A civil-rights activist surveys the history of the far-right militias and concludes that we shouldn’t underestimate the appeal of bigotry, especially during economic downturns.
Levitas focuses at first on a paramilitary movement, Posse Comitatus, founded by William Gale, who died in 1988 after a long career spewing racial and anti-Semitic bile. Levitas establishes that Gale himself was of Jewish descent, lied about his military career, and found a way to be absent when physical danger was imminent. Gale is just one of many hard-right leaders whose ugly stories Levitas tells. We hear about Robert Welch (John Birch Society founder), Robert DePugh (the Minutemen), Richard Butler, Henry Lamont “Mike” Beach, James Wickstrom, and others, including the far more notorious Randy Weaver, David Koresh, and Timothy McVeigh. Levitas’s research is exhaustive (he appends more than 100 pages of endnotes and a 34-page timeline), and he does an admirable job of charting the growth of these groups, establishing interrelationships among them, and showing how they adapt their messages to the political climate. For example, during the farm crisis in the 1980s (when foreclosures were on the nightly news), posses recruited heavily from among angry farmers. Levitas describes in detail some of the bloodier encounters between militias and law enforcement agencies. Although he includes Ruby Ridge and Waco, he tells more about lesser known firefights, like the 1983 shootout with Gordon Kahl that left dead a number of federal agents and police. (Kahl was eventually killed in another shootout a few months later.) Levitas is not a disinterested (or particularly eloquent) historian: he labels Kahl’s killing “fitting retribution,” employs sic liberally when quoting ungrammatical texts from hate groups, and routinely reminds us that he thinks these organizations are populated by ignorant, dangerous bigots. He notes that their appeal remains wide among Southern white men.
Thorough research, adequate writing, ominous message. (16 pp. b&w photographs, not seen)