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A Brief History of the Radical, Violent Right: How Racist Hate Groups Joined Up with Abortion Terrorists

Alleged murderer Scott Roeder was once a white separatist before he became an anti-choice zealot -- many others have followed the same deadly path.
 
 
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The revelation that Scott Roeder, the alleged murderer of Dr. George Tiller, belonged to an anti-government, white separatist group called the Montana Freemen might seem like an unlikely twist. After all, such groups are generally thought of as either indifferent to the issue of abortion or actively enthusiastic about its potential for reducing the nonwhite population. As it turns out, however, the journey from radical racialist to anti-abortionist isn't as unusual as you might think.

Roeder's connections to the right-wing fringe began well over a decade ago, according to the Kansas City Star. His ex-wife, Lindsey, said that after a few years of marriage, Roeder became increasingly involved with the Freemen and its anti-government ideology. "The anti-tax stuff came first, and then it grew and grew. He became very anti-abortion…That's all he cared about is anti-abortion. 'The church is this. God is this.' Yadda yadda." Noting that she vehemently disagreed with her ex-husband's views, Lindsey Roeder told the Star that he moved out in 1994. "I thought he was over the edge with that stuff," she said. "He started falling apart. I had to protect myself and my son."

In 1996, Roeder was arrested in Topeka after sheriff deputies stopped his car because it had no license plate. Instead, the Star reported, "it bore a tag declaring him a 'sovereign' and immune from state law. In the trunk, deputies found materials that could be assembled into a bomb." Roeder was convicted, sentenced to two years probation, and told to stay away from far-right groups. A state appeals court subsequently overturned the conviction.

Roeder and the Freemen belonged to a little-recognized nativist political movement that began in the early 20th century, flared up periodically, and then ripped through the American heartland during the farm depression of the mid-1980s. This movement was often called "the posse," after a core group named the Posse Comitatus. Like any political movement, it consisted of a myriad of shifting entities that appeared and disappeared. But even though the names of the groups often changed, they all held tightly to the notion that the true white sovereigns, who had rightfully been given this land by God, were being threatened by race traitors  "inferior races" creeping across the borders from Mexico and lands farther south. A favorite posse image was a drawing of a man hanging by the neck from a tree on a hill. Below in the distance stands a group of armed men. A sign is scrawled on the drawing. It says "The posse."

Over the years, this movement has encompassed various remnants of the Ku Klux Klan, what was left of Lincoln Rockwell's Nazis, the national socialists of William Pierce, and skinheads. Sometimes, adherents of the Posse ideology operated underground. Sometimes, they attempted to win support via electoral politics, like the white supremacist David Duke, who ran numerous times for statewide and national office. Terry Nichols, who along with Timothy McVeigh carried out the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, dabbled with the concept of sovereign citizenship. The militia movement, too, was an outgrowth of the posse movement. Daniel Levitas, author of a book about the phenomenon, has described Roeder's group, the Montana Freemen, as "the direct ideological descendants of the Posse Comitatus."

The Freemen aimed to rid the nation of "14th Amendment citizens" -- anyone who wasn't a white Anglo Saxon directly descended from God. Nonwhites, or "mud people," weren't really people at all, but God's failed attempts to create Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. A bad Xerox copy, they used to say. These beliefs derived from a school of thought known as Christian Identity, which holds that Jews, blacks, and other minorities aren't actually people and therefore don't deserve constitutional rights. Instead, those rights are reserved for so-called "white Sovereigns," who aim to take over government and run it through grand juries of the people, with laws enforced by old-time posses.