The Book On The Far-Right
April 26, 2000
Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Cultureby James Ridgeway; Thunder's Mouth PressWhat went through your mind the morning of April 19, 1995, when a bomb exploded in the heartland and turned the Alfred P. Murrah into a federal graveyard? Led by much of the media, many concluded that the horror in Oklahoma City must be the work of foreigners. But it quickly became clear that the largest act of terrorism in our nation's history was indeed homegrown. The press engaged in a national teach-in, and the militias were suddenly as American as slavery. Yet for those who have followed the work of James Ridgeway, the notion that the seeds of such rage could bear such violent fruit is far from surprising. In his "Moving Target" columns for the Village Voice, Ridgeway has reported on an atmosphere of living, breathing hate in this land of ours that is too large and too well-organized to be written-off. First published in 1990 and newly revised after the bombing, Blood in the Face chronicles the birth of far-right extremism in the U.S. and abroad, detailing, with a hard-boiled journalists' fire, how an ugly agenda has snaked its way into mainstream politics (Ridgeway was lifting the cloak off Buchanan's recently dumped advisor Larry Pratt years ago). The title, "Blood in the Face," derives from the expression that if you have blood in the face, i.e. are able to blush, then you are not a Jew -- and thus not part of a world conspiracy to undermine civil society. Lucky you.Colored with the memos, pamphlets, rants, cartoons, and texts of sermons of various hate groups, Ridgeway's tour of recent racist history is told in infectious narratives, with characters as rich and frightening as any you'll meet in a Barry Gifford novel. These ugly wrinkles in time offer a collective sum far greater than their individual parts, and indeed threaten democracy. The author begins by digging his claws into the far-right movement's rise in the 1930s. It was then that the career of Gerald L.K. Smith, Huey Long's national organizer and a Protestant minister, began to breed a posse of young men who would be the future leaders of a number of racialist organizations. Spreading like shit in the wind, Smith's foot soldiers would form or aid angry outfits such as the Aryan Nation, the Posse Comitatus, the Order, and the Minutemen; Smith was the link between pre-WWII far-right organizing and the racist far right which took new-and-mediagenic forms such as the rising militias; all the while, our old friend the Ku Klux Klan (new and improved for the '90s!) would be a constant in the far-right world. All of these movements share a common goal: return America to its segregated past. Besides the ever-popular "demon Jew," common denominators among these groups are an excellent knowledge of the Internet and desktop publishing, as well as a lousy sense of dressRidgeway takes us through the resurgence of extremism both pre- and post-cold war, stopping off at the David Duke camp and the rise of "New White Politics." He closes with a look at the "Miracle Whip Kultur" that allows Axl Rose and Professor Griff to capture the media spotlight and disposable incomes of America, while hate radio grabs large share of the market -- a section that would have served readers well by being updated and expanded. Through it all he comes back to this point, hammered to the text like a nail in a coffin: the activities of these hate groups do affect mainstream debate, do change what is acceptable discourse, do open America's big tent to include more openly racist viewpoints. The fringe has become part of the fabric. Which is not to say there's a cup of tea for all. An America enlightened as to the real clear and present danger that the likes of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-nazi skinheads, members of the Aryan Nation and ever-growing militia movement pose to democratic values will condemn such hate and indeed take action. Unfortunately, few journalists target such groups until after the damage is down, as we saw last April in OKC. For the far-right thugs that pollute this earth, Ridgeway remains a moving target. Catch him if you can.