Look over your shoulder
Christopher Hitchens on the Oklahoma bombing and the Republican big tent
‘You can read about neo-Nazis all the time in the New York Times,’ said a sardonic acquaintance of mine the other day, ‘as long as they are in Germany.’ And indeed, the existence of an all-American underground composed of paranoid fascist mutants was until recently considered a fit topic only for those who are themselves labelled paranoid. When Costa-Gavras made a film on the subject about ten years ago (Betrayed, starring Debra Winger and Tom Berenger) he was laughed to scorn by the mainstream critics, who diagnosed a bad case of Euro-Marxist condescension towards the nightmare side of the American dream. There were no big funds available to law-enforcement agencies to track down the violent Right, as there would have been if the targets were Libyans or Cubans or (best of all) ‘drug king-pins’. Every now and then, the American Jewish Committee or the Anti-Defamation League or Morris Dees’s heroic Klanwatch outfit would issue a report, warning of the weed-like growth of ostensibly anti-tax militias who also sold Mein Kampf and inveighed against Zog, their sinister acronym for what they term the ‘Zionist Occupation Government’. I must confess that I used to ignore some of these reports myself. One pamphlet, put out by the ‘Aryan Nations’, had run a ‘wanted’ list of mugshots, exposing the real powers behind Zog. My own name appeared next to that of Norman Podhoretz. Momentarily chilling as it was to feel ‘wanted’ by these people (let alone to be gazetted with Podhoretz), the overwhelming impression was of crankiness cut with impotent, pitiable hatred.
Vol. 17 No. 12 · 22 June 1995
It was gratifying that Christopher Hitchens, a British journalist, knew that the citizens of Massachusetts celebrate our 19 April 1775 victory over British arms (LRB, 25 May). It would be excessive to expect him to have known that the holiday’s proper name is Patriots’ Day, not Lexington Day. This is no small point. Of the two major clashes of that day, we choose less to remember the events of the ‘Battle’of Lexington, as we misname the event. When Redcoats arrived at the Lexington green, they were greeted by a well-regulated militia performing close-order drills with their hunting muskets. Both sides swaggered at length on opposite sides of the green like the titmice later described by Konrad Lorenz, without defensive precaution and almost insensible of the danger of actual hostilities. On some putative provocation the Redcoats fired into the farmers’ ranks. The farmers (later ‘patriots’), astonished that their military affectations had been taken seriously, immediately scattered and ran all the way to Concord. By the time the British arrived at Concord, the era of military pretension was dead for ever. The farmers shot from behind trees and hedges, harassing the regulars with murderous effect all the way back to Boston. (When organised rebellion followed, almost no citizen of Concord volunteered for Washington’s army: the town used public funds to hire replacements to satisfy its conscription quota.)
These events’ relevance to latterday American militia is even greater than Hitchens suggested. Few Americans remember why the British left their comfortable barracks to visit the provinces on that day. Their mission was to search every farm and confiscate weapons. They were upset that the farmers had organised themselves into popular militia, which met weekly to flourish their guns and to rant about the tyranny of a distant and benign government. The militia had no offensive capabilities or any but rhetorical intentions. The modern analogue that comes to mind is the Black Panthers, who terrorised California by Scowling at state legislators while carrying legally registered rifles on their shoulders. The Concord militiamen, like the Black Panthers and the Waco miscreants, gained their influence solely by their unintended provocation of the government to ill-considered violence.
The Concord miltiamen had named themselves the Minutemen, boasting that they could make ready at one minute’s notice to resist any British incursion. In the Fifties a new militia named itself the Minutemen and took military training in anticipation of the Russian invasion and occupation of America that many ordinary citizens supposed might follow a surprise bomber attack. The national press reported their activities with the same respect accorded to the ubiquitous nuclear bomb shelters that boosted the construction industry in those days. I remember hearing favourable comment on those self-advertising weekend warriors from schoolteachers, relatives and scoutmasters. It may give us some cheer to note that supporters of American militia are no longer a clear majority.
Gun-control advocates like me prefer not to remember that, after suffering decades of English condescension with mere muttering and throwing of snowballs, American citizens rose to revolution only when the government attempted to confiscate the primal symbol of their self-regard – their guns.
Christopher Hitchens’s bit of yellow dog journalism in which he attempts to link the Republican Party with American neo-Nazis is nothing but reverse McCarthyism. David Duke is a total outcast in the Republican Party in Louisiana. Some state law makes it easy for anyone to run on a particular party’s line; sinister types have managed to do it as Democrats. As a delegate for George McGovern in the 1972 Democratic Convention, I can recall the vehement racism of the ‘Democrats’ who supported George Wallace, a candidate who won more popular votes in the primaries in 1972 than any other Democratic candidate, including McGovern.
