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The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right

The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right

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by Daniel Levitas

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September 11, 2001, focused America's attention on the terrorist threat from abroad, but as the World Trade Center towers collapsed, domestic right-wing hate groups were celebrating in the United States. "Hallelu-Yahweh! May the WAR be started! DEATH to His enemies, may the World Trade Center BURN TO THE GROUND!" announced August Kreis of the paramilitary group,


September 11, 2001, focused America's attention on the terrorist threat from abroad, but as the World Trade Center towers collapsed, domestic right-wing hate groups were celebrating in the United States. "Hallelu-Yahweh! May the WAR be started! DEATH to His enemies, may the World Trade Center BURN TO THE GROUND!" announced August Kreis of the paramilitary group, the Posse Comitatus. "We can blame no others than ourselves for our problems due to the fact that we allow ...Satan's children, called jews (sic) today, to have dominion over our lives."

The Terrorist Next Door reveals the men behind far right groups like the Posse Comitatus - Latin for "power of the county" -- and the ideas that inspired their attempts to bring about a racist revolution in the United States.

Timothy McVeigh was executed for killing 168 people when he bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995, but The Terrorist Next Door goes well beyond the destruction in Oklahoma City and takes readers deeper and more broadly inside the Posse and other groups that comprise the paramilitary right. From the emergence of white supremacist groups following the Civil War, through the segregationist violence of the civil rights era, the right-wing tax protest movement of the 1970s, the farm crisis of the 1980s and the militia movement of the 1990s, the book details the roots of the radical right. It also tells the story of men like William Potter Gale, a retired Army officer and the founder of the Posse Comitatus whose hate-filled sermons and calls to armed insurrection have fueled generations of tax protesters, militiamen and other anti-government zealots since the 1960s.

Written by Daniel Levitas, a national expert on the origins and activities of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, The Terrorist Next Door is painstakingly researched and includes rich detail from official documents (including the FBI), private archives and confidential sources never before disclosed. In detailing these and other developments, The Terrorist Next Door will prove to be the most definitive history of the roots of the American militia movement and the rural radical right ever written.

Editorial Reviews

two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and former New York ANTHONY LEWIS

A detailed and gripping picture...few Americans have any real idea of the hate-filled minds in our country.
From the Publisher

“Authoritative...chilling, detailed and extensively documented.” —Chicago Tribune

“[This] well-researched book reminds us that the bizarre ideas of the radical right are not only dangerous but influential.” —WILLIAM S. MCFEELY, historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the biography, Grant and Frederick Douglass.

“This book is indispensable to everyone who cares about the future of America.” —RABBI ARTHUR HERTZBERG, award-winning author of The French Enlightenment and the Jews and a memoir, A Jew in America.

“A detailed and gripping picture...few Americans have any real idea of the hate-filled minds in our country.” —ANTHONY LEWIS, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and former New York Times columnist.

Library Journal
Levitas proffers a comprehensive look at far-right movements in the United States, tracking their ideological roots back to the Middle Ages. In addition to detailing the histories of hate groups such as the KKK and White Citizens' Council, Levitas pays significant attention to the surging numbers of paramilitary antigovernment militias since the 1960s.
Publishers Weekly
The militia movement burst into the consciousness of Americans with the Oklahoma City bombing, but hate groups have a long, shameful lineage in America. In this detailed, provocative examination, Levitas focuses on the ideas of William Potter Gale, who, despite Jewish roots, became one of the progenitors of contemporary hate ("If a Jew comes near you, run a sword through him," he told radio listeners in 1982). Gale adapted the idea of the Posse Comitatus, based on a little-known 19th-century law, to spread his notion of the need for citizen militias to defend whites. But, as Levitas, an expert on the radical right, shows, Gale is just one in a long line of racists who have used American ideas and language (such as freedom, rights and private property) to disseminate their message, which often finds a home with the alienated, sparked by specific events such as the shootouts at Ruby Ridge and Waco in the 1990s. Perhaps most disturbingly, Levitas makes a strong argument that these groups have a broad-based "weak sympathy" in numbers that far exceed their small active membership. He also shows how state and local governments have been reluctant to act against these groups, either out of sympathy or in an effort to keep the spotlight away from them. But as Levitas emphasizes, Oklahoma City and the hate groups' cheering for the September 11 attacks demonstrate that these groups will be ignored at our peril. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov. 18) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A civil-rights activist surveys the history of the far-right militias and concludes that we shouldn't underestimate the appeal of bigotry, especially during economic downturns. Levitas focuses at first on a paramilitary movement, Posse Comitatus, founded by William Gale, who died in 1988 after a long career spewing racial and anti-Semitic bile. Levitas establishes that Gale himself was of Jewish descent, lied about his military career, and found a way to be absent when physical danger was imminent. Gale is just one of many hard-right leaders whose ugly stories Levitas tells. We hear about Robert Welch (John Birch Society founder), Robert DePugh (the Minutemen), Richard Butler, Henry Lamont "Mike" Beach, James Wickstrom, and others, including the far more notorious Randy Weaver, David Koresh, and Timothy McVeigh. Levitas's research is exhaustive (he appends more than 100 pages of endnotes and a 34-page timeline), and he does an admirable job of charting the growth of these groups, establishing interrelationships among them, and showing how they adapt their messages to the political climate. For example, during the farm crisis in the 1980s (when foreclosures were on the nightly news), posses recruited heavily from among angry farmers. Levitas describes in detail some of the bloodier encounters between militias and law enforcement agencies. Although he includes Ruby Ridge and Waco, he tells more about lesser known firefights, like the 1983 shootout with Gordon Kahl that left dead a number of federal agents and police. (Kahl was eventually killed in another shootout a few months later.) Levitas is not a disinterested (or particularly eloquent) historian: he labels Kahl's killing "fittingretribution," employs sic liberally when quoting ungrammatical texts from hate groups, and routinely reminds us that he thinks these organizations are populated by ignorant, dangerous bigots. He notes that their appeal remains wide among Southern white men. Thorough research, adequate writing, ominous message. (16 pp. b&w photographs, not seen)

