Pat Buchanan's presidential bid in 2000 dashed the Reform Party, once a significant third political force, into pieces. Now, white supremacists, Christian "Patriots" and other right-wing extremists are scrambling to pick up the fragments.
When Patrick Buchanan, a conservative commentator and former speechwriter for Richard Nixon, bolted from the GOP to become the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000, white nationalists enthusiastically backed him.
For once, they felt, there was a candidate of national stature who represented their interests, a tough-talking contender they could rally around.
Right-wing extremist organizations promoted his candidacy on their Web sites and in their publications. Their members sponsored fundraisers for Buchanan and collected petitions to help get him on the ballot in all 50 states. They endorsed him both in their own groups and at state Reform Party meetings.
The support he received from far-right activists was particularly important to Buchanan as he battled a rival, relatively moderate Reform Party faction for $12.6 million in federal campaign financing that went to the party's nominee.
But Buchanan's take-no-prisoners stance on "culture war" issues — in particular, his bombastic opposition to non-white immigration, affirmative action, abortion, gun control, homosexuality and anything that smacked of "internationalism" — proved divisive.
Disillusioned members left in droves, resulting in a leaner and much meaner Reform Party. Political schisms and personality conflicts continued to undermine the party, and the Buchanan campaign never really got off the ground.
In the wake of a lackluster electoral effort that garnered less than half of 1% of the vote, Buchanan reneged on his promise to stay with the party for at least five years and help build it into a national force.
H. Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire and two-time independent presidential candidate who founded the Reform Party after the 1996 elections, had already quit the scene. So had Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, at one time the Reform Party's rising star. Elected on the Reform Party ticket in 1998, Ventura left after feuding with Perot loyalists.
Buchanan may have delivered the coup de grace when he bid good riddance to the Reform Party. Bereft of strong leadership and a coherent political vision, the party has splintered into several far-right factions.
Some antigovernment radicals have chosen to stay with the rump, or remaining, Reform Party. They include one man who has spoken at neofascist gatherings in Virginia and another, who serves on the rump party's 11-member national executive committee, who is a felon and a pastor of the anti-Semitic Christian Identity religion in West Virginia.
Others have joined competing extremist groups such as the breakaway America First Party and the theocratic Constitution Party. A number of far-right activists have reluctantly returned to the Republican fold.
And some Reform Party holdovers are still trying to figure out what to do as a gaggle of white supremacists, Christian "Patriots" and other fringe fanatics fight over the scraps of a faltering third-party apparatus that had once shown remarkable promise.
Public opinion surveys have long indicated a high level of dissatisfaction with the two-party system that has dominated American political life for more than a century. Between half and two-thirds of the U.S. electorate say they would welcome a major third party competing with Republicans and Democrats.
This hunger for new choices animated Perot's quixotic presidential bid in 1992. The checkbook populist from Texas won nearly 20 million votes (19% of the total) as an independent that year by appealing to the so-called "radical middle," the large group of disaffected Americans who are anxious about rapid economic and cultural changes in the post-Cold-War era and who are angry at the U.S. government for ignoring their concerns.
In 1993, Perot launched United We Stand America (UWSA), which subsequently evolved into the Reform party. The ostensible purpose of UWSA was to watchdog the two main parties and hold them accountable on trade and economic issues.
Right from the start, however, Perot's fledgling organization was tainted by racist and nativist elements that would gain significant influence within the Reform Party in the years ahead.
Two UWSA chapters in Southern California, for instance, hosted speeches by Jim Townsend, editor and publisher of the Liberty Lobby's Spotlight, one of the most stridently anti-Semitic newspapers in the country until its demise in July 2001.
In his 2002 book on recent third-party initiatives, Spoiling for a Fight, Micah Sifry cited other evidence of growing right-wing populist tendencies within the early Perot movement.
A UWSA chapter in West Hills, Calif., featured anti-immigrant tirades in its monthly newsletter, which warned that America's purity was being polluted by pro-Soviet "cosmopolitans," a word that is typically right-wing code for Jews.
UWSA chapters throughout California were instrumental in gathering petition signatures to put Proposition 187, which called for denying schooling and most medical services to undocumented immigrants, on the state ballot in 1994.