Hitchens’s suggestion that Ross Perot is somehow a figure of the neo-Fascist Right is absurd. He supported the liberal Democrat Ann Richards against George Bush (the former President’s son) in the election for Governor of Texas. His lawyer, who is Jewish, is the husband of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Perot endowed a chair for Ginsburg’s husband at a prominent Washington DC law school. As for Huey Long, readers of the LRB should consult any number of excellent biographies for a more balanced view, particularly the Thompson biography. The King Fish. Huey Long was the only American politician who was serious about the redistribution of wealth, which earned him the fear and loathing of the white American Establishment and considerable support among blacks in Louisiana
With regard to the role of the FBI, Hitchens neglected to point out that in the raid at Ruby Ridge, Idaho that led to the stand-off with Randy Weaver, the FBI sniper shot and killed Weaver’s wife Vicki while she was holding her child and did so as a result of a change in FBI policy implemented by Larry A. Potts, currently second-in-command of the organisation. The official explanation by the Director of the FBI, Louis Freeh, is that Potts had failed to read the change in the rules, which had been proposed by agents in the field. But the New York Times has reported that it was Potts himself who authorised the change: ‘Under the bureau’s lethal force rules, agents may use their weapons only if they reasonably perceive an imminent danger of serious bodily harm. But the rules were rewritten during the Ruby Ridge siege to authorise the shooting of any men seen near Mr Weaver’s cabin with weapons in their hands. One agent interviewed by the bureau after the stand-off said the change had been interpreted to mean: “if you see ’em, shoot ’em.” ’ The FBI commander on the scene. Eugene Glenn, who is now special agent in charge of the bureau’s Salt Lake City office, has said that Mr Freeh’s review was a cover-up intended to protect Mr Potts and find lower-level scapegoats, and as the Times further reported, ‘indeed there is evidence that Mr Potts personally approved the change.’ Congressman Stockman has called for an investigation into the cover-up – which, in Hitchens’s book, seems to make him a neo-Nazi. Potts was given a mild reprimand and then promoted by Freeh, who assigned him to head up the Waco raid. It was Potts who urged Attorney General Reno to invade the compound and use lethal force. He was subsequently put in charge of the Oklahoma City investigation and then made Freeh’s deputy.
As for Pat Robertson’s New International Order, there is no mention in that pamphlet of any Jewish financiers. In criticising Nafta and Gatt, the pamphlet says that the only beneficiaries of those free trade agreements would be the international financial community. Hitchens is referring to Hitler’s attack on Jewish bankers and I call on him to give us the ‘line by line’plagiarism from Hitler that he alleges. By listing the Warburgs and the Rothschilds, names found nowhere in Robertson’s pamphlet, Hitchens would lead a reader to believe that Robertson has named these families, which is extremely misleading. When Harold Wilson referred to the gnomes of Zurich, no one in the Labour Party called him a Nazi. Robertson was referring to Citibank and others of this ilk, the business interests that care nothing for employment figures in the United States. Citibank itself has just fired all the union member employees who used to clean the bank’s buildings and replaced them with contractors who employ non-union workers at barely minimum wage standards with no benefits. If an international banking institution makes loans to American Industrialists so they can relocate to Mexico to benefit from the near slave labour one can obtain there, should this be beyond criticism? The products produced in Mexico on these terms are then imported to the United States with no tariff and cause increased American unemployment. This is the stuff that feeds the fires of extremism, as Hitchens should be aware. The fact is that Nafta is a disaster, as Ross Perot pointed out in his debate with Al Gore, in which Gore misstated I the actual economic facts of Mexico’s economic condition. I don’t believe Gore is a liar: he’s just ignorant. But the fact is that Perot was right. As for Gatt, the United States was in no economic shape to enter into such an agreement, which the Japanese are now going to invoke against the Clinton 100 per cent tariff on luxury cars from Japan.
A more serious analysis of the Republican Party and the American economic crisis is in order than the one Hitchens offers. As for the FBI itself, one wonders about its sincerity when it shies away from a serious investigation of right-wing extremists but manages to have the resources to spy on Act-Up, the gay activist anti-Aids group. We should certainly focus on the neo-Nazi threat in America, but we should be vigilant about a government that can promote the likes of Larry Potts.
Bridgehampton, New York
Vol. 17 No. 15 · 3 August 1995
In his rather loopy defence of the new American populist and conservative fauna (Letters, 22 June) Richard Cummings defends Pat Robertson from the charge of anti-semitism and announces that, contrary to my claim, the names Warburg and Rothschild are ‘names found nowhere in Robertson’s pamphlet’. Let me refer him to the index of The New World Order (1991), which is now being passed from hand to hand by the Reverend Robertson’s audience. The entry for ‘Warburg, Paul’ reads ‘61, 65, 123, 124, 125, 178’ followed at once by ‘Warburgs, 126’. The Rothschild entry is not so voluminous but is in many ways more intriguing. ‘Rothschild, 123; Rothschild family, 123, 128; Rothschild, Lord, 111’, may seem colourless even if it leaves Mr Cummings looking – and dare I trust, feeling – a bit of a fool. More pregnant is the entry for ‘Rothschild publication, 7’. Anyone who turns up this page, or who is otherwise familiar with the work of the Rev., will find that ‘Rothschild publication’ is his term of choice for the London Economist. I rest my case.
In an exhaustive essay in the New York Review of Books, Michael Lind has shown the direct literary and political descent of Pat Robertson from classic anti-Jewish paranoids such as Nesta Webster. Given the venomous provenance of this world-view, I suppose it’s reassuring in a way that some of Robertson’s readers and followers are too dull to notice what he’s driving at.