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
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Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.19(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Terrorist Next Door

the Militia Movement and the Radical Right
By Daniel Levitas


Copyright © 2002 Daniel Levitas
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0312291051


The raspy voice of "Reverend" William Potter Gale's tape-recorded sermon filled the airwaves over western Kansas on a summer night in July 1982. From the studios of country-music station KTTL in Dodge City, it carried into homes, diners, cars, and the cabs of combines that rolled across the last unharvested fields of winter wheat. Gale, a retired army lieutenant colonel, spoke in short, rapid-fire bursts:

We've got a bunch of empty skulls in Washington, D.C. They're going to get filled up or busted-one or the other very soon. You're either going to get back to the Constitution of the United States in your government or officials are gonna hang by the neck until they're dead-as examples to those who don't.... These judges who are tearing this Constitution apart and these officials of government ... are gonna return to the law of posse comitatus.... The law is that your citizens-a posse-will hang an official who violated the law and the Constitution.

Take him to the most populated intersection of the township and at noon hang him by the neck [then] take the body down at dark and that will be an example to those other officials who are supposed to be your servants that they are going to abide by theConstitution. [A]ll the other things you do aren't going to be worth a hoot and holler.

"Arise and fight!" Gale told his rural listeners. "If a Jew comes near you, run a sword through him."

Like Gale's other speeches and sermons, this broadcast had a hate-filled theme: A satanic Jewish conspiracy, disguised as communism, was corrupting public officials and the courts, undermining the sovereignty of America and its divinely inspired Constitution. Gale, a self-proclaimed "minister" in the Christian Identity faith, believed that white Anglo-Saxon Christians were the true descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel to whom God's covenant belonged. Jews were children of the devil, and the nonwhites that swarmed the planet were "mud people," incomplete renditions of the pure Aryan man that God created in Adam. Obsessed with maintaining white supremacy, Gale railed against all forms of "race-mixing" as a violation of "God's law."

"How do you get a nigger out of a tree?" asked Gale in one 1982 broadcast. "Cut the rope." Other sermons warned of racial Armageddon, attacked Catholics and minorities, and advised listeners to learn guerrilla warfare so they could garrote people in their sleep.

"You're damn right I'm teaching violence!" Gale acknowledged. "You better start making dossiers, names, addresses, phone numbers, car license numbers, on every damn Jew rabbi in this land ... and you better start doing it now. And know where he is. If you have to be told any more than that, you're too damn dumb to bother with," he shouted.

Gale's beliefs were rooted in a long history of radical right-wing thought in the United States. A decade before the Kansas broadcast, and almost twenty-five years before a pair of antigovernment zealots Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols-bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Gale hoped to lay the groundwork for a violent revolution by creating a paramilitary group known as the Posse Comitatus. Latin for "power of the county," the term refers to the medieval British practice of summoning a group of men to aid the sheriff in keeping the peace by pursuing and arresting lawbreakers. While the historic role of a posse comitatus had been to aid civil authorities in suppressing violence and vigilantism, Bill Gale's revision stood this ancient practice on its head-his posse was devoted to promoting armed insurrection. Under Gale's definition, anyone could call out the Posse, not just the sheriff, and if government officials attempted to enforce "unlawful" legislation the Posse could arrest and put them on trial with a "citizens' jury." Although others later claimed the credit, it was Bill Gale who first developed and popularized the strategy. And it was Gale's encouragement that prompted right-wing militants to form local Posse chapters to mobilize against blacks, Jews, and other perceived enemies of the Republic, including government officials they said were subverting the intent of the Constitution. Building on the bigotry of Christian Identity theology and his involvement with the radical right after he left the army in 1950, Bill Gale popularized a set of ideas that have influenced anti-government activists to the present day. After founding the Posse Comitatus in the 1970s, Gale helped launch the Christian Patriot movement in the 1980s. And long before the first so-called "citizens' militias" appeared in the 1990s, Gale had introduced the concept of private armies and the "unorganized militia."

