Institutionalizing Lone-Wolf Terrorism: How Fascist Organizations Inspire Mass ViolenceShane Burley I Society & Culture I Analysis I September 21st, 2015
As Mulugeta Seraw and a friend hopped out of their ride's car, they didn't notice the pack of three skinheads wearing tight Levi's tucked into leather boots, laces tied from toe to ankle. The gang were members of East Side White Pride, affiliated with the larger White Aryan Resistance. Seraw was a student who had come to Portland, Oregon from Ethiopia, likely expecting Portland's long reputation of diversity and liberal values. It has another history, one that is caked in the KKK revival in the Northern USA and would later be marked by white expansion and gentrification. When the three men saw him on the corner of SE 31st and Pine street, a flurry of racial slurs were thrown before they took a baseball bat and caved in his head. This was just one of the many violent attacks that marked the war on the streets of Portland in the 1980s and 90s, where Antifa and anti-racist skinheads went literally up in arms with Volksfront, Hammerskin Nation, and other white pride gangs. The blood was visible on the corner of that street for weeks, and some swear you can still see it at night.(1)
This story resonates as we are inundated with recent horrors like the Dylan Roof massacre of nine church-goers after reading the Council of Conservative Citizens website, or the two men who beat an older hispanic man in south Boston after listening to Donald Trump's speech of racial arson.
The radical right can fundamentally be dropped into two camps. There are the above ground operations that focus on propagating "ideas" or political programs. These would be things like the "HBD" scientific racist organizations like American Renaissance, Mankind Quarterly, and the Pioneer Fund. There are the neo-fascist cultural and "radical traditionalist" organizations like Traditionalist Youth Network, Occidental Observer, and The National Policy Institute. There are vague political parties and organizations like the American Freedom Party and Council of Conservative Citizens, but the time that formations like these had any mainstream power has shortly passed. There are many other subdivisions of these, but in most of them you are likely not to hear the N-word or see many iron crosses or swastikas.
The second type of organization you can likely call insurrectionary, vanguardist, revolutionary, or simply angrily racist. These are organizations whose prime mission is a right-wing racialist revolution of some sorts, or the use of direct action in the re-establishment of formal white supremacy. There have been versions of this type of organization that has formed often over the years. The uniquely American flavor of this type of confrontational white supremacist organizing has its deep history in the Ku Klux Klan. Formed first in 1866, the clan used a fraternal structure that places former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest as its Grand Wizard. From 1867 forward the KKK founded its purpose to challenge the entry of freed slaves into public life during Reconstruction. In this way they acted as a sort of guerilla army attempting to, if not reverse the course of the Civil War, re-establish the kind of white hegemony that they had during the time of slave patrols. Northern politicians would essentially go to war with the Klan as they murdered seven of the first black legislators during the 1867-68 congressional convention. The real resurgence of the Klan came in the 1920s when they brought back an extensive leadership using the Greek fraternal system, and rose to the ranks of about four million people. This meant that they were a real political force, leading in Senators and Governors, as well as many that had to seek Klan endorsement if they were to be elected. This political clout certainly influenced policy of the time, but the real power was to terrorize communities of color with mass lynching and tortures of black people all across the south. This violence became institutional as the Klan infiltrated all areas of law enforcement, and lynching were so wide spread and accepted that people literally sold photos of dead black men hanging from trees as popular postcards. The political power it had in the 1920s was never again replicated, though it came out again as a powerful force for violence during the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s. This helped to push forward the White Citizen's Councils that would evolve into the Council of Conservative Citizens that we have today. (2)
While the Klan is all but gone in the 21st century, the other element of white resistance was the neo-Nazi skinhead movement. This was much more inspired from their British punk-rock dissidents of the Rock Against Communism flair. This created an essentially "working class" urban racialist movement that was drawn from the organizing traditions of anti-racist Trojan Skinheads. The skinhead culture, with networks like Volksfront and Hammerskin Nation dominating the U.S. scene, operate like street gangs with initiations and requirements of members to engage in racist violence. Their connections to other essentially "white gangs," most notably different motorcycle gangs, has cemented their association with distributing drugs like Crystal Meth and Oxycontin, though on the more militant side there is also a straight edge tradition.
