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Written by: Dr. Richard Swier
Dr. Arie Perliger from the Combating Terrorism Center located at West Point, NY issued a report titled, Challengers From The Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right. The report states, “There are three major ideological movements within the American violent far right: a racist/white supremacy movement, an anti-federalist movement and a fundamentalist movement.”
What are the roots of the American anti-Federalist movement?
Anti-Federalism refers to a movement that opposed the creation of a stronger U.S. federal government and which later opposed the ratification of the Constitution of 1787. The previous constitution, called the Articles of Confederation, gave state governments more authority. Led by Patrick Henry of Virginia, Anti-Federalists worried, among other things, that the position of president, then a novelty, might evolve into a monarchy. A book titled “The Anti-Federalist Papers“ is a detailed explanation of American Anti-Federalist thought.
Anti-Federalist No. 1 titled “General Introduction: A Dangerous Plan of Benefit Only to The ‘Aristocratick Combination’.” was printed in the The Boston Gazette and Country Journal on November 26, 1787 and warned, “Their [Federalist] menacing cry is for a RIGID government, it matters little to them of what kind, provided it answers THAT description.”
Noted anti-Federalists included: Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, George Mason, Richard Henry Lee, Robert Yates, James Monroe, Mercy Otis Warren, George Clinton, Melancton Smith, Arthur Fenner, James Winthrop and Luther Martin.
Thomas Jefferson expressed several anti-federalist thoughts throughout his life, but his involvement in the discussion was limited, since he was stationed as Ambassador to France while the debate over federalism was going on in America in the Federalist papers and Anti-Federalist Papers.
‘”Anti-federalist and anti-government sentiments were present in American society before the 1990s in diverse movements and ideological associations promoting anti-taxation, gun rights, survivalist practices, and libertarian ideas.”
The Executive Summary notes, “It is important to note that this study concentrates on those individuals and groups who have actually perpetuated violence and is not a comprehensive analysis of the political causes with which some far-right extremists identify. While the ability to hold and appropriately articulate diverse political views is an American strength, extremists committing acts of violence in the name of those causes undermine the freedoms that they purport to espouse.”
How does Perliger portray the modern day anti-Federalists?
Perliger states, “Violence derived from the modern anti-federalist movement appeared in full force only in the early to mid-1990s and is interested in undermining the influence, legitimacy and effective sovereignty of the federal government and its proxy organizations. The anti-federalist rationale is multifaceted, and includes the beliefs that the American political system and its proxies were hijacked by external forces interested in promoting a “New World Order” (NWO) in which the United States will be absorbed into the United Nations or another version of global government. They also espouse strong convictions regarding the federal government, believing it to be corrupt and tyrannical, with a natural tendency to intrude on individuals’ civil and constitutional rights. Finally, they support civil activism, individual freedoms, and self government. Extremists in the anti-federalist movement direct most their violence against the federal government and its proxies in law enforcement.”
What evidence of violence perpetrated by the anti-Federalist movement does Perliger document?
Perliger reports (pages 136-137):
”Our dataset documented 87 cases of violent attacks that were initiated by militias or other anti-federal associations between 1990 and 2011. As expected, almost half of the attacks were perpetrated during the movement’s popular period, the second half of the 1990s (48.2%). Since then we have witnessed limited violent activities by the militias, except for a sharp rise during 2010 of 13 attacks. Nonetheless, in 2011 the number returns to the level observed in previous years (between 1–4 attacks per year; 2 attacks in 2011). Thus, while there may be a rise in the number of active militia groups, except for 2010 we still do not see this systematically manifested in the level of violence. As for the geographical dispersion of the attacks, California again is highly prominent (18.4%) alongside Texas (10.3%). The rest of the attacks are distributed more or less equally among 28 other states. The areas that are excluded are parts of the northeast: no attacks were reported in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, and there was only one attack each in Massachusetts and New Hampshire; the northern Midwest: there were no attacks in Illinois, Iowa, North and South Dakota; and some Southern states: Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri. Thus, it is difficult to find a geographic rationale for the violence.”
How many casualties have been caused by the anti-Federalist movement?
Perliger reports, “[T]he average number of fatalities and injuries is 14.04 injured and 3.97 fatalities; when omitting the attack in Oklahoma [by Timothy McVeigh], the average goes down considerably [to] 0.77 [injured] and 0.55 [fatalities] respectively.” (page 138)
Do eighty-seven cases of violent attacks over a 21 year period constitute a violent movement or isolated criminal acts? Perliger does not address this question.
Perliger concludes, “[I]t should be noted that historically some of the anti-federalist groups have absorbed racist and Christian Identity sentiments; nonetheless, the glue binding their membership and driving their activism has been and remains hostility, fear and the need to challenge or restrict the sovereignty of the federal government.”
Do those who identify as Christians belong in the same category as skinheads and Neo-Nazis? Perliger believes so when he states, “Among these are militias, Christian Identity groups, Skinheads and neo-Nazis.”
This study is flawed when it only defines anti-Federalist groups as “violent far-right”. Are Federalist groups not violent?
Any group that seeks to impose its will on all of the people either by edict or violence is by definition “Federalism”. Federalism in the United States is the evolving relationship between U.S. state governments and the federal government of the United States. Since the founding of the country, and particularly with the end of the American Civil War, power shifted away from the states and towards the national government.
Is this what the people fear most – the expansion of federalism? Is this fear real and worthy of concern?
Watch this video of interviews done in New York City asking “Do you fear tyranny in America?” Note at the end the responses of young Americans. Are they recruits for the “violent far-right”?