Of course, there was nothing original in a right-wing group that cloaked itself in patriotism while instructing its followers to take up weapons, enforce white supremacy, root out communist subversion, and resist the evils of central government. But Bill Gale added a new and important twist that made his Posse Comitatus novel and attractive. His message was embellished with elaborate legalistic rhetoric that invoked, among other things, the Constitution, Magna Carta, and medieval principals of British law in order to legitimize his violent call to arms. Gale's Posse also was unique because it successfully bridged the gap between the anticommunist and segregationist movements of the 1950s and 1960s and the paramilitary movements of the 1990s. And during the early 1970s-when other right-wing organizations were collapsing-the Posse thrived by disseminating its ideas and spawning successive waves of violence. Unlike the paramilitary Minutemen of the 1960s, which was disabled after many of its leaders were prosecuted for illegal firearms possession, the Posse was largely unaffected by Bill Gale's death in 1988, seventeen years after its founding. Like children grown to maturity, the forces he shaped have fueled the radical right to the present day.

From Gale's original ideas and comparatively narrow base of tax protesters and Identity believers, the message of the Posse Comitatus has spread across America, spawning crime and violence and pushing seemingly marginal ideas into the mainstream. This book tells that story and unearths the roots of the Posse in its myriad and successive incarnations-from its origins in the era of Massive Resistance to racial integration in the 1950s and 1960s, to its birth in 1971; through its relationship with the right-wing tax protest movement in the 1970s, to its heyday during the Midwestern farm crisis of the 1980s; and its metamorphosis into the broader Christian Patriot and militia movements of the late 1980s and 1990s.

Undergirded by the twin pillars of racism and anti-Semitism, fear of communist subversion and advocacy of states' rights became the rallying cry of the radical right in the 1950s and 1960s. Part of the genius of Bill Gale's invention of the Posse Comitatus was the way in which he took these themes and repackaged them in pseudoreligious legalisms that emphasized individual and "natural rights." For decades, the Ku Klux Klan and its various allies had created social movements and sought political power based upon explicit appeals to racial purity and Christian Nationalism. Bill Gale was no less fanatical in his devotion to "white survival" or his denunciations of world Jewry. But Gale also fashioned an elaborate, American-sounding ideology that married uncompromising anti-Semitism, anticommunism, and white supremacy with the appealing notion of the extreme sovereignty of the people. By emphasizing the idea that white Anglo-Saxon Christians were joined together by natural and "lawful" rights that trumped those of a (racially) corrupt state, Bill Gale's Posse Comitatus reached a new constituency of conservatives who would have been reluctant to embrace an ideology that revolved solely around crude bigotry.

The continuing attraction of the ideas that Gale and others espoused, the criminal violence of their adherents, and the various opposition groups they encountered are among the main elements of this story. But examined here, as well, are deeper historical questions such as how and why congressional Democrats in 1878 outlawed the use of army troops to protect the rights of freed slaves by passing the Posse Comitatus Act. Although popular opinion holds that barring the military from enforcing civil law (except in unusual and extreme circumstances) is a hallmark of American civil liberties, the Posse Comitatus Act was motivated by obvious racism and voted into law without much genuine concern for the high ideals of Constitutional restraint on federal power. In this way, the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act was a precursor of Gale's belief that a group of private citizens was justified in arming themselves to resist federal laws they disliked, or in hunting down perceived enemies of the republic without "unlawful" interference by agents of the central government.

