Fighting the Far Right

— interview with Jonathan Mozzochi

JONATHAN MOZZOCHI IS an organizer for the Coalition for Human Dignity, which monitors the far right and organizes against bigotry (P.O. Box 40344, Portland, OR 97240; 503-281-5823). Christopher Phelps talked to Mozzochi about how the left can respond to the far right's recent growth.

ATC: What are the kinds of things that people have done around the country to counteract the militia movement? What, in your experience, has been most effective?

Mozzochi: I think the spectacular growth of these so-called citizen militia groups is at least in part the result that we -- the left in particular, progressives more generally -- have not developed good strategies for counteracting the attractiveness that some of these groups put forward to win people to their movement.

The militia groups in the Pacific Northwest that we are most familiar with haven't grown to reach critical mass. In other words, they haven't grown so large that they're taking over city or county governments. But they've grown large enough that there is a very dangerous pool from which these terror cells, these breakaway terrorist organizations, can emerge. So that's very dangerous.

Part of what progressives need to address is the ideas that these groups are using to attract people, the analyses that they have, which often rely on conspiracies and what-not, of what's wrong with the country and the economy. I think that there needs to be a better point-by-point rebuttal and a better set of competing ideas put forward.

ATC: I've heard people say that we ought to go to these gun shows and have our own literature tables and so forth. Do you think that makes any sense?

Mozzochi: To some degree. There are certainly people at these gun shows, probably the majority, who wouldn't agree with white supremacy or neo-Nazism. Also, the majority probably wouldn't agree that politically it's such a good idea to be forming armed paramilitary units to take on government.

There's no question that if you look at these expositions and gun shows as a terrain of conflict, we've completely given up. It's not contested by progressives. The political spectrum of material there runs from neo-Nazi pulp novels to Soldier of Fortune.

ATC: It's open season for all sorts of far right tendencies.

Mozzochi: Right. It's their terrain. And I don't think that the Second Amendment (right to bear arms -- ed.) need necessarily be the sole provenance of the right.

ATC: Is there anything left of the progressive farm movement of the 1980s?

Mozzochi: Yes, there are some organizations that still exist that fought the Posse Comitatus and the banking industry's policies that led to a lot of far right activity. Prairie Fire Rural Action, which is based in Iowa, is still up and running.

Some of what groups did during the farm crisis, which we are in the process of doing, involved mass producing pamphlets and other educational materials which debunked the idea, for instance, that the Federal Reserve was controlled by Jews. They went through and documented alternatives for fighting back against foreclosures.

Where we have not seen that develop enough is where these "wise use," county movement, extreme anti-environmentalists have begun to hook up with the militias. It's the anti-environmentalists at the county level who really have a broad base in a lot of these rural communities. They are drawing on issues that are really economic at bottom.

It looks a lot like the farm crisis, in many cases, and I don't think that the environmental movement in general has put forward much in terms of alternatives in those situations.

ATC: Isn't that because of the class character of most of the environmental movement? I'm talking about the mainstream groups, the organized expression of the environmental movement, which are more concerned for the most part with the conservation aspect than with working out some sort of balance between ecology and jobs.

Mozzochi: Right. And when they've lost that balance, they've also lost to a great degree the people in those communities. When many of those people get desperate, have the idea of forming paramilitary groups, they look to the extreme right.

It just so happens that in the Pacific Northwest and in many other parts of the country, the folks who have had the most experience in providing armed alternatives, self-defense so to speak, are white supremacists. They are ready on the ground with that alternative. That's why we've seen so many leading white supremacists not only back the militia movement but be involved in the leadership of those groups.

ATC: There's even in the left press a certain sort of strange sympathy for the concept of the militias. I think it is great concession to them, seeing them as standing for a lot
of things the left would stand for. How far do you think people should go with that?

Mozzochi: Not terribly far. Let's get a few things straight. First, these "citizen militias" have erupted on the political landscape in the context of a resurgent, emergent, exploding right wing. When you get a paramilitary alternative at a time when the right is involved in a social movement, that's extremely dangerous. Extremely dangerous.

The potential for larger sorts of fascist alternatives emerging, I think, grows. Let's be clear: This is not the same in any way -- except, perhaps, tactically -- to Black Power "militias" during the 1960s.

Other than tactics, there's no parallel. Those were militias that came up under totally different philosophical principles, pursuing a very different political agenda, during a time when the left was in a social movement.

The right is now insurgent. There's no possible way progressives are going to find a meaningful voice within these organizations, even if they wanted to. Ain't gonna happen.

ATC 57, July-August 1995

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