Understanding the Rise of Far-Right Militias

Illustration by @pyneart

The extremist far right in this country is not a new phenomenon, but in recent years it has steadily grown in visibility and influence. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, paleoconservatives, and other nationalist trends are arming themselves and are increasingly engaged in open violence, at times resulting in serious injuries and deaths.

During the recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Steven Ray Baca, a failed city council candidate, shot and wounded a young protester. He was protected at the scene by armed members of the New Mexico Civil Guard (NMCG), a local vigilante group. They claim that their presence at protests is to protect individuals and private property. O’Rion Petty, a NMCG captain, identified himself to the press as a supporter of the “Boogaloo Movement.” The boogaloo refers to a coming civil war, for which the “Boogaloo Bois” are preparing. “None of us WANT a civil war,” Petty said. “We just know that if it’s coming it’s better in our time than in our children’s times. And a civil war isn’t really the thought, it’s more of a revolution, a hard reset of the government, an end of the authoritarianism of red and blue in the two-party system.”

Factions of the Boogaloo Movement have not only aided the violence of lone wolves at demonstrations but have also used the wave of protests as an occasion to carry out their own attacks. In late May, active-duty US Air Force sergeant Steven Carillo and an accomplice shot up a federal courthouse in Oakland, California, killing an officer. Then in June they killed a sheriff’s deputy in Santa Cruz with an improvised explosive device. Authorities have arrested other individual “Boogaloo Bois” plotting violent attacks during protests in four other states. The attacks were used by right wing outlets to discredit the George Floyd protests and the Black Lives Matter movement; Sean Hannity misleadingly stated that the attacks were perpetrated by rioters.

In contrast to the Boogaloo Movement and its trappings of alt-right memes and symbols, there are the more traditional Oath Keepers, or Three Percenters. Since 2008, the Three Percenters have built a loose, nation-wide collection of overlapping organizations at the regional, state, and local levels, spurred by the election of Barack Obama and the nationalist Tea Party movement. They have based their strategy on the experience of the Patriot movement of the 1990s, including violent events like the attack on the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

These armed formations were deeply involved in the right-wing and libertarian “Reopen America” protests earlier this year, showing up heavily armed at government buildings, headlining their own “reopen rallies,” and offering protection to small businesses defying the lockdown. One of the public instigators and leaders of the reopen campaign has been none other than Ammon Bundy, leader of the Oregon wildlife refuge standoff of 2016.

The armed standoffs in Oregon; the gun violence and havoc at protests; the false flag law enforcement assassinations; the savage attacks on gay youth; the xenophobic rallies against refugees—these activities and more comprise the disorganized but still proceeding fascization of the far right. What all these different movements of reaction share in common is that they find their social base among the petty bourgeoisie, a class stratum whose conditions of existence are subjected to strong pressure by the threat of ruin by monopoly capital. For example, the movement to reopen America is a kind of spontaneous reflex resulting from ideological features characteristic of American conservatism, but more importantly from the immense economic pressure exerted on the petty bourgeoisie by the COVID-19 crisis.

At the economic level, we must understand this phenomenon in the context of the concentration of capital, which becomes intensified in times of crisis as petty proprietors and smaller capitalists, unable to weather the storm, begin to go under. The imminent ruin of these non-monopoly capitalists and small proprietors in turn clears the way for monopoly capital to strengthen its domination of markets. With little relief offered to small businesses (which employ about 47.5% of the country’s workforce), the orders to close up shop during the pandemic have been seen as an existential threat. One hair stylist in Dallas, desperate to protect her individual conditions of existence, was even willing to go to jail for her “cause” and has come to be seen as a political prisoner in the struggle against “tyranny.”

At the ideological level, orders to close businesses and wear masks are seen as infringements on the inviolable, eternal, and “natural” rights of personal liberty and free enterprise. According to right-wing social consciousness, the only legitimate departments of health, education, and welfare are the family and the church.

We can understand this trend of increased fascization as existing in parallel to the growing progressive movement that supported Bernie Sanders in both elections and participated in the Black Lives Matter protests that took over every major city in the country for several weeks during a pandemic. The result of the recent progressive rebellions will inevitably be some sort of renewed social pact with the state, in which the representatives of capital will relinquish trivial things for the sake of preserving the main thing: capitalism. We can expect these concessions and modest reforms to lead to a corresponding hardening of the more radical forces of reaction. As the more reactionary sections of the petty bourgeoisie see themselves represented less and less by the more flexible and pragmatic bourgeois politicians, this process of fascization may accelerate. In times of “social peace,” right-wing radicalism can only exist as a stable form of consciousness among a small group of committed cadre, but in times of crisis it threatens to find its expression as a mass phenomenon.

The petty bourgeoisie suffers real injustices and oppression under capitalist society. However, in absence of a proletarian political force which can provide rational answers to the sore questions which confront this middling class, it will spontaneously turn to false conclusions and absurd conspiracy theories (particularly of the nationalist type) to explain its reality. The American far right remains obsessed with new world order conspiracies, where any federal encroachment on the right to bear arms is the harbinger of an apocalyptic race war, a sequel to the American Civil War.

At protests, the far right is met with the tolerance, deferential treatment, and cooperation of the police. Often, the membership of the police force and the patriot groups overlaps (one member of the board of directors of the Oath Keepers is a Texas Sheriff’s Constable). The assaults and acts of terror of these reactionaries are always shielded by their ostensible purpose of protecting the constitution, private property, and law and order. In the end, right-wing terror serves to preserve the capitalist order, which is why these groups are relatively tolerated by the bourgeois state.

These militias and their attempts to expand the space for organized fascism in the US do not exist in isolation: they are part of a world-wide wave of reaction—from Europe, to Brazil, to India, and beyond. Despite the severity of this threat, we should reject the idea that the contemporary situation in the US is essentially defined by the antagonism between blood-and-soil fascism on the one hand, and capitalist democracy on the other. The rise of the far right in the US today operates as one factor among others within the system of contradictions that remains fixed by the class antagonism between the bourgeoisie and proletariat. American democracy is fundamentally a class democracy, which first and foremost expresses the interests of the capitalists. For the rest of us, this democracy amounts to not much more than a choice as to which political servants of the bourgeoisie will administer our suffering. We must not forget that for all of its appeal to “timeless” values and expressed hatred of modernity, fascism is a relatively modern phenomenon, rooted ultimately in the crises of monopoly capitalism in its imperialist stage—the same monopoly capitalism which this democracy exists to protect.

As our comrades from the Indian youth organization Naujawan Bharat Sabha explained, the racism and anti-Semitism propagated by fascists and their scapegoating and persecution of immigrants and national minorities “weld the interests of big monopoly capital and the blind reaction of the petty bourgeoisie.” If left unchecked, the far right in this country may reach a higher stage of organization, with cadre-based structures for spreading their racist mythologies and building an aggressive reactionary political movement with swift efficiency, lending strong support to a future ultra-reactionary government. Such events have played out in fascism’s history, but as the organizers of NBS tell us, “the biggest enemy of fascism is their history.” This history must be thoroughly studied and understood and then tirelessly popularized by revolutionary students. In our self-education and our organizing activities, we must recognize that the task of rooting out fascist movements and their supremacist myths is bound up with the construction of a revolutionary political party of the working class. We answer fascism’s advance by cultivating the revolutionary spirit of the youth, to whom the future of the world belongs, and on whom the future of the world depends.