While this book recounts the birth of the contemporary Posse Comitatus and the development of the modern paramilitary right, it also explores the historical, social, and intellectual context for the ideas that motivated Bill Gale and fueled the movement he and others created. In short, it connects the Posse's ideas and values to centuries-old myths and prejudices, many of which survive to the present day. Although many pundits regard militia groups and their progenitors as fringe extremists, many of the core values and ideas that fueled such groups were shared by the majority of Americans until the middle of the twentieth century. It was not until the nation mobilized for war against Hitler's Germany, was compelled to assert moral superiority in the face of communism, and was challenged by the domestic conflict over civil rights, that it began the process of discarding the racial, religious, and nativist prejudices that had dominated its politics, society, and culture since before independence. And even today, millions of Americans still share the belief that the United States should be a predominantly Christian nation; that blacks breed crime and are innately less intelligent than whites; that interracial marriage should be against the law; that Jews are clannish, cunning, and too powerful for the good of the country (in addition to being Christ-killers). These and other essential themes of bigotry resonate well beyond the ranks of the far right. Added to this short list of prejudices is the vague but popular notion that makes millions of other Americans anxious about the future (despite the collapse of world communism): the idea that the nation is on the verge of relinquishing its sovereignty to a shadowy cabal of "globalistic" and "communistic" forces known as "the New World Order." And equally popular, if not more so, is the notion that citizens are obligated to arm themselves to prevent a tyrannical government from usurping their rights.

Gale's 1982 Kansas broadcast was carefully calibrated to appeal to farmers like Gordon Wendell Kahl, a sixty-three-year-old sometime mechanic and World War II veteran who was to become the Posse's most famous martyr. Wanted for violating probation in a 1977 federal income-tax case, Kahl responded with gunfire when U.S. marshals tried to arrest him outside Medina, North Dakota, on February 13, 1983. Two marshals were killed and three other lawmen were injured before Kahl escaped pursuers and disappeared into the right-wing underground. The first press accounts described Kahl as a "tax protester," but news stories soon reported that Posse and Christian Identity beliefs were behind his fatal run-in with the law. It took four months for the FBI to finally track him down in the hills of northern Arkansas where he was hiding out in the home of a fellow Posse member, Leonard Ginter. The Lawrence County sheriff, Gene Matthews, was killed in the gun battle that followed, as was Karl, whose body was burned beyond recognition after law enforcement agents pumped tear gas and diesel fuel into the residence, sending it up in flames-not an uncommon tactic when lawmen finally catch up with a heavily armed cop-killer who refuses to surrender.

Because Kahl was outspoken in his beliefs, Bill Gale said he was killed "because he was teaching this law of posse comitatus, and [exposing] the banking system and the reasons for the foreclosures in the farms, the result of the Federal Reserve System." Kahl's death gave rise to even stranger theories among his supporters, including claims that Kahl survived the shootout and was still in hiding. Official credibility wasn't helped by law enforcement spokesmen who denied that the Ginter home had been intentionally set on fire. When a New York Times reporter came to see what was left of the safehouse several weeks later and stumbled-literally-on the charred remains of Kahl's foot, the grisly discovery reinforced bizarre theories about his fate. According to Richard Wayne Snell, a Posse sympathizer who claimed to have been a courier for Kahl, Sheriff Matthews was killed because he had interrupted federal agents in the process of dismembering Kahl. "They cut off Kahl's toes and hands, torturing him to tell who had been harboring him," Snell declared. When Matthews told federal agents to stop torturing Kahl because they might have "the wrong man," they shot the sheriff thirteen times, Snell claimed.

Enraged by Kahl's death, and inspired by frustrated farmers who set November 1, 1983, as the date for a symbolic protest against low crop prices, Snell decided to mark the so-called "farm revolt" by blowing up a natural-gas pipeline outside Fulton, Arkansas. He and two accomplices used two dozen sticks of dynamite, but the explosion only dented the pipe. Like Gordon Kahl, Snell was an Identity believer who used religion to justify his crimes. Ten days after the botched pipeline bombing, Snell robbed a Texarkana pawnshop. Snell often robbed pawnshops because he believed the owners all were Jewish and "deserved to die." He would then deliver the stolen goods and money to a paramilitary compound in northern Arkansas dedicated to white revolution, The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA). According to James Ellison, leader of the Aryan encampment, Snell had been "sent by God to help the CSA by stealing." In the Texarkana robbery, Snell killed the pawnshop owner, William Stumpp (an Episcopalian). The following year, on June 30, 1984, he killed Louis Bryant, a black Arkansas state trooper. Sentenced to life without parole for the Bryant murder, Snell received the death penalty for shooting the pawnbroker.


Excerpted from The Terrorist Next Door by Daniel Levitas Copyright © 2002 by Daniel Levitas
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Daniel Levitas has written widely about racist, anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi groups and has testified as an expert witness in American and Canadian courts since 1986. His expertise includes such areas as racist violence and the Ku Klux Klan, anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, the Skinhead movement, Aryan prison gangs, crossburning, and the rural Posse Comitatus. He also has worked throughout the United States with civil rights, religious and community groups, and law enforcement agencies seeking to respond to bias crimes and hate group activity.

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The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If politics are looking for terrorists you will find them in the middle east. CONSERVATIVES ARENT TERRORISTS!