The contentiousness of the 2016 presidential campaign culminated in a hasty about-face for some, as Democratic and Republican politicians, pundits, and activists seem to have traded places on a number of long-held principles in reaction to the widely unpredicted Trump win.
Whether it’s the legitimacy of executive orders, trust in the objectivity of the intelligence community, the legality of whistleblowing, or perhaps most surprisingly, the role of the 10th Amendment in determining where federal jurisdiction ends and state jurisdiction begins, much of the political landscape of the past few decades seems to have been flipped wholly on its head.
The concept of states’ rights in particular — whether the Southern strain born out of opposition to Reconstruction or that of far-right libertarian and paleoconservative reactionaries — is now being echoed by members of the Democratic Party, who months ago appeared content with inheriting a strong federal government whose powers they now oppose.
Now, certain corollaries to the historical state’s rights argument have begun to take hold, particularly with regards to secession and separatism dating back to Shays’ Rebellion and the earliest days of the Republic.
As with Democrat politicians who now rail against what they deem to be federal overreach, those advocating for a #Calexit or breakdown of the U.S. into an archipelago of blue city-states set apart by the red sea of Middle America neglect that the very platform that they espouse has long been a mainstay of numerous radical far-right movements.
This shift is not occurring in isolation but in tandem with the long-running history of malcontents, racists and secessionists actively promoting policy through allies at the state level throughout the country.
What follows is a survey of a handful of contemporary movements that have emerged from the minds of the American far-right. Some have a long and storied historical precedent. Others are recent byproducts of a growing wave of militant antigovernment beliefs.
The movements discussed herein can be described as partitionists who seek to split from an existing state and join the union as a new one — as is the case for Liberty and Jefferson — or separatists that desire a fracture with the United States either physically or politically, typically with an understanding that such a separation would be predicated on violence, as is the case for the League of the South. Others still, like the American and Appalachian Redoubts, are perhaps best understood as ideas that more easily lend themselves to de facto, rather than de jure, sovereignty.
The first purpose of Splitting the Difference is to inform. Rather than a comprehensive list, it represents a short primer on these movements, their driving animus against the prevailing order, and some depiction of what life might look like within them based on the words and writings of the groups and leaders promoting them.
Its second purpose is to provide historical context for those entering the pro-balkanization debate as to the exact nature of the groups and movements who they are inadvertently energizing and legitimizing by calling for the breakup of the United States.
“A few thoughts on a pleasant evening in May...
“It seems the Jew-controlled elite media are getting quite nervous over the rise of the nationalist right in the US, especially the hard blood and soil nationalists in the South. You can expect the neurotic whining to escalate with each passing nationalist event.
“Well, let’s give them something to wet their beds about. Let’s make their worst nightmares come true. Let’s take back control of Dixie and make it once again White Man’s Land.”
The quote above, shared on Facebook by Michael Hill, president of the neo-Confederate League of the South (LOS), best exemplifies Hill’s current conception of the spark that would ignite a second Southern secession.
Among far-right groups advocating for secession, the League is the only group with any clear level of leadership and organization, and by representing the “survival, well-being and independence of the Southern people,” would advance their agenda through formal separation from the United States of America.
In this iteration, an independent South would stand for the rejection of a standing army in favor of unregulated state militias, the right of citizens to own any firearms they may purchase, the right of states to secede from the new Confederate States of America (CSA), closed borders and restrictions on the rights of “non-citizens.”
Michael Hill’s preferred definition of “the Southern people” can be gleaned from a post on the League of the South website titled “Past, Present, and Future.”
“In 2004, I began to publicly speak on the fundamental notion of Southern nationalism. That is, I began identifying the Southern nation correctly as the Southern people (whites) and not as a current or defunct political entity … we stand for the Anglo-Celtic people of the south and that we defend our historic Christian faith.”
