The right rides high.

Author:Berlet, Chip
Position:Dogmatism and religious fundamentalism in U.S. Republican Party - Cover Story - Cover Story

The Religious Right has come to dominate the Republican Party in at least ten of the fifty states. As part of its aggressive grass-roots campaign, the Religious Right is targeting electoral races from school boards to state legislatures, as well as campaigns for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. It is a social movement that uses a pious and traditionalist constituency as its mass base to pursue the political goal of imposing a narrow theological agenda on secular society.

Along with the Religious Right, two other significant right-wing political movements threaten democracy: Regressive Populism, typified by diverse groups ranging from members of the John Birch Society to followers of Ross Perot, and Racial Nationalism, promoted by Pat Buchanan and his shadow, David Duke of Louisiana, and increasingly influential in conservative political circles closer to the mainstream.

Finally, there is the militant, overtly racist Far Right that includes the White Supremacists, Ku Klux Klan, skinheads, neo-Nazis, and armed right-wing revolutionaries. Although numerically smaller, the Far Right is a serious political factor in some rural areas, and its propaganda promoting violence reaches into major metropolitan centers where it encourages alienated young people to commit hate crimes against people of color, Jews, and gays and lesbians, among other targets. The electoral efforts of Buchanan and Duke serve as a bridge between mainstream conservatives and these Far Right movements.

All four of the right-wing movements are antidemocratic in nature, promoting in various combinations and to varying degrees authoritarianism, xenophobia, conspiracy theories, nativism, racism, sexism, homophobia, demagoguery, and scapegoating. There are constant differences and debates within the Right, as well as considerable overlap along the edges. The relationships are complex: The Birchers feud with Perot on trade issues, even though their other basic themes are similar, and the Religious Right has much in common with Regressive Populism, though the demographics of their respective voting blocs appear to be remarkably distinct.

Despite the differences, however, one goal has united the various sectors of the antidemocratic Right in a series of amorphous coalitions since the 1960s: to roll back the limited gains achieved in the United States by the civil-rights, antiwar, feminist, environmental, and gay-rights movements.

Each wing of the Right has a slightly different vision of the ideal nation:

[paragraph] The Religious Right's ideal is a theocracy in which Christian men interpret God's will as law in a hierarchy where women are helpmates, children are property of their parents, and the Earth must submit to the dominion of those to whom God has granted power. People are basically sinful, and must be restrained by harsh punitive laws. Social problems are caused by Satanic conspiracies aided and abetted by liberals, homosexuals, feminists, and secular humanists. These forces must be exposed and neutralized.

Newspaper columnist Cal Thomas, a longstanding activist in the Religious Right, recently suggested that churches and synagogues take over the welfare system "because these institutions would also deal with the hearts and souls of men and women." The churches "could reach root causes of poverty"--a lack of personal responsibility, Thomas wrote. "If government is always there to bail out people who have children out of wedlock, if there is no disincentive for doing for one's self, then large numbers of people will feel no need to get themselves together and behave responsibly."

[paragraph] For Regressive Populism, the ideal is economic Darwinism, with no regulations restraining entrepreneurial capitalism. The benevolent despot rules by organically expressing the will of the people. Social problems are caused by corrupt and lazy government officials who are bleeding the common people dry in a conspiracy fostered by secret elites, which must be exposed and neutralized.

Linda Thompson, a latter-day Joan of Arc for the New Patriot movement, represents the most militant wing of Regressive Populism. She has appointed herself "Acting Adjutant General" of the united militias that have formed armed cells across the United States. Operating out of the American Justice Federation of Indianapolis, Thompson's group warns of secret plots by "corrupt leaders" involving "Concentration Camps, Implantable Bio Chips, Mind Control, Laser Weapons," and "neuro-linguistic programming" on behalf of bankers who "control the economy" and created the illegal income tax.

[paragraph] The Racial Nationalists' ideal oscillates between brutish authoritarianism and vulgar fascism in service of white male supremacy. Unilateral militarism abroad and repression at home are utilized to force compliance. Social problems are caused by uncivilized people of color, lower-class foreigners, and dual-loyalist Jews, who must all be exposed and neutralized.

Samuel Francis, the prototypical Racial Nationalist, writes columns warning against attempts to "wipe out traditional white, American, Christian, and Western Culture," which he blames on multiculturalism. Francis's solution: "Americans who want to conserve their civilization need to get rid of elites who want to wreck it, but they also need to kick out the vagrant savages who have wandered across the border, now claim our country as their own, and impose their cultures upon us. If there are any Americans left in San Jose, they might start taking back their country by taking back their own city.... You don't find statues to Quetzalcoatl in Vermont."

[paragraph] For the Far Right, the ideal is white revolution to overthrow the corrupt regime and restore an idealized natural biological order. Social problems are caused by crafty Jews manipulating inferior people of color. They must be exposed and neutralized.

The Truth at Last is a racist Far Right tabloid that features such headlines as JEWS DEMAND BLACK LEADERS OSTRACIZE FARRAKHAN, CLINTON CONTINUES MASSIVE APPOINTMENTS OF MINORITIES, and ADOPTING BLACKS INTO WHITE FAMILIES DOES NOT RAISE THEIR IQ, which concluded that "only the preservation of the white race can save civilization.... Racial intermarriage produces a breed of lower-IQ mongrel people."

All of these antidemocratic tendencies are trying to build grass-roots mass movements to support their agendas. Across the Right one hears calls for a new populist revolt. Many people presume that all populist movements are naturally progressive and want to move society to the left, but history teaches us otherwise. Populism can move to the left or right. It can be tolerant or intolerant. In her book, Populism, Margaret Canovan defined two main branches of Populism: agrarian and political.

Agrarian populism worldwide has three categories: movements of commodity farmers, movements of subsistence peasants, and movements of intellectuals who wistfully romanticize the hard-working farmers and peasants. Political populism includes not only populist democracy, championed by progressives from the LaFollettes of Wisconsin to Jesse Jackson, but also politicians' populism, reactionary populism, and populist dictatorship. The latter three antidemocratic forms of populism characterize the movements of Ross Perot, Pat Robertson, and Pat Buchanan, three straight White Christian men trying to ride the same horse.

Of the hundreds of Religious Right groups, the most influential is the Christian Coalition led by televangelist and corporate mogul Pat Robertson...

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