The Anti-Government 'Patriot' Movement Is Exploding in Size and Reach
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It’s hard to know how all this will play out, given the unsettled nature of the presidential campaign and, in particular, the GOP primaries. The animus toward Obama and the government may be as much rooted in economic as racial anger.
In May 2011, a scholarly study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science found that white Americans believe that progress in race relations since the 1950s has come at their expense, with bias against whites more of a social problem in the last decade than bias against blacks. (This comes against the backdrop of the Census Bureau’s prediction that non-Hispanic whites will lose their majority, falling to under 50% of the population, by 2050.) But a Pew Research Center study this January suggested that income inequality may be even more important. The survey found that some two-thirds of Americans believe that there are “strong conflicts” between rich and poor, about a 50% increase since a 2009 survey. That sensibility also was apparent in both the Tea Parties and the Occupy Wall Street movement.
And so it is with many extremist groups.
August Kreis, a longtime neo-Nazi who in January stepped down as leader of an Aryan Nations faction after being convicted of fraud related to his veteran’s benefits, told the Intelligence Report that it was all about income inequality.
“The worse the economy gets, the more the groups are going to grow,” he said. “White people are arming themselves — and black people, too. I believe eventually it’s going to come down to civil war. It’s going to be an economic war, the rich versus the poor. We’re being divided along economic lines.”
At the most macro level, the growth of right-wing radicalization — a phenomenon that is plainly evident in Europe as well as the United States — is related directly to political and, especially, economic globalization. As the nation-state has diminished in importance since the end of the Cold War, Western economies have opened up, not only to capital from abroad but also to labor. In concrete terms, that has meant major immigration flows, many of which have drastically altered the demographics of formerly fairly homogenous populations. In Europe and the U.S. both, white-dominated countries have become less so. At the same time, globalization has caused major economic dislocations in the West as certain industries and kinds of production move to less developed countries.
The sorry U.S. economy also may offer the best single explanation for the huge expansion in the so-called “sovereign citizens” movement, a subset of the larger Patriot movement. Although the size of the sovereign movement is hard to gauge — sovereigns tend to operate as individuals rather than in organized groups — law enforcement officials around the country have reported encounters. The SPLC, for its part, has estimated that some 300,000 Americans are involved.
Sovereign citizens, whose ideology first developed in white supremacist groups, generally do not believe they are obliged to pay federal taxes, follow most laws, or comply with requirements for driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. They also typically believe that filing certain documents can relieve them of debt or bankruptcy proceedings, or even bring them millions of dollars from secret government accounts. The claims are bogus, of course, but they have attracted thousands into the movement at a time of real financial hardship.
Sovereigns’ focus on their supposed right to drive “upon the land” without any regulation has brought them into regular conflict with law enforcement officials. That was seen most dramatically on May 20, 2010, when a father-son team of sovereigns murdered two West Memphis, Ark., officers during a traffic stop, but officials have had other encounters. Just this January, a sovereign accused of trying to shoot a police officer during a traffic stop in Hurst, Texas, went on trial.