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#6................................... AANEWS ..................................... 4/9/96 AANEWS is a service of American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For more information on AA, send e-mail to: info@atheists.org . Include your name, mailing address and zip code. Additional background on this list may be obtained by mailing to: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org , and putting "info aanews" in the body. You may forward this dispatch; materials may be quoted or reproduced, provided that credit is given to American Atheists and aanews. **************** A Special Report... HIGH PLAINS WEIRDNESS: 'CHRISTIAN IDENTITY' AND THE FREEMEN STANDOFF Part II by Conrad Goeringer (Summary of Part I --- The Freemen group in Montana, currently locked in an armed standoff with the FBI and other Federal authorities, is part of a larger development in American politics . Along with militia movements, survivalist cults and racialist-separatist bands, the Freemen are part of "Christian Identity", a loose confederation of individuals and organizations with an apocalyptic racial and bible-oriented interpretation of history. The roots of Identity go back to theological interpretations of the Book of Revelation, and a fixation with placing the time of Final Judgment and Second Coming. By the nineteenth century, there emerged distinct "end times" camps that interpreted the events foretold in Revelation in different ways. Some tried to combine the fashionable pseudo-science of "pyramidology" (which claimed to divine the past and future by studying the dimensions of the Great Pyramid) with biblical verse. It was out of this bizarre blend of mysticism and biblical exegesis that curiosity about the "Lost Tribes" began, and the British-Israel movement prospered.) Part Two Millennialism -- the doctrine that Jesus Christ would return some day to rule over the earth for a 1,000 year period -- is a central feature in Christian eschatology. By the early fourth century AD, Christianity had become the established and official religion of Rome. As the church went from persecuted to persecutor stamping out heretical movements and ideas, new interpretations of apocalyptic texts arose. It is generally agreed that the colorful metaphors found in Revelation -- Antichrist, False Prophet, the Beast -- all referred to Rome and its emperors in the days prior to Constantine. But with Christianity established and thriving, people began reading events of their own era into the prophetic utterances of John and even Daniel. During the Middle Ages, eschatological themes such as Final Judgment and the nature of hell occupied the thoughts of churchmen and their followers. Religious art and writing often depicted these and other metaphors. Another question began to fascinate both the popular imagination and those who actually read religious text -- the fate of the "Lost Tribes of Israel." By the seventeenth century, it was widely believed that the descendants of the Israelites were either Jews, or a people hiding in Asia. The emergence of this mysterious group was likewise considered a "sign" of the Last Days. Periodic reports of this wandering, newly-emeged tribal army appeared in Europe, and a letter in 1665 by one Robert Boulter of Aberdeen declared "There is Sixteen hundred thousand (sic) of them together in Arabia...there come in Europe Sixty Thousand more...." Pandemic reports such as this fueled the Millenarian imagination. In the mid-nineteenth century, a self-educated religious writer named John Wil.son (?-1871) presented a new interpretation of the "Lost Tribes" puzzle. Through lectures and writings, Wilson claimed that contemporary Anglo-Saxons of the British Empire were, in fact, the descendants of this missing biblical race. Wilson engaged in a common practice of the time -- comparing words and phrases of different languages to trace their diffusion. That, along with alleged similarities in customs and institutions which he insisted were the result of an Israelite heritage, convinced Wilson (and soon many others) that the "Lost Sheep of the House of Israel" had migrated "In the NORTH-WEST -- in our part of the world." This automatically raised questions about the Jews; if THEY were not from the Kingdom of Judah, from where did they spring? Wilson and other British Israel exponents struggled with that question. The answer formulated a century later, as British Israel spread through the United States, helped craft the Identity philosophy. By the 1870's, British Israelism was a social, political and theological movement, albeit one fragmented and divided over esoteric religious questions. Leaders such as Edward Hine and Edward Wheeler Bird debated the finer points of British Israel history (such as the status of Jews and even Teutonic peoples), but even in such a disordered atmosphere the movement spread to America. There is debate over exactly when British Israel ideas began to take root here, but one Joseph Wild, pastor of Union Congregational Church in Brooklyn, NY was promoting the basic themes as early as 1879. American and Canadian writers such as W.H. Poole and C.A.L.Totten began grinding out their own refinements of British Israel ideology, and occasionally their names appear in modern-day Christian Identity literature. When Edward Hine moved to the United States, his lectures began to interest a wide audience, and soon there were regional "centers" of British Israel Belief. In the east, a Boston publisher named A.A. Beauchamp began disseminating Totten's