Regarding “non-citizens” and the legacy of slavery in the antebellum South (and presumably in his new South), Hill wears his racism with pride, posting in the League’s Facebook group, “If you think you have to apologize for or rationalize slavery, ‘racism,’ segregation, or any other actions our attitudes of our Southern forebears, then you don’t belong in The League of the South,”
While Hill is clear about the role of “Anglo-Celtic people” in the South, he is typically vague regarding the place of Southern African Americans and other minorities in his new world, writing “The LS disavows a spirit of malice and extends an offer of good will and cooperation to Southern blacks …”
That spirit of goodwill and cooperation is nowhere to be seen in posts like “Charlotte and Negro Violence,” where Hill describes “Feral negroes and those puppeteers who control their actions,” and further depicts blacks as “a long-standing enemy” to Southerners.
In a blog post titled “A Plausible Lie: A Critique of the South Was Right,” Hill takes two LOS allies, the Kennedy brothers, to task over their assertion that black people are Southerners:
“… blacks and whites have lived in the South for nearly 400 years and remain easily distinguishable from one another. There has been virtually no blood admixture between them in legitimate society. They tend to live, worship, and socialize apart, not together. They are easily distinguishable physically, mentally, emotionally, aptitudinally, and in many other ways. By only the most Clintonesque twist of the truth can they be called the same people group.”
Reading between the lines, Hill’s message to Southern blacks is clear: comply or get out.
Looking beyond the South’s African American population, Hill has been famously hostile toward Mexican immigrants and downright hateful to Muslims. It was under Hill’s guidance that the League began its “No Jihad In Dixie” protests, authoring posts describing imagined scenes where “[European] “men” stand by helplessly while their women are groped and raped by Muslims and Africans.”
Hill has also recently molded anti-Semitism into his antigovernment beliefs, claiming that a cabal of Jews is responsible for most of the grievances a typical Southerner might find with the U.S.
What began for Hill as “cultural genocide” is now being decried as a full-on “white genocide” organized at the highest levels of global politics. The most recent evidence of this is the removal of Southern monuments commemorating the Civil War. Predicting the imagined globalist cabal’s next steps after the removal of statues in New Orleans, Hill posted on Facebook, “When our enemies are finished coming after the stone, they will come after the flesh. Will you be ready, Southern man?”
Although Hill claims to have identified his bid for secession as “Southern Nationalism” since 2004, he only did so on the LS blog sporadically up until 2014, when the rise of identitarianism brought constructions of various “nationalisms” i.e. “Southern Nationalism” into vogue.
Hill and Thomas Fleming announced the formation of the “Southern League” in The Washington Post on Sunday, Oct. 29, 1995. The op-ed, “New Dixie Manifesto: State’s Rights Will Rise Again,” stated that it was their intent “…to seek the well-being and independence of the Southern people by every honorable means.” Beyond that statement of purpose, present-day League rhetoric has maintained little semblance of the ideals espoused in their “Manifesto.”
The “Manifesto” is quite firmly entrenched in the “state’s rights” appeals that form the bedrock of Lost Cause mythology and the modern neo-Confederate movement. Hill and Fleming posit that “sending men and women to Congress who will insist upon a strict construction of the Constitution and a restoration of the 10th Amendment that explicitly reserves all powers not granted explicitly to the federal government to the states and to the people.”
The militantly secessionist League of today first emerged with The Grey Book: Blueprint for Southern Independence, published during the early 2000s as the League lost a passel of high-profile members, including Lake High, Virgil Houston, Grady McWhiney, Michael Peroutka, and Fleming, over Hill’s increasing divisiveness and insistence on a state-sanctioned religion in their new South.
Although The Grey Book is intended as “a blueprint for reaching our goal of establishing the Confederate Southern States (CSS),” readers will find its pages — with wide margins and large typeface — long on rhetoric and short on concrete goals, plans, or policies, needless to say any milestones for achieving secession.
The Grey Book abandons the League’s conciliatory tone toward D.C. and belief in the validity of the states’ rights doctrine, featuring an entire section on “Why Reform is Impossible,” beginning with the declaration, “The US Constitution, for all practical purposes, is irrelevant because it can mean anything a Federal judge says it means.”
The decade between the first and second printings of The Grey Book — 2004 and 2015, respectively — has not been favorable for the League or Hill’s disposition. Whereas 2008 marked a highwater period for discontent with the Federal government, the election of the nation’s first African American president sent a jolt down the spine of many along the far right, Hill included.
Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election saw many calls across the Southeast for secession, with six states’ secession petitions reaching the 25,000-signature mark necessary for a WhiteHouse.gov petition to receive an official response.
