Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Roots of Right Wing Religious Extremism: The Winrod Legacy 2/2

In PART ONE of this series we looked at the career of Reverend Gerald Winrod, the anti-Semitic preacher from Kansas. Decade after decade, from his fiery attacks on Roosevelt's New Deal to his admiration of the Nazi state, to his crusades against Communists (if only because he saw it as a Jewish conspiracy), Winrod rode every current wave of right-wing radicalism.

Gordon Winrod
In this post, we will look at how the Winrod legacy was passed on to his son, Gordon Winrod, and led to an even more direct expression of violent extremism.

The Torch Passed to a New Generation

Reverend Dr. Gerald B. Winrod passed the torch to his son, Gordon Winrod, who carried on the family tradition of virulent antisemitism. For a time, his son maintained his father's works until finally leaving Kansas, to re-settle in the Missouri Ozarks.

While it is fair to say that Winrod had nowhere near the charisma of his father, his tracts against the Jews were quite a bit more explicit. The Jews, said Gordon Winrod, drank the "warm blood of Christians" and "controlled the money, the media and thus all politics and all government." There was no end, according to Winrod, to the misery they caused. 

In 1960, he began publishing the monthly "The Winrod Letter" which was not only filled with his current rants against the Jews, it offered a list of other anti-Semitic books and tapes that could be ordered from his church. (Click here for a partial sample of a 1997 newsletter.
Hating Jews had become a cottage industry for the Winrods.

Whatever sense there might be in his newsletter is smothered under the weight of his hysterical hatred for Jews. After a freak ice storm struck North Dakota in 1997, he wrote:
The Jews' media have made  much of their fiery Waco date, April 19, 1993, and their Oklahoma City fiery bombing anniversary date, April 19, 1995! Both were staged by a Jew government and Jew media to intimidate the citizenry, who despise the Jewish government; and who does not? But Jews fear to advertise April 19 1997, in this connection the date of Christ's fiery revenge against the Jewish power capital at Grand Forks! 
*    *    *   *

The National Chairman of
 National States' Rights Party,
 J.B. Stoner.
According to the Encyclopedia of Right-Wing Extremism In Modern American History, around this time, Gordon Winrod became the national chaplain for the National States' Rights Partyfar rightwhite supremacist organization. With its uniforms and party symbolism reminiscent of the Nazi Youth Movement, it claimed to have units in 38 states, many of them in large cities, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington and Jacksonville, Fla.

The party's platform stated that, when it came to civil rights (and presumably other issues), the states were constitutionally superior to the federal government. 

The federal government could not, for example, force states like Alabama and Georgia to integrate their publicly-funded schools. They asserted that the federal government had no authority to dictate policy to the states on discrimination. 
(In fact, the party made no attempt to hide its racist views. That was actually part of its attraction for so many in the South and elsewhere. )

That same interpretation of the Constitution has been revived by the Tea Party and the conservatives today. In fact, back in 2011, The Tea Party faction of the GOP proposed an amendment to the constitution giving "states' rights" precedence over and the authority to veto federal laws and regulations. 

Other scholars say the state efforts, if pursued in the courts, would face formidable roadblocks. Article 6 of the Constitution says federal authority outranks state authority, and on that bedrock of federalist principle rests centuries of back and forth that states have mostly lost, notably the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and ’60s.
A June 1964 article in "Progressive" magazine warns that the states' rights party could not be considered "harmless crackpots" as long as "they can escalate hate into violence." Indeed, beginning in 1958, the NSRP was deeply involved in anti-integrationist violence and implicated in bombings in a black church in Birmingham, Alabama and a Jewish temple in Atlanta, Georgia.

Christian Identity

Sometime in the mid-1960s, Gordon Winrod also became a pastor of first of his Our Savior's Church and later became connected with the Christian Identity movement, a profoundly racist and theocratic form of faith that developed in the late 1970s. A lot of people apparently do not understand how little the Christian Identity movement actually represents- even abstractly- the teachings found in the Bible. 

That movement, which prophesied a holy war against the government, spread like wildfire through rural communities throughout the U.S. in the 1980s. Militia members of the movement have been preparing for an Armageddon of White race against “browns, Blacks, and Jews.”

American investigative journalist James Ridgeway notes:
Identity theology provides both a religious base for racism and anti-Semitism, and an ideological rationale for violence against minorities and their white allies.
The Christian Identity movement is, by no means, a mass movement. Because of its decentralized structure, there are no reliable estimates of the number of active members. At most, the best guesses have placed its maximum size at "no more than one hundred thousand, and it may be less than half that."

Although a relatively small organization, there are more Christian Identity organizations in Missouri than in any other state in the country, according to the most recent Christian Identity directory. In fact, besides the Christian Identity movement, Missouri has become a home to many other such extremist groups. One research report on violent extremist groups in Missouri points out that while extremist groups will differ on specific issues, they are being welcomed into mainstream organizations, such as the Missouri Republican Party.

The influence of the Christian Identity movement has already proved to be an agent for radicalization. According to one source, the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was deeply influenced by the white supremacist, apocalyptic theology. Support for this was found in McVeigh’s love for the book, “The Turner Diaries” which has been called “the chief guidebook for Christian Identity eschatology."

That 1978 novel, (described as a “hate” book) was written under the pseudonym, Andrew William Pierce, a John Birch Society member since the 1960s. (Other reports say he quit the JBS after a few years.)

Nevertheless, several major figures in the Christian Identity movement such as Tom Metzger, William Pierce and Gordon 'Jack' Mohr all cut their teeth in the John Birch Society before embracing Christian Identity. (The father of the Koch Brothers was one of the JBS founders.)

