- Historic Sites
September 1995 | Volume 46, Issue 5
One thing that often distinguishes extremists from the merely disaffected is their sense of a hidden purpose underlying events: Bad things don’t just happen; they are somebody’s plan—and the bigger the evil, the more powerful the forces behind it. The primary villain in the thirties was the federal government, and it is again today, not only actively sinister in its own right but also used as a tool by clandestine financial interests. In the 1930s the supposed international forces undermining American society were Zionist, led by “President Rosenfeld” with his “Jew Deal.” Today’s far-right groups vary about who exactly is subverting America, but many subscribe to the old anti-Semitic scheme and recite the same familiar names of Jewish magnates and bankers.
The main villain then and now: the federal government, both sinister on its own and a tool of hidden interests.
By far the most influential text and manual for the modern revolutionary right is a 1978 novel, The Turner Diaries , written pseudonymously by a leader of the radical right, William L. Pierce. It presents a harrowing account of an imaginary racial war in the 1990s, in which white “patriots” led by a terrorist group called the Order orchestrate a bloody and ultimately successful revolution against the existing “Zionist Occupation Government.” The acronym ZOG has entered the vocabulary of the far right from the novel and has helped shape extremists’ concepts of their enemy. Though the term ZOG was unknown to the Coughlinites, it exactly catches their world-view. The Turner Diaries has so influenced real events that in the 1980s an actual group took the name the Order and began a two-year campaign modeled on the one in the book. In 1983 they even plotted a bomb attack against the very same federal office building destroyed this year in Oklahoma City. And the Oklahoma bombing itself bears a startling resemblance to a scene in the book where a truck bomb destroys FBI headquarters in Washington, killing hundreds. Among other things, the explosive used is identical, and so is the time of day.
Just as the militias of both eras have shared a powerful antiSemitic strain, so have they conformed in identifying themselves is “Christian.” In Coughlin’s day dozens of rightist outfits used “Christian” in their names, as many do today. But while the terminology is the same, the meaning has shifted. The kinds of Christians who followed Coughlin held relatively ordinary religious views; their more recent counterparts have been increasingly influenced by the Christian Identity movement. This sees white Northern Europeans—"Aryans"—as the authentic heirs of biblical promises and covenants, by virtue of their descent from the lost Tribes of Israel; Jews are false claimants to Hebraic status and are of the devil. These ideas were pioneered by Depression-era race theorists like Gerald L. K. Smith and his disciples, and they constitute a direct link between contemporary whitesupremacy extremism and the fringe thought of Coughlin’s day.
Viewing the government as the enemy is all the easier if the government actually carries out policies that can be claimed to pose a direct threat to the lives and safety of the population. Current antigovernment extremists have been inspired by the death and destruction at Waco in 1993 and other armed confrontations; the Waco siege was the chief stimulus for the growth of militias over the last two years, a uniquely powerful symbol because it specifically represented an apocalyptic confrontation between the government and a church—the ZOG destroying a Christian body.
In the late 1930s there were two comparable stimuli. The Spanish Civil War was viewed in terms quite as prophetic as Waco: a direct, murderous confrontation between the forces of religion and those of communism, a model for what might be inflicted on America. Then by 1939 the main obsession shifted to fear that the United States might be lured into World War II on the Allied side. Millions of Americans opposed involvement on constitutional and humanitarian grounds; extremists did so because it would consummate Roosevelt’s rise to dictator. Ultimately, hundreds of thousands of lives would be lost so that control of the country could be surrendered to Jewish interests. This bizarre view justified and even necessitated armed violence to preserve American society. As in the 1990s, rightist terrorism was upheld as national self-preservation.