For his part, Hill stirred the pot by posting a series of articles decrying “Emperor Obama” and insisting with increasing frequency and vitriol that the federal electoral political system is irredeemably tarnished and Southerners must separate. Hill foretold of a day “when drones fill the skies for the purpose of surveillance, intimidation, or worse, then you might see the need to own a couple of hand-held rocket launchers.”
Although Hill and the League now firmly believe that participation in federal electoral politics is a pointless affair, they still express positive sentiments about certain Southern politicians.
Roy Moore, in particular, was championed by the League, both during his first legal battle to keep a monument dedicated to the 10 Commandments in the central rotunda of Alabama’s Supreme Court building, and more recently during his drive to nullify Obergefell v. Hodges, which affirmed same-sex marriages as a fundamental right under the 14th Amendment, by claiming that federal law does not apply in the state of Alabama. Moore lost both challenges filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
When Moore was suspended for the second time on Sept. 16, 2016 for violation of judicial ethics, Hill had this to say:
“Perhaps Judge Moore has learned the hard way that there in [sic] no future in playing in a rigged system controlled by neo-Bolsheviks and others who hold the Christian religion in contempt. Also, perhaps he will come around to seeing things our way: secession and independence for Alabama and the South. We would welcome him into our ranks.”
Although most of Hill’s original co-founders left due to Hill “supporting a state-based religion,” he has not clarified whether his South would be a theonomy, or which branch of Christian doctrine would dominate. Hill’s recent drift further and further toward the tenants of Christian Identity (CI) provides some clues.
On April 19, 2016 Hill posted on Facebook, “The ‘Jews’ greatest advantage has come from making the world believe they are something they are not: God’s Chosen People. If this is who they are not, then who are they, really? What is their actual identity and why are they carrying out this masquerade?”
On November 22 of that year, Hill tweeted “If Alt-Right non-Christians understood the book of Obadiah and who is Esau-Edom & who [is] Jacob-Israel, then they might begin to see the light.
The notion of Jews — who Identity practitioners believe descended from Esau and refer to as “Edomites,” — having stolen the “identity” of Israel is a core tenant of CI. Other Identity believers include convicted murder and Klansman Sam Bowers, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph, and perhaps most notably Hill’s own Chief of staff, Michael Tubbs, an ex-Green Beret convicted of a plot to attack and bomb black and Jewish businesses with weapons stolen from the U.S. Army.
State sovereignty, while no longer the core focus of the League still remains a strong organizing principle for the LOS. While some League members (not Hill) have entertained notions of fracturing several of the states in Southern Appalachia to form a “free state of Appalachia” after secession, to be composed of the entirety of West Virginia, and parts of those Southern states with a section of the Appalachian Mountains running through them, this idea has gained little traction outside of League webspaces.
As for the long-running question of which states are “Southern,” Hill’s answer varies. Typically his response includes some variation of “the States of the old Confederacy and the Border States of Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Maryland,” although sometimes West Virginia is granted entrance despite having had a strong pro-Union sentiment during the 1860s.
Having answered who is and who is not “Southern,” and whether those Southerners should secede, the question still remains for Hill and the League as to how exactly they would bring about that secession. Though the U.S. Constitution clearly lays out the process for statehood and entry into the union, there is no similar language regarding how a state would go about leaving the union.
While some might argue that such an omission was by design, those clamoring for a new CSA would likely try a similar tactic as their predecessors did in the 1860s, by calling for a secession convention. Their other two legal routes would be either a constitutional amendment or an Article V convention of the states.
Recent efforts in Oklahoma to remove “inseparable” from their constitution’s description of the state’s status in the union, in North Carolina to repeal a secession prohibition from their constitution, and the continued persistence of Texas’ small but vocal “independence movement” all indicate that a handful of local politicians with access to the levers of power are sympathetic to the secessionist cause.
Nevertheless, those legal efforts involve a long and cumbersome political process that likely would have sat well with Hill in earlier years, but no longer. In a January 30, 2017, post entitled “Trump and the Coming Chaos,” Hill outlines the possibility of “left-wing violence,” a presidential assassination and general political havoc. Hill’s response to this?