The main threat of organizations like this was never successful political organizing, though semi-skinhead organizations like the National Socialist Movement maintain delusions that they will someday have political influence through bridge topics like immigration and affirmative action. The real threat here was violence on an interpersonal level, often times resulting in random violence against targeted groups on the streets. This can appear as "random" violence, but is only random in as much as there is not an overarching political goal that can be seen with any coherence. Beyond the skinhead gangs and shrinking KKK locals, these will also include groups that do have an ideological framework and some sense of revolutionary organizing in the long-term, yet do not work with the more moderate kinds of above ground organizations. This includes many of the racialist Christian Identity churches that are tied to survivalist militias. The Church of Jesus Christ - Christian, otherwise known as Aryan Nations, was one of the largest and best known of these, residing in Hayden Lake, Idaho. There they had a large compound where they held sermons about how Jews were biologically descended from Satan, how people of color were literally the "Beasts of the field" and were animals that did not have souls, and that all white people are the people called Israelites in the Bible. They tied racial revolution to Biblical eschatology for a conspiracy-laden mix of Nazism and American conservative Christianity. After several members attacked a family driving by the compound, the church and its leader, Reverend Richard Butler, were sued and the land confiscated. Today Christian Identity still plays a major role in underground militia oriented circles, though Kinism, a slightly more mainstream appearing racist Christian interpretation, is stealing many converts.
The National Socialist Movement, National Alliance, and many other militant Nazi organizations have straddled the line between organizing and revolutionary violence for most of their life. While their stated goals are often just well organized propaganda, education, and political programs, their revolutionary rhetoric has seen more results with inspiring single individuals to commit homicidal acts than having any kind of political program of any value.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of individual strands that all attempt to claim some serious legitimacy on political or ideological grounds, but they broadly can fall into the two categories and hold much of the same potential for inspiring singular acts of extreme violence. The violence that is exhibited is markedly different between groups based principally on the location and specific revolutionary vision of the organizations, but all the violence takes the form of singular acts of terrorism. What this means is that the kind of violent incidents that is seen from militia groups like The Order and Posse Comitatus is much different than the street skinheads of Vinland.
When it comes to the kind of racist violence that Anti-Fascist Action has staked much of its history on was confronting the random violence of the urban skinhead gangs. Much of the focus on these groups is that they tended to be one of the few groups that engaged in public acts of violent direct action into the 1990s, while the Ku Klux Klan and other groups had really receded or were attempting to moderate their politics. Skinheads, on the other hand, were mirroring other punk rock subcultures and creating a counter culture that engaged in gang violence in large cities. They were also coming into direct contact with left-oriented organizations by having some subcultural crossover in music venues, as well as having a high presence in drug running and prison gang culture. These were not heavily ideological groups, and those that had a stronger sense of white nationalism evolved into the more moderate path that many of the Klan splinter groups did in the 1980s.
Instead of being a more overarching political program, the myth about skinheads was based in their seemingly random targeting of minorities in public locations for incidental acts of incredibly cruelty. This has led to a consistent set of attacks since the mid 1970s, where people of color are often targeted in otherwise white areas, or young queer folks are "hunted" in areas where they might frequent. This has the effect of generalized fear since the attacks seem to be randomly selected, do not have a distinct pattern, and can essentially happen "anytime and anywhere."