works, and published a monthly magazine, "The Watchman of Israel." It was through a chain of British Israelite activists that this esoteric philosophy of British "empire-ism" began to mix with more proasaic nationalist, racist, anti-semitic ideas. A contributor to Beauchamp's journal, Rev. Reuben H. Sawyer began to mix his role as British Israel partisan with his avocation of organizing for the second Ku Klux Klan. Sawyer and his successors blended their nativist "pro-American" Klan philosophy with the religious tenets of British Israel, which declared the biblical destiny of the Anglo Saxon peoples. Only parts of the British Israel movement amalgamated with nativist, racist groups such as the Klan; the rest of BI continued to promote its vague and esoteric biblical philosophy, especially under the leadership of Howard Rand and his "Destiny" organization. By that time, however, Beauchamp had defected from the British Israel camp, and joined up with the Christian Scientists. But permutations of BI philosophy were unavoidable, and splits occurred despite Rand's efforts in the 1930's; Rand himself was flirting with anti-Semitic conspiracy themes (especially those espoused in the bogus "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion"). In the 1940's and 50's, two men played an important role in creating the direct religious and philosophical underpinnings of Christian Identity. One was Wesley Swift, perhaps the first "Identity" preacher who in 1946 began the onerous task of reviving the Ku Klux Klan in Los Angeles. At that time, he met Gerald L.K. Smith, perhaps the nation's foremost professional anti-semite. Smith had organized the Christian Nationalist Crusade and published "The Cross and the Flag", a journal which served up a brew of anti-communism, racism and fundamentalist christianity. Wesley Swift remains perhaps the most complex and enigmatic figure in the early days of Christian Identity. There are different accounts of how Swift, the son of a minister, was first exposed to British Israel-pre-identity theology. One account insists that while Swift was pastor at a Foursquare Gospel church, he attended a "pyramid study group" facilitated by one San Jacinto Capt; still another story links him to an associate of BI leader Howard Rand, a man named Philip Monson. Whatever the origin, though, by the 1950's Swift had organized his Los Angeles-based Church of Jesus Christ Christian, a name which was to serve as a template for subsequent Identity groups. From "Old Right" nationalist-racist and fundamentalist anti-communist figures like Gerald L.K. Smith, William Potter Gale and others, Christian Identity began to percolate as a loose but growing movement. By the late 1970's and early 80's, Identity was being promoted by Richard Girit Butler, Thom Robb and Carl Franklin. A distinct religious-racialist agenda was being espoused , sometimes violently. It blended traditional anti-semitism with contemporary themes, and went far beyond even the most conservative, right-wing visions which had characterized even the Reagan years. Demonization A core Identity belief concerns Jews. In Identity theology, the first beings were actually created BEFORE Adam. This "polygenism" suggests to some that there are three distinct races (White, Brown and Black); but it is the Adamic race which is superior and the object of biblical destiny. In addition, Identity proponents claim that the Genesis story of the Fall describes intercourse between Eve and a quasi-human devil. That "seedline", for some Identity believers, gave rise to Jews. The "pure" Adamite "seedline" lives on today as the white race. Because of this, all history is to be viewed from a racialist perspective. Identity movements foresee a racial civil war, a prelude to establishing a "National Redoubt" in the Western United States. The Idaho-Oregon region is usually given as the locus of this white racial strong-hold, although some Identity activists once promoted a "Golden Triangle" in the mid-west. It is the Pre-Adamites and their agents who control the government apparatus in the U.S. according to Christian Identity. The U.S. government is referred to as ZOG, Zionist Occupation Government; ZOG is said to encourage secularism, atheism, mixing of races, homosexual behavior (to weaken "white seed" and turn white women away from white males) and gun control. Many Identity followers recognize only the "Posse Comitatus", or power of a county sherriff; they often claim that the federal, state and local government is "illegitimate" and in the hands of Jews or their allies. The Freemen standoff in Montana typifies the ambiguity of Identity theo-politics concerning violence. There is no one center of Identity orthodoxy (indeed, there are splits and schisms within the movement, and Identity followers are now even distrustful of British Israelism -- for a variety of reasons). The movement is best described as a "loose coalition" of groups, individuals and churches. Neo-nazi Skinheads can share elements of Identity theology along with traditional Klansmen or Aryan Nations activists. Some identity followers are hard-core survivalists, stockpiling food, ammunition and other supplies for the "civil war". Others promote their scheme of dismembering the United States to create a distinct "Aryan nation" through above-ground political activism. Most scholarly literature which traces the origins of British Israelism and the Identity movement insists that there are crucial differences between the Identity theo-political agenda and that of Protestant fundamentalists and the