“Our task as Southern nationalists is to prepare for that eventuality and be flexible and strong enough to take advantage of it.”
Flexibility is the key word. Throughout the League’s existence, Hill’s views and positions have been flexible. The League of the South, representing the most “viable” option for a second Southern secession on the far-right is inseparably tied to the whims of a man who has shifted on the very viability of secession, points of religion, prominence of Confederate symbols and states’ rights.
While some may see the desire to see the South “rise again,” Michael Hill has yet to offer a picture of what that would look like beyond a nightmare for any non-white non-Christians, as portrayed in Hill’s thoughts from “a pleasant evening in May.”
A Sagebrush Rebel-supporting state legislator with ties to an anti-Muslim hate group wants to split Washington State in two, to set apart Republican red from Democrat blue.
Washington State Representative Matt Shea calls his new state Liberty, and so do his supporters. The imagined state is made up of the 20 central- and eastern-Washington counties that rest east of the north-south Cascade Range, whose great mountains divide the urbanized, coastal west and the agricultural, inland east. But underneath Washington’s latest cry for fragmentation is the worldview of Liberty’s bell cow, who seeks state sanction for the goals of the radical right.
“SOME THINGS ARE JUST BETTER APART,” Shea posted on the hopeful state of Liberty’s private Facebook page. “We want to divide Eastern Washington from Western Washington for a multitude of reasons……political differences, economic differences, and some even say a bit of differences in faith.”
Liberty’s supporters say they’re alienated by a government that legislates over rural Washington from far-away Olympia, the state capital, levying too-high taxes for unwanted social services and mandating environmental regulations that hinder a producerist economy. But for Pia Hallenburg of The Spokesman Review, “The numbers — and recent election results — suggest Liberty is about ideology more so than cherry picking parts of the state to make a stronger economy.”
“JOIN US IN THE FIGHT TO STOP RADICAL ISLAM,” reads a June 2016 Facebook post from Shea, a devout Christian who in that same month organized a chapter of ACT For America — an anti-Muslim hate group listed by the SPLC — in Spokane, “Liberty.”
ACT, just one of many mouthpieces within the anti-Muslim echo chamber, preys upon America’s post 9/11 fear of terrorism and works to advance anti-Muslim legislation at local and federal levels while flooding the American public with hate speech under the guise of national security. Shea frequently echoes this kind of anti-Muslim propaganda as fact.
“THE BETRAYAL PAPERS,” Shea posted to Facebook in February 2017. “THE CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE SHOWING THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD’S INFLUENCE OVER THE HIGHEST LEVELS OF AMERICAN GOVERNMENT.” Shea accompanied this post with a link to a six-part series by the anti-Muslim website, The American Report, which he believes confirms his suspicions.
Again that month, Shea posted an article by anti-Muslim propagandist John Guandolo and warned his followers of the “COMBINED INTERTWINED THREAT OF COMMUNISTS AND THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD.” This rhetoric mirrors a driving conspiracy theory being pushed by the Oath Keepers and “Patriot” novelist, Matthew Bracken, who claim that international socialism and Islam are teaming up to destroy Western nationalism.
Shea’s affinity for the so-called Patriot movement doesn’t stop with anti-Muslim fear mongering. The state legislator is an outright supporter of the antigovernment Sagebrush Rebellion — an uprising that began in the 1970s against the federal government’s stewardship of land in western states and has seen a dramatic resurgence in recent years.
In 2014, federal and local law enforcement were dispatched to the Bunkerville, Nevada cattle ranch of Cliven Bundy, who had refused to pay over $1 million in grazing fees and fines, accumulated since 1993, to a federal government he does not recognize.
There to seize Bundy’s herd of cows, rangers from the Bureau of Land Management and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers were met, surrounded and outnumbered by heavily armed antigovernment extremists. Law enforcement wisely stood down, and what turned into a standoff narrowly avoided bloodshed.
“Make no mistake,” Shea declared after having traveled to Bunkerville, echoing the call of the extremists in the wake of the standoff. “This is a war on rural America.”
The standoff was a victory for the antigovernment movement. Its activists felt emboldened by their ability to stare down the barrel of a gun at the federal government, and win, with the support of media pundits like Sean Hannity and the sanction of some lawmakers from the antigovernment Coalition of Western States network, like Shea, who lent legitimacy to seditionists.
