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Domestic Terrorism Essay Sample

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Domestic Terrorism Essay Sample

Introduction

For all preoccupation of the US authorities with external terrorist threat expressed in the global war on terror campaign, terrorist groups continue to exist on domestic terrains. The agendas of these groupings vary widely, including anti-government, social, political, reiligous, supremacist, racist issues, as well as unique interests such as, for instance, animal rights.

The testimony of Louis J. Freeh, FBI Director before Senate in May 2001, points to the continuing threat from terrorists, exacerbated by the menace of attack involving weapons of mass destruction or emerging technology (FBI, 2001). This paper will explore the background of one of the oldest supremacist groups in the US, Posse Comitatus, and will try to establish whether the groups is indeed a terrorist formation.

Background

Posse Comitatus is one of the groups that form the so-called Christian Patriot movement, made up of ultraconservative extremists, many of whom were active Ku Klux Klan members. Now the members of the movement seek to influence the public with such openly non-Christian methods as the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995.

One of the earliest Constitutionalist groups, Posse Comitatus was presumably founded in Portland, Oregon, back in 1969. The person responsible for its formation was Henry Lamont Beach, a manager at the dry-cleaner. Before the foundation of Posse Comitatus Beach had been active in Silver Shirts, a neo-Nazi group that followed the principles of European fachist organizations, Black Shirts and Brown Shirts. The other important member of the group was William Potter Gale, a retired military officer who assisted Beach in the organization of the group. He is often considered to be the true founder of the group and authored many of the writings that carried Posse’s ideology across the country.

The name of the group is derived from the Posse Comitatus Act passed in order to limit the interference of the military in the local matters. This function was imposed on the local militia, and this is what the group undertook to do. They offered a curious interpretation of the Act, taking it to mean that “no citizen is bound to obey any authority higher than that of the county sheriff” (Pile, 1999).

The group’s agenda consists for the most part of stressing the importance of local self-government. The name itself is taken from Latin and means “power of the county”. Posse’s activists deny the right of the federal government to levy income taxes, to demand vehicle registration or to license driving, marriages, and hunting. To justify the Christian background, Posse Comitatus claims that their teaching was “divinely revealed by God and therefore to pay taxes is not only illegal but sinful” (Pile, 1999).

The group relied on small chapters including seven men that put in fees totaling $21 in dues. The group’s publication, National Chronicle, circulated around the country taking around anti-government ideas.  Initially the movement centered on the community in Tigerton Dells, Wisconsin. Later, in the 1970s, it spread as far as the farm belt and the West

Numerous supporters flocked to Posse Comitatus, motivated by increasing poverty triggered by foreclosures on their property. In 1975, the group’s membership was estimated at around 12,000-15,000 members, and its leader James Wickstrom even ran for state Senate in Wisconsin, garnering as many as 16,000 votes. The Posse leaders claim to have had at one point over 40,000 supporters.

What Is a Terrorist Group?

It is commonplace to say that there is no uniform definition of terrorism and hence no accepted definition of a group that engages in such activities. For this reason this paper will use official definitions even if they are not accepted universally. We will examine US documents since the topic under discussion is domestic terrorism in the US. The U.S. Code (Title 22) states that terrorism is “premeditated, politically motivated violence” against “noncombatant targets by subnational groups”, typically aiming to carry the political agenda through to the audience (Costly, 2005).

Another aspect of terrorism captured in definitions is the fact that terrorists aim to change the political course of governments through their activities. Thus, the U.S. Department of Defense states that terrorism is “the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological” (Costly, 2005).

Bruce Hoffman (1998, p. 15) presents another interesting definition of terrorism that more briefly summarizes the main points, saying that terrorism involves “violence — or, equally important, the threat of violence — used and directed in pursuit of, or in service of, a political aim”. Thus, the group that meets the definition of terrorism has to use violence directed at noncombatant population, has to pursue some political or religious agenda, strive to instill fear in people and attempt to change the policy of some state.