The petition drive was backed by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), along with several organized hate groups. (Proposition 187 passed by a large margin, but key provisions were later declared unconstitutional.)
K.C. McAlpin, FAIR's deputy director and a UWSA convention delegate in the mid-1990s, was active in the Perot campaign and went on to become treasurer of the Reform Party of Virginia.
"I felt that neither of the two major parties were representative of a lot of things I believed in," said McAlpin, who is particularly concerned about "the language issue.".
English is under assault in the United States, according to McAlpin, and America's way of life is in jeopardy because of a huge influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants. Today he heads ProEnglish, a sister organization of FAIR, which is dedicated to "preserving English as our common language and trying to make it our official language."
Whereas economic nationalism had been the centerpiece of Perot's campaign, Patrick Buchanan coupled his tirades against globalization with outspoken criticism of racial and cultural diversity.
His vilification of "illegal aliens" ("Listen, José, you're not coming in this time!") and civil rights leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., touched a raw nerve among those who saw Latinos and African-Americans as threats to white majority rule in the United States.
Buchanan explicitly warned of a Mexican plot to reconquer the American Southwest, a conspiracist notion embraced by hate groups and anti-immigration leaders, including many of K.C. McAlpin's colleagues.
Buchanan's presidential bid turned the Reform Party into a catch-basin for energetic racial nationalists who were eager to campaign for Pat. Right-wing extremists secured leadership roles in various state chapters, including the notable example of Virginia. There, Peter G. Gemma, a friend of Buchanan's and veteran far-right agitator, became a national committee member as a representative of the state Reform Party.
A self-described "moderate extremist," Gemma has championed many conservative causes over the years. His career includes a stint as executive director of the National Pro-Life Political Action Committee in the early 1980s.
The diminutive Gemma was also a member of the influential and highly secretive Council for National Policy (CNP). Founded in 1981, the CNP meets three times a year to strategize about how to advance a right-wing agenda. Its elite roster of heavy-hitters reads like a Who's Who of the hard right in the United States.
Past and present CNP members include financiers Nelson Bunker Hunt and Joseph Coors; religious right leaders Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly and the late R.J. Rushdoony; public officials like Sen. Jesse Helms, then-Sen. John Ashcroft and former Attorney General Edwin Meese; militia booster and Gun Owners of America chief Larry Pratt, Catholic reactionary Paul Weyrich (see Mainstreaming Hate), black conservative Alan Keyes, and Iran-contra scandal operatives Maj. Gen. John Singlaub and Lt. Col. Oliver North.
A seasoned Republican campaign manager, Gemma was instrumental in raising money for Oliver North's unsuccessful Senate bid in 1994. He later helped Arizona Republican Tom Liddy (the son of Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy) run a feisty campaign for Congress in another losing effort.
Increasingly friendly with fringe groups, Gemma has written articles for The New American, the magazine of the John Birch Society, which listed him as its spokesperson in a February 2000 press release demanding that the U.S government take back the Panama Canal. (Buchanan has praised the magazine for standing up "bravely and unapologetically in defense of values we hold dear.")
Although he still admires a few individual Republican politicians, Gemma has grown deeply disenchanted with the GOP as a whole, which he sees as the party of "big oil and big government."
When Buchanan switched to the Reform Party, so did Peter Gemma. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Gemma collaborated with the American Friends of the British National Party (AFBNP), a Virginia-based white nationalist organization, in an attempt to drum up support for Buchanan. (Led by British neofascist Mark Cotterill, the AFBNP may have violated U.S. law when it staged fundraising events in the United States and channeled money to a whites-only extremist party in Great Britain).
In a recent interview, Gemma tried to downplay his contacts with Cotterill, claiming that he merely "dropped off some Buchanan petitions" at an AFBNP function in Arlington, Va.
But a report in Heritage and Destiny, the AFBNP newsletter, indicates that Gemma was among a handful of speakers who addressed the gathering on March 30, 2000. U.S. neo-Nazi David Duke also spoke at this event, along with white-power Webmeister Don Black, proprietor of Stormfront (the first neo-Nazi outpost in cyberspace), which directed prospective volunteers to the Buchanan campaign Web site.