Two years later Cliven’s sons, Ammon and Ryan, led the gang of militants that seized and occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. Reportedly against the request of law enforcement, fearing that the Bundy clan would feel legitimized and emboldened, Shea and other lawmakers again extended a helping hand to the rebels by traveling to the occupation site and meeting with its leaders.
Shea also dispatched Anthony Bosworth, an army veteran turned leader of the Liberty For All Three Percent group out of Yakima, Washington, as a “security specialist” at the occupation, and would later give Bosworth a “2016 Patriot of the Year” award.
It would be easy to dismiss Shea and his plans for Liberty if not for his platform as a state representative, simpler still to isolate him as a lone radical in an otherwise moderate push for better representation in the Evergreen State; but Shea’s rebellion is no outlier in Liberty.
Liberty’s private Facebook group, which has over 2,000 members and of which Shea is one of two administrators, is littered with antigovernment iconography, like that of the Three Percenters, Oath Keepers and Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association — an organization that’s adopted the Posse Comitatus belief that county sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the land.
Tributes to Robert “LaVoy” Finicum — a key leader in the Malheur occupation turned martyr for the movement after he was killed by police attempting to escape a road block while allegedly traveling to speak to a sympathetic sheriff in nearby Grant County, Oregon — are commonplace.
Other antigovernment concepts, like jury nullification — which asserts that juries can legislate from the bench by refusing the criminality of the charges filed — also make an appearance.
One Liberty activist even questions the legality of driver’s licenses because they aren’t expressly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.
Not all Liberty supporters demonstrate the entire gamut of these radical beliefs. But the few-and-far-between moderation in Liberty’s ranks garners replies that highlight its contradictions.
“Something I think we should include in our Liberty Government, is Tribal Representation,” posts one Facebook group member. “Be it a Special Council Representation or that each of the Reservations be considered a District for a Senate and Representative Seat.”
After a series of responses, Sarah Lisa, who co-administers the group with Shea, and identifies as “LadyforFreedom a Deplorable” on Facebook, slams a lid on the idea and offers further insight into whose liberty Liberty really ensures.
“[T]here should be NO changes as it relates to the Native American tribes within states…..we already have set treaties….if you go there…hate to say this BUT YOU will regret it.”
“WE WILL REGRET attempting to make changes….could very well screw it all up for us,” Lisa reiterates soon after.
The irony of a group that honors Sagebrush rebels in their effort to “return the land to its rightful owners” while censoring any mention of native tribal representation appears to be lost on Liberty’s leaders.
In May 2017, according to Wilson Criscione of The Inlander, an inland northwest news source, Shea gave a presentation titled “The Future of Liberty: Protecting Our Christian Culture” to nearly 100 people packed inside a barn at a regional prepper expo.
Shea allegedly singled out foreign governments, communists and the Muslim Brotherhood as the enemies of Christian culture in America. Another speaker at the expo, a Washington State based lawyer and “Patriot” novelist who writes under the nome de plume Glen Tate, weighed in on some of the benefits of the 51st state, in particular the advantageous terrain between it and Olympia.
“We need to be separate from them [liberals],” Tate tells the eager crowd of preppers, survivalists and militants, as heard on the May 8, 2017 episode of the Radio Free Redoubt podcast for “Patriots.” “And we need to have a line like the State of Liberty or something. It’s like, ‘Oh really, you want to enforce that court order? Why don’t you come through this mountain pass right here. Things may get noisy.’”
Jim Mark, the Jefferson State Militia’s leader, posts a photo of himself clad in digital camouflage with Jefferson’s green and gold flag secured to his shoulder. To his front stands a lit tiki torch. In his left hand, a pitchfork.
“’TORCH AND PITCHFORKS’ … Slowly Edge into the Darkness Created by the NWO Hijackers of America / Earth,” Jefferson State Militia’s webpage warns. “Do Expect to See ‘BLACK RIFLES AND GUN FLASHES’ … When FOLK Finally Understand ... IT’s Time For War against the Hives of Darkness.”