People have always tried to see these gangs as part of a larger fascist movement or political vision, but this is difficult since there is not a lot of connection between them and the more mainstream intellectual movements and the violence itself would be hard to systematize. What occurs internally is to create a culture where violence is foundational to the community, and where prestige within the group is based on the history of engaging in violence. Since there is no outlet for this growing violent culture in anyway that can be a part of a larger political movement, as there would have been with the KKK in the 1920s, they instead wait in the wings for chances to let rage explode at random targets. Violence is the impetus for these groups, and recruiting often targets people who may have a history of violence and disaffection already, taking on an almost "cult like" structure of taking over a new recruit's world. This violence is stoked so effectively internally that it doesn't even require some type of antagonism from the left, as would happen at some kind of political protest clash. Instead, right from the start recruits are being emotionally prepared to engage in some type of violence as a way of securing a place in the social order that has chosen them.
As said earlier, the image that AFA and ARA organizers have of racist violence often comes from northern skinhead gangs because those are the street clashes that are common, the risk of larger incidents of violence are actually coming out of the woods instead of the alleys. The militia movement, though often associated with the far right, is not always considered a racialized group. While much of the rhetoric is made up of racial "dog whistle" language and vague discussions of "socialism" or "the federal government,", a large contingent of racial revolutionaries mix with these groups and have their own agenda. Over the course of the 1980s we have seen massive trends towards violence, some of it on an almost unbelievable scale. The Order, active through 1983 and 1984, took credit for the murder of Jewish radio talk show host Alan Berg as well as bank robberies totaling over $3.6 million. They were berthed out of groups like the Aryan Nations and National Alliance, which they kept in close contact with. The most famous of these men was David Lane, who went on to coin the Wotanist religion, which is essentially a hyper-racist version of folkish Asatru. He is best known for coining what white nationalists refer to at the "14 Words," which says, "We must secure the existence of our people and the future for White Children." The Order maintained a close relationship with Frazier Glenn Miller of the White Patriot Party. He went on to shoot several congregants at the Jewish Community Center and the Village Shalom retirement center. He killed several here in a moment of mass murder, several of which turned out not to be Jewish. Similarly, Aryan Nations member Buford O. Furrow, Jr. shot and killed several children at the Jewish Community Center in L.A., as well as murdering a Filipino postal worker. All of these different members discussed the need to engage in revolution against the Zionist Occupation Government, in which subversive Jews use "mud races" to destroy the purity of the white race.
The most dramatic example of these is obviously the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 that killed 168 people while injuring an additional 680 others. A huge number of these were children since the Federal Building that was attacked had a childcare center in it. This was carried out by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols driven by anti-Federal ideas that were heavily racialized. McVeigh was even found to have pages from the Turner Diaries in his car. The book, which is something of a Bible from the racist militia movement, is a novel written by National Alliance founder William Pierce that describes an incredibly violent race war where blacks and Jews are exterminated at will. Their connections to the fringes of these movements were clear, yet what they actually intended to result from their actions were not. In many of these cases, the idea is for the violence to trigger the subliminal racism of middle America to rise up against their "subversive Jewish masters."
These kinds of gun-based attacks have largely come out of the more militant groups dealing both with racialized ideologies and also having connections to broader militia groups, conspiracy theory organizations, and the new Sovereign Citizens movement. On the west coast the Posse Comitatus had been on the vanguard of this racist militia milieu for years, and more recently groups like the Northwest Front may be taking up that mantle. It would be nice to write these attacks up to a few disturbed people, and, in a lot of ways, you can. The organizations that do still exist that pushed these people into their moments of extreme violence often times denounce the actions, or passively support them. What we do see is that organizations like these use people with questionable social standing and emotional stability to commit the most violent acts against people of color, queer folks, Muslims, immigrants, and anyone else they have decided to hate that week.
What is important to also consider when thinking about these types of groups is that their lip service, and even attacks, against the government are not what is really at issue. The state is only a subject of attack because of its relationship to communities of color, Jews, and others. The real violence here is against random minority community members and, in the case of bomb attacks, low-level government workers. Their threat is still, no matter what they say they target, against individuals in our communities and not lofty government or corporate actors.
The acts of mass murder themselves have often taken on the "blaze of glory" format where the act itself is not always hidden very well, and the actor tends to see this as the culminating act of their life. This again has led many in the media and state agencies to list these people as just being emotionally disturbed, and this is a narrative that many of the larger revolutionary racist organizations have supported. Instead, it actually comes at the direct result of much of the organizing rhetoric that happens internal to these organizations.