All in all, it must have been a worthwhile experience for Gemma, who appeared as a spokesman for the Virginia Reform Party at another AFBNP powwow a few weeks later.
Beyond the Paleocons
Mark Cotterill fraternized with the hardest of the neo-Nazi hard-core. He was a political hot potato, and Gemma knew it.
When the Washington Post reported that Cotterill was volunteering at the Virginia Reform Party offices, the negative publicity was too much to take — the British white supremacist was summarily tossed out the door by the Buchanan campaign.
The housecleaning, however, did not extend to Gemma or Edward Cassidy, another extremist Virginia Reform Party officer who hobnobbed with Cotterill. Cassidy, by his own account, served as one of the Buchanan campaign's official photographers.
Known as "Fisheye" in white nationalist circles, Cassidy also led a local chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white supremacist hate group that equates interracial marriage with genocide and lambastes "black militants, alien parasites, queer activists ... Christ haters" and, since Sept. 11, "Dirty Rotten Arabs and Muslims."
Cassidy also was a photographer for the CCC as late as this June. CCC leaders and activists were active in several Reform Party chapters around the country.
Additional support for Buchanan came from the Illinois-based Rockford Institute, a "paleo-conservative" think tank with links to two hate groups, the League of the South and the CCC.
Thomas Fleming, the institute's president, was a founding member of the League of the South, a racist neo-Confederate group. Sam Francis, editor of the CCC's Citizens Informer newsletter, is a regular contributor to the Rockford Institute's slick monthly magazine Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. (Adm. James Stockdale, a former Rockford Institute board member, was Perot's vice-presidential running mate in 1992.)
Described by Buchanan as "the toughest, best-written, and most profoundly insightful journal in America," Chronicles is geared toward a brainier white nationalist constituency than the racist Skinhead rabble who take their cues from hate rock music and neo-Nazi Web pages.
While mainstream neo-conservatives are tight with the GOP, so-called paleocon intellectuals have carved a niche for themselves as staunch, old-right traditionalists who romanticize the pre-civil rights era South. Fleming, who is Chronicles' editor, has gone so far as to describe the 19th century Ku Klux Klan as a "national liberation army."
Neo-Nazis and 'the Negress'
In June 2000, Fleming delivered a pep talk at a Chicago fundraising banquet for Buchanan, which was attended by representatives of the Council of Conservative Citizens.
When Buchanan went over to the Reform Party, a communiqué from the League of the South's Alabama section rejoiced that "conservatives do have a place to go. The Reform Party is America First on nation-defining issues. ... It is essential that Buchananism lives on after the 2000 election."
Members of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, headed by the late William Pierce (see Facing the Future), were also among the foot soldiers who enlisted in the Buchanan brigades. ("Of all the people who are involved in politics in America, I would give the best rating to Pat Buchanan," Pierce stated in a 1999 interview.)
After he joined the North Carolina chapter of the Reform Party, long-time Alliance activist Will Williams circulated an E-mail to his National Alliance comrades, urging them to participate in the Buchanan campaign.
Waxing euphoric over the prospects of "a much more radicalized, White-friendly Reform Party come November," the E-mail proclaimed: "It's our job to get out there in our areas, to raise consciousness, attract and radicalize 'those very people' — OUR people — then organize them into a majority."
Mark Cotterill, who has visited the Alliance's West Virginia compound on several occasions, also endorsed an "entryist" strategy — an attempt to infiltrate and take over the Reform Party.
Far-right activists hoped that the Reform Party, with Buchanan at the helm, would become an American version of Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National, the neofascist organization that commands close to 20% of the vote in France.
But Buchanan alienated much of his core constituency when he chose Ezola Foster, a black woman who was a member of the John Birch Society, as his vice-presidential running mate.
Shortly thereafter, the Los Angeles Times disclosed that Foster had collected workers' compensation for a mental disorder, which, by her own admission, she never actually had. White nationalists reacted with scorn and derision, even though Foster, an anti-immigration and anti-abortion zealot, embraced their position in favor of displaying the Confederate battle flag.
Declaring that Buchanan was "now part of the problem, and not part of the solution," Mark Cotterill disdainfully referred to Foster as "a Negress." Entryism, the British Cotterill now concluded, was not a strategy that could work in the American context.