Welcome to the State of Jefferson — a partitionist movement with roots predating World War II and whose supporters hope can add a 51st star to the union canton. The decades-old idea from parts of southern Oregon and northern California grew out of a popular grievance against too little government. Today, antigovernment extremists are some of those leading the charge for the State of Jefferson.
Not all self-identifying Jeffersonians adhere to violent antigovernment ideology. Some, like Sam Toll, have views that run contrary to the beliefs of some of the movement’s more outspoken leaders.
“As a libertarian,” Toll tells New York Daily News’ Sarah Goodyear, “my ideal neighbor in the State of Jefferson is a lesbian and her transgender spouse — they’re married — guarding their marijuana field and their hemp field with their .50-caliber machine gun. And unlimited ammunition.”
Mark Baird, a rancher and voluntary deputy sheriff acting as the State of Jefferson’s primary speaker and juris coordinator, doesn’t share all of Toll’s beliefs, which Baird sees as a distraction.
“This isn’t about dope,” Baird tells Goodyear, “it isn’t about gay marriage, it isn’t about forest, it isn’t about water. It’s about liberty through adequate representation.”
Baird’s focus on representation highlights the grievance of many of his neighbors. They sit on the natural resources that urban centers and rural farming areas in Oregon and California depend on, but their population isn’t large enough to impact state government in Salem or Sacramento.
With the sprawling, resource-rich lands around them, Jeffersonians are inspired to start over. They want a new state with lower taxes — although the region receives more in services that it pays in taxes — and a reduction in state agencies and bureaucracies that provide social welfare and limit the extraction of natural resources in order to protect the environment and vulnerable species.
They’d also like to revisit and “correct” Reynolds v. Sims — the landmark 1964 Supreme Court ruling that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment requires legislative districts to be equal in population.
According to the group’s webpage they want change through political means using Article 4, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which requires the approval of California’s state legislature and the U.S. Congress.
Baird claims to not know of the Jefferson State Militia, led by the pitchfork wielding doomsayer, Jim Mark. But Baird’s own organization, which boasts “state militia” as one of its formation groups, is no stranger to violent antigovernment ideology.
Robert “Red” Smith, researcher and archivist for the group according to the leadership section on its webpage, made clear in a 2016 video posted to YouTube his belief in a central conspiracy theory that drives the antigovernment movement.
“We fully well believe that there is a plan in place to destroy America as it stands and remove the constitution of the law of the land and place us under a one world order,” Smith said to a room full of listeners in Redding, California, while giving updates on the ongoing occupation in Malheur. “I mean it’s time to quit talking about it and really open your eyes and understand that’s the fight we’re in.”
In March 2017, Smith penned an article titled “Why We Went; Reflections of a Malheur Occupier,” venerating the armed, antigovernment out-of-towners who seized and occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and terrorized locals for over a month.
In July 2016, five months after key occupiers were arrested and one of their members was shot and killed by police while allegedly reaching for a handgun, Smith posted an article coauthored by the vice president of the Oregon Three Percent and Kit Perez, a former Three Percenter and self-styled Patriot.
“Our own government,” the article reads, “has been selling our nation’s sovereignty and our constitutional rights down the road at a reckless pace for years now, and as the effects of those acts pile up, patriots are becoming restless.”
The article stressed the need to foster public support for a “decentralized partisan/guerrilla movement” if it’s to successfully confront the Bureau of Land Management, “so-called refugees,” ISIS, inner city gangs and whatever else the conspiracy theorists can fathom.
For Smith and the increasingly apocalyptic Three Percent and closely related Oath Keepers — an antigovernment group comprised primarily of military veterans, law enforcement and emergency first responders which has endorsed the State of Jefferson — tumultuous times aren’t just near; they’re here and now.
A 2015 article penned by Smith and published on the Shasta Lantern, an online news source run by another member of the State of Jefferson’s leadership, gives particular insight into a movement itching for vigilante justice in these perceived times of war.
“What do you do with a solider found asleep at his post,” asks Smith in an article titled I Do Solemnly Swear. “Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 113 the punishment [for this offense] is fine and incarceration [in peace time] and in time of war, death … what this soldier is guilty of, is violation of his Oath of Duty and the price will be paid. The treatment of similar Oath Breakers should not be any less deliberate and determined. We as citizens should not accept any amnesty to those guilty of the same crime simply because they are civilians. The standard should not only apply to those in uniform charged with our safety and protection. Our elected representatives, are not any less charged with our protections then [sic] our best in uniform … If they fail that Oath are they not to be held to the same standards?”