Two primary organizing documents have led to help create the space for these acts of mass killings. The first is "leaderless resistance," which is the name of an essay written by white nationalist Col. Ulius Louis Amoss in 1962. The notion came from the idea that the top-down "pyramid structure" used by white vanguard organizations were easy to be infiltrated and instead advocated a "phantom cell" model that lacks any kind of centralized control. Many would actually see that this is similar to many "affinity group" models used in insurrectionary left-anarchist organizing, but while there are connections in the use of anti-organizational modes, the goals are radically different. As Simson Garfinkel writes in the journal First Monday, the goals of leaderless resistance in this context is in interpersonal violence.
Under many circumstances, the "resistance" advocated by Beam could easily devolve into random acts of anarchistic violence without any formal political objective. Indeed, the effects of Leaderless Resistance can easily be dismissed as the work of "wannabe terrorists", petty criminals engaging in copycat crimes, and angry loners participating in "sympathy attacks." That is, it could easily devolve into traditional forms of "resistance" or "cultural resistance" employed by the poor or powerless to impede or subvert a more powerful foe. The violence of Leaderless Resistance is different from what sociologists often refer to as "cultural resistance." While it is uncoordinated, Leaderless Resistance supports a common political goal: it is violence with an agenda. Typically, this agenda is set by political tracts or other documents that set forth objectives, demands, and classes of particular targets. Agenda-setting is also performed by specific individuals who take part in terrorist activities: when one Earth Liberation Front member attacks a dealership for sport utility vehicles (SUVs) that opens another "front" in the "battle", and gives others the idea and motivation of attacking SUV dealerships as well. (3)
He goes on to note that there actually is a kind of de facto leadership in this format in that there tends to be public figures who advocate these methodologies. These end up existing as leadership, and the constant media feedback loop creates a sense of validation in the actions.
The second concept that was important to this is that of the "lone wolf" type action. This concept was heavily popularized by people like Tom Metzger, whose group White Aryan Resistance was a major driving force in supporting neo-Nazi skinhead formations in the U.S. He saw the potential of these groups as the KKK went into decline, seeing them as vanguardist "brown shirts." Metzger's concept of the lonewolf is again a form of leaderless resistance, except specifically focused on assassination-ready targets. As he says in his famous essay "Laws for the Lone Wolf," "anyone is capable of being a Lone Wolf."
Always start off small. Many small victories are better than one huge blunder (which may be the end of your career as a Lone Wolf). Every little bit counts in a resistance. Knowledge is power. Learn from your mistakes as well as the mistakes of others. Never rush into anything, time and planning are keys to success. Never attempt anything beyond your own abilities, failure could lead to disaster. The less any outsider knows, the safer and more successful you will be. Keep your mouth shut and your ears open. Never truly admit to anything…I have never said their will never be a time when all small cells and lonewolves may evolve into a highly structure but ruthlessly militant organization with steel hard leaders. That time is not now and will not be for the foreseeable future. No present leader including myself will be leading that phase. We are only to prepare the way. Hopefully what we say and do now will make future victory possible. Remember, those who have come before you are counting on you, those who will come after you are depending on you. Think white, act White, be White! (4)
While Metzger tries to be vague, he is discussing the murder of high-level targets. This could be politicians that he sees as being a part of ZOG, or this could just be people in interracial relationships, anti-fascist and left-wing organizers, and people organizing the protections of LGBTQ people. This methodology has been a popular idea taken up in various KKK and neo-Nazi factions, the militia movement, and in some of the more violent racialist ideology, like the vile Creativity Movement. You can see this resulting in incidents like the recent targeting of the Sikh Temple members, the killing of the security guard at the Smithsonian Holocaust Museum, and the various Jewish Temple shootings.
Metzger's ideas often come under a free-speech caveat, and it would be unwise to head into a liberal "anti-hate speech" line of organizing as this would end up being counter-productive. But his words do have meaning.