The Preacher With a Rap Sheet
Despite the Buchanan debacle, several right-wing extremists with electoral hopes chose to remain with the Reform Party, and some continue to hold high-ranking positions in what's left of the organization.
Jerome E. Heinemann, a devoted Reform Party activist and early Perot supporter, lives in the rolling hills of Pocahontas County, W. Va., not far from the 400-acre National Alliance compound where arch-Nazi William Pierce spent decades plotting the pale-skinned revolution.
In addition to his role as vice-chair of the West Virginia Reform Party, Heinemann is the regional representative of the party's northeast section (which encompasses eight states) and serves on the 11-member national executive committee that sets policy for the entire organization.
Heinemann believes there are unique opportunities for the Reform Party in the sparsely populated Smokey Mountain state, given that about 60% of registered voters are Democrats and the GOP is hardly a factor in many areas.
Several Reform Party candidates are campaigning for local offices in parts of West Virginia that lack a Republican challenger. Heinemann, 57, is running for the Pocahontas County Commission.
But Heinemann is not only a key figure in the Reform Party. He is also a pastor of the anti-Semitic Christian Identity theology with a rap sheet dating back to the mid-1980s.
Heinemann initially ran afoul of the law while living in New Jersey, where he taught a course on how to fool the IRS by creating a church or some other type of non-profit organization. Arrested and convicted on conspiracy charges related to tax fraud, he served a 33-month prison sentence. Three of his cohorts were also nailed for tax evasion.
"They were trying to make an example of us," Heinemann asserts today. "The IRS was trying to stop the tax rebellion movement."
After he got out of prison, Heinemann moved to rural West Virginia and set up shop as an ordained minister of a local church. Officially known as the New Christian Crusade Church of Appalachia, it is actually an offshoot of a virulent anti-Semitic sect run by pastor James K. Warner.
Heinemann describes his ministry as "an integrated auxiliary of the New Christian Crusade Church of Metarie, Louisiana," which Warner founded in 1971.
In his own mission statement, "The Creed of Christian Nationalism," Warner touts the notorious forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as proof of an ongoing, Jewish super-conspiracy "to establish a World Government, which would destroy American sovereignty, the national identity of our people and our racial and religious self-respect."
The Web site of the Christian Defense League, which is the secular arm of Warner's church, offers an array of books for sale with noxious titles such as Chain Ganged by the Jewish Gestapo, Adolf Hitler and the Secrets of the Holy Grail, Christ or the Red Fog, The Six Million Swindle, and The Hitler We Loved and Why.
An avid reader, Heinemann is a big fan of Imperium, the sprawling tome by the late American fascist Francis Parker Yockey.
"It's one tremendous book," says Heinemann, who can talk for hours about arcane subjects like "the science of numerics," which counts how many times certain words appear in the Bible while supposedly revealing the esoteric meaning of arithmetical lore that imbues the Holy Scriptures with mystical significance.
The Break-Up Begins
Jerome Heinemann acknowledges that he is not the only Reform Party member who subscribes to Christian Identity ideas. In a recent interview, he vented his rage against the "Judeo-fundamentalists," which is how he refers to the Christian Right leaders who support "the Bush regime" and the state of Israel.
"Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell — they're absolutely the worst," says Heinemann.
Heinemann has few kind words for either major party these days, but he aims his sharpest barbs at Republican President George W. Bush.
"In terms of 2004, we have one goal," Heinemann insists, "and that is to defeat Bush. I wouldn't care if Hillary Clinton became president. At least when Bill Clinton was in the White House, the so-called conservatives or constitutionalists or whatever they call themselves did everything they could to obstruct the federal government. Now they do nothing, while Bush acts like a dictator and the government spies on American citizens under the pretense of homeland security."
But Heinemann's bluster cannot conceal the fact that the Reform Party as a whole is in big trouble these days. Locked in a bitter power struggle, he is trying to keep the party together.
Earlier this year, several national executive committee members resigned, along with the leaders of 18 state chapters that decided to disaffiliate from the national organization and launch a new group, the America First Party (AFP). Based in Boulder, Colo., the upstart AFP is headed by Dan Charles, a Jewish right-wing activist previously aligned with the Reform Party.
