times, a prophetic numerological
instrument. It also excited the imaginations of those who were invent yet
another system of biblical interpretation, a movement known as British-Israel
(end of Part One)
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