Posse Comitatus’ Ideology

Posse Comitatus definitely has distinct political agenda. The major component of this agenda is the belief in the power of the local authorities and strong regionalism. The main figure for the activists of the group is the local sheriff, from whose office all authority should be derived. Ideologically, Posse relies on Old English common law that also focused on the figure of the local sheriff.

The above-mentioned passed by the Ulysses Grant administration is frequently cited to offer substantiation to claims about illegitimacy of any authority above the local sheriff. This makes the Federal Reserve System illegal as well as the federal income tax. The ultimate form of breaking relationships with the illegitimate state is asseveration, “severing their contractual relationship with the state” (Atkins, 2002, p. 248).

The Posse Comitatus Act that was intended by the Founding Fathers as a deterrent to the nation’s enslaving by the corrupt federal powers, is, however, gradually losing value in the face of a possible threat of wide-ranging terrorist attacks. This leads analysts to claim that “reliance upon slow-forming militias for national defense is obviously no longer possible from a strategic standpoint in the modern world” (Quillen, 2002). At the same time it is this act that forms the backbone of the ideology of Posse Comitatus Group.

The group clearly appeals to poor farmers and other low-income members of Midwest communities.  Christopher Hewitt in his book “Understanding Terrorism in America: From the Klan to Al Qaeda” (2002) claims that terrorism is taken “an indicator of political alienation” (p.23).

Thus, it absorbs social elements whose interests are underrepresented in the contemporary political system. The group thus targets those who feel frustrated by the lack of economic power in the society where it means quite a lot. The call to use weapons against IRS agents or banks foreclosing on the loan falls on ready ears – they are readily absorbed by people who do not hesitate to confirm that their economic plights are caused by the illegal government.

The group also pursues overtly discriminatory supremacist agenda that puts white males in a privileged position as compared to all the rest. White Christian males are the only ones allowed to sit on common law courts and Christian grand juries and interpret the divine laws, applying them to real-life situations. Under Posse Comitatus’ principles, “Jews, minorities, non-Christian white males, and women were excluded from this process” (Atkins 2002:248). The members of the Posse are encouraged to hate all non-whites.

Their participation in the federal government is one more reason to oppose it. Federal Reserve described as an illegal “private monopoly” that conducts its activities in an unconstitutional manner as it is run by the supra-national Zionist conspiracy (Ridgeway, 1995, p. 129). The federal government on the whole is controlled by Jews and should be opposed on these grounds. God, in the opinion of the Posse leaders, is “setting the stage for the final act against the Christ-murdering Jews and their father, Satan”(Ridgeway, 1995, p. 131). The racist agenda connects Posse with Ku Klax Clan that expresses support for their actions. Racist principles received renewed strength in Posse’s ideology in the late 1980s and 1990s, as declining support for the group caused the its leader to revamp the previous principles, emphasizing the supremacists component of their beliefs.

Terrorist Activities

The agenda alone does not make a group a terrorist formation, but Posse Comitatus does not restrict itself to publications and lectures. The activists participate in raids against representatives of the federal government they regard as unlawful and violating the rights of the people. Gordon Kahl, a member of the group, killed two federal marshals in the early 1980s. This event was followed by a police hunt for him. As a result, he was killed in a fight with police agents, becoming a hero of the extremists.

In addition, some of Posse members established a group that engaged in “open warfare on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the federal government” (Atkins, 2002, p. 249).

One of the militant groups was organized by Wilhelm Ernst Schmidt, former employee of Lockheed Missile and Space Company. His pre-Posse background involved doing time for attacking IRS employees in Minnesota where he had headed the anti-tax movement.

After becoming the leader of a Posse unit, he began to plan anti-federal operations on a larger scale, going as far as plotting the overthrow of the federal government. In a raid of the conspirators’ houses, FBI agents discovered weapons such as machine guns and grenade launchers, in addition to instructions on how to use these weapons to fight judges and tax collectors. As a result, Schmidt himself received a sentence of 26 years in prison.

