Extremism #1: Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing

Part 1 of a continuing series on extremism in the American political culture.

This idea has been on my mind for a while; more so lately as the 2010 mid-term elections rapidly approach.  Naturally, it is during these peaks in the election cycle when we seem to hear more frequent, apoplectic charges of extremism, mostly about those on the right.  (Example here: from the NY Times).

My initial motivation for this series of articles, however, was in response to a reading of Stuart Archer Cohen’s book, The Army of the Republic, a “near-future thriller” in which “a small group of activists…launch a campaign of assassinations and sabotage to force the government into allowing elections, but this triggers even more repression.” (From the Booklist review posted on Amazon at the above link.)

My own take on Cohen’s book, a unapolagetic leftist fantasy, was, at first, surprise – mostly at the militancy expressed by the leftist activist characters in the story. But, then I remembered, with a vague sort of déjà vu, the The Monkey Wrench GangEdward Abbey’s wildly popular 1975 manifesto for what has since become a rather aggressive eco-terrorist movement (e.g. Earth First!). 

Even in this clearly incendiary “comic extravaganza” that, according to the SF Chronicle’s review, “mixes comedy and chaos with enough chase sequences to leave you hungering for more”, Abbey’s poetic fervor and acerbic wit were pretty well evident.  Frankly, his story, his characters, his passion for the environment were engaging. 

And, not surprisingly, there is much to like about Abbey, initially recognized for his 1968 work, Desert Solitaire, which – to my own reading – easily surpassed Aldo Leopold’s  widely acclaimed 1949 classic, A Sand County Almanacfor its poetic beauty and passion for nature.  Both works, it may be noted, are generally recognized as literary descendents of Thoreau’s Walden.  And, in that vein, Abbey has, himself, been referred to as “the Thoreau of the American West“. 

All this prompted me to consider the lineage (real or imagined) of such works back to Thoreau, who we may recall, was also deeply committed to political activism, mostly of the “anarcho-pacifist” brand.  As attested to in (one of his “other” famous literary accomplishments) “Civil Disobedience“,  Thoreau compared government to “a machine“, against which it was the duty of conscientious citizens to be “a counter friction” whenever it worked injustice.

All well and good, I suppose.  As a self-proclaimed “semi-libertarian, paleo-conservative“, I could hardly disagree, really; granting, as I must,  implicit approval for the revolutionary fervor of this nation’s Founding Fathers, at least.  Admittedly, they took things, oh, let’s say, just a step or two further, and well past the bounds, of “anarcho-pacifism“. 

“Anarcho-pacifism” would, equally, be an inappropriate label for the views of those like Edward Abbey or his Earth First! (EF) offspring.  However poetic or, even,  justifiably incensed they might be over the abuses of the modern world on the environment, the prescriptive solutions they offer, in my opinion,  are far, far, far more dangerous than the “disease” they claim to be fighting. 

And, in this regard, it’s hard to imagine that they share anything with either Thoreau or our Founding Fathers.  For the record, this judgement is not simply a response to the violent means that they seem rather eager to utilize.  Nor is it, necessarily, a lack of “righteousness” in their cause.  No, what is most disconcerting about today’s militant left, is their explicit justification of violent behavior in order to empower yet more violent behavior. 

Specifically, there is an inherent escalation of abusive power in their strategy…one that never really ends.   This trait, obviously, was not shared by our Founders (or Thoreau, for that matter), who, ultimately, were working towards the goal of increasing individual liberty – both of thought and action.  Those that oppose such principles are not only violent, they are violent for the sake of violence, for the purely evil purpose of controlling the thoughts and actions of others, however they may rationize it. 

For a group like Earth First! (EF), we might begin with the simple recognition that their first allegiance is not, in truth, to the environment, but, rather, to the wielding of blunt force on society as a whole.  Their ubiquitous use of the “raised fist” in their literature should tell us all we really need to know in that regard. 

We might also consider their own words:  “Earth First! was named in 1979 in response to a lethargic, compromising, and increasingly corporate environmental community. Earth First! takes a decidedly different tack towards environmental issues. We believe in using all the tools in the tool box, ranging from grassroots organizing and involvement in the legal process to civil disobedience and monkeywrenching.”  (Emphasis mine.) 

And, while EF has personally engaged in direct action, they now operate largely as a media front for more extreme groups, notably the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), according to the generally leftward leaning Anti-Defamation League (ADL).   ELF, the ADL notes, has been credited with a wide range of violent eco-terrorist acts, beginning with an arson attack on a BLM facility in 1997. 

The “Raised Fist“, it may be noted, is the unifying symbol of all things Communist,  first utilized by the Rotfrontkämpferbund (RFB), a paramilitary organization of the Communist Party of Germany, created on July 18, 1924 in what was the Weimar Republic.  Actively engaged in all things “paramilitary”, notably frequent street fighting episodes with Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA), the RFB was eventually banned in 1932 by their politically victorious opponents, who, as it happens, offered a competing brand of totalitarian socialist excess.

Today, the “Raised Fist” has become synonymous with virtually any hard-core, left-wing activism, including the political efforts of many labor unions.  Much like other Marxist symbols, such as the “hammer and sickle“, the “raised fist” is intended to communicate “solidarity among the proletariat”, but, inescapably, also presents a thinly veiled threat of force.

These (not-so-subtle) symbols are really nothing new to left-wing extremists.  The most amazing of these, perhaps, would be the Fabian Society’s “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, shown at right. 

More amazing, however, is just how rarely mainstream society seems willing to recognize the intent of these organizations, which merely requires taking them at their word.

Indeed, these organizations are quite adept at arousing quite laudable passions:  regarding the plight of poor, the average working man, the environment.  What is generally ignored, however, is the totalitarian end-game that these organizations, inevitably, prescribe.  Totalitarian control and, yes, even the slaughter of their enemies; it doesn’t take much digging to reveal these purposes, assuming that a casual review of history is too much work. 

Cohen’s “The Army of the Republic“, is merely one of the more recent in a long, long list of warnings that the extremist left has given us of their underlying intent.  I suggest we might pay attention. 

Oh, I might add, don’t believe me, believe them.

Harry Tuttle

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” – Matthew 7:15



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