Hate Group Expert Daniel Levitas Discusses Posse Comitatus, Christian Identity Movement and More

An interview with an expert on the Posse Comitatus

Hate group expert Daniel Levitas spent eight years in the Midwest researching and developing community responses to the Posse Comitatus, the Christian Identity movement and other hate groups attempting to recruit farmers and rural residents in the 1980s. He has worked with several research and watchdog organizations, served as an expert witness in state and federal courts and published extensively in his field.

Levitas is also the author of a forthcoming book on the Posse Comitatus, its history since the early 1970s and its relationship to the current antigovernment "Patriot" movement. The Intelligence Report interviewed Levitas about the roots of the militia movement and the history of the Posse.

The interview started with his overview of the phases of the Posse Comitatus' organizing history.


INTELLIGENCE REPORT: Can you describe the roots of the present-day antigovernment movement?

LEVITAS: While the roots of the so-called Christian Patriot movement and the Posse Comitatus can be traced back to the 19th century and even earlier, the present trend really got its start nearly 30 years ago, in the early 1970s. The Posse Comitatus, which is Latin for "power of the county," was originally founded by William Potter Gale in 1970.

But the movement did not gain significant momentum until Gale was able to join his Christian Identity beliefs [a racist theology identifying Jews as the literal progeny of Satan and blacks as subhuman] with the growing anti-tax movement in the United States.

The first phase, when Gale developed all these theories about "citizens' government" and the Posse Comitatus, was in the early to mid-1970s. In reality, Gale's ideas were really nothing more than verbal flourishes used to disguise old-fashioned vigilantism.

The second phase started in the late 1970s, when Gale and his allies were able to take advantage of the agricultural crisis brewing in rural America and use it to disseminate Posse ideology throughout the farm belt.

The third phase was after the Posse really came into public view in 1983, with the killing of two federal marshals by [Posse adherent and tax protester] Gordon Kahl in North Dakota. After that, everybody knew the Posse was trouble with a capital T. The negative publicity it got, combined with aggressive state and federal prosecutions, dealt a significant blow to Posse recruitment.

At around the same time, you also had a whole series of liberal groups spring up whose goal was to organize farmers in a positive way to combat the economic crisis and to dispel the notion that there was an international Jewish banking conspiracy behind the farm crisis [as the Posse argued].

Gale died on April 28, 1988. Coincidentally, by the next year or so both the Posse and the liberal farm groups had largely collapsed. Farm foreclosures had continued and hundreds of thousands of farmers had been driven off the land throughout the 1980s. There were just fewer farmers to organize.

IR: How was all this related to the current antigovernment movement?

LEVITAS: If you look at the philosophy of today's militias, common-law courts and county supremacy movement, it is absolutely inseparable from the original concepts set forth by Gale almost 30 years ago.

What the Posse has done to survive between then and now has been to be very flexible and to inject those ideas into whatever social conditions exist and use those conditions opportunistically.

IR: Please trace the development of the Posse and its antecedents in some more detail.

LEVITAS: There have always been tax protesters in the United States, going back to before the Declaration of Independence. But the right-wing tax protest movement didn't really take off until the 1930s, largely as a conservative reaction to [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt and the Democrats.

It was a movement that was laced with anti-Semitism and beliefs about Jewish banking conspiracies, but by and large it lacked the hard edge of Christian Identity that Gale eventually gave it.

Gale published his first Posse manifesto in 1971, recommending the organization of local Posse groups throughout the United States and declaring the county sheriff was the only legal law enforcement officer. Gale and the Posse pioneered so-called common-law court methodology by "indicting" people in Oregon, Idaho and elsewhere using "citizens' grand juries."

The first known case of a citizens' grand jury issuing a written threat was in 1972, in a conflict between a tax protester named George Kindred and state revenue authorities in Ingham County, Mich. A Posse group there issued a notice threatening the local sheriff and law enforcement authorities for their enforcement of a state tax order.