Arthur Kirk, a farmer from Nebraska who experienced difficulties in repaying a bank loan and finally faced a foreclosure on his property, was also a Posse supporter. He acted in the spirit of the group’s ideology. When the SWAT team was dispatched to seize the cattle held as collateral for the loan, Kirk opened fire against them. In the ensuing fight, Kirk himself was killed. Posse members make appearance on public media urging the murder of IRS agents and other representatives of power. They believe that such killings will signify the exercising of community power over criminals who demand the payment of taxes in violation of the ‘true’ Constitutional law.

Thus, Posse Comitatus does not restrict itself to deliberations. Group activists are encouraged to take action against the government infringing on the inherent rights of the people, the action that involves armed conflict. The presence of guns in the houses of Posse activists is sufficient evidence that the group indeed plans far-ranging activities. These activities, as stated in the definition of terrorism in the US Code, are directed at non-combatants – judges, IRS agents. The SWAT team attacked by Arthur Kirk can hardly be described as a military formation in combat either. Thus, Posse Comitatus indeed engages in violent activities against non-combatants.

Attempt to Change the Government Course

As stated above, Posse Comitatus rejects the legitimacy of the federal government as such. This does not, however, mean that they deny its existence. Recognizing the presence of federal government in the nation as an illegitimate authority, Posse activists attempt the change the actions of the local authorities to make them fight against the federal power. The local sheriff, Posse Comitatus believes, should be the head of the local militia units that govern local communities. This draws sympathy of the local sheriffs to this extremist organization in states like Kansas and Nebraska.

The group seeks to destroy the government as such, eliminating its officials and institutions are morally bankrupt, being controlled by people of the ‘wrong’ race, and illegal. They claim to be “Constitutionalists”, upholding the norms and values of the Constitution as it existed before the Amendments. The Posse is unwilling to accept anything in the Constitution that was introduced after the Bill of Rights. Thus they believe the current government to be illegitimate as it draws its power from unconstitutional sources. The plot to overthrow the government also indicates the expressed desire to change the political order.

The intention to change the political system of the country in a radical way and to turn the power to local authorities with virtual disintegration of the federal powers shows that Posse Comitatus aims to change the political course. In doing so, the government is expected to further religious and racist agenda of the Posse.

Conclusion

Posse Comitatus, an extremist grouping on the Christian right, meets the definition of a terrorist group on all key features. First, it has well-articulated political, religious and ideological goals. These goals include relocation of power from federal to local authorities ranking no higher than the local sheriff, elimination of power of non-whites, and maintenance of God’s laws.

Second, it engages in pre-planned violence against non-combatants. Posse Comitatus is known for its attacks on non-military representatives of federal power such as IRS agents and judges, as well as calls to murder them as criminals. Third, the group attempts to influence the political order and domestic policies of the nation through its activities. All of this leads to the conclusion that Posse Comitatus is a terrorist formation.

References

Atkins, S.E. (2002). Encyclopedia of Modern American Extremists and Extremist Groups. Greenwood Press.

Costly, A. (2005).  What is Terrorism?  Retrieved October 10, 2005 from

http://www.lessonplanspage.com/SSInfoDiscActivity-WhatIsTerrorism912.htm.

Freeh, L.J. (2001, May 10). “Threat of Terrorism to the United States.” Testimony of Louis J. Freeh, Director, FBI, Before the United States Senate, Committees on Appropriations, Armed Services, and Select Committee on Intelligence.

Hewitt, C. (2002). Understanding Terrorism in America: From the Klan to Al Qaeda. New York: Routledge.

Hoffman, B. (1998). Inside Terrorism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Pile, L.A. (1999, Summer). Thunder on the Far Right. Wellspring Journal 8.2.

Quillen, C. (2002). Posse Comitatus and Nuclear Terrorism. Parameters 32.

Ridgeway, J. (1995). Blood in the face: the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi skinheads and the rise of a new white culture. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press.

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