On nearly every issue, these two establishment-bashing, sovereignty-obsessed mini-parties are identical. ("They let the UN pass judgment on our laws and our people. ... They leave our borders wide open to terrorists," the AFP rails on its Web site.)
But the rump Reform Party and the AFP have parted ways on abortion. Heinemann and his allies on the shrunken Reform Party executive committee argued on strategic grounds against taking a strong stand with respect to abortion in order not to alienate potential third party supporters who were pro-choice or not particularly interested in the issue.
This prompted the right-to-life absolutists to pack up and leave the party. Some enlisted in the AFP, which pandered to anti-abortion militants, while others gravitated toward rival splinter groups.
Ezola Foster recently announced that she was joining the American Independent Party, a remnant of segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace's independent presidential campaign in 1968.
The American Independent Party wants to abolish federal income taxes, pull the United States out of the United Nations, and protect America from an international conspiracy to make it join a "one-world socialist government."
Today the party only exists in California, where it has, remarkably, over 300,000 supporters, or 2% of the state's registered voters. But the American Independent Party does have a national affiliation with an organization called the Constitution Party. ("I'm a Constitutionalist," Foster explained, "and it's the only party that recognizes the kingship of Jesus Christ. I'm 100% for that.")
Formerly known as the U.S. Taxpayers Party, the cantankerous Constitution Party, led by Howard Phillips, has been a fixture on the far-right margins for some time, catering to tax protesters, gun nuts, militia malcontents, "common-law court" rebels and the like.
Lou Mabon, a conservative Christian crusader against abortion, homosexuality and judicial authority, is currently the Constitution Party nominee for one of Oregon's Senate seats. During the 1980s and '90s, Mabon made a name for himself with a series of statewide and local ballot initiatives targeting gay rights.
Today, the Constitution Party is hoping to scoop up cast-offs from the Reform Party in Oregon, which disintegrated in recent months. But some people, like Claire Heil, erstwhile treasurer of the Reform Party's Oregon chapter, have lost their gusto for third-party politics. Heil was a Perot booster in the 1990s and gung-ho for Buchanan in 2000.
In a letter to the editor of The American's Bulletin, a conspiracist Patriot tabloid published in Medford, Ore., Heil ruminated on the "true" history of Dec. 25, Christmas Day, which, she claims, is actually the birthday of "Nimrod, the first leader of a one-world government ... the black man who introduced human sacrifice and cannibalism to the world."
Heil credited her ideas to Eustace Mullins, an inveterate anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist (see related stories, Mainstreaming Hate and 'Risking Their Freedom'). She has since drifted back to the Republican Party.
Returning to the GOP is not an attractive option for K.C. McAlpin, Peter Gemma and several other Virginia Reform Party holdovers, who have been pondering whether to stick with the rump Reform organization or affiliate with another group.
They would prefer to see all the small, far-right parties unite, but that now seems a remote possibility at best. Indeed, as the rocky saga of the Reform Party illustrates, the likelihood of a right-wing third-party force emerging any time soon to seriously challenge the two major parties on a national level is almost nil.
Even the considerable energies of those hard-liners who did their best to help Pat Buchanan win the presidency failed to boost the party significantly, and now those same men and women are increasingly being scattered to the political winds.
The Reform Party may ultimately dissolve into total insignificance — its poor 2000 showing means, among other things, that it is not eligible for federal campaign funds in the next election — but many of the ideas that it has pushed clearly have resonance among large portions of the public.
One telling indication of that is the remarkable popularity of Buchanan's 2001 book about "the vanishing white race," The Death of the West. The book, which cites neo-Nazi and white supremacist sources, had been on The New York Times bestseller list for 11 weeks at press time, reaching as high as No. 4.
"There are a lot of people in this country who feel like I do," says a disappointed McAlpin. "Unfortunately, no one since Perot has been able to capture the allegiance of the large independent constituency that's out there. We are still hoping and waiting for that third horse to come along."
Martin A. Lee, author of The Beast Reawakens, is a contributing writer for the San Francisco Bay Guardian.