“Fire for the hills, pick up your feet and let’s go,” opens “Young Men Dead,” a hard-hitting anti-war tune released in 2006 by The Black Angels. “Head for the hills pick up steel on your way. And when you find a piece of them in your sight, fire at will don’t you waste no time.”
This sharp critique of America’s embrace of militarism by the psych rock band out of Austin, Texas may well serve as a cautionary hymn about the American Redoubt — a movement of far-right, “God-fearing Patriots” in the Inland Northwest — whose warrior-class-leaders are running for the hills. But these veterans of America’s elite paratrooper, Special Forces and intelligence units are not retreating. In America’s mountain states, they’ve found terrain favorable for a fight.
“[T]he American Redoubt’s Rocky Mountains offer some significant advantages to a resistance movement in proverbial Shit-Hits-The-Fan (SHTF) scenarios,” Special Forces veteran John Mosby, using his nom de plume, wrote in a 2014 article titled Alpine Advantage: Unconventional Warfare in Mountainous Terrain. “[N]o successful insurgency has ever been sustained in the long-term, in a built-up, inhabited area … Small-unit operations in alpine regions present some very unique, specific, and constantly shifting challenges and opportunities for the partisan.”
Whether it’s an economic collapse, mass gun confiscation followed by a Communist and Islamist takeover of the United States or — if you’re James Wesley, Rawles — a “grid-down” power outage that transforms the United States of America into the United States of Dystopia, sparsely populated high ground offers prized turf for an embattled resistance movement.
Rawles, a former army intelligence officer now prolific writer for the “Patriot” movement, coined the term American Redoubt in 2011, and assigned all of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and the eastern parts of Washington and Oregon to within its borders.
Rawles’ vision is to demographically strengthen an already traditional, prayerful base as a bastion of conservatism able to withstand a perceived onslaught from liberals and an overreaching government.
“I’d like to see the American Redoubt have some sort of autonomy from what we popularly know as the United States,” Rawles said in a 2014 episode of the “God and Guns” podcast. “I’d like to see the American Redoubt basically be a stronghold of conservative, traditional values while we see the rest of the United States sink into oblivion.”
A self-described religious separatist who claims to be no bigot, Rawles says Christians of all races are welcome in the Redoubt, as well as Orthodox and Messianic Jews because they share the same “moral framework.” In the imminent and long-overdue SHTF scenario, Rawles believes “it will only be the God-fearing that will continue to be law abiding.”
God-fearing Muslims, who according to Rawles subscribe to a religion of “evil and death,” are the exception to this rule.
Stewart Rhodes, a former paratrooper who founded and presides over the antigovernment Oath Keepers has relocated to within the American Redoubt, shares Rawles’ view of Muslims.
Rhodes and Oath Keepers endorsed a 22-page essay by former Navy SEAL turned “Patriot” novelist, Matt Bracken, called “Tet, Take Two: Islam’s 2016 European Offensive,” while pushing the belief on prominent conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ radio show that Islam and international socialism have teamed up to destroy the West.
But long before Oath Keepers took up the anti-Muslim cause, it was arming to fight the government. And it’s this incendiary antigovernment ideology that emanates from the American Redoubt’s thought leaders, even as some may feel a reprieve under the Trump Administration.
Oath Keepers focuses its recruitment on veteran and current military, law enforcement and emergency first responders who possess the skill sets needed to establish a network of capable militias nationwide.
“We have the credible, well-trained veterans as the leadership and as the trainers,” Rhodes said on a 2015 episode of the “God and Guns” podcast. “And then their job is to replicate themselves, to go and train their neighbors . . . Kind of like when a Special Forces team goes into a village, they’re not there to turn the villagers into Special Forces soldiers. They’re there to train the villages as they are.”
A series of blogs from October 2014 to May 2015 on Oath Keepers’ website give insight into the seriousness of the training taking place in the American Redoubt.