The plot of Pierce’s book is more than just a bad novel. It is much more of a theocratic fantasy, describing a violent overthrow of the United States Federal government. and, ultimately, a race war leading to the extermination of all "impure" groups such as Jews, gay people, and non-whites.

And here’s where fantasy meets reality.

In real life, the bombing of Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Building was almost a carbon copy of the incident in Pierce's book. Timothy McVeigh had photocopies of a portion of "The Turner Diaries" with him when he was arrested.

According to an investigative author, Joel Dyer, McVeigh, following his military service, would tour gun shows, hawking the book, often selling the book below its actual cost. Fellow gun-show merchants said it was as “if the contents of the book were his religion and he was looking for recruits.”

The book, The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America, notes that David Barton, controversial revisionist historian, hailed by Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck, spoke at a Christian Identity meetings on at least two occasions, one in Colorado and another in Grants Pass, Oregon.

Anti-Defamation League notes that the leader of the Christian Identity movement, Pete Peters, has “a substantial record of anti-Jewish sentiment.”

Incidentally, Bachmann and Barton reportedly “go back years.” She has played an instrumental role in Barton's success. In the past, she invited him to give guided tours of the Capitol. Furthermore, Bachmann invited Barton to help shape Minnesota’s education standards. Back in 2010, his name was mentioned in her plan to indoctrinate freshman Tea Party congressmen with her controversial congressional conservative classes.

When a speaker like Barton can address a right wing extremist organization that has called for the overthrow of the government one day and then speak before new members of Congress on another day, there is something to worry about.

The Eyes Inside Winrod's Church

While it has to be said that there is no evidence of involvement in violent crime or domestic terror, by anybody related directly with the Winrods, there are plenty of questions about radicalization and incitement. 

But what actually constitutes "incitement" in the eyes of the law? According to the law, a State cannot prosecute individuals who encourage the use of violence unless this encouragement is directed towards producing imminent lawless action and that it was likely to do so. 

According to a March of 2000 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, one Jewish man, after accidentally receiving a hate-filled newsletter from Gordon Winrod’s organization, decided to infiltrate the organization in Gainesville, Mo.

The article had this to say about the goings-on there:
"I figured these guys were goofs," he said. "But these guys are very smart. I found them offensive and dangerous."

At the conference, the man talked with Identity followers and heard diatribes about blacks, homosexuals, mixed races and -- most of all --Jews.

"I just schmoozed them to find out whether they were planning to shoot someone or blow something up," he said. "They laid out an apocalyptic plan to get rid of all the minorities and Jews."
He also heard of a plan to make the Bible Belt of Missouri the Identity's promised land.
Is that incitement? Nearly, but not quite. 
There was something else that the infiltrator learned which is key to understanding terrorism. As the  article notes, it was easy for people like Winrod to find recruits:
"They look for the disenfranchised, those white people who have a grievance with the world," he said.

"Then they just pick, pick, pick at the sore until they have them hooked into Identity."
It’s a time-honored technique. Islamic extremists have been doing it for years and just look at the results. Extremist organizations use the similar basic radicalization techniques by..
  • working up actual or perceived injustices, 
  • dismissing any possibility of a democratic or lawful means to resolve their grievances.
  • constantly pushing propaganda masked as "education," 
  • using the authority of holy books and religious scholars to reinforce the message, 
  • exaggerating an overall sense of disenfranchisement of a particular group, (whether they be the poor of Pakistan, or the white males in the Midwest) 
  • providing a social group and a structure in the lives of followers to instill a sense of belonging and shared ideology. 
In the end, in relying on a few basic human needs and an understanding of psychology, the radicalization techniques are inclined to be strikingly similar. And sadly, the results- if nothing is done to interrupt the process  are usually the same. While Muslim extremists may have their car bombs and suicide bombers, domestic terrorists in the US have their assault weapons fit for the battlefield.

With the coming of well-armed Christian militias, the enemy, isn’t the Jew, or the Catholic, it may be Muslim or might be gay and lesbian. But because the government has a responsibility to all its citizens, liberal or conservative, gay or straight, white, brown or black, male and female, Christian, Jew or Muslim- (and yes, even atheists),  the true target of the extremist groups has now become an all-compassing one. Equality and democratic values have become their enemy. 

The enemy, as far as they are concerned, has become the United States Government itself.

The End of the Road?

On 17 May 2000, Gordon Winrod and several members of his family were arrested on the 300-acre ranch for abducting six of his grandchildren in 1994 and 1995. It was clearly an attempt to keep the Winrod legacy alive through the brainwashing of a new generation.  On 19 March 2001, he was found guilty and sentenced to a 30-year prison term. 
And there was more bad news in store.

In 2003, Rev. Gordon Winrod was forced to sell his church and his farm in the Ozarks in order to pay a $26 million jury award for abducting his grandchildren and indoctrinating them in his anti-Semitic beliefs. However, Winrod, now 85 years old, was released after having served just over 10 years.

Don’t think, however, that that is the end of the story. According to the Anti-Defamation league, Gordon’s son, David, is now the next generation to keep an eye on. There were reports that in 1991, David Gordon attempted to set up a church in south Alaska. According to Anti-Defamation League:
David, established Our Savior’s Church of the Wilderness on 20 acres of land in remote Cordova Bay, Alaska, near the town of Hydaburg...There, David Winrod published a newsletter called Our Savior’s Cross, which the Ketchikan Daily News described as "an anti-Jew manifesto."
Eventually, David was brought to court for illegal timber theft but was acquitted. And, while the newsletter is still being produced and bulk mailed, that seems to be the end of the Winrod story.   

As any Kansas preacher of the old-time religion will tell you, when it comes to spreading the word, and converting the non-believers, there's always a possibility for a revival.