After all three skinheads indicted for Mulugeta Seraw's murder, Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center thought that the case needed to go further than just those with literal blood on their hands. The SPLC is known for doing its research, education, and trainings around hate groups, as well as having different court cases and lawsuits targeting these organizations and individuals. Dees wanted to target one of the overarching organizations and individuals that had been pushing these neo-Nazi skinheads into acts of individual violence. Tom Metzger and WAR became the obvious culprits, and after Dees found a letter that John Metzger, Tom's son, had told the skinhead who committed to murder to show his town how this "Aryan Youth Movement worked." Dees won a $7 million lawsuit against Tom Metzger, functionally bankrupting him and his organization. Metzger's ideas have been central to the functioning of these bouts of skinhead violence, and this court case put him up for it. But he is still out there, legally allowed to keep publishing and the skinheads who continue to read his diatribes continue to stay inspired.
The question as to why violence seems inevitable from these organizations brings up a lot of complicated answers. The vanguard and revolutionary fascists groups do not have the political clout to ever engage in an actual military insurrection against the government. The fear of this type of action is much more theoretical and more based around the more organized above-ground groups since they have the potential to create a radical undercurrent that could be militant come periods of mass collapse and crisis. The current militia and skinhead groups, however, will not have enough pull in the contemporary world to actually mobilize against the state in any meaningful way. Even on their small scale, antifascist organizations, both liberal and radical, successfully shut down their growth and any resources they get their mitts on the second they do. At the same time, their rhetoric, often tied to movements so roundly reviled at this point, such as Nazi Germany, does not have enough palatability to ever be a dangerous political movement.
While they do not have the ability to put a person in congress, or even put enough people successfully in fatigues, they do tend to maintain the most radical elements in the insurrectionary racist ranks. These organizations attract and groom those prone to violence. While the people often engaging in the violence may be walking into the actions themselves with a mix both of ideology and interpersonal issues, there is still a political impetus that drives these organizations to groom people towards violence. It is actually this dynamic that reminds us of many debates on the left circles of insurrectionary anarchism, where by militant actions that may or may not be considered violent are often used to "break the spell" of the current order and inspire further action. This is the classic "propaganda of the deed" mentality that led to the assassinations of presidents and bombings of law enforcement strongholds. It is essentially this notion that actually drives many of these violent acts, the idea being that this will break the "spell of multiculturalism" and drive people to engage in RaHoWa (Racial Holy War).
The very nature of these organizations are in their dissent from the largest fascist milieu, and that point is usually on the basis of the necessity of violence. The larger organizations have differing opinions on whether or not to engage in the political system. Many still advocate running candidates in local elections, both inside open racialist parties like the American Freedom Party or through closely aligned political formations like the Tea Party or the Constitution Party. Others instead want to create a cultural and social milieu in challenge to the system, but is not advocating open insurrection. We see this in the Radix, Alternative Right, H.L. Menken Club crowd, where many actually do advocate revolutionary politics but would never openly associate with violent direct action. Groups like Aryan Nations exists, to a large part, because they are willing to acknowledge the need for violence in the here and now. It is what gives these organizations a modicum of individuality and a purpose to exist.
Because violence is at the heart of their reason to exist, it is inevitable that these formations will lead to violence. As mentioned before, since there is no chance at revolutionary militarism, this takes the form of random acts of violence towards target communities.
Outside of the existing organizations, there is one area where vanguardist fascists have made their way into that has seen a notable rise in violence. The movement against racist police violence has been given a steroid injection with Black Lives Matter rising out of Ferguson, Brooklyn, and Baltimore. It is here that the institutionalized biases lead police to use their positions as defenders of capital to lord over communities of color, engaging in lethal violence at inordinate rates against people of color. This is implicit to a racist society where capitalism and the state rely on racial inequality, and this is baked into the social order that gives police their queues as to who they see as being threatening.
