Something is happening on the radical right. Even as the presidential campaign season heats up and, with it, the possibility of ridding themselves of their hated black president, extremists are ratcheting up the rhetoric of war.
The League of the South, for instance, has long been threatening a second Southern secession with the aim of creating a separate nation ruled by an "Anglo-Celtic" majority. But the talk was mainly academic, and the league's political efforts never seemed to go anywhere.
Now, league president Michael Hill is telling his followers that "we are already at war" and urging them to buy AK-47s, hollow-point bullets and tools to derail trains. At its July conference, some 60 league members learned how to draw down on an enemy. Asked Hill: "What would it take to get you to fight?"
William Gheen, the leader of the nativist group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, said this August that in order to save "white America" from "dictator Barack Obama," it may be necessary to engage in "extra-political activities that I can't really talk about because they're all illegal and violent."
Sounding a similar note was former Fox News host Glenn Beck, who told his radio audience the same month that if Obama were to lose the 2012 election, his administration "will try to destroy America" on its way out. He said the next president would have to be willing to sacrifice his life to resist Obama's nefarious plans. "I firmly believe race riots are on the way," Beck added.
Similar sentiments are emerging among many radical groups and activists. But it may be in Montana where these developments are most striking.
In the cover story of today's new issue of the Intelligence Report, an investigative quarterly magazine that I edit for the Southern Poverty Law Center, we describe how radicals of various stripes -- neo-Nazis, self-described constitutionalists, antigovernment "Patriots" and others -- are retreating to the Big Sky State, also known as "the last, best place." With varying emphases, many of these men and women are hunkering down for a last stand that one of them compares to the Battle of the Alamo.
"We know there's a fight coming," said Chuck Baldwin, the 2008 presidential candidate of the far-right Constitution Party who moved to the state with 18 family members a year ago. "We know there is a line being drawn in the sand."
In June, militia activist Dave Burgert allegedly fired shots at a Montana sheriff's deputy before fleeing into a national forest. In September, neo-Nazi activist Karl Gharst threatened to convene a "citizens grand jury" to investigate "Jewish criminal organizations," including the Southern Poverty Law Center. The same month, another well-known neo-Nazi, April Gaede, told Intelligence Report writer Ryan Lenz, who tried to interview her for our Montana story, that she was getting her gun if he didn't leave immediately. Gaede has been imploring "white nationalists" to "come home" to Montana, a state that is nearly 90% white and a mere 0.4% black.
A siege mentality is developing, fraught with conspiracy theories that have long animated the radical right. Baldwin says he is fervently hoping for victory, "[b]ut if not, I would rather die fighting for Freedom with liberty-loving patriots by my side than be shuttled off to some FEMA camp."
As the war rhetoric heats up, some formerly unlikely alliances are being made. The Constitution Party and Baldwin, for instance, are not known for open racism, although Baldwin argues that leaders of the Confederacy were not racist and "the South was right." But Baldwin's new Montana church, Liberty Fellowship, includes in its swelling congregation Randy Weaver, the white supremacist and occasional visitor to the Aryan Nations' Idaho compound who was in a famous 1992 standoff.
An enormous fury seems to be developing in other sectors of the extreme right as well. As we note in another story in the new issue, the American Family Association (AFA) is a well-known group with a $20 million budget that rails against "indecency" in the media and, especially, homosexuality. In recent months, after saying that Obama "nurtures a hatred for the white man," AFA's best-known spokesman, Bryan Fischer, suggested that welfare was incentivizing black "people who rut like rabbits."
What's going on with all this white-hot rhetoric?
It's hard to say. But it does seem possible that many of these people, like Baldwin and Fischer, sense that they are losing the big battle. Growing majorities of Americans now favor same-sex marriage and other gay rights. Neo-Nazism, neo-Confederacy and other forms of explicit white nationalism are not doing well. The Tea Parties may have offered some hope to the far right early on, but they, too, seem to be fading.
Now, with the Republican presidential debates producing no clear favorite or obviously strong candidate, many on the extreme right may be hunkering down for another four years under a relatively liberal black president. And that may be simply too much for them to bear.