Reconstruction post-millennialists. Michael Barkun, professor of Political Science at Syracuse University, attempts to emphasize these crucial distinctions in his book "Religion and the Racist Right." In fact, most fundamentalists, evangelicals and pentacostals may well be revolted by some of the more blatantly anti-semitic Christian Identity teachings.Jews play different roles in the eschatological fantasies of Pat Robertson and Identity theorists, and even Reconstructionists like R.J. Rushdoony seem to reject the "demon" label applied to blacks and others. Even so, we may be justified in placing Identity simply further along the cultural spectrum, but still associated with much of the contemporary religious conservative movement. All represent varying degrees of "Dominionism", the notion that biblical law -- or the word of god -- should be the enforced standard of conduct in civil society. The principle that god (or presumably his representatives on earth) should have "dominion" over all living creatures -- whether they believe or not -- is what ultimately unites all those who see religion as a template for the human existence. Christian Identity is not so much a religious orthodoxy (it lacks a centralized ecclesiastic "authority", only various practioners and publicists) as it is a glue binding together groups, movements and individuals identified as right-wing racialists. Klansmen, Aryan Nation "Skinheads", neo-nazis, extreme militia groups and survivalist-cults can all incorporate elements of Identity philosophy into their own respective platforms. It is Identity's ability to demonize cultural and political opponents in the most extreme terms, though, which seduces those people most vulnerable to its manichean division of the world. *************************** Source notes: Michael Barkun's "Religion and the Racist Right"(1994, University of North Carolina Press) is one of the more exhaustive studies of British Israel and Identity theology.Barkun examines the nuances in early British Israel theology, including the origins of Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God. The variety of BI attitudes concerning the Jews is most striking. Two books by journalist John Roy Carlson are crammed with names of individuals and organizations linked to the "Old Right", many of which figure in the origins of Christian Identity. Carlson's "Under Cover" (1943, E.P. Dutton & Co.) is fairly easy to locate, especially in its later book club editions. "The Plotters" (1946, E.P. Dutton & Co.) is somewhat more difficult to find, but like "Under Cover" moves in and out of used book stores on a regular basis. Those interested in exploring "Pyramid science" could begin with the brief but lucid discussion in "The New Apocrypha" by John Sladek (1973, Stein & Day). An excellent biography of Charles Piazzi Smyth, Scotland's Astronomer Royal and an enthusiastic believer in this pseudo-science, is "The Periphatetic Astronomer" by H.A. Bruck and M.T. Bruck (1988, Adam Hilger). For current Identity information, readers should consult James Corcoran's "Bitter Harvest: Gordon Kahl and the Posse Comitatus -- Murder in the Heartland," (1990, Viking). There is also "The Politics of Righteousness" by James A. Aho (1990, University of Washington Press); Aho's book gives some insight into the sociological background of Christian Identity and notes, for example, the apparent lack of participation by government officials or "persons of social prominence" (Barkun) which was once so characteristic of Anglo British Israelism. Ironically, one of the best overviews of Christian Identity comes from a writer generally identified with conservative causes, Garry Wills. His article titled "The New Revolutionaries" appeared in the August 10, 1995 New York Review of Books. It is based on nine books, including Aho's work, "The Turner Diaries" and others. Wills begins with -- what else? -- the Oklahamo City bombing, which in itself has now become a metaphor in contemporary American existence. Finally, for those of us interest in placing the Identity movement and related groups in a Millennialist context, there is Stjepan Mestrovic's "The Coming Fin De Siecle." Mestrovic sees parallels between our emergent, contemporary end-of-century angst and earlier times, specifically the end of the 1800's. Be warned, however, that much of Mestrovic's study is concerned with the finer points of Durkheim and other luminaries of sociological theory. Much work still needs to be in placing Identity, Aryan Nations, The Order and the rest of the far-right Christian revolutionary movement in its proper millennialist perspective, perhaps as a component in a widespread "revolt against modernity." ************** *********************************************************************** * * * American Atheists website: http://www.atheists.org * * PO Box 140195 FTP: ftp://ftp.atheists.org * * Austin, TX 78714-0195 * * Voice: (512) 458-1244 Dial-THE-ATHEIST: * * FAX: (512) 467-9525 (512) 458-5731 * * * * Atheist Viewpoint TV: avtv@atheists.org * * Info on American Atheists: info@atheists.org, * * & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address * * AANEWS -Free subscription: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org * * and put "info aanews" in message body * * * * This text may be freely downloaded, reprinted, and/other * * otherwise redistributed, provided appropriate point of * * origin credit is given to American Atheists. * * * ***********************************************************************


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