In the now widely publicized FBI report of 2006 titled "White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement" gives us a sense of where much of the effort for state subversion could be for organized racists. Even the state itself acknowledges that its role as the monopolistic holder over the right to violence could allow fascists to use it to further wield violence.
White supremacist presence among law enforcement personnel is a concern due to the access they may possess to restricted areas vulnerable to sabotage and to elected officials or protected persons, whom they could see as potential targets for violence. (5)
The limitations of this report are obvious in the fact that the main threat they see is that those who would like to engage in the sort of "apocalyptic violence" may have access to otherwise "restricted" government officials. What they fail to address is the actual threat that racists who see people of color as subhuman will have access to them as subjects of lethal force.
Much of this draws from the obvious rise in racial extremism between 2008 and 2014, which also marked the increase for the more mainstream versions of these groups like the Tea Party. The reasons for this are obvious as Barack Obama is a bridge-too-far for many of them, but in general the changing demographics of the country is baiting those that simply cannot take the idea of a multi-ethnic society. Many of these organizations target law enforcement because they would like to personally aid in shifting towards a militarized pro-white avenue within policing, where they really do see people of color as violent threats to white society. Policing adds a lethal dimension to the existing inequality of a society, and as the vanguards of white privilege these organizations want to help further make the police force a violent protector of white hegemony. On the more interpersonal level, the petty power that many low-level police get mirrors the kind of white privilege that white nationalists and reactionaries desperately want to hold onto at the cost of the working class unity that could afford them a better position in the world. The same situation has proven true in many of the anti-Islamic threads in the military or, more appropriately, in the private military complex with companies like Blackwater. Here a racist ideological thread helps to aid in the career choice, where protecting the U.S. from "dangerous Muslims and foreigners" may seem like a morally positive choice.
The reality of this situation can only be heightened by its seeming impossibility. With the beauracratic state that essentially weeds out dissenting opinions through Human Resource apparatus, you would think that these kind of racial revolutionaries would be barred from employment. Then we see the high number of organized racists heading into the police force, or radicalizing within the police force due to the type of racialized policing methods that can warp their perception of the communities of color they engage with. We see in countries like Greece where Golden Dawn may only get a small percentage of votes from the general electorate, but have over fifty percent support from the Police. And we need to remember what kind of threat this actually holds even beyond the fact that we can expect for more racist violence from the police. In periods of revolutionary upheaval, the police can easily align themselves with reactionary direct action parties and embody the brown-shirt role they already socially hold.
One of the primary elements that anti-fascists have always confronted is that the dissemination of racist ideas will continue to increase racist violence, even if much racist violence on a daily basis are happening outside of the organized racist movement. This increase is not only due to the production of material from the revolutionary groups, but the intellectual organizing-focused fascist organizations play just as much into producing the material that eventually pushes "lone wolves" over the edge. As pointed out in Why We Fight I, the primary threat in terms of organizing is over the fate of radicalism, but there is also an intensification effect that these groups have over the violent wing of their movement. They continue to stoke racial hatred, the need for "revolution," and other ideas that lead to conscious acts of protecting white supremacy.
1. Denson, Bryan. "Legacy of a hate crime: Mulugeta Seraw's death a decade ago avenged." Oregonlive.com. 1998: Republished November 12, 2014. http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/11/1998_story_legacy_of_a_hate_cr.html.
2. "Ku Klux Klan." History.com. Last accessed September 11th, 2015. http://www.history.com/topics/ku-klux-klan.
3. Garfinkel, Simson L. "Leaderless resistance today." First Monday, Volume 8, Number 3. 3 March 2003. http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1040/961.
4. Metzger, Tom. "Laws for the Lone Wolf." Resist. http://www.resist.com/Articles/literature/LawsForTheLoneWolfByTomMetzger.htm.
5. FBI Counterterrorism Division. "(U) White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement." Federal Bureau of Investigation Intelligence Assessment. 17 October 2006. http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/402521/doc-26-white-supremacist-infiltration.pdf.