“Multiple steel and cardboard targets were camouflaged and placed along a wooded deer trail,” Brandon Smith, Associate editor of the Oath Keepers’ blog, recalls of one exercise in mountainous Eureka, Montana. “Members had to carefully traverse the area while seeking and destroying the targets, finding proper cover, etc. Missed targets resulted in a casualty.”
The simulated casualty provided trainees with the ability to implement combat lifesaver skills that were recently taught to them by the budding militia’s medical experts, who not long before, lectured the group on the growing threat of Ebola. For Oath Keepers, the threat ultimately became part of an insidious government plot.
In a 2014 article titled “Why I Will Not Submit to Medical Martial Law,” Smith discovers the holy grail of government maleficence. “If it is not pure incompetence on their [the government’s] part that has exacerbated the threat [of Ebola], then even worse, it is a deliberate program of genocide.”
It’s this fusion of razor-sharp, martial skill and an ideology based in paranoid conspiracy theories that almost resulted in tragedy three years ago, when in April 2014, Oath Keepers and other antigovernment extremists flocked to the Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy for a showdown with the government.
The standoff only narrowly avoided bloodshed as Bureau of Land Management rangers and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers, outmanned and outgunned, wisely stood down to a crowd of militants ready to fight to defend their radical understanding of American law and history.
“And here’s the message I have for the federal law enforcement that were there,” Rhodes warned soon after the standoff while boasting of the militia’s capacity to inflict lethal violence on law enforcement officers. “You need to understand how close you were. It was not gonna be a Waco, where it’s gonna be you well trained professionals against untrained men, women and children in a church. It was going to be you against other well trained American fighters … [I]t was gonna be sheepdog on sheepdog, bloodbath that day.”
The American Redoubt isn’t the only region where antigovernment extremists recognize the advantage of the high ground.
In 2014, one militia member posted to Facebook a map of a network of militias in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Atop the image in bold print read, “the Appalachian Redoubt.”
“We own these Hills,” the post reads. “We know where and how to hunt. Our forefathers made life VERY unpleasant for those who chose to trespass here. History may not repeat itself exactly, but it does Rhyme. Got a lot of good Patriots in close proximity, make those connections now folks. ps: To our Collectivist Would Be Overlords…Montani Semper Liberi, Motherfuckers.”
When Rawles announced the concept of the American Redoubt, he credited Chuck Baldwin, an antigovernment extremist and Baptist pastor who runs the Liberty Fellowship in Kalispell, Montana, for strategically relocating his 18-member extended family from Florida to Montana.
In leaving his established congregation and “voting with his feet,” Baldwin displayed the dedication and conviction the Redoubt seeks from thought leaders like Rawles. He also exemplifies the extreme, militant language of some of those who are attracted to its cause.
“We are going [to Montana] to fight!” Baldwin wrote in a 2010 letter explaining his move. “The Mountain States just might become The Alamo of the twenty-first century, with, hopefully, much better results. But if not, I would rather die fighting for Freedom with liberty-loving patriots by my side than be shuttled off to some FEMA camp.”
The antigovernment movement seeks to operate in a world of binary opposition where none really exists. And in this false reality of black and white, good versus evil, liberty or death, the high ground may be the last, best hope for freedom.
And with words like this echoing from the Redoubts’ thought leaders and activists, it’s no wonder how some in the movement can’t understand how folks can get them so wrong.
“[P]reppers and the American Redoubt are not the same thing,” John Jacob Schmidt, an Army Special Forces veteran and leading figure in the American Redoubt said, using his nom de plume, on a 2016 episode of his “Radio Free Redoubt” podcast aimed at self-styled Patriots. “… [W]e strongly promote and encourage God-fearing patriots to become self-reliant, not preppers where you just check out. We do not need preppers moving to the American Redoubt who will not get engaged in the fight for liberty.”
“Run for the hills, pick up your feet and let’s go,” says Young Men Dead near the end of that commanding tune seemingly meant for Redoubters. “We did our jobs, pick up speed now let’s move. The trees can’t grow without the sun in their eyes. And we can’t live if we’re too afraid to die.”
Photo Credit: Mississippi Dept. Of Correction (Bowers); AP Images / Ho (McVeigh); Cherokee County Jail (Rudolph), AP Images / Elaine Thompson, AP Images / John Locher